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Christian Feature Films / Christian Movies:
Comparison of Box Office Receipts

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(Dollar amounts are NOT adjusted for inflation.)

Many feature films released by the major Hollywood studios--from The Wizard of Oz to The Lord of the Rings trilogy to Schindler's List--have clearly Christian themes. But there is an emerging cinematic niche of films made by Christians, about overtly Christian (or Biblical) characters, and marketed primarily to Christian audiences.

The makers of all of these films hope, of course, for as much "cross-over" audience as possible. According to Gallup, Harris and Kosmin/NSRI polling data, between 75 and 85% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Obviously each of these "Christian Films" is not marketed to what is almost the entire population of the country, but to a subset based on specific denominational or ideological groupings. These Christian films reach a primary target audience through web sites, Christian magazines, church activities and other niche marketing techniques, but also seek a secondary audience through limited broader advertising and, importantly, word of mouth invitations from the core audience.

It should be noted that a film's box office gross is only one measure of its success. Video/DVD sales account for a significant proportion of the total revenue for many of the films in this niche market. Left Behind, in particular, made significantly more money in video/DVD sales than it did in its subsequent theatrical release. (In an experimental move, that film was marketed unusually in that it was released on video before being shown in theaters.)

TitleDirectorProduction/Distribution CompanyYearTotal Box Office GrossBudget
The Passion of the ChristMel GibsonIcon Productions
Marquis Films Ltd.
Newmarket Film Group (U.S. distrib.)
Icon Entertainment International (distrib.)
2004 $370,498,393 Prod: $30,000,000
P&A: $15,000,000
Diary of a Mad Black WomanDarren GrantLions Gate (distrib.)2005 $50,633,099 $5,500,000
Jonah: A VeggieTales MovieMike Nawrocki
Phil Vischer
Big Idea Productions Inc.2002 $25,571,351 Prod: $14,000,000
P&A: $7,000,000
The Omega CodeRobert MarcarelliTBN Productions (Trinity Broadcasting Network)
Providence Entertainment (distrib.)
1999 $12,614,346 $8,000,000
Woman, Thou Art LoosedMichael SchultzT.D. Jakes Ministries (prod.)
Magnolia Pictures (distrib.)
2004 $6,879,730 ?
Megiddo: Omega Code 2Lynn K. D'Angona
Brian Trenchard-Smith
Code Productions
8X Entertainment Inc. (distrib.)
2001 $6,047,691 $22,000,000
LutherEric TillNeue Filmproduktion TV (prod.)
United International Pictures GmbH (dist., Germany)
R.S. Entertainment Inc. (dist., U.S.)
2003 $5,761,606 $30,000,000
The Other Side of HeavenMitch Davis3Mark Entertainment
Excel (distrib.)
2001 $4,720,371 $7,000,000
Left BehindVictor SarinCloud Ten Pictures2000 $4,224,065 $17,400,000
China Cry: A True StoryJames F. CollierParakletus
TBN Films
1990 $4,212,828 ?
The Gospel of JohnPhilip SavilleGospel of John Ltd. (U.K.)
Toronto Film Studios (Canada)
Visual Bible International Inc. (Canada)
Visual Bible (Za)
2003 $4,068,087 $10,000,000
The Work and the GloryRuss HoltVineyard Productions (prod.)
Excel (distrib.)
2004 $3,347,647 $7,500,000
The Judas ProjectJames H. BardenJudas Project
R.S. Entertainment (distrib.)
1993 $2,850,135 ?
God's ArmyRichard DutcherZion Films
Excel (distrib.)
2000 $2,628,829 $300,000
Therese: The Story of Saint Therese of LisieuxLeonardo DefilippisSaint Luke Productions2004 $2,499,090 ?
Carman: The ChampionLee StanleyCode Productions
TBN Films
8X Entertainment Inc. (distrib.)
2001 $1,765,751 ?
The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The JourneyGary RogersMormon Movies Ltd.2003 $1,672,730 $2,000,000
JoshuaJon PurdyCrusader Entertainment2002 $1,374,143 $9,000,000
Saints and SoldiersRyan LittleGo Films LLC (prod.)
Medal of Honor Productions LLC (prod.)
Excel Entertainment (dist.)
2004 $1,310,470 $780,000
Time ChangerRich ChristianoChristiano Film Group
Innovations (distrib.)
8X Entertainment Inc. (distrib.)
Five & Two Pictures (distrib.)
2002 $1,283,925 1,275,000
The Singles WardKurt HaleHalestorm Entertainment2002 $1,250,798 $500,000
The Best Two YearsScott S. AndersonHarvest Films (produc.)
HaleStorm Entertainment (distrib.)
2004 $1,163,450 $400,000
The R.M.Kurt HaleHaleStorm Entertainment2003 $1,111,615 $500,000
Extreme DaysEric HannahChamps
Impact Entertainment
Norann Entertainment
Tricor Entertainment
Truth Soul Armor
Providence Entertainment (distrib.)
2001 $1,047,553 ?
Brigham CityRichard DutcherZion Films
Excel (distrib.)
2001 $905,073 $900,000
Jack Weyland's CharlyAdam Thomas AndereggKaleidoscope Pictures
Focused Light Films
Excel (distrib.)
2002 $814,666 $950,000
Manna from HeavenGabrielle Burton
Maria Burton
Five Sisters Productions
R.S. Entertainment Inc. (distrib.)
2002 $504,280 $4,000,000
The Passion RecutMel GibsonIcon Productions
Marquis Films Ltd.
Newmarket Film Group (U.S. distrib.)
Icon Entertainment International (distrib.)
2004 $499,263 Prod: $30,000,000
P&A: $15,000,000
Pride & PrejudiceAndrew Black?
Excel (distrib.)
2003 $372,752 $350,000
Road to RedemptionRobert VernonWorld Wide Pictures
(Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)
2001 $236,823 $2,200,000
RevelationAndre Van HeerdenProphecy Partners Inc.
Scorpio Pictures
Providence Entertainment (distrib.)
1999 $206,755 $5,000,000
The Home TeachersKurt HaleHaleStorm Entertainment2004 $196,123 $500,000
Mercy StreetsJon GunnSignal Hill Pictures
Providence Entertainment (distrib.)
2000 $173,599 $600,000
Baptists at Our BarbecueChristian VuissaBlue Cow (prod.)
HaleStorm Entertainment (dist.)
2004 $173,306 $500,000
Mobsters and MormonsJohn E. MoyerHaleStorm Entertainment2005 $145,613 $350,000
Hangman's CurseRafal ZielinskiNamesake Entertainment
North by Northwest Entertainment
The Total Living Network
20th Century Fox (distrib.)
2003 $136,812 $2,000,000
Sons of ProvoWill SwensonHaleStorm Entertainment2005 $120,488 $200,000
HandcartKels GoodmanAmpersand Films
Media Partners Entertainment (distrib.)
2002 $98,666 $300,000
The RideMichael O. SajbelWorld Wide Pictures Inc.
R.S. Entertainment Inc. (distrib.)
1997 $86,307 ?
Out of StepRyan LittleOut of Step LLC2002 $80,000 $700,000
The Work and the StoryNathan Smith JonesDo It Now Productions (prod.)
Off-Hollywood Distribution (dist.)
2003 $14,474 $120,000

