The projector shut off just as Keirstin Erickson started to tear up. She had been watching Jesus Revolution, waiting for the pastor in the movie to baptize the leading man in the ocean. That’s when someone ran into the room, saying that lightning had struck the theater. As the audience chattered among themselves, Erickson sat silent.
“I just remember having this burning sensation in my heart,” Erickson, a 22-year-old training to become a missionary, recalls thinking.
Suddenly she rose from her seat near the front, turned to face the rest of the audience, and introduced herself, asking: “Does anybody need prayer in this room?”
At first it was quiet. But then people started speaking up. A woman in the back confessed she had cancer. A mother revealed her two young sons were at prom that night and said, “Pray for my boys that they will grow up to be godly men, and make good decisions.”
A woman who said she worked with “kids on drugs” poured out her heart with a quivering voice.
“People with addiction are so misunderstood and so judged, and we have hundreds of thousands of kids, including my own children, that are now sober,” said the woman in a now-viral TikTok of the exchange.
“And I just would like you guys to pray for opening your minds to what exactly this movie showed,” she continued. “They’re just seeking something, and it’s God.Keirstin, you just give me hope, girl.”
These scenes, more common inside a place of worship, happened last month at Starlight Triangle Square Cinemas in Costa Mesa, California, at a screening of Jesus Revolution, a new movie depicting a real-life 1970s movement that saw thousands of hippies give up drugs for God. That crusade, led by Pastor Chuck Smith with the help of hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee, coincidentally started at a Calvary Church just a few miles away from the theater where Erickson made her call to prayer.
Inspired by a 1971 Time magazine article about the movement (the codirector bought a copy of the magazine on eBay) and starring Kelsey Grammer as a straitlaced preacher and Joel Courtney as a hippie convert, Jesus Revolution is something of a Hollywood miracle: it’s a religious movie that’s actually a hit.
Made by Christian production house Kingdom Story Company and backed by mega distributor Lionsgate, the film earned back its $15 million budget the weekend it opened, when critics predicted it would gross closer to $6 or $7 million. That’s a triumphant performance compared to the weekend debuts of recent blockbusters, like 65, a sci-fi flick with a $91 million budget that made just $12.3 million, and M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller Knock at the Cabin, which brought in $14.1 million.
Since its release on February 24, Jesus Revolution has grossed $49 million in ticket sales—besting many of this year’s Oscar nominees combined at U.S. box offices.
“It is a very good story, well-told,” says Roma Downey, who runs LightWorkers Media, a faith-based division of MGM. “It didn’t hurt that they have the name ‘Jesus’ in the title. For Christians, that’s attention grabbing. It’s a provocative title.”
Christian colleges and church groups around the country have been pouring into theaters. One couple in Madisonville, Kentucky, bought out an entire day’s showings of the film earlier this month just so everyone in their town could see it for free.
Also, Downey said, “People are hungry for goodness, people are hungry for change”—especially after the pandemic. “For a minute it looked like the world as we knew it was coming to an end, then what were the things that were important? I think it helped people refocus on family, faith—those sort of values.”