Hollywood wants you now
A few weeks ago, a Newsweek reporter asked an unnamed film studio head, "Does the success of [The Passion of The Christ] make you think that … "
The studio head interrupted. "That I should be developing more Jew-hating material?" he asked.
Antagonism to Gibson's film among Hollywood executives notwithstanding, several news outlets are reporting this week on an upcoming tsunami of religious-themed films. That's not terribly surprising as The Passion's box office numbers continue to climb. Earning another $31.7 million or so over the weekend taking it to $264 million total, the film is now #23 on the list of all-time domestic gross earnings, between Shrek and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Newmarket Films expects the final domestic number to be between $350 million and $400 million, which would put it in the top-ten territory of Jurassic Park, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Spider-Man, though far below Titanic's $600 million.
So get ready for disciples and false prophets following in The Christ's footsteps.
"Will there really be scriptural pictures — Old Testament, New Testament?" producer and former Sony Pictures head Peter Guber tells The New York Times today. "The answer seemingly is probably so."
Time has a brief rundown of what's already in the works, from the heretical Da Vinci Code and Daughter of God to the Bible-themed Barabbas remake and Revelations television show (that's being pitched as like X-Files but sounds a lot more like Millennium, another show from X-Files creator Chris Carter.)
Premiere, meanwhile, highlights the promise for Christian filmmakers, like The Omega Code's Matthew Crouch, and promoters like Jonathan Bock, who market mainstream films to Christian audiences. The film has a few unfortunate caricatures of conservative Christians (honestly, the number of Christians who avoid all films is minuscule), but at least this paragraph is interesting:
Of course, Gibson's movie is not the traditional faith-based offering, leaving even Lalonde to wonder if its purported violent portrayal of Jesus' crucifixion has any commercial viability. [When was this article written?] The Passion is more of a colorful footnote to Hollywood's relationship with the church than a future business model. And even if studios do decide to more aggressively pursue religious consumers, Crouch and [Cloud Ten Pictures head Peter] Lalonde are banking the industry doesn't know how. Though studios want Christians to buy tickets, both producers insist that studios lack the market sensibility to make movies that will directly appeal to the tastes of a traditional-values audience.
According to The New York Times, Crouch and Lalonde seem to be right.
"I wouldn't know how to duplicate [The Passion]," Jeff Robinov, president of production at Warner Brothers, told the Times. He says he liked the film, but that it "doesn't encourage me to find a movie to satisfy that group," by which he meant Christians.
"But if a guy like Mel Gibson came in with a film that had a sociological, theological message — a religious message — that was controversial, I wouldn't run from it," he said.
Others quoted in the Times story similarly expressed confusion about what Christian audiences want. A few suggested that the key to Gibson's success seems to be "a political religious statement" (by which they apparently mean a conservative religious point of view, since many recent flops have taken aim at church teachings and practices from the left.)
What potential religious audiences apparently want, says Bob Berney, president of Newmarket Films (which is distributing The Passion), is something big. Gibson's film, he told the Associated Press, "will probably start trends and everything but at the end of the day, the films have to be pretty spectacular. The audience, no matter what, is pretty discerning."
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