“Passion of the Christ” gets labeled a Christian film and is relegated to a little “Christian” niche

Imagine Scripps Howard publishing such a headline about the outstanding $370 million domestic gross of the Christ-centered movie that resonated with the so-called “little ‘Christian’ niche” of 151 million people who go to church every week. Imagine saying, “Movie gets tagged as an African-American, Hispanic or Muslim movie and is relegated to a little niche.” The outcry against such bigotry would be deafening. The economic ignorance of such a headline would be laughable.

Instead, published is the headline “Movie gets tagged as ‘Christian’ and loses out” by being relegated to “a narrow, political, sectarian, ‘Christian’ niche” on an article by Christian commentator Terry Mattingly about a family film losing out at the box office because a faith-based division at one of the seven major Hollywood studios released it.

The cautionary point of this article was to tell the many Christians in the movie industry not to portray the everyday faith of millions of Americans in a realistic fashion. The article drove home its anti-Christian point with the statement that “this quiet cinematic fable [is] a cautionary tale for others who want to make movies that can appeal to viewers in Middle America, including folks who frequent sanctuary pews.” Who are these people in the pews? The Christians who believe in Jesus Christ, go to church and pray every day.

Driving the point home, the article fallaciously states, “Movie producers do not enjoy seeing America’s most influential newspaper crucify their films.” In other words, Christian producers should just duck and cower by removing any mention of faith and values in their movies no matter how slight, innocuous and understated. On the other hand, I have been to a lot of marketing meetings where the movie studio debated how they could stir up controversy for their movies, including two movies being released in October of this year. People at these meetings were asked if they could get the same groups who blasted the “Passion Of the Christ” to attack their movies.

This article published by Scripps-Howard could be dismissed except that some renowned Christian filmmakers were asking me about it at a film festival. They bought the lie of the article that if a movie gets labeled Christian, then it will lose money at the box office, because they did not think through the absurdity of this ill-conceived, illogical attack on movies with faith and values. So the article almost succeeded in deterring some talented filmmakers who might even produce the next “Facing the Giants,” one of the most profitable and the most Christian movies of 2006. In contrast, one of the most prominent Hollywood distributors released the “Case of Christ” and “3:16: Stories of Hope” with a major marketing campaign just to reach the 151 million Christians who go to church every week. If that studio gets 10 percent of the Christian niche, then they will have more than a blockbuster.

Contrary to selected quotes from bigoted sources in Mr. Mattingly’s article, “The Ultimate Gift” is just that – a very entertaining, emotional, finely crafted, highly polished gem that teaches valuable lessons about life, death, love and learning to do the right thing, with a positive reference to Jesus. It is one of those rare movies that shows you don’t need a lot of money to make a great movie. The producer, John Shepherd, has won several MOVIEGUIDE? Awards, and he knows his craft.

The real economic truth is, however, that faith and values movies do much better on average at the box office. When the Christian faith and values of a movie is known and it is filled with great entertainment value, then it does better than almost any other genre. Last year, in the top 25, movies with faith and values, like “Superman Returns,” “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Cars” made more than $210 million at the box office because of their Christian values and faithful references. This year, the top movie at the box office is “Spider-Man 3,” an overtly Christian allegory about sin and redemption.

In 2007, movies with Judeo-Christian moral values in the top 25 grossing movies averaged $182 million at the box office. By adding a positive reference to Christian faith and values and even to Jesus Christ, the movies in the top 25 averaged $200 million at the box office. Movies with humanist worldviews in the top 25 averaged $125 million at the box office. There was not one R-rated movie in the top 10. Overall, immoral movies averaged a meager $17 million at the box office. Using the logic of the Scripps Howard article, Hollywood should stop making humanist and immoral movies and put positive references to faith and values in more movies!

In every genre, there are winners and losers. Some children’s films bomb at the box office. Some romances bomb. Many horror movies bomb. Many movies about African-Americans fail. But, they don’t bomb just because of their genre or their faith. They bomb because of their lack of entertainment value and/or their limited marketing. Thus, poor marketing and a lackluster release in a limited number of theaters (which is another skill of the marketing craft) can doom a smaller movie, or even a big one.

On the other hand, the movie studio releasing “The Ultimate Gift” is aiming their faith releases directly at the DVD market. They release the movie for a brief period in theaters to give it a necessary luster that will help the DVD sales. These movies are low-budget and not intended to be blockbusters as are other faith-filled movies such as “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe” and “Pursuit of Happyness.” The studio releasing the next “Chronicles Of Narnia” film has told me that it is even more overt in its Christian faith, if that is even possible considering the parallels between the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that of Aslan. Other studios are releasing big Christmas movies with overt faith and values. They understand the box office power of the so-called “little ‘Christian’ niche” of 151 million people.

The anti-Christian bigotry coming from the national “news” media is thoroughly abhorrent. If directed against any other group beside Christians, there would be a nationally uproar. For the benefit of Christians, the argument in the article does not hold water.

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