Can Hollywood Be Saved?

 

Last year, a number of films were made for and marketed to the Christian market. For a Facebook page I manage, I thought I’d see how much they grossed in the U.S. and compare that to the films nominated for Best Picture (one film is on both lists).

Son of GodThe domestic grosses for 2014 “Christian” films – Unbroken ($109 million), Heaven is for Real ($91 million), God’s Not Dead ($61 million), Son of God ($60 million), Selma ($32 million), When the Game Stands Tall ($30 million), Left Behind ($14 million) and Moms’ Night Out ($10 million) for a total of $407 million.

The domestic grosses for 2014 Best Picture Nominees – American Sniper ($121 million), The Grand Hotel Budapest ($59 million), The Imitation Game ($52 million), Selma ($32 million), Birdman ($29 million), The Theory of Everything ($28 million), Boyhood ($25 million) and Whiplash ($6 million) for a total of $352 million.

Whiplash

So — as of this writing — the Christian films made $55 million more than the Best Picture nominees, though American Sniper will probably bring those numbers much closer in the coming weeks. And though the budget totals for the two groups of films are rather close (the total estimated budgets for the Christian films being $157 million and that for the Pest Picture nominees being $163 million), I’m guessing the Best Picture nominees had much larger marketing budgets. Imagine how much more some of those Christian films would have made if they had actually been watchable? (I’m looking at you, God’s Not Dead).

Notice I left out Noah ($101 million) and Exodus: Gods and Kings ($64 million), both of which were relatively big draws domestically and oversees. Though marketed toward the Christian market, both proved a bait-and-switch, not honoring the market of the faithful.

So will Hollywood learn a lesson? Will they make more films that honor the Christian faith? Will they take note that politically conservative folks are coming out to see American Sniper? Or will their desire to be loved at cocktail parties continue to outweigh their greed?

There are 22 comments.

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  1. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Interesting analysis.  I expect that the Christian market will be served more and more, with better products as time goes on.  I don’t know the industry very well, but it seems that independent filmmakers of all stripes are finding their way through the thicket.  As Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park might say: “money finds a way.”

    For my part, I would also like to see non-evil, Christian/Jewish believing characters in regular movies.  I’m thinking of Man on Fire, in which an old man says to Denzel, who is holding a rocket launcher:

    “Only God can judge.”

    To which Denzel responds, “I don’t judge.  I just arrange the meeting.”

    ….

    Or in Michael Bay’s, The Island.  A black man sees the two main characters survive a ridiculously impossible slide down the side of a sky scraper:

    “Jesus must loooove you!”

    ….

    Or in Independence Day, when Judd Hirsch invites that one guy to pray, who says:

    “I’m not Jewish.”

    To which Hirsch replies, “Nobody’s perfect.”

    ….

    FYI, for all you script writers, here is my fantasy exchange between two characters in mortal peril:

    Person A: “We just need to have faith in ourselves.”

    Person B: “Screw that.  We need God.”

    ….

    Note: You listed Selma under both categories.

    • #1
  2. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @EustaceCScrubb

    Probable Cause

    Note: You listed Selma under both categories.  If “Unbroken” would have been nominated for best picture, it would have been in both lists as well. “Selma”‘s politics may be liberal, but they can’t get around showing this Reverend in a positive light.

    • #2
  3. user_549556 Member
    user_549556
    @VinceGuerra

    Eustace C. Scrubb: Imagine how much more some of those Christian films would have made if they had actually been watchable? (I’m looking at you, “God’s Not Dead”.)

    I’ve been avoiding that one out of an expectation of this. They have gotten considerably better in the past few years on the whole. And whereas Mom’s Night Out was predictable and a little goofy, I probably laughed more while watching it than I have through any other non-animated comedy in a decade.

    • #3
  4. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @EustaceCScrubb

    Vince Guerra – The sad thing about “God’s Not Dead” is that it had a great idea, a Christian student in a class with a Prof with an atheist agenda. That’s a very promising premise. But the Prof is a cartoon villain and the Duck Dynasty cameos added Velveeta to an already full cheese plate. But really, most films are junk, and I trust eventually some more worthy things will come.

    • #4
  5. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    I wonder if making a “Christian” film is like making a “Conservative” film. The only way it’s going to do (really) well is if you show something realistic and don’t really try to make that type of film.

    • #5
  6. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Eustace C. Scrubb: Will they make more films that honor the Christian faith?

    Is that really the right objective? I’m all for having more and better films that treat Christianity seriously — one would think that the world’s largest religion and the dominant one in the world’s superpower would be worth exploring — but message-art is almost always schlock.

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Mike H: I wonder if making a “Christian” film is like making a “Conservative” film. The only way it’s going to do (really) well is if you show something realistic and don’t really try to make that type of film.

    Right. I think Douthat nailed it here:

    [B]ecause reality has a well-known conservative bias, any serious artist who sets out to capture the world in full is going to end up illustrating or illuminating aspects of what I would consider a more traditional vision of human nature and human affairs.

