'I Can Only Imagine' Is The Surprise Box Office Hit No One Saw Coming

I Can Only Imagine, a faith-based film from Roadside Attractions, is a surprise box office hit. The film ended up in third place over the weekend, just below reigning box office king Black Panther and new release Tomb Raider, and above Disney's A Wrinkle In Time. How did this happen? I can only imagine.

Folks, I write about movies for a living, and I've never even heard of I Can Only Imagine. Yet the faith-based film ended up being a surprise box office smash over the weekend, coming in third and actually beating Disney's A Wrinkle In Time in its second week of release. As Variety reports, the I Can Only Imagine box office haul amounted to $17.1 million at 1,629 locations in North America. Box office estimates had originally put the film at the $2 million – $8 million range.

"We knew that it was going to do well but we never expected a $17 million opening," said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen. "We're planning to be on well over 2,000 screens next weekend."

What Is I Can Only Imagine?

So just what the heck is I Can Only Imagine? The Christian drama, directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin, is inspired by a song by the band MercyMe. I'm unfamiliar with MercyMe, because I only listen to German death reggae, and Halloween sound effects records from the 1950s. But Wikipedia tells me MercyMe's song "I Can Only Imagine" is "the most played Christian radio single ever."

Here are some lyrics:

"I can only imagine what it will be likeWhen I walk, by your sideI can only imagine what my eyes will seeWhen your face is before meI can only imagineI can only imagine"

Sounds cinematic!

I Can Only Imagine Trailer

So how did I Can Only Imagine end up such a big hit? Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen says he thinks the film "benefited from grass roots support from churches and groups as well as from from MercyMe, who have been helping promote the film on social media." So there you have it: if you want a hit movie in the year 2018, base the story on a MercyMe song. They have a song called "Happy Dance" featuring the lyrics, "We've got reason to get up, Reason to get down, He done traded our sin for joy, And now, that joy wants out Happy dance (oh!)." That would probably make a good movie. Someone get to work on that, ASAP.

Here's the official synopsis for I Can Only Imagine:

Based on the incredible true-life story that inspired the beloved, chart-topping song, I Can Only Imagine is a song that brings ultimate hope to so many – often in the midst of life's most challenging moments. Amazingly, the song was written in mere minutes by MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard. In reality, those lyrics took a lifetime to craft.

I Can Only Imagine stars J. Michael Finley as Bart Millard, lead singer of MercyMe. The rest of the cast includes Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Carroll, Trace Adkins and Priscilla Shirer.