Christian Media

Where is the Christian Audience?

When the Christmas film “The Nativity Story” premiered from New Line Cinema, but it came in 4th place at the box office and made less than $8 million. I don’t understand this at all. Christians complain that Hollywood isn’t making good family films anymore – and we REALLY complain that they don’t make films with Christian content, but when they do, we don’t show up.

They blitzed TV and print advertising, did special screenings for churches across America, created a special website filled with resources for churches and small groups, and more. But we didn’t show up. The truth is, Hollywood doesn’t respond to ideals, they respond to box office results. We’re never going to change the industry until they realize that we represent a viable audience.

That means we need to show up.  If you have other reasons it didn’t do better, I’m listening…

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37 Comments

  1. Phil,

    I am no expert but I am a Christian. I am a missionary serving in Kenya right now and I would not go to see the Nativity Story. I would take my young children to see Happy Feet or if it was my wife and I alone we would go and see Casino Royale. Some stories do not need to be told as movies. The birth of God is one of them. It seems to me that making money off the story of Jesus is wrong.

    So Christians need to make more movies about penguins and British spies!

  2. Let's see now… you're probably reading a Bible that you paid for, so that publisher is making money off the Word of God.  You probably buy Bible story books for your kids, so somebody else is making money off Bible stories.  And you probably have people who financially support your work, so YOU'RE making money off sharing the gospel….  Millions of people see movies every week…  so you're advocating that we show them James Bond movies, but not share the greatest story ever told on film?  I'm sure you're sincere, but the argument doesn't make much sense…

  3. I didn't see it either and my reason for it is that I don't like big studios making Christian films. Most of the people making these films aren't Christians. Facing the Giants is made by small Christian filmmakers and that's why people support it. The audience isn't stupid, it's who's making the film that matters. If the same company that puts out garbage makes a Christian film to turn a few bucks, that's not cool. But if a Christian filmmaker makes the same film I'll go watch. I'd much rather support a Christian filmmaker than Warner Brothers, Unversal, ect. It's one thing if a Christian Filmmaker makes a movie and then gets distributed by Sony (Giants), but to be produced from start to finish by people with the wrong motives leaves me less enthusiastic. My biggest concern with the Christian film movement was that all the studios would start making their own "Christian" films. I'd just rather watch the filmmakers like Christiano brothers, Facing the Giants, and more.

  4. First, I would say, see the film before you form an opinion about which is a better or more spiritual film. Just from a logic point of view, if you don't know anything about the film, your perspective doesn't hold water.

    Second, how do you know who were believers or not on the team that made the Nativity? I'm not sure how you can make that call. There are literally thousands of strong believers working for major studios and TV networks, so you have no idea who might have worked on – and put a great deal of prayer into – a specific project.

    Third, your sentiment sounds good, and I'm friends with all the "Christian" filmmakers you mentioned, but the truth is their films have VERY limited release. I absolutely support them, but if you think they're making a huge dent in the culture, you can forget it. Besides, do you REALLY think the Christiano brothers or Alex Kendrick would turn down an offer from a major studio to produce or release one of their projects just because non-believers might work there?

    Fourth, I assume you don't read Christian books that are published by major publishers, since there are probably non-believers working at those companies. I would also assume you don't go to a Church built by a major construction company, since they probably employ mostly non-Christians. I would assume that holds true at the car dealership you get your car from, the grocery store, your doctor's office, and everything else that touches your life?

    Funny thing – Jesus hung around with all those non-believers…. we've got to get out of our super spiritual and self righteous bubble…

  5. Phil, I don't think Christians are tuned into the deal that they/we need to show up on opening weekend.  Pastors certainly aren't, and they need to be driving this.

