Escaping the Art House Ghetto: What You Should Know About Christian Movies



By David Outten

Some in the entertainment industry consider the Christian movie market a “ghetto” – an insignificant market served by inferior independent movies. The majority of Christian movies don’t make it to theaters. Of those that do, few make it to more than a handful of screens.

 

A typical 18-screen multiplex offered 74 showings June 13. Of these, 65 were showings of movies released by the six major studios. Only nine were for independent movies, in this case four were showings of JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER and five were showings of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. There are a lot of independent movies that don’t make it to the typical multiplex. Many only get shown in what are called “art houses” (theaters – usually in large cities – that specialize in showing independent and foreign movies). The typical art house crowd is not predominantly churchgoers.

To break out of the “ghetto,” Christian filmmakers need to earn showings. Opening weekend average theater box office for TOY STORY 3 was $27,385 (very exciting when you consider there were 4,028 theaters). JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER opened to a theater weekend average of $2,408 at 2,524 theaters.

Compare these box office figures to the opening weekends of recent Christian movies released in theaters:

 

Title

Theaters

Opening Average

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

3,043

$27,554

THE BLIND SIDE

3,110

$10,971

FIREPROOF

839

$8,111

AMAZING GRACE

791

$5,126

SOUL SURFER

2,214

$4,789

TO SAVE A LIFE

441

$3,433

FACING THE GIANTS

441

$3,047

LETTERS TO GOD

897

$1,228

THE SECRETS OF JONATHAN SPERRY

13

$788*

 

Now consider Disney’s 2011 releases to date:

 

Title

Theaters

Opening Average

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4

4,155

$21,697

GNOMEO AND JULIET

2,994

$8,469

I AM NUMBER FOUR

3,154

$6,167

MARS NEEDS MOMS

3,117

$2,218

AFRICAN CATS

1,220

$2,727

PROM

2,730

$1,726

 

The average box office of Christian movies per theater is very much in line with those of major studios — with some major successes and some disappointments.

Some of the best news from the above charts is that two movies that did well were actually given wide release by major studios, THE BLIND SIDE from Warner Bros. and SOUL SURFER from Sony. FIREPROOF and AMAZING GRACE were the top independent releases in their respective years. LETTERS TO GOD received a larger than average release but apparently was hurt because it’s hard to sell a child dying of cancer as entertaining.

MARS NEEDS MOMS is listed as costing $150 million to make. THE BLIND SIDE cost $35 million and FIREPROOF cost only $500,000.

Sherwood Pictures, the makers of FIREPROOF and FACING THE GIANTS, releases their newest effort, COURAGEOUS, this September. It will be interesting to see the opening weekend results for their latest effort.

The major studios are learning there’s a solid Christian market much closer to suburbia than to a ghetto. The key for success is to give moviegoers solid, inspiring entertainment value.

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