People don't seem to care about politics three out of the four years of a president's term, and then in the last year they rally 'round and get involved. Just as election years bring out the people who tend towards extremes in full force, a specifically targeted film attracts viewers who tend to agree with it already. What then are we to make of Fireproof's box office victory over Religulous?
In Religulous, Bill Maher had the unique opportunity to investigate religion, but ultimately settled for laughs by speaking to people who are undeniably a little crazy. But that is sort of his point -- that those who choose to believe in religion must be vaguely insane.
Meanwhile, Fireproof is a small, independent drama about a crumbling marriage and the steps that the husband takes to save it. Oh, and the couple happens to be Christian, and one of his problems is a pornography "addiction." Comparing the two films is a little silly, given how very different they are.
Christians did well at getting the news about Fireproof out by word of mouth, and Fireproof did beat Religulous soundly at the box office, though we have yet to see how the two films fare in DVD sales. Religulous relied on heavy marketing, and times are hard out there for documentaries. Religulous as a documentary isn't going to have the cultural impact that Fahrenheit 9/11 or even Super Size Me had. It lacks the punch and the verve we look for, while taking jabs at people almost too pathetic to ever be considered real contenders. If Maher is convinced, why not tackle some true scholars in the various fields?
Screenrant makes a good point when they say that their research online prior to the films' release indicated that Religulous would do better, and that:
If [all of the back slapping among agnostics and atheists] translated to "the real world" Religulous should have beat the crap out of Fireproof at the box office. But that didn't happen. I know that spending a lot of time online can cause us to think that this little "bubble" represents everyone out there, so maybe we should step back once and a while and remember that it doesn't.
These are films meant to please a very specific audience, and it's unlikely that the casual moviegoer would show up at the cineplex and randomly choose to see either. The people who choose to see Fireproof are likely going to be deeply religious, probably Christian, and the people who choose to see Religulous are going to be people who pride themselves on their broad-minded skeptical nature. And ultimately both films are uniquely designed to fail. They will preach to the choir, who will applaud loudly and return home once again, more firmly entrenched in their opinions than ever, no closer to understanding "the other side."