By JH staff, Special for USDR
Moviegoers can expect to see a lot more films with faith-oriented themes coming their way. Why? Quite simply, faith-based movies are turning out to be phenomenally profitable ventures.
Ten years ago Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” demonstrated that Christians would happily pack multiplexes in their show of support for authentically respectful films on faith. Gibson’s biblically based box-office blockbuster cost about $30 million to make and yielded more than $378.5 million domestically.
On the heels of a solid small-screen run as the Mike Seaver character in the 1985-1992 sitcom “Growing Pains,” Kirk Cameron parlayed his television success into full-fledged Christian box-office achievement. Cameron plays the lead role in the 2008 film “Fireproof,” which pulled in more than $33 million on a relatively small production budget of $500,000. His “Courageous” follow-up film grossed $34.5 million, with a modest production cost tally of only $2 million.
In February 2014 “Son of God” had the movie industry’s rapt attention with an unexpected debut weekend that pulled in $25.6 million and had a cumulative total of more than $59 million, all on a $20 million budget. Those who were aware of the incredible promotion and marketing effort of film producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey were not surprised by the movie’s success. The film was adapted from Burnett and Downey’s record breaking cable TV miniseries “The Bible.” The couple had more than 40 advisers from numerous Christian denominations review the script. Advisers were invited to observe some of the filming and to screen preliminary edits. Burnett and Downey gave numerous interviews with faith friendly media, developed credibility with leaders in the faith-based community, generated pre-release ticket sales, and put together a related Christian music concert tour.
The current “God’s Not Dead” big-screen release, which features Kevin Sorbo of the hit 1990s television series “Hercules,” continues to show unusual staying power at the box office. For the fifth straight week, the film finished the weekend in the top ten, pulling in just under $4.9 million. Its total gross has now exceeded $48 million, with a production budget of only $2 million.
The third most popular movie in North America at the present time is yet another profit generating faith-based film, “Heaven Is For Real,” which is an adaptation of the #1 New York Times best-selling book of the same name. Director and co-writer Randall Wallace has an affinity with audiences who seek authenticity and meaning from cinematic works. He is known for his writing in the films “We Were Soldiers,” “Pearl Harbor,” and “Braveheart.” “Heaven Is For Real” garnered $21.5 million in its opening weekend and has a cumulative gross of $28.5 million on a reported production budget of only $12 million. The audience has given the movie a CinemaScore of “A,” which means it is likely to continue to draw moviegoers.
The considerable profit margins of these faith-oriented movies are evidence that the almost 40% of the country, who are active Christians engaged in their faith, are a significant underserved audience hungering for quality content. To this end, in October 2014 a new version of the movie “Left Behind,” which is a remake of the adaptation of the best selling book of the same name, will be based on a plotline that takes place after the Biblical rapture. The reboot will feature a familiar Hollywood name in the lead role, Nicolas Cage.
“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which stars Christian Bale as Moses and is directed by Ridley Scott, is slated for a Christmas 2014 release.
Movies in development that are scheduled to be released in 2015 include a Pontius Pilate biopic starring Brad Pitt, a Cain and Abel film involving Will Smith, and a biopic on Mary, the Mother of Christ.
No doubt the desirable profit margins of films that are attractive to Christians have caught the attention of production companies, studios, and most importantly, Hollywood’s financiers. It may be that the newfound faith in religious-oriented fare has made a lot of Hollywood decision makers believers in the marketing power of God.