Son Of God Movie Box OfficeSon Of God from Fox so far is the surprise of the weekend, taking in a phenom $1.2M Thursday in late-night shows that began at 10 PM. Universal’s Non-Stop also did bang-up business beginning with 8 PM shows and a total of 720K, according to estimates, as the actioner starring Liam Neeson right now is also playing strong. Two distributors compared Non-Stop‘s opening to that of Olympus Has Fallen, which went onto gross $161M+ worldwide ($99M of it in the U.S.) and that opening was $500,000. So right now Non-Stop is playing above that.

5688_D014_00463_R.JPGSon Of God still could end up anywhere on the box office top 10, depending how it does this weekend, but if last night is any indication, it could push right up the aisle past Non-Stop. Distributors and those who track the films for a living cannot predict what this picture will gross in its three-day. Reality TV king Mark Burnett, who is producing the picture and is doing a heck of a job garnering publicity with his exec producer Roma Downey, already helped drum up $4.5M in pre-sold tickets — that includes a tremendous amount of group sales from a Colorado-based company called Compassion International which is buying up tickets and giving away parishoners to churches in 40 U.S. cities. “It’s an excellent start and it looks as though Mark and Roma’s sincere grass-roots marketing efforts have ignited and motivated audiences across the country to see Son Of God,” Fox domestic distribution boss Chris Aronson said.

Related: Hot Trailer: Fox’s ‘Son Of God’

The moviegoers that come to see this particular genre aren’t frequent moviegoers so they are traditionally hard to track. To that point, only 30% of 1,000 people buying tickets for Son Of God have seen Frozen and only 28% have seen Gravity — two of the biggest box office hits today. However, at the same time, Fandango also found that 94% Son Of God ticket buyers want to see more Biblical stories made into motion pictures and 76% plan to see Paramount’s Noah starring Russell Crowe and 83% are interested in seeing TriStar/Screen Gems’ Heaven Is For Real (Greg Kinnear). The latter is based on the book that wouldn’t leave the New York Times bestseller’s list. Roughly the same percentage — 82% — are interested in seeing Fox’s Exodus starring Christian Bale. So Son Of God is going to give the studios — especially Fox — a lot of propriety information moving forward on marketing Exodus.

Paramount is also enlisting help from religious entities for their marketing materials. The National Religious Broadcasters and Paramount said last night that they made the joint decision to add an explanatory message to future marketing materials for Noah. Specicially, marketing materials will state: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.” Studios are listening to the faith-based organizations and what works and what doesn’t.

If you look at the research based on ticket sales, Son of God represented 40% of their tracked sales on Thursday afternoon, according to Fandango. “There haven’t been a lot of major studio film releases for this audience,” said Dave Karger, chief correspondent for Fandango. “We’ve seen robust sales for Tyler Perry movies and independent faith-based films like Fireproof, Courageous and Unstoppable — and Son of God appears to be striking a chord with ticket buyers as well.” The box office on Kirk Cameron-starring Fireproof, from filmmaker Alex Kendrick took a lot of people by surprise. On a $500,000 budget, it ended up grossing $33.4M here. Kendrick’s next film Courageous, on a $2M budget, ended up about the same place with $34.5M.

Son of God was clipped together with some new footage and clips from The Bible series on the History Channel. Initially Burnett tried to get Fox News Channel to air the film but it didn’t work out as the network would have had to set aside weeks of airtime to play out the entire version. Because Fox had distributed the DVD of The Bible and had a relationship with Burnett, the studio’s home entertainment division approached the Fox filmed entertainment division and a deal was struck to distribute the film. Fox is carrying marketing and distribution costs.

Oscar weekend should see a slight decline in older females as it traditionally loses a bit (maybe 15% on Sunday) of that demographic — kind of the opposite of Super Bowl weekend where the male demo slides off on Sunday but it will be negligible. This weekend, Paramount is re-launching its Will Ferrell comedy Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues in the U.S. and the U.K. for one week under an R-rating with the marketing angle that it has over 700 new jokes. Sony is also releasing in 300 locations, the Russian hit Stalingrad in 3-D  IMAX and Disney is expanding the animated picture from writer/director Hayao Miyazaki The Wind Rises, which did extremely strong per screen averages last weekend on only 21 screens. It will rise to 500 screens this weekend.