  6. I haven’t seen it yet but it’s on my list for this weekend. But sad to say if one of the Tom’s or Mel’s of Hollywood had been attached it might have been a blockbuster no doubt.  Secondly, and even sader, up to ten bucks times 2, plus all the trimmings, to see a story already done in the media many times over on TV and also for the last 100 years or so at the annual Church Christmas play is a bit much for the average guy. Thirdly, and the most sad of all is that Christians say they want movies they can take their children to – but actually go to movies with sex and violence as the missionary’s comment above bears out. What would happen if we made movies with the reality of the Christian world – where sex and violence exists, the latest being Ted Haggard – and add grace and redemption? I bet a lot more people would show up and maybe even get saved. Then they could read the Nativity story from the bible to their children – just a thought.

  7. Good thoughts.  Check out the poll on the right panel, and see how people are feeling about the sex and violence thing – and please vote.  And in contrast to the classic church Christmas pagent, at least in The Nativity Story, they're not wearing bathrobes…   🙂

  8. Good point.  Although I've written on it numerous times, we need to get the word out to Christians that going to a good movie on opening weekend is absolutely critical.  That's when the studio makes the decision on how long to keep it in the theater.  So if you choose to support a movie, if at all possible, see it on opening weekend.  Otherwise, your box office "vote" doesn't mean nearly as much.

  9. I think it didn't do well at the box office for the simple reason that it isn't that great. Its certainly good, and Christians should support it, but at the end of hte day, its no Passion.

  10. Phil, You win! You're quick to attack and demerit any reasoning. I'm a consumer and can choose what to consume. Being force fed movies from the select few that control the media is not something I want to buy into. I didn't see "The Passion" simply because everyone else was and I didn't want to go just because everyone was telling me to. I probably won't see this movie either, even though I see many Christian films in theatres. Your right on many points, I just have a personal struggle with studio made releases and prefer independant projects. The culture is affected, business is affected as you say-but if people don't watch it, then maybe it didn't "capture or intrigue" enough people for whatever reason. It's just a marketing blunder and no reason to scrap all Christian Films as Marty Bowen would suggest. I never saw an ad for it and only knew of it thru Christian websites…they should have advertised somewhere where people would know about it-I think almost every film advertised on myspace has done really well.

     Not everyone is going to spend their hard earned dollars at overpriced theatres-it's just the way it is. Secular movies have bombs as well, but they don't shut down all secular movies…I think one movies mediocre opening box office is being over dramatized. Once again your the champ, you win…i'm a heathen if I don't see the movie-I guess I better go. I guess I better send TBN a check too.

  11. ooooh.. a note of bitterness here?  🙂  Actually, I always appreciate comments like this.   I would never demean your reasoning, even though I don't understand it – particularly the part about not seeing a movie because lots of people are seeing it.  The Bible is the most popular book of all time, so from the perspective of your reasoning, we shouldn't read it.  I prefer to consume media based on it's merit, not its popularity.

  12. I have to say I am baffled at some of the comments made here. The first one absolutely floored me, but i am thinking (hoping) he was kidding about preferring Casino Royale over The Nativity. Has to be a prankster.  I was forced to walk out of Bond after 30 minutes into it our "hero" is rolling around on the floor with a MARRIED WOMAN. Hardly a movie I would take my wife to on a date night out…and this is a guy serving as a missionary in Kenya? yikes!

    I too am SHOCKED that The Nativity didn't do better at the box office.  I purchased tickets online friday to see a 7pm show in Pasadena, and made sure to get there 30 minutes before to secure a choice spot in line.  I was excited!  Opening weekend for an anticipated film is an exciting event, particularly one which can be shared with fellow believers.  I got to the theater and there was literally no one there! no one! eventually, around 40 people showed up for the screening. I do not think this is indicative of Christians interest.  The movie was WAY UNDERMARKETED. It seems like New Line was counting on word of mouth in the churches, problem is – no one in the churches really knew when the movie was coming out.  Because I had really looked forward to the film, I talked to many people about it in several churches…. and every one of them had no idea when the movie was coming out? I'm guessing most people probably ASSUMED it was due out closer to Christmas.