"Left Behind II: Tribulation Force," directed by Bill Corcoran (Cloud Ten Pictures), may have been shown in a limited number of theaters beginning 31 Dec. 2002, after its video premiere, but it was a direct-to-video/DVD release. The production budget was $17,000,000.

See also:

"Christian" is used here to indicate self-identification of the film's primary target audience/niche market.

The Spirit Moves Them to Entertain

By: Andre Chautard
Date: 28 April 2002
Source: Los Angeles Times
URL: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/printedition/suncalendar/la-000030007apr28.story

A few producers see potential in films that have Christian themes but don't preach

Frustrated with Hollywood, which has shied away from making films with spiritual themes or religious characters, a handful of independent producers are striking out on their own to make Christian-themed films that seek to entertain more than preach.

"There are a lot of people within the religious community that are just hungering for a high-quality film with a spiritual message," says Bob Beltz, a Presbyterian minister from Littleton, Colo., and co-producer of "Joshua," which will be released next month. Based on the novel of the same name (which sold 10 million copies), "Joshua" is a G-rated, modern-day parable about a mysterious stranger's effect on the lives of the residents of a small Midwest town.

Mitch Davis directed the recently opened "The Other Side of Heaven" (2001), based on Elder John Groberg's memoirs of his adventures as a Mormon missionary on the South Pacific island nation of Tonga in the 1950s. "It was never our intent to make a movie for Mormons," Davis says. "It was always our intent to make a movie for the world and for a general audience. We're not trying to proselytize with this movie at all, but we're not trying to hide what it's about, either." The hope of these filmmakers and independent producers is that films such as "Joshua" and "The Other Side of Heaven" can build on a grass-roots support within the Christian community and cross over to a more mainstream audience, unlike past independent releases such as "The Omega Code" and "Left Behind: The Movie."

