LOS ANGELES - Randall Wallace didn't expect a rock-star reception when he went on the road to promote his faith-based drama "Heaven is for Real" ahead of its Easter-weekend release.
Yet, at the First Assembly of God Church in Phoenix, 9,000 congregants greeted the filmmaker with a standing ovation. A few days later, 11,000 boisterous students packed a convocation in the sports arena at Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., where Wallace, best known for writing the 1995 battle biopic "Braveheart" and directing the equestrian drama "Secretariat," spoke about "Heaven."
Recent faith-based and Bible-inspired films such as "Noah," "Son of God" and "God's Not Dead" have galvanized Hollywood with robust showings at the box office. One analyst dubbed 2014 "the year of the biblical movie."
But Hollywood is finding it isn't always easy to usher viewers from the church pew to the multiplex. Religious moviegoers may be searching out more spiritually engaging content, but they remain on high alert for perceived distortions of biblical doctrine or any attempt at a bait and switch.
Nevertheless, persuading religious leaders to talk up the movies in a church setting as a means of sparking larger conversations about spiritual uplift has become a top priority in creating the kind of prerelease awareness that can lead to massive ticket sales.
The latest evidence that buzz from the pulpit pays dividends is "God's Not Dead," an independently produced Christian drama that cost less than $3 million but surpassed all industry expectations by grossing an impressive $35 million in just three weeks of release.