The big surprise at the box office this week wasn’t the continued success of “Gone Girl,” in its third week of release, or the scary doll thriller “Annabelle,” also growing audiences three weeks in.
The shocker was “Meet the Mormons,” a PG-rated documentary about well, Mormons.
The film opened on 317 screens in the United States on Friday, October 10, and as of Thursday, was estimated to be sitting solidly at No. 5 in the box office chart.
Earlier this week, “Meet the Mormons” had a per-screen average of $11,026, actually beating “Gone Girl,” with a per-screen average of $10,106. That number gives the film the top per-screen average of the Top 20 grossing films in the country this week.
The film takes a look at the lives of six non-stereotypical members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and explores the day-to-day realities of the individuals living in the United States, Costa Rica, Nepal and across the globe. One of those featured in the film is World War II pilot Gail Halvorsen, better known as “The Candy Bomber.”
The goal of the film, according to executive producer, writer and director Blair Treu, is to help people get to know who Mormons are, and see what makes them tick.
In other words, “An opportunity to say howdy doody.”
“We hope to introduce people that might not be familiar to the church. And we hope to do it in a fun and entertaining way,” Treu said. “We’re not proselytizing, but introducing.”
The film’s distributor, Brandon Purdie, said their target audience was everyone. And maybe that’s why they reached it.
“We want everybody and anybody to see it. Those of the faith-based audience, those who would have seen ‘God Is Not Dead.’ This film is for those who may know of and know about the Mormons, but are curious.”
The film was originally slated to appear only in the Visitors Center of Temple Square, a 10-acre complex owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah.
When they were finished shooting, Treu said they realized they had a lot of beautiful footage, which informed their decision to release the film commercially. And it seems audiences are curious.
Treu, himself “just a regular old rank and file member of the church” is surprised and pleased at the film’s success, and attributes the success to the film’s cast.
When seeking Mormons to feature, to represent the church as a whole, Treu said they looked for people using a few criteria.
“We wanted a good broad ethnic mix, to be honestly representative of the makeup of the church. In reality, there are more members outside Utah, than in,” Treu said.
The important thing to remember about those chosen, Treu said, is that not everyone is a World War II Candy Bomber or a Division 1 football coach. “We felt like we were led to these families, and they were put in our path,” according to Treu.
What’s interesting about the box office success opening weekend is that Mormons themselves really strive to keep the Sabbath day (Sunday) holy, according to Treu and Purdie.
“We try to not shop and participate in those kinds of activities so that others don’t have to work and do those things,” Treu said. “The movie (box office numbers) dropped on Sunday because some of our audience was focused on not breaking the Sabbath.”
That means a significant portion of the opening weekend’s audience was not Mormon. Purdie’s not surprised by that.
“I think (non-Mormons are interested because) the world is a nicer place and we keep getting better. We still have a lot of room to cover to be completely tolerant, but we’re more open to explore and learn about others.”
Looking at why that might be from a father’s perspective, Treu said “My sense of it is, as a dad who has raised kids, I’ve been really disappointed with the quality of films that Hollywood has been putting out, with sex and violence, and that many people have kind of lost faith in the movies. Here’s something I can take my kids too, and it won’t offend my senses.”
For those thinking about going to see the film, Treu had this to offer:
“Tolerance and being open-minded is supposed to be a two-way street. I would hope people would go to see it and take the opportunity, and I think they will be pleasantly surprised and richly rewarded.”
With public curiosity strong, the film is expected to stay within the top 20 for the next few weeks. “Meet the Mormons” will be expanding to more theaters the weekend of Oct. 24.