Thanks to evangelical moviegoers, those films were financially successful--"Omega Code" grossed $12.6 million and "Left Behind" sold 2.5 million copies on video, followed by $4.2 million at the box office--but were lacking in production values and were poorly reviewed in the nonreligious press.

Those films, "Joshua" director Jon Purdy says, were "kind of fear-based. They're post-apocalyptic." He says "Joshua" is more hopeful. "It's attempting to portray faith in a positive way. And I think there's a big question in there as to whether or not hope sells versus fear."

"The Other Side of Heaven" has already grossed $2 million since December from a regional release in Utah, Idaho and Texas--states with large Mormon communities--despite never having played on more than 50 screens at once.

That encouraged Excel Entertainment to give the film a national release April 12 on several hundred screens. The film, though panned by major critics, cracked the top 20 and has so far grossed $3.5 million. Artisan Entertainment, which is distributing "Joshua," also wanted to build word-of-mouth with an unorthodox release pattern. Before moving into larger metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, where advertising costs are much higher, it is releasing the film first in areas where religious-themed films have done well.

"Joshua" opened April 19 on 220 screens in 11 states, mostly in the South and Southwest. The film will widen to another 50 cities on Friday and will reach New York and Los Angeles on May 24. "Joshua" is reaching out to mainstream moviegoers with the usual television and newspaper ads, as well as targeting churchgoers with mailings, Web sites and screenings for religious press and leaders. A soundtrack with Christian artists such as Jaci Velasquez, Pete Orta and Point of Grace was put together, and best-selling Christian singer-songwriter Michael W. Smith was brought in to score his first film.

Other independently funded, spiritually themed films have found it a challenge to entice nonreligious moviegoers. The boxing drama "Carman: The Champion," from early last year, grossed only $1.8 million and the wholesome extreme-sports film "Extreme Days" managed only $700,000 last fall.

"Megiddo: The Omega Code 2" (2001), which carried a significantly higher budget--$22 million--than the first, finished with a disappointing $6 million.

Excel's first release, "God's Army" (2000), a drama about Mormon missionaries in Los Angeles, grossed a profitable $2.6 million, but its director Richard Dutcher's darker follow-up, "Brigham City" (2001), made only $800,000.

One encouragement, ironically, has been the success earlier this year of a major studio picture: Warner Bros.' $40-million-grossing "A Walk to Remember," which featured a devout main character and was marketed, in part, to Christian audiences.

Yet, as much as Davis admired that film, "they didn't ever dare in the entire film to say what [the producer of 'A Walk to Remember'] called 'the J-word' and they never dared show anyone praying, because they were afraid to," Davis says.

Budgeted at $8.5 million, "Joshua" is based on the first in a series of novels by the Rev. Joe Girzone. Beltz, minister, co-producer and an author himself, first read the book in 1985 and optioned the movie rights when they became available two years ago.

The film was shot in 23 days near Chicago and briefly in Rome. Director Purdy, who has written scripts exploring religion but doesn't describe himself as religious, was brought in.

"Having someone like me on board probably helped prevent the movie from going in the direction of its worst tendencies and helped create a movie that functions on a dramatic level, that still makes the statements that they wanted to make," he says.

Casting the role of Joshua, a woodcarver who starts rebuilding the town's storm-ravaged Baptist church and draws the ire of a Roman Catholic priest (F. Murray Abraham), was crucial.

"Playing Jesus or someone who might be Jesus is not the sort of thing that a lot of actors want to do," Purdy says. Deciding to cast someone who looked different from the iconic image of Jesus, the filmmakers turned to actor-director Tony Goldwyn, best known for his villainous roles in films such as "Ghost," "The Pelican Brief" and "Kiss the Girls."

Unlike the book, in which Joshua is more of a leader and outright preacher whose identity is apparent early on, Goldwyn in the film "portrays this character just as a person who is admirable and someone you like--someone that does good works but doesn't force it on anyone," Purdy says.

Also, the book's rants against the Catholic bureaucracy and calls for reform were mostly left out of the film. "A real effort was made to dramatize the message and not sermonize it," Purdy says.

"The Other Side of Heaven's" path to the screen started when director Davis read Groberg's 1994 book, "In the Eye of the Storm," and was enthralled with the portrait of Polynesian life seen through the eyes of a callow young man from Idaho. Davis purchased the movie rights and wrote the screenplay, drawing on the memoirs and the saved correspondence between Groberg, now 68, and his family and future wife, Jean, played in the film by Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries").

