More actors and filmmakers are embracing movies with religious themes, states a Wednesday (March 16) article in The Hollywood Reporter. In "Why Religious Movies Are Luring Mainstream Stars," reporter Tatiana Siegel wrote that Hollywood has rediscovered religion.
"While movies long have trafficked in biblical epics -- Paramount is readying the third big-screen Ben-Hur for August -- a new wave of inspirational movies is hitting theaters this Lent," wrote Siegel.
"Some offer new takes on the gospels, while others serve up contemporary tales in which God intervenes in human events. And many are attracting stars and filmmakers who in the past wouldn't have given such projects so much as a prayer."
The story lists a string of faith-based films that have earned good returns: "Soul Surfer," which was made for $18 million and brought in $47 million worldwide, "Courageous," with a budget of $2 million, made $35 million worldwide, and "When the Game Stands Tall," made for $15 million and earning $30 million worldwide.
There's also "The Passion of the Christ," the monster 2004 hit that was budgeted at $30 million and grossed over $600 million worldwide.
"The Hollywood community has historically viewed faith films through a political lens," producer Devon Franklin told the Reporter. "So you wouldn't get the Hollywood community to support this and put their clients in a film. But over the years, that stigma has diminished."
The 2014 film "Heaven is for Real," which depicts a child's near-death experience of heaven, stars mainstream actor Greg Kinnear. The film's budget was $12 and it grossed $101 million worldwide. More recently "Miracles from Heaven" stars Jennifer Garner, who was the first choice of producers Franklin and Joe Roth. Ewan McGregor plays Jesus in the upcoming "Last Days in the Desert," and Renee Zellweger stars in Paramount's "Same Kind of Different as Me," which is based on a Christian book.
According to the Reporter, "Such films hope to build on their appeal to Christian audiences - with marketing that courts influential pastors and church groups - by adding more familiar stars."
"Agents may be cynical," producer Roth told the Reporter, "but they know the color of money."
However, the story also reports that faith-based films can also falter and that some actors remain reluctant to appear in religious films. "The Young Messiah" opened to a disappointing $3.3 million over the March 11 weekend. "I wouldn't put my young clients in a faith-based film, even one with a great script," an anonymous agent told the Reporter. "It's still seen as polarizing."
Self-identified Christian moviegoers, though often infrequent ticket-buyers, can be a powerful force when they do show up, cited Siegel.