I Can Only Imagine (film)

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I Can Only Imagine
Theatrical release poster
Directed byErwin Brothers
Screenplay by
  • Jon Erwin
  • Brent McCorkle
Story by
  • Alex Cramer
  • Jon Erwin
  • Brent McCorkle
Based onThe life story of
Bart Millard
Produced by
  • Cindy Bond
  • Kevin Downes
  • Daryl Lefever
  • Mickey Liddell
  • Pete Shilaimon
  • Raymond Harris
  • Joe Knopp
CinematographyKristopher Kimlin
Edited by
  • Andrew Erwin
  • Brent McCorkle
Music byBrent McCorkle
Distributed by
Release date
  • March 16, 2018 (2018-03-16)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million[2]
Box office$86 million[3][2]

I Can Only Imagine is a 2018 American Christian biographical drama film directed by the Erwin Brothers and written by Alex Cramer, Jon Erwin, and Brent McCorkle, based on the story behind the group MercyMe's song of the same name, the best-selling Christian single of all time.[4] The film stars J. Michael Finley as Bart Millard, the lead singer who wrote the song about his relationship with his father (Dennis Quaid). Madeline Carroll, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer, and Cloris Leachman also star.

I Can Only Imagine was released in the United States on March 16, 2018. It was a box office success, grossing $86 million worldwide against a production budget of $7 million, earning more than twelve times its budget. It is the fifth highest-grossing music biopic[5] and sixth highest-grossing Christian film[6] of all-time in the United States. Some critics praised it as inspiring and noted it as an improvement compared to other faith-based films, while others called it flat and by-the-numbers. At the 2018 Dove Awards, the film won "Inspirational Film of the Year".[7]


Ten-year-old Bart Millard lives with his mother and abusive father Arthur in Texas. One day, Bart's mother drops him off at a Christian camp, where Bart meets Shannon. Upon his return from camp, Bart finds that his mother has left and movers are removing her belongings. Bart angrily confronts Arthur, who denies that his abusiveness was the reason she left.

Years later, in high school, Bart and Shannon are dating. Bart plays football to please Arthur, but is injured, breaking both ankles and ending his career. The only elective with openings is music class, so he reluctantly signs up. Initially, Bart is assigned to be a sound technician, but after overhearing him singing, the director casts him in the lead role in the school production of Oklahoma!. Bart overcomes his reluctance and gives an impressive performance, but does not tell Arthur, who finds out the night of the show when he happens to see a flyer for the show in a diner. Arthur suddenly collapses in pain, and finds out he has cancer, which he hides from Bart. The following morning, Bart antagonizes Arthur, who smashes a plate over his head. At church, Shannon sees the blood and presses Bart to open up, but he responds by breaking up with her, and leaves town to seek his fortune in the city.

Bart joins a band in need of a singer, and convinces Christian music producer Scott Brickell to manage the band and secure a showcase in Nashville. Bart surprises Shannon and invites her to tour with the band, and is confused when Shannon flatly refuses. In Nashville, Brickell introduces Bart to established artists Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, but is unable to convince record executives to sign the band, who do not believe the band, now performing as "MercyMe", is good enough. Devastated, Bart quits the band, but Brickell thinks that Bart needs to resolve issues in his personal life, so Bart reconciles with the band and asks them to wait for him, and leaves to return home.

Bart returns home late at night, and is confused to find that Arthur has prepared breakfast for him the next morning. Arthur claims to have become a Christian, but Bart is skeptical and refuses to forgive him, and leaves. In anger and despair, Arthur smashes his old Jeep, which he had asked Bart to help him restore. Bart attempts to drive away in Arthur's pickup, but discovers the terminal cancer diagnosis, and returns to Arthur. Bart forgives his father, and the two form a deep bond, but Arthur soon dies of his illness.

After Arthur's funeral, Bart rejoins the band and writes "I Can Only Imagine", and also calls Shannon and apologizes to her for the first time since their breakup. Brickell sends the demo tape to several artists, including Grant, who, deeply moved by the song, asks to record it herself as her next single, and Bart, who just wants the song to be heard, accepts. On stage, Grant begins the song, but can't bring herself to sing it, and calls Bart on stage from the audience to sing it himself. Bart's performance earns an enthusiastic ovation, and he reunites with Shannon, who was also in attendance. The band releases the song as their first single, achieving success on both Christian and mainstream radio.



