Christian Media

Do “G” or “Conservative” Movies Perform Better at the Box Office?

I was recently interviewed by a news organization about the idea that “G” or “PG” movies – or movies that are essentially more conservative politically make more money at the box office.  While I’m not a researcher, and it’s a complex issue, I thought you might be interested in my thoughts on the matter.  Here’s my response to the question from the reporter.  I would love to know your reaction to the argument:

When I see reports about conservative movies making more money than liberal movies I generally have two thoughts:

1.  Far too many movies are simply too subjective to make blanket political assertions.  For instance, is Gone with the Wind a conservative or liberal movie?  How about Titanic?  Sure there’s a nude scene, but it’s also a powerful and heroic love story.  Avatar has been criticized for demonizing big business and celebrating the environmental movement.  And yet it’s the most successful movie of all time.  Obviously there are bombs on both side of the political fence, and we have seen that films that are extremely liberal tend to fall flat on their face.  But when it comes to blanket statements about the industry, I’m somewhat skeptical about what works and what doesn’t.  After all, if the answers were that easy, we’d all be rich producers.

2.  On the issue of films with Christian, family, or moral values doing well at the box office, I’m all for seeing more of them.  However, once again, that’s really hard to quantify.  What you may think is a “Christian” movie, I might not.  Plus, when you take the blockbuster animated event movies like Toy Story or Finding Nemo out of the mix, the numbers dramatically adjust.

Besides, perhaps the bigger issue is “Why do we expect non-believers to act like believers?”  Why do we get so stressed out when Hollywood doesn’t reflect our values, or create movies we like?  I think far too often we Christians simply get distracted from what we’re really called to do in the world.  We spend so much time freaking out over not being able to say a prayer at the start of a high school football game, or upset at Hollywood, the gay community, or others that we forget that our job is to reach the world, not complain about the world.

The bottom line is that we all would like to see more films with positive moral values, and I’m thrilled that so many do so well at the box office.  But the truth is, as a Christian myself, I’m not sure we’re called just to make “G” or “PG” movies.  In fact, if you filmed “The Bible,” much of it would be “R” rated and some of it possibly “X.”  That’s the remarkable thing about the Bible – it tells honest, authentic and true stories.  So why do we spend so much time trying to convince Hollywood that serious films about real life that push the edge aren’t welcomed by the faith community?  I think the culture would respect our message much more if we stopped producing just cheesy, G-rated films and started telling gritty stories about real life.

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  1. With a movie like Avatar though, a significant portion of its huge profit, was people being drawn in to see groundbreaking special effects, not a great plot-line. Now people are expecting that level of visual quality, and in some ways take it for granted. Gone With the Wind, which had a great plot which people relate more to, still made more than Avatar in today’s money. Part of the reason why many movies today, especially those in the “G’, “PG”, and “Christian” categories, do poorly, is because they keep recycling the same plot, or the executives try to franchise everything, instead of doing good one-off movies.

  2. Agreed. Especially your last paragraph. The stories in Scripture are honest and authentic because they are true. They’re not just stories, they’re real accounts of real life. That makes it even more powerful. I think people want real and authentic. The Christian community has produced fake and cheesy for too long. As a Christian who makes media, my job is to ultimately point everything to Jesus, and the story of the Gospel. That’s what this (life) is all about. But it can be told creatively and in fresh, new ways. Props to those who are doing so, because they are out there!

    1. @Brandon Lovelace “I think people want real and authentic.” 

      Totally disagree when it comes to movies. If that statement were true then documentaries would be the biggest blockbusters. 

      When it comes to movies we want to show up and turn off the brain for two hours. He who does that best rules the roost.  I want explosions, fast cars, bad guys to die, and the good guy to get the girl always…

      Hollywood is the entertainment industry not the information industry.

  3. I totally applaud your opinion Phil. I think Christian film makers can reach the world AND perform well at the box office as long as they keep the human heart, spirit and soul in focus, get over the ratings and put out a great story. Universal stories that demonstrate universal strengths, weaknesses, innate desires, and those who determine to overcome conflict for a price – the fight for love, freedom, honor, life, survival, justice, etc. are worth the watch. When you add special effects, captivating cinematography and of course the good guy/girl wins in the end, it becomes engrossing. No one lives a cheesy life…. how did we ever come to this conclusion …. “G” lives are boring! Let’s see some gritty action that makes us believe that life is worth living and fighting for, and Biblical principles work when applied.

  4. To call Avatar the most successful movie of all time is perhaps misleading. It is certainly the highest grossing movie ever, but when adjusted for inflation it only comes in at 14th. Also, when you consider the costs used to make it, many other movies make a greater percentage profit. Not to detract from your original point though, the particular message of a film doesn’t determine its popularity

  5. I thought Courageous was a film full of action and real people.  Very entertaining, heart felt and encouraging us to do better.  All genres of film have some poor production and some good.  I believe there are many excellent Christian and Family friendly films out there.  Another good example is “Smile As Big As The Moon” on Hallmark Channel.  Amazingly good G film.  There are many more examples I know we all can think of.  We do not have to give up our values to do excellent work!

  6. Of course Christians should get over the ratings thing. It’s quite ridiculous how prudish they are in certain quarters.
    I made a point in a previous post about how this entire issue is less to do with how much money is made and more about return on investment. That’s why horror movies continue to get made, as they are generally cheaper and get bigger returns relatively speaking (in spite of having a smaller audience compared with Pixar).
    Here are a couple of Biblical epics I’d love to see:
    An epic, R-rated, Mel Gibson directed Braveheart style take on 1 and 2 Samuel, covering the life of King David.
    Paul Verhoevan’s take on Judges 19 and 20: a story that begins with gang rape and dismemberment and builds to a horrifying massacre. I can already see Verhoevan going back and forth to the MPAA to try and secure an R rating, whilst we in the UK would get an uncut version.
    Leaving the Bible aside, there are loads of films with Christian themes that I felt would have been better if the filmmakers had dared to be a bit grittier. Machine Gun Preacher wasn’t made by Christians, but had some of the most full-on (and convincingly) Christian content I saw in any film in 2011. The film itself was flawed, but it had great “creative evangelism” potential, as did The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington. Both films featured plenty of violence and f-words, and were all the better for it.
    As Phil says, the liberal/conservative thing is equally silly, as I can cite examples on both sides of the political spectrum that either did spectacularly well or failed.
    The adjustment for inflation thing is a good point, but Avatar was still a pretty big hit. It was also a film I greatly disliked by the way – not for any so-called liberal or New Age agenda, but for being phenomenally predictable and dull (in spite of its undoubted technical achievements). I think the general rule of thumb with James Cameron is the bigger his budgets, the worse his films get (which is why I still rate The Terminator as his best).

  7. ” We spend so much time freaking out over not being able to say a prayer at the start of a high school football game, or upset at Hollywood, the gay community, or others that we forget that our job is to reach the world, not complain about the world.”

    THANK you sir.

  8. You’re right Phil – it’s a complex question.  I struggle with using adjectives words like “Christian” and “conservative” to describe any artistic work – this puts creatives in an untenable position.  What comes out too often is poorly written, developed films with characters that may seem culturally relevant to the faith community but completely disconnected to mainstream culture.

    Humanity is messy – let’s let artists create images that reflect that in honest, authentic characters.  A necessary first step in that process is to use the word “Christian” as a noun – not an adjective!

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