     As far as the quality of the film, I think it's fantastic.  Not sure how it could have been done better. It's defintely a victory for Christ whether people show up opening weekend or not. The message is out there on some 3000 screens. We have a fantastic teaching tool and a great addition to the canon of Biblical cinema.  

    Hollywood is trying to figure this Christian thing out and it may not be as easy as they first thunk.

  13. For those of you don't support this film because the film company isn't "Christian", consider what Paul says in Philippians 1: 15 – 18:

    "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

    But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."

    Even if this film was created entirely by heathens, if it presents a story that is well produced, compelling, and truthful, Christians should support it. It would be great if there were a excellent Christian film company(s) with enough resources and talent to produce compelling, award-winning films. The truth is that it takes money and vision to produce films. The money's in the big studios.

  14. Now, I must admit I have not seen the film, yet. I am a poor and extremely busy college student (studying film/video at Northwestern College, MN). I was also unaware how much opening weekend matters. Thanks for the information Phil.

    The problem with most "Christian films" is that they speak mostly to Christians who understand the world from a Christian worldview. Even with Passion of the Christ, many of my non-christian friends simply refused to see the film or disliked it because of its utter violence. They didn't understand why this Jesus was being brutalized. To them it was a bloodfest.

    I agree with Mack. We need to tell authentic stories that include sin, failure, and weakness as well as hope, redemption, and good morals. We also need to tell stories that speak to our society. Jesus told parables that were meaningful to a particular people in a particular society with a particular way of thinking and living. We need to produce films in the same way.

    People are numb from getting hit over the head with the gospel. Most people don't even know what they're getting hit with, they just know it hurts and that the church is the one swinging. Instead of hitting them, lets reveal the truth of the gospel in a compelling, creative and entertaining way.

  15. Here's a great biblical story that I hope to tell someday (at least help tell). The story of Hosea. God actually told a man to marry an adulterous woman. And then love her unconditionally no matter how many other men she slept with. To pursue her, and restore her, and love her over and over and over. Oh and this is how much God loves us!!! What an amazing story! Now I think if I could tell this story in a modern setting, in a Nathan-telling-David-He's-the-Sheep-Killer kind of way, with high production values. That would be a story! And it would certainly speak to our society.

  16. I didn't think the movie had the box office appeal-I was suprised they would spend that much $ on that type of story, it's not something a younger generation would go see-I saw the trailer on TV and it wasn't that enticing.

    Onto why it really did bad? The weather in the midwest was horrible and people weren't going anywhere let alone theatres..snow, ice, ect..It would have made a considerable difference-the Bible belt couldn't get out of their homes.

    Reece

  17. I agree that it is the greatest story ever told.  I do not think that it was advertised that way.  I thought the visualizations from "The Fountain" were far more appealing.

     Phil – You are a proponent of "how we tell" great stories, but a "realistic" view of "the greatest story ever told" (Joe and Mary) came off as, well….too real and a little weak, as a concept.  Who got talked in to putting money into that one?  I feel like, as a Christian, I HAVE to go and support it, but I would much rather see a NEW story….told really well, an epic.

    All we ever come off as, is "supporting our click"  sure the box office numbers go up for The Passion, but Hollywood execs knew that it was in support of the message.  Mel just happened to have told a REALLY GOOD story and that made the "have to" for most Christians a "want to".

    I've wondered where the story of "jesus took the keys of death and hell from Satan" is going to come from.  Now that would be a cinematic story moment.

    I need to wright it. 

     I hear that 4% of Teens proefess Jesus Christ as thier savior and lead a Christian life…….This movie will never reach the 96% who don't.  Unless, they see it at church.

  18. My opinion of why The Nativity isn't #1 at the box office

    1. The studio didn't put any money into marketing it. Compare it to the marketing for Happy Feet. No surprise Happy Feet is #1.

