‘The Work and the Glory: American Zion’

“The Work and the Glory: American Zion,” the latest Mormon film to hit theaters, opened to a pretty impressive box office last weekend. It grossed $524,698, which is more than many LDS films make in their entire run.

It opened on 204 screens, making it the widest LDS opening yet. (“The Other Side of Heaven” eventually expanded to 306 screens, but not until well into its run.)

The average take was $2,572 per screen — approximately the same as “Wallace & Gromit,” “The Fog,” “North Country” and “Elizabethtown,” to name a few. Those movies all made a lot more money total, of course, because they played on more screens. But the point is, the average “American Zion” theater was about as full as the average “North Country” theater last weekend.

(I saw “American Zion” Friday afternoon in Portland, and I was one of maybe 15 people in the theater. So I’m guessing packed houses in Utah bumped up the average.)

The question is, can it turn a profit? It is a sequel, of course, to last year’s “The Work and the Glory,” which cost $7.5 million to make and grossed only $3.3 million. Video and DVD sales recouped some of the loss, but not enough to actually become profitable.

The good news for Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller, who ponied up the money this time as well as last, is that “American Zion” was filmed back-to-back with Part 3 in the series, to be released next year. Shooting the films as part of one extra-long project instead of two separate ones brought the costs down considerably. At a press conference earlier this year, the filmmakers said Parts 2 and 3 combined would cost about what Part 1 cost on its own.

With an opening weekend of $500,000, it’s possible “American Zion” will eventually gross $3.75 million. And by playing in so many theaters in so many parts of the country, more Mormons (and heck, non-Mormons too, if they’re interested) can actually see it without having to wait for the DVD.