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Did Christian Movies Make A Splash In 2014?

Does lackluster sales in 2014 spell the end of Christian-themed movies going forward?
| Dec 30, 2014 | 18 comments |

Exodus movie posterWhen my family went to the movies this holiday season, we were faced with several choices. Among them was a film named Exodus, a retelling of the Biblical exodus from Egypt of the Israelites under the leadership of Moses. I admit, I was interested in it. But is that the one we went to see? Nope. Instead, we laid down our money to see the final Hobbit movie.

Rebecca reviewed the Hobbit movie here on SpecFaith yesterday.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who, given that choice, stood in line for the Hobbit movie.

According to IMDb, Exodus, with an estimated budget of $140 million, raked in $24.5 million on opening weekend and a little over $53 million as of the 26th. It will be doing good to surpass the box office of “God is Not Dead” earlier this year which ended up just over $60 million. That equates to a big fail given its budget.

Scott Mendelson had the following to say about Exodus:

But there is something weirdly fitting of one of the worst films of the year being one of the year’s biggest flops, especially in a year basically lacking in mega-budget disasters on this scale.

Not having seen it, I can’t confirm his opinion of the film. That said, despite 2014 being a banner year for “faith-based” films, Exodus is an bookend on a series of less-than-successful Christian-themed movies. So much so that Christian-themed films as a group garnered a spot in io9’s “Top 10 Harshest Lessons That 2014 Has Taught The Entertainment Industry” article:

5. You can’t make a tentpole Bible movie that pulls in Christian audiences

This was the year of the religious epic, and it seemed as though the lucrative Christian audience mostly stayed away. Aronofsky’s Noah did okay, not quite making back its production costs in the U.S. but probably breaking even in worldwide receipts. But the Left Behind remake starring Nic Cage seems to have gotten (sorry) left behind. And Ridley Scott’s Exodus has joined his Robin Hood in the ranks of lavish costumed dramas that crashed and burned, at least domestically.

This doesn’t even consider the more overtly Christian movies like God is Not Dead.

Why did the “lucrative Christian audience” stay home for these movies?

It probably varied with the movie. I know there was a lot of negative press about Noah because it didn’t faithfully follow the Biblical account, and that probably hurt its Christian audience sales. I don’t know about Left Behind but I think while the books had a market, it wasn’t on Christian’s list to see the movie version. Aside from some lackluster content in Exodus, I think its biggest problem was going up against the Hobbit.

The_Hobbit_-_The_Battle_of_the_Five_ArmiesInterestingly enough, the one movie not specifically labeled a Christian movie, but many Christians do think of it as one since its author is a Christian, is The Hobbit by Tolkien. If you include that one, then one Christian movie did end up a blockbuster in 2014.

But it isn’t considered a Christian movie because there is no overt Biblical story being told, nobody converting to Christ, or quoting Bible verses. Just a world grounded in Christian values and a gripping story.

In the end, it may spell the end for more epic Christian movies in 2015.

With the dismal showings this year, people will be less willing to plunk down money to make them. This Hobbit movie is the last of Tolkien’s stories to put to film (but you never know when Hollywood will decide it’s time to do a remake of LOTR). It seems the Narnia films ran out of steam, but could be revived. The Silver Chair I think would innately make a good movie without major modifications.

It may mean most of what we have to look forward to is more like God is Not Dead. But major Hollywood productions of Christian-themed movies may indeed be dead. At least for the time being.

Where do you think the direction of Christian-themed movies will go for 2015?

As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. As an adult, after years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy from Splashdown Books, and The Virtual Chronicles series, Ethereal Worlds Anthology, and How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software from Ethereal Press, along with numerous short stories in various magazines.Learn more about R. L and his work at any of the following:Author Website, Author Blog, or Author Store.

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Hannah Williams
Member

Although I haven’t watched Noah or Exodus either, I’ve heard enough to be thankful they did horrible in the box office. Despite being based off a “Christian” story, it sounds like the story was mostly mutilated and the character of God twisted. If that’s the only sort of Christian-themed movie Hollywood will make, then it’s better if they don’t make it.

What I would like to see is more Christian themed movies with the quality of The Nativity Story. Granted, they followed some traditional ideals of that night, but the movie still captured the beauty, pain, and wonder of the birth of Christ.

Christian Jaeschke
Guest
Christian Jaeschke

Noah, as a movie, was of a very high quality. The Nativity Story was good but not great (eg. too sanitized but Joseph was well portrayed). The former story borrowed far more from Midrash (Rabbinic arguments and traditions) than from the Genesis account itself.  But at least the director believed in the story, the characters and was passionate about the project (and even included a global flood and an ark of biblical proportions). Noah could be best described as a weird hybrid of two very different genres. In many ways it was a disturbing psychological thriller and in other ways it was very much a powerful philosophical debate on the nature of God, mankind, the power of sin, redemption etc. Noah wasn’t an easy movie to watch, but it was a great (if flawed) cinematic piece and God really spoke to me through it.