Davis, a former studio executive who was a missionary in Argentina in the late 1970s, had long wanted to make a film about the missionary experience. "We live in a world where most guys 19 to 21 years of age are hanging out at frat parties with a six-pack and coeds, and while my buddies were doing that I was in this foreign land trying to learn a foreign language, coming of age in a really quick way and in a very profound way," he says. "The Other Side of Heaven" was budgeted at $7 million and filmed in New Zealand and the Cook Islands over 10 weeks.

Christopher Gorham, who plays Groberg, is a non-practicing Protestant who knew little about the Mormon faith before he was cast. He says he learned that the young missionaries are "not a bunch of crazy zealots out trying to ruin cultures. They're young kids and they're idealists and they believe in what they're doing."

But the film is more a coming-of-age story than a religious tract. "It's an adventure and a love story that happens to be about a guy who is a missionary," Davis says.

"The [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] itself isn't really discussed that often in the movie," says Gorham, who was a cast member on the TV series "Popular" and will be in the new Showtime sci-fi series "Odyssey 5" this summer. "I wasn't interested in doing a church film--something that would be shown at all the temples, you know?"

In fact, Davis says, there has been no official support from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which historically has chosen to stay away from commercial ventures.

The companies behind "Joshua" and "The Other Side of Heaven" are banking on families looking for morally uplifting entertainment. Epiphany Films is already developing a sequel to "Joshua" based on another book in the series, "Joshua in the Holy Land," "a story that's obviously extremely relevant today," Beltz says. A prequel with a younger Joshua is also being discussed.

Later this year, Artisan will release the Christian-themed "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie," the first theatrical film of the popular animated direct-to-video series.

Excel is developing director Dutcher's next project, "The Prophet," based on the life of [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] founder Joseph Smith Jr. Parent company Crusader Entertainment is also producing family-oriented dramas with less of an overt spiritual component, including "Swimming Upstream," with Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis, about a champion Australian swimmer overcoming a troubled family life, and "Children on Their Birthdays," based on a Truman Capote short story about kids during the Depression, with Christopher McDonald and Sheryl Lee.

Davis, for one, thinks it's high time for a return to making films like "Places in the Heart," "Chariots of Fire" and "Lilies of the Field," "movies that all have a sort of religious element to it without ever making me feel like, 'Oh wow, they want to make me one of them.'"

"How ironic it is that we live in a culture or a society where it's perfectly acceptable to make a movie that helps you get inside the head of a cannibal, and it's kind of hip and politically correct to make that movie, but to make a movie where you try to get inside of the head of someone who believes in God is taboo."

Will Hollywood get religion?

By: By Gloria Goodale, arts and culture correspondent
Date: 12 October 2001
By: Christian Science Monitor
URL: http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/1012/p13s1-almo.html

LOS ANGELES - After the Sept. 11 attacks, a number of movies with violent finales were not released. So when the Apocalypse-themed film "Megiddo: Omega Code 2" opened as scheduled the following week, the decision not to delay it put the self-described Christian film in a national spotlight. Comments from "Megiddo" producer Matthew Crouch that God "positioned the film to be the answer for a question we didn't even know would be asked" brought the film extra attention, particularly from the media.

But this sequel to "The Omega Code," the highest-grossing independent film of 1999 ($12 million plus), was already on Hollywood's radar screen for another reason - money.

The Cain and Abel face-off between a Christian American president and his evil brother, who heads a worldwide organization united against the US, is the latest - and costliest at $22 million - appeal to what is being touted as a new, undertapped market for Christian-themed entertainment, or "Godsploitation."

While many suggest that more sober times may increase the appeal of all films with serious themes, Christian-themed music, film, and books (not including the Bible) already have begun to rack up the kinds of numbers - some $3 billion in 2000 - that make Hollywood executives sit up and take notice.

Christian filmmakers such as Mr. Crouch say the impact of their work is just beginning to appear. "My pitch to Hollywood is, 'Hello, there's an audience here that has rejected you,' " he says. "I will show you who they are, and that niche will grow into the largest market segment Hollywood has ever seen."

Religion and popular culture are hardly strangers. In Hollywood's early days, Cecil B. DeMille mined the Bible for some of his biggest hits, and the devil never seems to go out of fashion as a villain. The difference today may be found in the motivation of the so-called creative Christians. They have a strong desire to unite their faith with entertainment. But striking the balance between the two has been a challenge.

As the market for religion-driven entertainment expands beyond denominational boundaries into the mainstream, it's clear that, while many of these talents may have found their religious path, they are still finding their way when it comes to entertaining the masses.

