Why ‘Unplanned’ Surpassed Box Office Expectations

In Featured, Industry Insights, Maria Andress by Impact Admin

– By Maria Andress –

$6.1 million opening weekend on 1,059 screens. A+ Cinema Score. 93% Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score. Still holding 4th place in the Box Office. For a Christian film that was looking at a projection of $2-3 million opening weekend, R-rated by the MPAA, marginalized by Hollywood, and given little to no ad coverage, Unplanned has been quite the opening week surprise.

Directed by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon and distributed by Pure Flix, Unplanned shares the true story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson from the beginning of her Planned Parenthood tenure as a college junior to the day she is called to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion at thirteen weeks gestation.

Released this past weekend on March 29 at the same time the Georgia “Heartbeat Bill” is making waves in Hollywood, Unplanned has a raw, sound, and fact-based soul. It had no openings in major cities like New York or L.A. and still stuck at third place for screen earnings after Dumbo and Us with an average $5,770 per screen that beat out Captain Marvel at an averaged $5,144 per screen. This weekend it’s opening in 600 more theaters. “It’s just another small film not worth seeing,” seems to be the dismissive Hollywood critic consensus, given their phobia of pro-life “propaganda.”

But even with a production budget 30 times less than Dumbo, the film has been an unexpected triumph. I think the success of Unplanned could arguably be attributed to three factors:

1) R-Rating and Marketing Pushback

In April, Unplanned received an R-rating from the MPAA for “some disturbing/bloody images.”

While many were upset, the filmmakers immediately used it to their favor in pointing out that it merely reinforced the point that abortion is violent. The marketing team went ahead with highlighting the discrepancy between a 16-year-old being allowed to have an abortion without parental permission but not being able to see an R-rated film that portrayed abortion without parental accompaniment.

Abby Johnson released an open letter stating, “I wanted to take a few minutes before my movie, “Unplanned,” comes out in theaters to talk to you. Mom-to-mom. Parent-to-parent. As you know, the movie received an R rating from the MPAA, and I imagine that may make you nervous about allowing your children to see it. Setting aside that, it feels a little weird to have a movie made about my life, and even weirder to be told that my life is “rated R.” I want to tell you, as a mother, what you can expect from the film: The movie does not have profanity. The Lord’s name is not taken in vain or disrespected. There is no nudity, no immodesty, and certainly no sex or “suggestive” moments. None…So why the R rating? For two scenes. Two scenes that the movie team was determined to re-create accurately, at my insistence, because they are important for people to see. The first is a CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) recreation of what I saw on the ultrasound screen when I assisted in the abortion procedure that convinced me of the humanity of the unborn…The second scene that was cited as a reason for the R rating is a scene that re-creates my awful experience with the abortion pill.”

The rating put the film into the same category as The Passion of the Christ, an R-rated Christian film, and further inspired conservative audiences to see it.

As if all that wasn’t galvanizing enough for the abortion “opposition”, the fact that mainstream TV stations (except Fox News) refused ad spots to the film created a lot of buzz on social media. Then Twitter suspended the movie’s account for a few hours on Saturday of opening weekend, causing an outcry among supporters.

“According to Twitter,” a Hollywood Reporter article stated, “Unplanned was not suspended on purpose, but rather was linked to another account that had violated Twitter’s rules. When one account violates those rules, the system then cracks down on linked accounts to mitigate the risk that the original banned account would simply move accounts. After reviewing this case a second time, Twitter decided the Unplanned account should not be affected by the other’s suspension and restored it.”

The “damage” was already done though: as of this week the Unplanned Twitter page has climbed to upwards of 340K while Planned Parenthood slowly reached 260K in response.

2) An Important Story Told Well

Unplanned earned a coveted A+ Cinema Score, the 82nd film to receive something that even Captain Marvel couldn’t quite come away with. Right away this was indication that the film was not the typical, cheesy Christian meander through a preachy, unriveting story.

Ashley Bratcher’s portrayal of Abby Johnson is captivating. Drew Maw’s cinematography is beautiful, and the fast-paced editing enhances it’s flow. The color palette pleases the eye but also effects a symbiosis between the various emotions of the scenes. The music choices are excellent as well; there was only one instance where I felt the soundtrack choice was over the top.

The denouement seemed slightly fast after the powerful punches delivered by the main portion of the film, but it could have been precisely because the story was riveting enough to wish for more.

Unplanned is delighting audiences as a completely watchable film, one to invite critics to because it looks the part as well as containing a startling theme.

3) A Balanced Portrayal of People on Both Sides of the Abortion Issue

As far as portrayal, Rotten Tomatoes Critics gave the film a 50% rotten score with the tagline A dramatic approach to a hot-button topic whose agenda is immediately clear, Unplanned will only reinforce the feelings of viewers on either side of the issue.” Audience response would seem to differ though as ATTWN Ministries posted in their Instagram stories this week that according to one study of 800 Pro-Choice college students who saw the film last weekend, 44% said they had changed their minds and wanted in on the Pro-Life movement.

This drama (unlike the darker Gosnell docu-drama earlier this year) is a good watch for anyone who wants a better and fair exposition of the in-the-field dynamic and rhetoric of both pro-choice and pro-life. It shows both goods and pitfalls of the pro-life movement – such as the ineffectiveness of terror tactics versus the response to a caring network. It shows the genuinely human community of women working at Planned Parenthood and their thought process, as well as the disturbing actuality of what Planned Parenthood does – effectively exposing the sin without demonizing the culprits. This is something new in the history of films on abortion, and it deserves attention. It is also the reason why this film is an excellent outreach to the pro-choice community and an easy invitation (except for the media protestation of it) to open dialogue. It tells a story, plain and simple, with all the facts that played into the journey of Abby Johnson.

Unplanned opens in 600 more theaters this weekend. Whether you are pro-life, pro-choice, film maker, or drama enthusiast, bring a friend and catch this surprising winner while you can.

For showtimes and locations near you, check out Unplanned Tickets.

About the Author

Maria Andress is a film production and acting alumna from JPCatholic (Class of ’17) who hails from the proud green and gold state of Wisconsin. She is currently working in film producing, and pursuing a career in period film production. She is also a travel enthusiast always on the lookout for a fascinating idea or historical tidbit that she can translate to story through the many mediums of art.