As reports of revival on college campuses have spread across the U.S., moviegoers watched a historic revival play out on the big screen over the weekend. “Jesus Revolution,” the movie based on the Jesus movement of the 1970s, grossed $15.5 million through its opening weekend, making it the No. 3 movie in the country.
The movie scored big with audiences, notching an A+ CinemaScore calculated from polling on opening night. It also received a 99% audience score from the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site.
“This one is special,” producer Andy Erwin said in a video message urging Christians to see the film. Erwin’s company Kingdom Story has made several popular faith-centered movies, including “I Can Only Imagine,” “I Still Believe,” and “American Underdog.”
“Jesus Revolution” is based on evangelist Greg Laurie’s book about how revival among hippies in 1970s California started a wave of spiritual awakening, eventually landing the movement on the cover of Time magazine.
Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, came to Christ during the Jesus movement and is a central figure in the film. The movie also tells the story of late pastor Chuck Smith, whose Calvary Chapel movement grew alongside the 1970s revival.
Co-directed by Jon Erwin and Brent McCorkle, the movie stars Kelsey Grammer as Smith and Joel Courtney as Laurie. Jonathan Roumie, best known for his portrayal of Jesus in “The Chosen,” plays hippie evangelist Lonnie Frisbee.
The film garnered praise from both Christian and secular outlets, with Variety critic Dennis Harvey calling it “one of the most appealing faith-based big-screen entertainments in a while, polished and persuasive without getting too preachy.”
Cody Benjamin, writing for The Gospel Coalition, said the movie “manages to celebrate faith while simultaneously veering off the Jesus-cures-all track. And rather than patting one audience on the back while critiquing another, it challenges all sides — acknowledging the dangers of both rigid tradition and progressive fluidity.”
Erwin talked about the movie at Birmingham’s Church at Brook Hills Feb. 26, calling the film the “boldest” his company has made yet. He recalled how the film’s distributor, Lionsgate, initially responded to its subject matter. “If it works, we’re going to do a ton more of this,” they said. “If it doesn’t, this may be your last.”
“God just showed up en masse this weekend with the church,” Erwin said, “and it’s been amazing.”
The film arrived in theaters as Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, ended more than two weeks of revival services on campus. The outpouring of worship spread to colleges across the country, with signs of revival reported at both public and private universities. In fact, Erwin noted, the Jesus movement portrayed in the film also found its way to Asbury more than 50 years ago.
“Before our movie ever came out, God was like, ‘I got this, I’m going to do it regardless,” Erwin noted. “We’ll let you guys tell the story about it.’ We got to harmonize with something God was already doing.”
God never moves without using the local church, Erwin said, emphasizing that “Jesus Revolution,” like all of their movies, is for the church.
The filmmakers can create a moment for the audience members he calls “benevolent skeptics”— people outside the church who drop their defenses in response to a true story onscreen that speaks to the heart. But the moment can’t just end with an emotional experience, Erwin said.
“The only thing that makes the life change is the church stepping in and saying, ‘Let me tell you the rest of the story.’”