The film was announced in December 2016.[8] Dennis Quaid joined the cast in January 2017.[9] Broadway actor J. Michael Finley, who sang all the songs in the movie, makes his film debut as Bart Millard.[1] The same month, it was announced that the film was slated for release in the spring of 2018.[9] In August 2017, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions signed on as distributors for the film for a nationwide release in the United States.[1][10]


Box office[edit]

I Can Only Imagine grossed $83.4 million in the United States and Canada and $1.8 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $85.2 million, against a production budget of $7 million.[2] It is the fourth-highest grossing music biopic of all-time in the United States, behind Bohemian Rhapsody, Straight Outta Compton and Walk the Line.[11] It is also the highest-grossing independent film of 2018.[12]

I Can Only Imagine was released on March 16, 2018, alongside Tomb Raider and Love, Simon, and was originally projected to gross $2–4 million from 1,620 theaters in its opening weekend.[13] However, after making $6.2 million on its first day (including $1.3 million from Thursday night previews), weekend estimates were increased to $14 million.[14] It ended up grossing $17.1 million, exceeding expectations and finishing third at the box office behind Black Panther and Tomb Raider. 67% of the opening weekend audience was female while 80% was over the age of 35.[15] It was the fourth best-ever opening for a faith-based film, following The Passion of the Christ ($83.8 million), Son of God ($25.6 million) and Heaven Is for Real ($22.5 million).[16] In its second weekend the film was added to 624 additional theaters and dropped just 19% to $13.8 million, again finishing third.[17] It was added to another 395 venues and finished fourth in its third weekend, making $10.4 million (including $3 million on Easter Sunday).[18]

The film has been translated and distributed in several countries,[19] including China, according to co-director Jon Erwin:

I find it very interesting that in the same year that China actually restricted . . . Christianity, they paid for 'I Can Only Imagine'. . . . They paid for the right to translate it and distribute it to their people. That's happened in over 100 countries around the world with our films.[20]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 67% based on 33 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "I Can Only Imagine's message will have the most impact among Christian audiences, but overall, its performances and storytelling represent a notable evolution in faith-based cinema."[21] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 30 out of 100, based on eight critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[22] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare average grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

The Arizona Republic's James Ward gave the film 4 stars out of 5 and wrote, "Too often faith-based films — say anything with Kirk Cameron or the terrible God's Not Dead series — tend to preach to the choir or hector their audience. The Erwins’ films — I Can Only Imagine definitely among them — are more inclusive, charitable of spirit and hopeful, all qualities that are always appreciated, be they rooted in Christian faith or otherwise."[23] David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a "C−" saying: "There’s a reason why all of these movies are so amateurishly made; why they all end with links to religious websites; why they all look like they were shot on an iPhone by a Walmart-brand Janusz Kaminski who lit each interior like the white light of heaven was streaming through every window...Art can be affirmation, but affirmation cannot be art."[24]

