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by Stu Cocanougher

Last week, my wife and I saw the film I CAN ONLY IMAGINE.  Many of you are familiar with the hit song by the Christian band MercyMe.  Even though I loved the song, my experience is that Christian movies are “hit and miss.” Some are amazing and inspirational, others are simplistic and corny.  As I watched the film, I realized that IMAGINE was something special.  It was a perfect storm of a gripping story, solid actors, and good music.

If you are not familiar with the film, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, it is the true story of how Bart Millard came to write the number one played Christian song of all time.  A lot of the movie centers around Bart and his father, played by Dennis Quaid.  Bart is played by Broadway star J. Michael Finley.  Other notable actors are Trace Adkins and Pricilla Shirer. 

This movie brought me back to the late 1990's and early 2000's when I was in the “youth ministry” world.  I took teens to see the band many times and I have a fun memory of having a late-night meal with MercyMe at a Cracker Barrel years ago.  It was also fun to see actors portraying a young Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. 

Without spoiling the movie, the move gives us a glimpse of some very painful memories that Bart has of his father.  The movie is also an amazing story of redemption.  As Bart said in a recent interview...

“My dad was a monster. And I saw God transform him.” 1


A lot of the buzz about this movie is just how well it did in the theaters on opening weekend.  Financial website Forbes had the headline:

Box Office: 'I Can Only Imagine' Nabs Boffo $17M Debut


Variety had a similar headline: 

Faith-Based ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Soars With $17.1 Million Launch

This small film was made with only 7 million dollars. While this may seem like a lot of money, many films are made for 100 million dollars or more.  Many actors net 7 million dollars for a single role.  I CAN ONLY IMAGINE was the third biggest movie on its opening weekend, yet it was only shown on half of the screens of its three biggest competitors.   



Many Christian movies flop at the box office.  Why was this one an overnight success?

1)     This film has a gripping, powerful story that anyone will appreciate.  The movie shows real life struggles (child abuse, illness, death).    Even people who are not religious can connect to these topics.

2)      The casting, acting, and directing is solid (something missing from a lot of Christian films).  Singer Bart Millard is actually portrayed by an actor who is a great singer. 

3)      God’s redemptive work in the lives of people is shown in a way that feels authentic, not heavy-handed.

4)      The pace of the film is good.  At one hour 50 minutes, the story is developed, but did not drag on.

5)      Towards the end of the movie, there is a powerful, memorable moment.  Hollywood knows that hit movie need to connect emotionally to the audience.  Christian filmmakers are just now learning this.

6)      People leave the movie thinking about God and eternal things.  For those who do not have a healthy relationship with God, this will get them thinking about God’s love and power to change lives.


I believe that I Can Only Imagine has a lesson for Hollywood – People might care more about good stories than they do special effects and A-list actors.

It also has a lesson for Christians – If you have a testimony about God’s redemptive work in your life…share it!