The poor showing of “The Nativity Story” this Christmas season is bad news for people of faith who hope Hollywood will make more feature films their families can enjoy, according to Christian movie reviewer Ted Baehr.

“It’s a very serious setback,” said Baehr, founder and publisher of Movieguide and chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission.

The disappointing performance is all the more significant, Baehr told WND, because, unlike blockbusters “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Nativity” was produced by a major studio, New Line Cinema.

Baehr explained Hollywood takes about a dozen years to make a movie, so making changes in a good direction is like “turning the Titanic around.”

“If one or two movies do well, the ship will continue on a positive course, otherwise it will turn back to whatever makes money,” he said.

Right now, Baehr noted, the easy money is made on “extremely bigoted, anti-Christian movies” such as “Borat” and “Jackass 2.”

Baehr said the performance of “Nativity” is especially disappointing because it’s an exceptionally good film that adheres closely to the Bible.

“It’s very entertaining, very authentic and has captured all ranges of the church, from James Dobson to Charles Colson to the Vatican,” he said. “It should be doing great business.”

But as of Tuesday, “Nativity,” with a production budget of $35 million, has an estimated gross box office of just $24.6 million in the U.S. since opening Dec. 1. Another “values” film, Walden Media’s “Charlotte’s Web,” finished a distant third in its opening this past weekend, grossing $11.6 million, while the leader, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” grossed $26.5 million. “Nativity finished ninth over the weekend, at just under $4.7 million.

Getting the word out

Baehr believes a major problem for “Nativity” was that marketers didn’t get the word out early to their vital partner, the churches.

Mel Gibson, he pointed out, was promoting “Passion” in churches nine months before its release. With “Narnia,” study guides were distributed to nearly every church – an effort that requires marketers to be “one year ahead of the game.” “Passion,” released in 2004, had a worldwide box office of $604 million.

In the end, the estimated 149 million Americans who regularly attend church services need to show up in order for movies such as “The Nativity Story” to be successful, Baehr said.

“The most powerful person in Hollywood is not a Michael Eisner,” Baehr said. “It’s the person who goes to the movie and votes at the box office.”

Oscar Isaac as Joseph and Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary

Baehr said “Nativity” has one of the best scripts ever for a biblical story.

“What makes a movie compelling is a sense of jeopardy, and that sense of jeopardy is present throughout this movie,” he said in a WND interview last month. “The dialogue, the plot development, the turning points are refreshingly dramatic, so good in fact that they will elicit tears at certain points.”

Oscar Isaac plays Joseph and Keisha Castle-Hughes is Mary in the movie, which opens with the prophecy in Jeremiah 23:5-6: “‘The days are coming,'” declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.'”

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