Entertainment is a very tricky business. The viewing public has finicky tastes and sometimes the best-funded films flop. Other times sleeper films capture the public’s imagination and become blockbusters. There is no one set formulae for film making success and Hollywood, it appears, seems to be perennially trying to target market films more than ever.
Based on domestic box office receipts none of the biblical blockbuster films made heavily with special effects sustained any real economic value for the studios that made these wide release films in 2014.
Big Production = Big Domestic Flops
The film Noah, produced by Regency Entertainment and which stars Russell Crowe, only earned 101 million domestically on a 125 million dollar production budget.
Worse yet in terms of box office was the film, Exodus: God and Kings, produced by 20th Century Fox and stars Christian Bale. That film earned 64 million on a 188 million dollar budget.
Each of these films did better internationally but as it appears not because of the subject matter of the movies but because international audiences seem to be struck by their intense special effects.
Medium Production Costs = Poor to Mediocre Domestic Reception
The reboot of the Left Behind films based on the books with the same name and starring Nicholas Gage, apparently cost more than 20 million dollars to produce but brought in only 14 million domestically. Internationally the film took in only another 5 million dollars.
Another Fox entry was Son of God. This film cost about 22 million to produce but had a domestic win of 59 million and another 8 million overseas. Not great numbers when you factor in additional marketing costs and having to pay theater owners. So here too any profits are razors edge.
Small Production + Targeted Stories = Box Office Success
The real winners were Sony Pictures release of Heaven is for Real.* The film is reported to have cost 12 million but made 91 million domestically and another 9 million on the international market. And Freestyle Releasing’s God’s Not Dead was the big winner. The film cost 2 million to make but took in 60 million domestically and another 1 million internationally.
Ironically, the revenue generation is the opposite of the Noah and Exodus films. That I surmise is because of the intimate Evangelical nature of the Heaven and GND films. They both play to a target much better in the U.S. than outside of it.
Swinging for the Fences
Of course, if you’re swinging for the fences or trying to set a biblical Hollywood high watermark you’ll have to beat the incredibly violent and masochistic Passion of the Christ. It’s been reported that if you’re a Christian who enjoys flagellation and torture then this is THE film to watch.
Passion was produced and directed by Mel Gibson, a man whose anti-Semitic remarks make him a pariah in Hollywood. The film cost 30 million to make but it has made more than 613 million dollars. Proving again that neither talent nor kindness has anything to do with filmmaking and target marketing. I’m sure Mr. Gibson laughs all the way to the bank although he hasn’t acted in a successful film for years now.
Secular-Themed Films Fair Well But Not Always
2013’s Paul is about a space alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) who crash lands on Earth and is held captive by the U.S. government. The film stars British actors Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (both atheists in real life) and has made about 100 million. It cost about 40 million to produce.
The film Contact, inspired by Carl Sagan’s book of the same name and starring Jodie Foster, cost about 90 million to make (1997 dollars) and has taken in over 177 million dollars to date.
Ricky Gervais’ The Invention of Lying cost 17 million to make and has garnered almost 40 million from the domestic and international box office
The film Creation about the life and times of Charles Darwin, which is a really smart and sympathetic movie, cost 15 million and has only garnered $900,000 domestically and internationally.
Another freethinker-friendly film that missed the mark but is beautifully acted, directed and scripted is Agora. The film stars Rachel Weisz as 4th Century Egyptian mathematician Hypatia (who was murdered by a Christian mob) and cost 75 million but has only made 39 million at the box office to date.
Both Agora and Creation are really two intelligently made films that immediately make them impossible for many U.S. audiences for several reasons.
They’re biopics and they’re historical in nature. They’re about skeptical foreigners. They’re about scientists and mathematicians. There are no robots, car chases, potty jokes, stolen merchandise or teen vampires. Nor are they mid-thirty-time-to-grow-up-but don’t-wanna themed films.
*The competing book for the HIFR audience entitled, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, was written by a paraplegic child. The child admitted that he wrote about a death experience he never had just for attention. The book has been pulled from the shelves because it is, just like Heaven is for Real (although not admitted to) a hoax.