Lela Markham
Guest
Lela Markham

The reason Noah and Exodus did not appeal to the Christian audience is the same reason The DaVince Code didn’t. They were not Christian movies. I haven’t seen Exodus yet, but I did see Noah and except for there being a flood and an ark and Noah having three sons, there was pretty much no resemblance to the Biblical story. Noah comes off like a crazed fundamentalist being tempered by his “reasonable” (mostly unbelieving) wife, who threatens him with divorce to get him to comply with her “reason”.

A friend did go see Exodus and his report was that “Moses doesn’t believe in God” and “He’s a terrorist for most of the movie” and “God comes off like Allah — vengeful”. His final analysis was that “Exodus is a manipulative movie through which the director is trying to make statements about our modern times.”

The Left Behind movie was a remake with bigger named stars. Yawn!

God is Not Dead had the usual production values of a low-budget film David RR White film, but it was better done than many Christian films.

So, yeah, Christians are staying away. If Hollywood gave us compelling stories that also had an actual Christian theme we might show up, but they feel this need to take Biblical stories and change them into something unrecognizable and then call it a “Christian” movie. Phew!

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

The reason Noah and Exodus did not appeal to the Christian audience is the same reason The DaVince Code didn’t. They were not Christian movies.

And yet, compared with Left Behind the “Christian movie” …

Hey Christian movie fans

Hannah Williams
Member

I don’t entirely get this…

Just because a movie or story has Bible in it doesn’t mean the Biblical message or meaning isn’t twisted by the movie-makers.

Tim Frankovich
Guest
Tim Frankovich

Compare also with current box office success Unbroken. While not an explicitly Christian film, it is the story of a Christian, and is filled with Christian themes. Boxofficemojo.com wrote: “The marketing campaign emphasized the redemptive elements of the story, which likely connected with Christian moviegoers.” They even tried to spin a story about Angelina Jolie praying on set for a break in the weather and getting it.

What’s the difference between this and Noah + Exodus? The latter two did everything they could to discourage the faithful by constantly ridiculing the source material. They were trying to appeal to non-Christian moviegoers instead and it backfired.

It’s all about the marketing.

Julie D
Guest

Honestly, I could live without ‘Christian movies,’ without a moment of hesitation. Without Marvel movies….not quite so much. And as long as Christian filmmakers are primarily focused on making Christian films, on the worldview and not the story, we won’t get anything good.  Tolkien said something once to the effect that one could make a drama about patients suffering radiation poisoning, but not about radiation. And that’s the problem with some of these films: they’re focusing on the radiation, not the human response to it.

Audie Thacker
Member

What about Son of God? While I do question some aspects of that move, it was still a movie largely biblically based. Didn’t it do pretty well in the theaters?

D. M. Dutcher
Member

They weren’t really Christian-themed movies as opposed to Biblical ones, and they failed mostly because they were revisionist histories. It’s the difference between Ang Lee’s version of the Hulk and the Avengers; the former was not particularly designed for fans and flopped.

However it does seem that Christian audiences mostly will watch the random, rare Biblical flick or crappy documentary, so you’re not going to see much investment in them beyond a few million dollars.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

I just read Brian Godawa’s excellent article “Can Atheists Make Good Bible Movies” addressing why these 2014 movies didn’t do well, and I thought he made good sense:

The problem is that in actual practice, “non-believers” by definition do not believe in the sacred story. Therefore, they will by necessity rewrite the story through their own non-believing paradigm, whether more subtly (Exodus) or more explicitly (Noah). Most people know this as “spin.” News flash: Every storyteller spins according to their paradigm or worldview.

Think about it: Even if an atheist would want to be fair to a Biblical story, he will ultimately spin it through his worldview of atheism. Why wouldn’t he? If he believes the God of the story is a delusion, why in the world would you think he would do anything but spin that God story in a way that he understands its ultimate reality?

As far as Unbroken is concerned, it’s not a Christian movie. That it is about a Christian is also not the main focus of the movie. Rather, it’s about an incredible story—we Christians see it as a triumph of God working in the life of a man He would use to spread the gospel and secularists see it as a triumph of the human spirit.  I think it is doing quite well, and will probably do even better after the Rose Parade and the Torrance float featuring Louie Zamporini gave it further exposure.

I also think many of us have been waiting for a year for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. We’ve been waiting far less time for Unbroken, so it was kind of a no-brainer which we’d go to first. Yes, first, because I for one still plan on seeing Unbroken.

Becky