    2. I'm waiting for the DVD and renting it for $4 instead of spending $35+ to take the family to the theater.

    3. Guys prefer movies with explosions and automatic weapons.

  19. I too will wait for the DVD on Net Flicks.  The movie houses in our city have worn out cushions in the chairs, diseased restrooms, and a sound system with only one setting, ear splitting.  Everytime I have gone to a movie, I leave with a headache, but only after I unglue my feet from the sticky floor. 

    I don't have to listen to cell phones going off, pot smokers in the back row, my feet getting stomped on by those with no bladder control moving in and out of the row, eight dollars for a ticket, fifteen dollars for popcorn and a soda, and others talking out loud during the movie.

    I have a comfortable recliner, home theater projection w/ Bose sound. I can stop the movie anytime to get a bottle water or use the restroom. The house isn't so cold that swing beef  could be stored  there.  Until the local movie houses figure out who is paying the bills, I'll stay home. The entire industry is experiencing the same lack of attendance figures. 

  20. My first reaction to your intitial post on this, Phil, is to say that a large segment of Christians have been trained to "avoid" Hollywood releases at all costs.  Some of the appeal to Christians with THE PASSION was the fact that Hollywood didn't want to touch it (it was one man's vision).  Not the case here.  For the most part, I think the "boycott" mentality remains in effect for most churches (as is evident in several of the posts here).  Couple that with a very, very poor (see: lazy) marketing effort, and you've got the #4 grossing film of the weekend.  It's an uphill battle you're fighting on this one if you've got very little help from the studio's marketing muscle.  Even then, I'll refer back to my first point.  Folks are very wary of said marketing arm and said studio(s).  It's a shame, really, that we can't think for ourselves on this one…but the man behind the pulpit is where most take their cue, and most pastors were either unaware, or already pre-disposed to the boycott model here.

    By the way…GREAT to see you jumping ino the fray rather than posting a thought and watching from the sideines.  Lots of spunk.  LOVE it.
  21. Well, at least next time one of us hears an uninformed Christian rail that "Hollywood doesn't make any movies for Christians" we can cite this an example that "Yes, they do" and also "Why they won't". Unless more Christians pull themselves out of the separatist-boycott Hollywod mentality referred to by several of the posters here, we may not see many more wide-release "Christian films."

  22. I have seen the movie, twice. Once in a free pre-release screening (for those of us that the marketers think might sway others to buy a ticket) and once on opening weekend where I paid for my seat and popcorn (no butter or salt please). I have done my bit and talked it up, we have added references to it in our sermons for the past three weeks, and here in what most people believe is one of the most conservative and evangelical cities in the country, the movie is doing well. I was at dinner last night with a couple who are going to see it a second time.

    It is, without doubt, a slow moving story, but it shows the emotions that Mary must have struggled with and portrayed the virtues of the “just man” Joseph better than any Christmas Pagent at any church I have ever witnessed.

    We have another chance… the new Rocky movie is coming out next week. I’m seeing a pre-release tomorrow. This is supposed to have a great Christian moral, coming out of Stallone’s personal relationship with Christ. We shall see.

    Joe

    Director of Media & Marketing –
    Grand Rapids First

  23. It's fascinating that I've heard over and over again on this blog that the studio didn't do any advertising.  From my perspective in LA, it was everywhere.  I saw movie trailers, print ads, web resources, and more.  Granted, I'm in LA, but they did advertise. 

  24. I saw the movie on its opening weekend. 

    My issues with it stem from what I considered doctrinal errors.

    As a Catholic, the problem I had with it was the portrayal of Mary. Considering the Catholic belief of Mary being conceived without original sin, she was protrayed at times as an unruly brat. To me, she was hardly "full of grace". The Three Astrologers/Wise Men were portrayed as lovable stooges…. which didn't help.

    Because of the negatives, I couldn't recommend it to others…. and didn't. Agree with me or not on the doctrinal issues, this was one of many reasons it flopped.