Faith-based reviewers mostly gave the movie positive reviews. Megan Basham of World magazine called Quaid "the real workhorse" and added that he "bears the heavy load of convincingly giving us both a monster and a repentant dad longing to connect with his son. Quaid impresses on both counts."[25] Michael Foust of the Southern Baptist Texan gave the film 5 out of 5 stars and wrote, "The screenplay is gripping, the soundtrack is perfect, and the performances by Quaid and Finley had me squirming, laughing and crying."[26]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on iTunes and Google Play on June 5, 2018, and on DVD and Blu-ray on June 12, 2018.[27][28] I Can Only Imagine was the no. 1 film in DVD sales and rentals for the weeks ending June 17 and June 24, 2018.[29][30] As of February 2020, I Can Only Imagine has earned $24 million in home media sales.[2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients Result
K-LOVE Fan Awards[31] May 27, 2018 Film Impact I Can Only Imagine Won
Dove Awards[7] October 16, 2018 Inspirational Film of the Year I Can Only Imagine Won
People's Choice Awards[32] November 11, 2018 The Family Movie of 2018 I Can Only Imagine Nominated
27th Annual Movieguide Awards[33] February 8, 2019 Best Movie For Families I Can Only Imagine Nominated
Epiphany Prize for Most Inspiring Movie I Can Only Imagine Won
Grace Award for Movies Dennis Quaid and J. Michael Finley, for their roles in I Can Only Imagine Nominated
9th Annual Guild of Music Supervisors Awards[34] February 13, 2019 Best Music Supervision for Film Budgeted Under $10 Million Kevin Edelman and Ben Sokoler – I Can Only Imagine Nominated
Plugged In Movie Awards 2019[35] February 22, 2019 Best Christian Movie – Audience's Choice I Can Only Imagine Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Anita, Busch (August 14, 2017). "Faith-Based 'I Can Only Imagine' Picked Up By Lionsgate & Roadside Attractions". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Archived from the original on February 23, 2018. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d "I Can Only Imagine (2018)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Archived from the original on March 23, 2018. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  3. ^ "I Can Only Imagine (2018)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on October 30, 2019. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  4. ^ Ryan, Patrick (March 13, 2018). "How did 'I Can Only Imagine' become the biggest Christian hit ever (and inspire a movie)?". USA Today. Archived from the original on March 23, 2018. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
  5. ^ "Christian Movies at the Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on August 30, 2019. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  6. ^ "Christian Movies at the Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on May 13, 2019. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  7. ^ a b "49th Annual GMA Dove Awards Winners Revealed Tuesday Night in Nashville | The 52nd Annual GMA Dove Awards". Archived from the original on 2018-10-19. Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  8. ^ Staff Reports (December 2, 2016). "MercyMe hit song turning into Okie production". NewsOK. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Busch, Anita (January 5, 2017). "Faith-Based Film 'I Can Only Imagine' With Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman And Trace Adkins Eyes Spring 2018 Release". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Archived from the original on May 5, 2019. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  10. ^ Galuppo, Mia (August 14, 2017). "Lionsgate, Roadside Acquire Faith-Based Drama 'I Can Only Imagine'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on January 28, 2018. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  11. ^ "Biopic – Music Movies at the Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on August 30, 2019. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  12. ^ Erbland, Kate. "The 20 Highest Grossing Indies of 2018 (A Running List) – IndieWire". IndieWire. Archived from the original on June 24, 2018. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  13. ^ Fuster, Jeremy (March 13, 2018). "Will 'Tomb Raider' Be the Movie to Finally Knock 'Black Panther' From Box Office Perch?". TheWrap. Archived from the original on March 14, 2018. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  14. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 16, 2018). "'Black Panther' Poised For $460M+ In Profit; 'I Can Only Imagine' Surprises – Box Office Update". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Archived from the original on March 21, 2018. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  15. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 18, 2018). "'Black Panther' Keeps B.O. Treasure From 'Tomb Raider'; How 'I Can Only Imagine' Hit A $17M High Note". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Archived from the original on March 20, 2018. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  16. ^ "Box Office: 'I Can Only Imagine' Revives Faith-Based Genre". The Hollywood Reporter. March 20, 2018. Archived from the original on March 20, 2018. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  17. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (March 25, 2018). "Does 'Pacific Rim: Uprising' Break Even At The Global B.O.?; 'Black Panther' Sets Marvel Record – Sunday Postmortem". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on November 11, 2020. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  18. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (April 1, 2018). "How Warner Bros. Sold 'Ready Player One' On The Spielberg Spirit & Beat Tracking With $53M+ 4-Day – Sunday Postmortem". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on April 1, 2018. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  19. ^ "I Can Only Imagine (2018) – International Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on July 20, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
  20. ^ Leah Marieann Klett (April 9, 2019). "'I Can Only Imagine' Film Being Used by God to Bring Gospel to China, Reveals Director". Gospel Herald. Archived from the original on August 24, 2019. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
  21. ^ "I Can Only Imagine (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Archived from the original on December 12, 2017. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  22. ^ "I Can Only Imagine Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on May 29, 2018. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  23. ^ Ward, James (March 15, 2018). "Faith-based drama 'I Can Only Imagine' doesn't just preach to the choir". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  24. ^ Ehrlich, David (March 21, 2018). "'I Can Only Imagine' Review: A Christian Rock Biopic Shows Why Faith-Based Films Struggle to Convert Secular Audiences". IndieWire. Archived from the original on March 21, 2018. Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  25. ^ "The story of a song – WORLD". world.wng.org. Archived from the original on 2018-11-19. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  26. ^ "REVIEW: 'I Can Only Imagine' is one of the most powerful films you'll ever see | Texan Online". texanonline.net. Archived from the original on 2018-11-20. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  27. ^ June 5 Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Releases Archived 2021-01-17 at the Wayback Machine Comingsoon.net, Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  28. ^ I Can Only Imagine Blu-ray Archived 2018-06-23 at the Wayback Machine Blu-ray.com, June 22, 2018
  29. ^ ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Earns Top Spot on Home Video Charts Archived 2018-10-21 at the Wayback Machine Media Play News, June 21, 2018
  30. ^ "I Can Only Imagine (2018) – Financial Information". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 2018-03-23. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
  31. ^ "Voting is now closed". K-LOVE Fan Awards. February 12, 2015. Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  32. ^ USA TODAY Life staff (2018-09-24). "People's Choice Awards 2018: The Nominees". USA Today. Archived from the original on 2018-09-24. Retrieved 2018-09-26.
  33. ^ Kimberly Nordyke (2019-01-09). "Movieguide Awards: 'Mary Poppins Returns,' 'Spider-Verse' Among Nominees (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2019-07-09. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  34. ^ Steve Pond (2019-01-10). "Guild of Music Supervisors Nominates 'A Star Is Born,' 'Mary Poppins Returns' for Top Awards". The Wrap. Archived from the original on 2019-01-10. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
  35. ^ Paul Asay (February 22, 2019). "Plugged In Movie Awards 2019: And The Winners Are …". Plugged In. Archived from the original on April 11, 2020. Retrieved January 23, 2020.

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