"It's a fine line," says Peter Lalonde, producer of "Left Behind," last year's film based on the wildly successful series of books by the same title about the end of time. They provide a specific, but not universal, interpretation of the Christian themes of salvation and the second coming of Jesus.

"We're hammered for being too evangelical on one side, and then some in the Christian community say we aren't going far enough," says Mr. Lalonde, who released the film on video before taking it to theaters, using local churches and the Internet to spread the word.

Lalonde says his goal is to reach people through good storytelling. "Samuel Goldwyn used to say that if you have a message, send it by Western Union," says Lalonde, president of Cloud Ten Pictures. "Christian filmmaking in the past has been thinly disguised sermons with a message. We have always wanted to be seen as filmmakers who happen to be Christians. But we're always going to bring our point of view to our films."

This sense of mission is a common link between members of this growing community. "There are 100 million people in this country who identify themselves as Christians, and they feel that they've been left behind by the studio system. They feel movies aren't being made for them," Lalonde says.

Barbara Nicolosi came to Hollywood because she felt that the perspective of a life based on faith was either being slighted or misrepresented in popular entertainment - and not necessarily by outsiders.

"We weren't being martyred," says the founder of Act One, Writing for Hollywood, a coalition of Christian writers and producers. "We were doing it to ourselves with schlocky movies that gave a standard reply to problems."

Act One, now in its second year with a $300,000 budget from the Roman Catholic church, opened its doors in Los Angeles two years ago. A New York office launched this past month.

"We want art that will not be cynical," says Ms. Nicolosi, the Act One director who points to films such as "October Sky," as an example of good filmmaking. "The problem is when people don't have God in their framework, the only thing they are sure of is the darkness. They tend to obsess about anger and fear.

"But, when you add God, then hope is stronger, and you can add the darkness, but it will never be stronger" than hope.

Studios have expressed interest in the work of those she teaches, but even so, she says, it's not easy for anyone in Hollywood to know exactly what audiences will buy.

"We're trying day by day to figure out what our students need to equip them better," she says.

Meanwhile, Christian musicians have to counter the bad-boy image of rock. "For us, being Christians and being musicians, it's not as big a contradiction as people think," says Jeff Frankenstein, drummer for the Christian rock group the Newsboys. "The whole traditional image of being a bad boy is one thing. But what could be more rebellious than being a Christian and a musician?

"Look at the life of Jesus - that's way more outrageous."

The Newsboys headlined this past summer's 30-city, 10-group rock tour called "Festival Con Dios," what was dubbed the first-ever "Christian Lollapalooza," after the alternative rock festival.

While religion has inspired artists for centuries, it has been largely banished from today's popular entertainment, says Robert Thompson, director of the center for the study of popular television at Syracuse University. This, he says, parallels the rise of mass culture.

"For so long in the mainstream entertainment, there was this idea that you had to appeal to mass audience," Mr. Thompson says. "People were uncomfortable with religious themes. You could talk about anything but religion or politics if you were going after a mass audience because you didn't want to offend anyone."

The splintering of the mass market into many cable and satellite channels has opened the door to more targeted entertainment, he says.

"We haven't seen such raw forms of entertainment in a long time, he says. The reception for Christian music and films from mainstream critics has been largely neutral or negative. But that doesn't mean they aren't making an impact.

"These things are a meaningful barometer of the place and manifestation of religion in a kind of dialogue with the rest of culture," says David Sterritt, long-time film critic of the Monitor. "I'm not sure if anyone should care about these movies themselves. But they ought to care if those [large] numbers of people are going to see them."

Lucifer gets all the good lines

Historically, says Michael York, who plays the devil in "Megiddo: Omega Code 2," Lucifer has always been the best role for an actor.

"The devil hogs all the bedclothes, so to speak," says Mr. York, who has played biblical roles before, notably John the Baptist in Franco Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth." Despite their religious iconography, says the British actor, who calls himself "vaguely spiritual," "I'd hoped that these [Omega Code] films had an ambiguity about them, a double level, so they didn't seem to be entirely religious propaganda."

He says he understands that comments suggesting "Megiddo" was the work of God framed it as a sort of religious agitprop. But he says Western culture also cannot escape its own legacies.

"If you're brought up in a Judeo-Christian culture, it's impossible not to deal with these films," he says. "They're the source of your parables, all your metaphors."

For further information:

Time Changer: Production budget: $825,000; P&A (Prints and Advertising): $450,000

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Web page created 8 May 2001. Last modified 30 September 2005.