Friday, October 13, 2006

Recent Christian cinema not benefiting from Passion halo-effect

Christian conservatives often like to complain about the sinful depradations of godless librul Hollywood, and how the entertainment industry as a whole is a repellent den of sin that is "out of touch" with the American mainstream. The wild box office success of The Passion of the Christ two years ago was trumpeted — by such mouthpieces as ersatz critic Michael Medved — as an undeniable indicator that if only the movie business made more Christian movies, the money would come pouring in like the Flood itself.

But it seems as if Passion was an of-the-moment cultural snapshot, released at a time when Bush's poll numbers were still high and middle America was flush with the notion that we were really on the side of the angels in the War on Terror, our moral high ground unassailable. This facade has long since shattered, and anyway, Passion's $370 million box office take was more the result of media-manufactured controversy over its content than a genuine display of a sincere cultural shift towards preferring Christian entertainment.

Fox Faith ("Films You Can Believe In") is a new theatrical distribution shingle from Rupert Murdoch, where the goal clearly is to cater to the Christian conservative base that has made his propaganda house, the Fox News Channel, the highest-rated cable news network.

However, their maiden release Love's Abiding Joy did not exactly explode out of the starting gate like a greyhound its opening weekend. (Possibly the vomitrocious romance-novel title didn't help.) Opening on 207 screens, a respectable release for an independent film, Joy only scraped up a dismal per-screen average of $704, for a total opening weekend take of $145,895. Compare this performance to that of Shortbus, the new, unrated movie by John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), which includes — among other things — several scenes of unknown actors engaging in actual onscreen sex. Opening on a mere half-dozen screens (this is called a "platform" release), it drew a whopping $17,984 per-screen average. So while Love's Abiding Joy made it to 34½ times as many screens, Shortbus did nearly 87 times more business!

So while Donald Wildmon and John Ashcroft and other evangelical leading lights love to wring their hands at Hollywood's evil drug-crazed, sex-happy, Janet-Jackson-boob-flashing ways, offering dire warnings about the vast sums of money being lost because the industry isn't offering True Americans the wholesome Christian entertainment they really want — in reality, Christians aren't backing that up with their dollars. Like everyone else, they'd rather see Jackass Two instead.

(PS: Jesus Camp, excellently reviewed by Russell in the preceding post, is doing respectably, picking up 25 screens in its fourth weekend to a per-screen average of $2,748. Word is getting out.)


  1. You should know that Love's Abiding Joy had presales of more than $1 million, which are not reported in most box-office surveys. So while the culturally uplifting Shortbus probably still wins the per-screen average in such mainstream venues as the Castro District and The Tenderloin... Love's Abiding Joy's $1.2 million ain't so bad. One Night With the King was forecast to make $2.3 million its first weekend on 900 screens by most prognosticators. Again they underestimate the power of the marketplace for such fare... the film will finish the weekend with over $5 million.

  2. If you're talking DVD presales, that's to be expected. DVD, not your neighborhood multiplex, seems to be the only real viable outlet for niche markets like Christian films. The Left Behind movie was released on DVD to Christian retailers to huge sales prior to its brief theatrical run; in theaters it barely made a blip. Anyone who'd want to see it had done so; the theatrical release didn't manage to draw the hoped-for secular audience.

    The point I was making was that guys like Medved have been indicating that Passion's mammoth box office success is there for the taking if only more Hollywood studios made overtly Christian fare, and that doesn't seem to be the case.

    One Night with the King did $1.5 million on Friday, which is much better than Love's Abiding Joy. Perhaps Murdoch needs to utilize the power of his networks like Fox News to promote Fox Faith Films nonstop 24/7, the way 8X Entertainment gets to use TBN!

  3. Thanks for the information, Martin. I always value your insights about the movie business, an area I know next to nothing about (but more than before since I started reading your blog).


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