The following comes from a Mar. 29 story on Deadline.com.H
After the strong staying power of this weekend’s God’s Not Dead and the stronger than expected opening of Paramount Pictures’ Noah following on the heels of the surprise opening of Fox’s Son of God earlier this year, is there any doubt anymore Hollywood that if you build it, they will come? That’s three for three … but wait, actually there’s more. Back in 2008, the Kirk Cameron-starring Fireproof from filmmaker and associate pastor of the Sherwood Church, Alex Kendrick, took a lot of people by surprise. On a $500,000 budget raised by the church, the faith-based picture ended up grossing $33.4M when it was released by Samuel Goldwyn. They did it again in 2011, when on a $2M budget, TriStar
released Courageous that opened to $9.1M and went onto make $34.5M. Before that, in 2004, the Mel Gibson-directed The Passion of the Christ opened to $83.8M domestically and went on to gross $611M worldwide.
“I think that is a smart assumption,” said Megan Colligan, president of domestic marketing and distribution for Paramount. “Noah is a movie that gets people thinking about big spiritual matters, but also is very entertaining. What Darren (Aronofsky, Noah‘s filmmaker) accomplished isn’t easy to replicate, but it’s definitely a genre that artists and studios will be thinking about.”
The next heavenly story up will be from Sony with Heaven Is For Real, based on the 2010 book written by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. The book debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times best-sellers list and then rose to No. 1. Sony purchased rights to the book in 2011 and Randall Wallace (Braveheart) directing from a script by Chris Parker. The movie stars the beloved Greg Kinnear (As Good as It Gets, Rake). Unaided awareness for the film is pretty low at the moment two weeks out, but anything could happen. Anecdotally, the film being talked about with my FB friends in the Midwest, South and West outside of Hollywood was … wait for it … Son of God initially … and now Heaven Is For Real. With the right marketing campaign, Sony could pull off the fourth faith-based film to open decently. Can they do it?
Affirm Films, which is a sub-label of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions and typically gears its features toward evangelical Christians, has the family comedy Moms’ Night Out starring Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin and Trace Adkins opening on May 9, Mothers Day Weekend. Affirm minted some moolah with the $18 million-budgeted Soul Surfer in April 2011, drawing faith-based crowds and grossing $43.9 million stateside. On October 3, Stoney Lake Entertainment will release the Nicolas Cage action film Left Behind about a commercial airline pilot steering his plane in the aftermath of the rapture. Then in December, there’s Exodus, which is more along the lines of the big-budget Noah. The Biblical tale in Exodus is that of Moses as played by Christian Bale who leads the Israelites out of Egypt to a safe haven. Will it be epic? It’s a Ridley Scott movie. It bows from Fox on Dec. 12.
So will there be more of these Biblical/faith-based films, and can they be sustainable past their first opening weekends and, more importantly, churn a profit for the filmmakers and distributors? “It’s a good question and I don’t know the answer to that,” said Fox’s distribution honcho Chris Aronson. “As far as sustainability and profitability, it’s hard to say because of the differences in the budgets. There are plenty of examples of faith-based films that have been smartly marketing and targeted to a faith-based audiences that have been successful. It proves that there is an appetite for it, but I think that credibility is an issue as well.” He notes that filmmakers and distribs must be involved in catering toward faith-based audiences. “You can’t pull the wool over the faith-based audiences eyes because they will see it and reject it. And I think (Son of God producers) Mark Burnett and Roma Downey had ultimate credibility because they went directly to the opinion makers in the faith-based community and showed that they had the goods….”
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