“When it comes to box office returns, God is good and only getting better.”
That’s the conclusion of Bloomberg Businessweek reporter David Walters, who recently posted an article about the new popularity of Christian films.
Walters reports that "faith-based" films are experiencing a resurgence after a fallow period of several decades. Movies like “The 10 Commandments” and “Ben-Hur” were hugely popular in the 1950s – “The 10 Commandments” is, adjusted for inflation, the sixth-highest grossing domestic movie of all time - but interest in the genre cooled off until Mel Gibson’s 2004 “The Passion of the Christ,” which grossed over $600 million on a $30 million budget.
Walters observes that in 2016 a new crop of Christian films such as “Miracles from Heaven” and “Risen” are doing well at the box office:
Industry watchers assumed that Miracles and Risen would earn money slowly and steadily leading up to the Easter holiday. Instead, they surged in their opening weekends. Risen out-earned buzzy horror flick The Witch and Jesse Owens biopic Race, trailing only Marvel’s Deadpool and DreamWorks Pictures’ Kung Fu Panda 3. Miracles recouped its $13 million production budget in just four days, knocking the J.J. Abrams-produced 10 Cloverfield Lane out of the top three earners for the week. Explain it however you want: savvy positioning or divine intervention. But when it comes to box office returns, God is good and only getting better.
“Miracles from Heaven” was budgeted at $13 million and has grossed over $37 million domestically. “Risen” has grossed over $36 million on a budget of $20 million. “God’s Not Dead,” whose sequel “God’s Not Dead 2” will be released April 1, made over $60 million domestically on a $2 million budget. And a remake of "Ben-Hur" is scheduled for release this August.
Walters reports that part of the key to a successful faith-based film is to have a reasonable budget and to not stray too far from the Biblical source. Ridley Scott’s 2014 “Gods and Kings” failed to recoup even half of its $140 budget, and Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” was protested for taking liberties with the original story.
“The studio heads aren’t really interested in this market, nor do they really know it,” David A.R. White, the co-founder of the “Christ-centered” movie production company Pure Flix Entertainment, told Walters. “So they’re thinking, we’re spending a hundred million, so let’s try to make it a crossover movie –a disaster epic. Let’s do the least amount that we have to do to gather the faith audience, because they’re stupid; they’ll come to anything that has a Bible in it. But the problem is, the faith audience isn’t stupid. They’ve been treated by Hollywood for years and years as if they are, and they’re tired of that."
The Bloomberg story concludes:
A dozen years after the post-Passion boom, Hollywood is starting to learn from the sins of the past, scaling back gluttonous budgets and vowing not to bear false witness in production and promotion. “Studios like Sony have seen that these movies are low-cost, and, if marketed correctly, they can be very profitable,” says Matthew Belloni, executive editor of the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s hit-and-miss, but the downside isn’t big. If one thing works, everyone will try to copy it.”