There was a time that Hollywood thought of Christian movies as amateurish – that’s when they were mostly made by amateurs! No kidding! Then along came Mel Gibson’s The Passion which took in $611m gross. That made Hollywood sit up and take notice. At first they were made by Christian groups with unknown actors and critics noticed that they featured “… the kind of music that you hear while on hold to speak to someone about life insurance.” In most movies “No one smokes or curses. The men are usually cops, or firefighters, and often have a black best friend, dispensing gold-plated advice. There is a higher-than-average chance of encountering a mullet, or a cameo by a cast member from Duck Dynasty, or a product placement for Chick-fil-A.” (Per the Guardian – link below)
But this year (2014), so far, Son of God has taken in $67m, Noah $359m, God’s Not Dead $60m and Heaven is for Real $91m. They have had real actors playing realistic people with a bit of God fantasy woven in. Coming soon (December?) are Ridley Scott’s retelling of the story of Moses, Exodus; a prequel to The Passion called Mary, Mother of Christ and a Cain and Abel film set to star Will Smith.
A remake of Left Behind is expected in October – the original in 2002 starred Nicolas Cage and was about the rapture. Christians have been ambivalent about the whole thing – some point out that this is Hollywood and not theology but Christians seem to patronise the movies targeted at them anyway. Hollywood values box-office first, artistic merit somewhere after that and fact last. Why not? They often make great movies about novels and the Bible is the best read novel of all time. After all a bit of magic often makes a movie come together – Star Wars would not be the same without “The Force”.
Heaven is for Real was reasonably well made although the Guardian comments: “…heaven turns out to resemble a toilet-roll commercial and Jesus looks like Rod Stewart in a bathrobe, with music that sounds like the music you hear while on hold to check on your pension.”
Why are Bible movies doing so well?
Shawn Robbins, an analyst at boxoffice.com says:
“Having not just one do so well is a big deal, but having so many – Heaven is for Real, God’s Not Dead and Son of God – all come along and do well in the space of this year is unprecedented,” says “No doubt about it, Hollywood has been caught napping.” He attributes a big part of this to social media. “Thirty years ago you had network television, trying to appeal to everyone. Now you can reach a niche audience with much greater ease. They have these grassroots marketing campaigns for faith-based movies that start with churchgoers who are looking for something they’re not getting from the movie theatre. And the better they do, the more attention they’re getting from the studios.”
In case you haven’t seen these movies, let me give some short synopses:
Son of God: Edited from the popular TV Mini-series “The Bible” on the History Channel which tried to make sense of the New Testament. It perpetuates all the clichés and “best loved stories” used in sermons every Sunday. If you like these, you’ll love the movie!
God’s Not Dead: A putdown of Atheists and their lack of faith in any god. Positioned as a rational discussion, but it’s not. Would appeal to Christians wanting a comeback to Atheists.
Noah:Makes Noah more realistic – he has to fight off the hordes that also want to be on his Ark. A bit of God’s magic helps.
Heaven is for Real: About the indoctrinated young son of a pastor who had an Out of Body experience and describes it convincingly.
Left Behind: The Rapture happens and the world is plunged into chaos and must deal with the Anti-Christ. Critics blasted the poor quality of the movie making. The follow up should be better made and the premise of people disappearing is no worse than a superhero movie.
Mary, Mother of Christ. With few details in the Bible, the upbringing of Jesus by Mary and Joseph is imagined. Hard to imagine non-Christians wanting to see it.
But can Hollywood keep it going? Will there be more religious movie successes? Will the Christian community keep flocking to the movies made for them?
The Guardian is not sure:
There is a distinct danger, some say, of Hollywood moving into the market too fast, with too little understanding of the dog-whistle finesse with which Christian groups communicate with one another. “Like any good trend, there’s a danger of moving too fast,” says (Shawn) Robbins (at boxoffice.com). “If they do move too fast they’re going to destroy whatever goodwill they’ve built up so far. It’s just like anything else, there’s a sweet spot to it. Mel Gibson made The Passion of The Christ independently but pulled off the perfect marriage of a film that looked and felt like a Hollywood movie but wasn’t. If Hollywood gets too involved the target audience will disperse pretty quick.”
Or as Luke (16:13) puts it: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
But Hollywood is struggling right now – the Internet is the latest foe. My guess is that they need to scale down, make more cheaper but better quality movies. Less special effects, more human interest and comedy. Aim at many niches instead of trying to please all with one movie. But then that’s exactly what Christian movies aim at – a niche. It’s just that we need Hollywood to cater to other niches too.
Source: The Guardian