With "War Room" at No. 1, the summer box office is ending on a blessed note.
The Christian drama topped the four-day Labor Day weekend with $12.6 million in just over 1,500 theaters, according to box-office tracking firm Rentrak. Made on a budget of just $3.5 million, the PG-rated film has earned $27.9 million in just two weekends of release.
War Room, about a crumbling marriage redeemed by prayer, is the highest-grossing faith-based film since "When the Game Stands Tall" opened to $8.4 million last August (netting $30.1 million total). Although last year had a number of hits with Christian themes — including "Son of God" ($59.7 million), "God's Not Dead" ($60.8 million) and "Heaven Is for Real" ($91.4 million) -- there have been fewer faith-based offerings this year, which may have contributed to War Room's success, according to Rentrak senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
"It's weird, because last year was called the 'year of the Bible' at the box office. All those did well and that was a really underserved audience this year," Dergarabedian says. "There is a huge market for faith-based movies and Sony took perfect advantage of the date, so they didn't get lost in the summer shuffle. If this came out a week or two within "Jurassic World," it might be a different story."
War Room is the latest smash for director Alex Kendrick, whose religious movies "Courageous" in 2011 and "Fireproof" in 2008 both produced healthy returns ($34.5 million and $33.5 million, respectively). War Room's box-office might is made all the impressive by the fact that it includes no stars and received a weak critical reception (just 36 percent positive reviews on aggregate site RottenTomatoes.com, compared to a striking 90 percent approval rating from audiences).
Robert Redford vehicle "A Walk In the Woods" got off on the right foot with $10.5 million and third place ($12.5 million since opening Wednesday). Co-starring Emma Thompson, Nick Nolte and Kristen Schaal, the hiking comedy brought in a mostly older audience, with 91 percent of moviegoers over the age of 25.
Meanwhile, "The Transporter Refueled" sputtered in its debut, revving up a disappointing $9 million for fifth place. A reboot of the Jason Statham franchise, with newcomer Ed Skrein in the driver's seat, the $22 million action movie was unable to speed past lousy reviews (17 percent positive rating from critics and 35 percent approval from audiences, according to Rotten Tomatoes).
Both Woods and Transporter are "modestly budgeted films that could do very well on on-demand," Dergarabedian says. "These are titles that were never destined to set the world on fire."
Overall, box office was down 17 percent from Labor Day weekend last year, when "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "If I Stay" bested the competition. Still, 2015 winded up with the second-best summer box office ever, pulling in $4.48 billion worldwide.
(Patrick Ryan writes for USA Today.)