Screenwriter: Viewing is believing

In the US, ‘faith’ films are raking in the almighty dollars

God's Not Dead - trailer


Christians enjoyed a triumph at the US box office two weeks ago. Against the odds, a film aimed specifically at the faith demographic became a hit.

No, we’re not talking about Noah. That deranged epic’s respectable performance had as much to do with the promise of digitally generated catastrophe as it had with the source snippets in Genesis. The real Christian smash was a strange beast called (take that, Nietzsche) God’s Not Dead.

Produced by a specialist studio called Pure Flix Entertainment, the picture concerns disputes between a lovely Christian student and his nasty atheist philosophy professor. Dr Malevolent scowls furiously as he spits out the “tale told by an idiot speech” speech from Macbeth. Our jolly hero works hard at proving something that Blaise Pascale and other geniuses gave up on centuries ago.

Scott Foundas in Variety raved: “This strident melodrama about the insidious efforts of America’s university system to silence true believers on campus is about as subtle as a stack of Bibles falling on your head.”

Quality is rarely a barrier to success in this market. In its first week, God’s Not Dead earned $21 million in the US. That’s less than half of what Noah took “domestically”. But, playing on many fewer screens, garnering a fraction of the media attention, God’s Not Dead still registers as a spectacular success. It secured the No 3 spot in that week’s box office (behind only Noah and Divergent); in its second weekend, the film declined a tiny five per cent on its opening frame.

Over the past few years, a host of Christian pictures have, unnoticed by the mainstream media, made modest fortunes in the US. Earlier this year, a biblical adaptation called Son of God took in $58 million. In 2008, something called Fireproof garnered $33 million.

Given the small budgets and modest marketing costs, this counts as serious money. So why haven’t the studios got on board?

Well, they’ve tried. Since 2004, when Mel Gibson’s brilliantly made The Passion of the Christ became a genuine sensation, the majors have heaved at the temple doors without edging more than a toe through the threshold. Specialist wings have been established within marketing departments to flog films to “faith-based” audiences. Studio pictures such as The Nativity Story made feeble efforts to break the market.

Darren Aronofsky, director of Noah, has confirmed that Paramount pressed for a faith-friendly ending with a tune by a Christian Rock band. He stuck with his giant killer golems and a final warble by Patti Smith.

The truth is that Pure Flix and Paramount are in entirely different businesses. The former delivers propaganda. The latter attempts entertainment. You may as well ask the major studios to manufacture battleships or floor wax. The underground insurgency will rumble on and we heathens will continue to ignore it.

God’s Not Dead has already made more money than Dallas Buyers Club took in its entire run. Ponder that, European heathen.

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