LOS ANGELES — The filmmakers of “Left Behind: World at War” figured a little preaching to the choir would help market the Christian-themed thriller.
They preceded the movie’s DVD release Tuesday with screenings at about 3,200 churches across the United States and Canada, hoping to build word-of-mouth for the straight-to-video sequel in Kirk Cameron’s series of films about Armageddon.
Cloud Ten Pictures, which produces the “Left Behind” movies, did not yet have attendance estimates on how many people caught “World at War” during the weekend screenings.
But the company went into the weekend projecting as many as 1.8 million people would attend the church viewings, a potential army of disciples who could help promote the DVD sales.
The company also had a “spiritual objective, which was to make this film accessible in an easy way to the Christian community,” said Peter Lalonde, who co-founded Cloud Ten with his brother, Paul. “Instead of bringing Christians to the theaters, we brought the theaters to the Christians.”
Adapted from the “Left Behind” book series, the movies star Cameron, best known for the TV sitcom “Growing Pains,” as a reporter investigating the rise to power of an anti-Christ figure and the coming battle between good and evil prophesied in the Bible. The latest movie co-stars Lou Gossett Jr. as the U.S. president.
“World at War” is the third movie in the series, following 2000’s “Left Behind” and 2002’s “Left Behind II: Tribulation Force.”
Cloud Ten provided churches with DVD copies of the new movie for license fees ranging from $69 to $199, depending on the congregation sizes. Churches were free to decide if they would charge admission, and those that did planned to use the money for their local ministries or such charities as soup kitchens and aid to hurricane victims, Lalonde said.
“Cloud Ten has really become expert at targeting the Christian community,” said Suzanne White, vice president of marketing for Sony’s home-entertainment division, which released the “Left Behind” DVD. “The way they handled the previous ‘Left Behind’ movies was very novel as well. They get a lot of publicity from just doing things differently.”
In a reversal of the usual process, Cloud Ten Pictures released “Left Behind” to theaters in February 2001 after it debuted on home video the previous fall.
Sony had reports of as many as 1,000 people attending a single screening at a church in Anchorage, Alaska. New Life Christian Center, an interdenominational church in Stigler, Okla., had nearly 200 people at a free screening it held Friday night.
“When we got the opportunity to have a world premiere at our church, we thought it was a phenomenal cutting-edge way to bring the gospel to people in our community,” said the Rev. Angela Stevens, co-pastor of the Oklahoma church with husband Rick.
If Christians turn out in force for such films, it encourages producers to tell more religious-themed stories, “so we’re making our voices heard as far as the types of movies coming out,” Stevens said.