I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine Information

I Can Only Imagine is a 2018 American biographical Christian drama film directed by the Erwin Brothers and written by Alex Cramer, Jon Erwin, and Brent McCorkle, based on the story behind the MercyMe song of the same name, the most played Christian radio single ever. 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, Priscilla Shirer, Cloris Leachman, and Trace Adkins also star.

I Can Only Imagine was released on March 16, 2018, in the United States and has grossed $56 million worldwide. 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.


Coming from a home with an abusive father, 10-year-old Bart Millard is dropped off at a Christian camp by his mother, where he meets Shannon. On his return from camp, Bart finds his mother has left and movers are removing her belongings, leading to a physical confrontation with his father, Arthur.

Now in high school, Millard and Shannon are dating and he breaks both ankles in a football accident, ending his career and forcing him into a music class, where he is initially assigned as a sound technician. After the director catches him singing in the empty auditorium, she casts him as Curly in the school production of Oklahoma. He doesn't tell his father of the play, and while Bart has risen to the singing demands of the part, Arthur subsequently collapses with severe abdominal pain, but refuses to tell Bart or Shannon about his cancer diagnosis. Shannon presses Bart to open up, and he responds by breaking up with her and leaving to seek his fortune in the city after graduation.

Millard then connects with the band who would become MercyMe, and eventually attracts the attention of Christian music producer Scott Brickell, who coaches Millard and gets them a gig in Nashville, leading to meetings with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Millard has been unable to reconcile with Shannon, who rejects his invitation to tour with the band. While the Nashville show goes well, Millard bursts in on Brickell's post-show discussion with the music industry representatives, and is given the harsh feedback that MercyMe is not good enough to sell records. In despair, he initially decides his father's negativity about dreaming is correct and decides to quit the band. Brickell encourages him to resolve his issues with his father, and the band accepts his leave of absence.

Millard returns home and is greeted enthusiastically by his father the next morning. Unbeknownst to Bart, Arthur has become a Christian and begun trying to change his angry and abusive ways due to his terminal diagnosis, but Bart rejects his father's overtures. The Millards reconcile once Bart discovers his father's condition, and they bond over father-son activities until Arthur succumbs to cancer.

After the funeral, Millard rejoins the band and pens "I Can Only Imagine". Brickell sends the demo tape to several artists, including Grant, who arranges to record the song herself. Millard is seated in the audience when Grant intends to unveil the song live in concert, but she instead calls him to the microphone. Millard's unexpected performance is wildly applauded, and he reunites with Shannon, who, previously unbeknownst to him, had also been in attendance.


  • J. Michael Finley as Bart Millard
    • Brody Rose as Young Bart
  • Dennis Quaid as Arthur Millard, Bart's father
  • Cloris Leachman as Meemaw, Bart's grandmother
  • Madeline Carroll as Shannon, Bart's girlfriend
    • Taegen Burns as Young Shannon
  • Trace Adkins as Scott Brickell, MercyMe's manager
  • Priscilla Shirer as Mrs. Fincher, Bart's teacher
  • Nicole DuPort as Amy Grant
  • Jake B. Miller as Michael W. Smith
  • Mark Furze as Nathan


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


Box office

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. 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. 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. 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). In its second weekend, the film dropped just 19% to $13.8 million, again finishing third. It finished fourth in its third weekend, making $10.7 million (including $3.3 million on Easter Sunday).

Critical response

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 68% based on 22 reviews, and an average rating of 6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "I Can Only Imagines message will have the most impact among Christian audiences, but overall, its performances and storytelling represent a notable evolution in faith-based cinema." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 29 out of 100, based on 7 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". In contrast, audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale, one of fewer than 80 films in the history of the service to earn such a score.

The Arizona Republics James Ward gave the film 4/5 stars 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." 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."

Tom Joyce of the conservative website LifeZette gave the film a positive review and used it to argue that Hollywood needs to make more faith-based films.

Faith-based reviewers were mostly positive. Adam R. Holz of PluggedIn.com said he originally "was skeptical that a movie based on a song could work" but added he "was wrong." He gave the film 4.5 out of 5 stars and said the movie "challenges and inspires me to forgive others and to ask for forgiveness myself in the ways I've failed others." Michael Foust of the Southern Baptist Texan gave it 5 out of 5 stars and called it "one of the most powerful" films he had seen. "The screenplay is gripping, the soundtrack is perfect, and the performances by Quaid and Finley had me squirming, laughing and crying," Foust wrote.

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