Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Passion Dollars - Part 1

Do you know what passion dollars are? It’s a term they still use in Hollywood. It refers to Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and the $371 million it brought in through its theatrical release in 2004. Six years later, producers and studio executives are still looking for the next “Passion of the Christ” and its potential “passion” dollars. This helps to explain the recent explosion of Christian-based films or what I call Christian formula films in the past few years.

Nobody wants to make the same mistake the studio executives made in 2004. I wonder how many people lost their jobs. Practically every studio in Hollywood passed on Mel Gibson’s film. This time Hollywood is paying attention. Many argue that there is a Christian audience more than willing to spend their money if Hollywood is willing to create the right product.

I read two articles this past week which highlight the issue of Christian films, their impact on the marketplace, and their influence on Hollywood and the type of movies that are likely to produced in the future.

The first article was from Phil Cooke which discussed the issue of how churches can change Hollywood. He used The Passion of the Christ as his example. One of the major reasons for the success of The Passion of the Christ was due to churches buying block tickets at local theaters. In some cases, they bought out the entire theater. Up to this point, no one had attempted this strategy. Local pastors were motivated because they had the right film with the right message. One church that has perfected this strategy is Sherwood Baptist in Albany, Georgia. In 2008, a film they produced, Fireproof, made $33 million at the box office. A case could be made that without local churches buying block tickets, Fireproof more than likely would have made less than $10 million.

The article goes on to say that with this kind of impact at the box office, the local church will have the ability to influence Hollywood to make more Christian-based films. This leads me to ask whether or not this is really possible. If we make Christian formula films, can that change the culture?

We know that Christians came out to see The Passion of the Christ. But I think a lot of Christians go to the movies and not necessarily to see Christian films. What made The Passion of the Christ special is that it spoke to older conservative, evangelical Christians who rarely came to see a movie.

Let’s also remember the movie received a tremendous amount of free marketing and publicity due to the controversy that surrounded its content. Some labeled Mel Gibson as racist and his film as anti-Semitic. Still others wanted the film banned. The controversy was worth its weight in gold at the box office. The success of The Passion of the Christ has been overstated by many.

Local pastors will not get behind a film unless it has the right message. That usually means a clear presentation of the Gospel message with the plan of salvation. That’s not the kind of movie Hollywood is looking for. At best, Christian formula movies are capable of reaching only a niche audience. Even with the success of Fireproof, the movie did not crack the top 100 films at the box office in 2008. Christians may consider Fireproof to be a success but not Hollywood.

Wednesday Part 2

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