    And this can hold true even when the artist in question is militantly ideological! Nobody doubts that David Simon is a card-carrying left-winger, for instance, or that Lena Dunham’s politics are pink right down to the underwear she so reliably doffs. But both “The Wire” and “Girls” admit of conservative, even deeply reactionary readings, because their primary loyalty—at least in their best episodes and seasons—is to truthful portraits of a given world. And while I think there would be more such portraits, more such truthfulness, if Hollywood were less ideologically monolithic, I wouldn’t want to deny that sometimes they show up, especially when the work in question is particularly well-executed, particularly rich.

    • #7
  8. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @EustaceCScrubb

    Tom Meyer, Ed.

    Eustace C. Scrubb: Will they make more films that honorthe Christian faith?

    Is that really the right objective? I’m all for having more and better films that treat Christianity seriously — one would think that the world’s largest religion and the dominant one in the world’s superpower would be worth exploring — but message-art is almost always schlock.

    You’re right, of course. Would be happy if Hollywood made fewer films looking to trash such things as organized religion and conservative politics as their goal.

    • #8
  9. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Eustace C. Scrubb:Vince Guerra – The sad thing about “God’s Not Dead” is that it had a great idea, a Christian student in a class with a Prof with an atheist agenda. That’s a very promising premise. But the Prof is a cartoon villain and the Duck Dynasty cameos added Velveeta to an already full cheese plate. But really, most films are junk, and I trust eventually some more worthy things will come.

    The Passion wasn’t junk or schlock. A Man for All Seasons is also a great Christian-themed movie. I’ve seen some (one or two) very good portrayals of “modern” saints on EWTN — usually foreign-made.

    It’s certainly possible. I think the mistake many Christian filmmakers  make is starting with “we’ve got to have a Christian theme” and then trying to build a story around it (like Fireproof — oof).

    The story comes first. Always. Mel Gibson had an awesome story to tell!

    • #9
  10. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Oddly I would have placed “American Sniper” under the Christian category.  It definitely has a God, family, country aspect to it.

    • #10
  11. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    My favorite films are about redemption. They’re old, but two favorites are Journey to Bountiful and Tender Mercies.  Let’s have more movies like these please!

    • #11
  12. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Fake John Galt:Oddly I would have placed “American Sniper” under the Christian category. It definitely has a God, family, country aspect to it.

    I was wondering about that. Haven’t seen it.

    • #12
  13. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    These companies are all publicly held. They have responsibilities to their stockholders. Individual greed has little to do with it; they serve that bottom line or they get canned. Studios know that adding religion-friendly films to a lineup can be helpful, just as adding Tyler Perry’s black-oriented films are. In both cases, these films are thought of as minority pleasers, niche markets the executives barely understand.

    Aside from “Passion”, a huge exception to the rule, the studios are usually right; a religious movie is no more of a guaranteed hit than any other movie. So they operate in a different context of “family movies” without any Christian content–“Lego”, “Frozen”, “Wreck-‘Em Ralph” that usually does perform at the box office.

    Hollywood has always been an uneasy truce between the movies you want to see and the movies that professionals want to make. Both groups, of course, are not monolithic, with liberals and conservatives in both, but common sense shows us that on average Hollywood is more liberal than its audiences. That’s an average; plenty of cameramen, electricians, and financiers are as conservative as Ricochet; plenty of audiences like liberal themes.

    “Cocktail parties”? That again? Put it this way: Do you believe in following the Constitution because you have a timid, conformist little social set down at the local Cracker Barrel that would go “ooh, ugh” if you didn’t, and you’re so terrified of being out of step? Or is it because you actually believe in the Constitution? Hollywood’s people are no different.

    • #13
  14. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Probable Cause: #1

    Person A: “We just need to have faith in ourselves.”

    Person B: “Screw that.  We need God.”

    Amen.

    • #14
  15. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Having enjoyed Jesus of Nazareth and The Passion of the Christ immensely, one suspects that such items don’t need to be watered down if properly scripted, directed and acted.

    Other pictures might benefit from being characters being down-played but not watered down.  An attractive character can be attractive in a positive way while displaying a moral or religious outlook, conviction, and/or position.

    • #15
  16. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Western Chauvinist:

    Fake John Galt:Oddly I would have placed “American Sniper” under the Christian category. It definitely has a God, family, country aspect to it.

    I was wondering about that. Haven’t seen it.

    It is worth seeing.  I have never been in the military but have many military friends.  I think the movie is one of the best fair depictions of the challenges active duty military, their family and friends live through in the name of serving our country that I have seen coming out of Hollywood lately.

    While the movie does not overtly state Christian values, the behavior and actions of Chris Kyle reflect the the inherent Christian values of our country and the region he hails from.

    • #16
  17. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    A few data points, for no rhyme or reason:

    We liked One Night With the King.  But the budget was $20 million, while the take was $13.7.  So they apparently lost money.