  25. I’m in Oz (Australia, Sydney) and it was pretty light on here as well. Mrs Cookie Monster and I didn’t get a chance to see it due to workload commitments (churches go crazy for Christmas advertising!!) However, my comment to all you Cooke-ites are…look what ‘The Passion’ did for causing an interest in Christianity…catholocism aside, at least it had people coming to view the crux of Jesus’ message. We didn’t see it with out church, but decided to watch it with the rest of the general muppets here in Oz and most major religions were represented.

    My point being, The Passion wasn’t heavily marketed here either (like The Nativity)…hhmmm…maybe Mel should’ve done it??!!!

    The ultimate would be Peter Jackson doing Revelations…now THAT would rock

  26.  

    Dear Phil,

    Personally I agree with you on this matter. This gentleman who is serving as a missionary in Kenya, God Bless him. However, this gentleman needs to realize that while he is in another country serving God there are millions of people here at home who are in desperate need of Christ in their lives. There is a mission field here at home and it is a war zone for that matter…and if there are people out there willing to sacrifice to create a Christian based film that may have an impact on the hearts and minds of our lost friends, then God Bless them….Keep fighting the good fight of faith. It is a battle zone in our own backyards where the enemy has decieved so many of our family and friends. So, in regards to getting sick of people making money off of Christian media….brother check your heart….men and women who faithfully give their hard earned money to support the mission of reaching the lost world to spread the gospel of Christ. How many people think that Christmas is about money and presents? Allot of children for that matter. And God bless the men and women who gave up so much to make that movie because they are dedicated brothers and sisters in the faith.

    Take a look at these images and tell me what you see.

    In Love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

    GardenerforGod

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

  27. You do what is right in your relationship with Jesus Christ. Everytime you watch a film you are making a vote for that type of film. So, let's say you watch something that you wouldn't want your kids to watch…you have made a vote glorifying that type of film. So, let's say you watch something that does glorify Jesus, you have just voted.
    Make your vote count people.


  28. I dont want to go watch a story that I already know.  As a Christ seeking young adult… I want to go and see movies just like all the other ones out there… minus the sex. Or the drugs.  Our Christian music sounds like all the other music… so why cant our movies be the same?!

    Plus, I want to be able to take my non christian friends to the movies. 
  29. The problem should not be the sex or the drugs it's the gratuitiveness of it bothers even non Christians. There are many people who say that they would rather see two people making love than people's heads being blown off. The question that should be asked is, "Is it essential to the story?" Every James Bond movie opens and closes with 007 having SEX and it is essential to the story. How many times have you heard someone Christian or not say, "I'm not a prude, but that scene went over the top".
  30. i don't understand the belief that mary didn't have original sin.  romans 6:23 says that all.  this is Romans chapter 6.

      9What shall we conclude then? Are we any better[b]? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10As it is written:
       "There is no one righteous, not even one;
           11there is no one who understands,
          no one who seeks God.
        12All have turned away,
          they have together become worthless;
       there is no one who does good,
          not even one."[c]
        13"Their throats are open graves;
          their tongues practice deceit."[d]
       "The poison of vipers is on their lips."[e]
           14"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."[f]
        15"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
           16ruin and misery mark their ways,
        17and the way of peace they do not know."[g]
           18"There is no fear of God before their eyes."[h]

        19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

    Righteousness Through Faith

        21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

    If you could help me understand this idea that mary was without sin, i would love to chat with you. my name is shelly browning

  31. I sincerely believe that part of the problem is found in how many Christians divide up their lives between the sacred and the secular.  In my world view, God created EVERYTHING, and everything I do, think and say in life is directly related to my relationship with God.  Thus, I do not believe that entertainment designed to appeal to Christians needs, necessarily, to have a biblical theme.  If there were more movies about supposedly secular issues but built upon a framework of Christian values, I believe these movies would attract much larger audiences.  As a Christian, I don't have a "religious" side and a secular side, and when I seek entertainment, it doesn't have to be a sermon or a bible story.

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