Despite significant marketing hurdles and a suspended Twitter account, the pro-life movie Unplanned has made millions in its first week and opens in 700 additional theaters on Friday.
The PureFlix film, about former Planned Parenthood facility manager Abby Johnson’s conversion to the pro-life movement, debuted in more than 1,000 theaters last weekend and earned a rare A+ rating from CinemaScore, which tracks audience reactions. It grossed a surprising $6.3 million and came in fourth in box office returns last weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.
Unplanned producer Joe Knopp credited the movie’s success to a grassroots effort from churches, pro-life groups, and social media. TV channels such as HGTV, Lifetime, and the Hallmark Channel, along with the Christian radio network K-Love, refused to run ads for or promote Unplanned, saying it was too political or citing its R-rating, which filmmakers protested.
Then, last Saturday, one day after the movie’s theatrical debut, Twitter suspended Unplanned’s official account, citing a “platform-wide issue” that would take up to 24 hours to resolve, Knopp told me.
“With so many refusing to run our ads, we were relegated to social media as our final piece of marketing. It was amazing to watch it shut down right before our eyes,” he said. The movie’s Twitter account was restored within 90 minutes, but throughout the day many users continued to report glitches or difficulty getting their “follows” to stick, preventing the movie from trending.
News spread quickly, and supporters worried Twitter was trying to stifle the movie’s pro-life message. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted, “Big Tech’s attempted censorship of @UnplannedMovie is deeply troubling.” Donald Trump Jr. chimed in, tweeting, “Yet another example of the Social Media Masters only letting people see what they want them to see and believe. The censorship and the bias must stop!!!”
Knopp called Twitter’s shutdown “too much of a coincidence,” but he also said it provided a welcome marketing boon. This week, Unplanned has reached nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter, surpassing Planned Parenthood’s 260,000 followers.
Meanwhile, many K-Love listeners have flooded the network’s Facebook page with comments and endorsements of the movie. While the network has maintained its silence, it has been playing the movie’s theme song, also titled “Unplanned,” by musician Matthew West.
Unplanned isn’t the first pro-life film to overcome overwhelming odds. Media outlets largely ignored last year’s PG-13 film Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, which grossed almost $3.7 million even after a major screening event was canceled, a crowdfunding site shut down its financing campaign, and television networks refused to promote it.
On Monday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called Unplanned “deeply inspiring” and tweeted that “more Americans are embracing the sanctity of life because of powerful stories like this one.”