    On the other hand, Prince of Egypt and Jonah (Veggie Tales) were well done and did well.

    By the way, if my math is correct, the recent abominations Exodus and Noah resulted in returns of 78% and 190%, respectively.  That’s certainly better than the .00001% interest I get at the bank.  I don’t see the studio execs being particularly remorseful over their decisions.

    • #17
  18. user_6179 Inactive
    user_6179
    @KatrinaGulliver

    Several of the films you mention are in current release (Birdman, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything) so their eventual totals will be higher.

    Is your argument that Christian films deserve recognition from the Oscar voters? Or that they are a profitable enterprise?

    Because if you’re going to use their box-office potential as a reason to make “Christian” films, that’s a pretty weak argument.

    The five top-grossing films of 2014 were The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 ($333 million), Guardians of the Galaxy ($333 million), Captain America: the Winter Solder ($259 million), The Lego Movie ($257 million), The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies ($246 million).

    None of those is nominated for Best Picture either.

    You hit the nail on the head when you said “Imagine how much more some of those Christian films would have made if they had actually been watchable?”. Tom Meyer is right too, with “message-art is almost always schlock.”

    The message from box office comparisons is 1. The Motion Picture Academy doesn’t always nominate the most successful moneymakers, and 2. To make money, make a movie about superheroes.

    Notice too, you’re only talking about US domestic box-office. Studios want products that will succeed worldwide. While some Christian films do well internationally (The Passion of the Christ sold extremely well in Latin America etc), in general Jesus flicks aren’t going to get much traction in the European and Asian markets (where a large proportion of the eventual profits from big movies will be made).

    • #18
  19. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Katrina Gulliver:Notice too, you’re only talking about US domestic box-office. Studios want products that will succeed worldwide. While some Christian films do well internationally (The Passion of the Christ sold extremely well in Latin America etc), in general Jesus flicks aren’t going to get much traction in the European and Asian markets (where a large proportion of the eventual profits from big movies will be made).

    Good point.  Exodus and Noah, for example, lost money domestically.  They made their money in the international market.  Soon we may be wondering why they don’t make movies for an American audience, much less a Christian one.

    • #19
  20. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Katrina Gulliver has a sharp understanding of how this works. The overseas market explains not everything, but a lot of things. One reason we get so many action pictures, for one thing; violence and violent revenge are a common denominator. Another overseas-influenced fact is Hollywood’s studied two-facedness about black actors; they still don’t sell overseas that well in anything but “buddy” action comedies, like the “Beverly Hills Cop”–“Rush Hour” traditional groove.

    Trivia fact: an American genre that rarely does well overseas is the courtroom drama. A longtime favorite of Hollywood’s because they are usually cheap to make, they flop overseas because the law processes are so different, and often there’s a lot of talk that baffles the rest of the world: “He goes free just because the policeman said a bad word?? Why didn’t the cop just kill him?”

    Bottom line: You’d see many more Christian films if either (a) today’s most skilled, successful filmmakers converted to Christianity; or (b) Christians put real money into producing these films. Since (b) is the only remotely possible answer that doesn’t infuriate a closely allied and beloved ethno-religious group, you’d think Christians over the decades would have put more into it than just sitting on their fannies and griping. Look at Philip Anschutz; we wanted “Narnia” to be a film series, he had the dough to make it happen, and he did. Nobody stopped Gibson from releasing “Passion” in theaters.

    Bluntly, Christians could do better out of the Hollywood system, but by and large they get little out of a system they put nothing into.

    • #20
  21. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Gary McVey:Bluntly, Christians could do better out of the Hollywood system, but by and large they get little out of a system they put nothing into.

    Gary, are you talking about Christians in general, or primarily ones with significant wealth?

    • #21
  22. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Primarily ones with significant wealth and an interest in changing the culture. Some might ruefully say, significant squanderable wealth, but that merely acknowledges that it’s a risky business and always will be. Over time, investing in a slate of movies has proven to be less risky than putting everything you’ve got into one title. The Left thinks of this sort of thing as a long term R and D project; when Righties get involved, it’s usually been a one-shot.

    It’s true that now, crowdfunding offers a way for a lot of people to make a movie with a small individual contribution, but I don’t call it an investment unless the movie is meant to seriously engage the general public, and more than make its money back. So if confessional Lutherans, say, want to make a heroic movie about Martin Niemuller, for limited friends-and-family release, great–more power to them. But the kind of example I’m thinking about is more like “Passion” in its cultural or commercial impact. If the Lutherans I just mentioned had a blockbuster novel, a robust and reverent epic of European Christianity that could compete commercially with “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings”, would a believing mulitmillionaire try to discover or create the next George Lucas to direct it, or would the community just leave it all to Warner Bros.?  Probably the latter; it’s less risky. Anyone would understand that. But then we have less ground to complain.

    • #22

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