Understanding Christian Movie Box Office
By Ted Baehr, with David Outten
Some people think DO YOU BELIEVE? is a better movie than GOD’S NOT DEAD. It had more actors with recognizable names and it had higher production values. There is much good to be said about the movie, but it will not come close to the same box office success.
Pure Flix is left to ponder why?
Pure Flix took a huge risk major studios rarely take. It tried to tell several stories at once and tie them together at the end. Rare is the movie that can pull this off. GOD’S NOT DEAD had several stories, but the clear heart of the movie was obvious in the title: the confrontation between a student and his professor. The clear ending to that story was that the professor accepted Jesus as Lord. The story about the pastor trying to get to Florida concluded with the pastor being in the right place at the right time to lead the professor in the sinner’s prayer.
The various stories in DO YOU BELIEVE? were compelling, but bouncing around in multiple unrelated stories is hard on an audience. If it’s going to work, the stories need to come together in the end in more than just physical proximity. The characters need to impact each other to form a single plot conclusion.
Hit Hollywood movies like INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE have subplots, like the one involving Indy’s father, but the story comes to a single satisfying conclusion. This is true with STAR WARS, FINDING NEMO, THE SOUND OF MUSIC … you name it.
Movie making is an art form and a communication craft that have required classic story structure for over a century. Before movies, plays set the stage with the same classic structure.
Christians – like everyone else – want heroes. They want humor, action, adventure, and a story that makes them happy they believe in God. DO YOU BELIEVE? didn’t focus on one single hero.
DO YOU BELIEVE? may do better on DVD and as streaming video. It’s a wonderful story with a profound message.
What people choose to watch on television is different than what they expect at theaters. Characters drive television, while plot drives movies. People wouldn’t pay $10 to see DANCING WITH THE STARS in a theater.
If there is a secret to making Christian movies that do well at the box office, it’s just as Jeffrey Katzenberg stated when he said, “Every film should aspire to exceed the expectations of audiences – in quality, in execution, in suspense, in humor, etc.”
If you’re making a science fiction movie, you aim to exceed the expectations of science fiction audiences. If you’re making a “Christian” movie, for Christian audiences, you want to exceed their specific expectations. You want a Christian hero that’s so amazing that Christians will buy tickets for friends, family and strangers.
Christians don’t need $200 million budgets to do something amazing, but they do need to match the professionalism of Hollywood’s most brilliant filmmakers.
The breakout Christian movie will far exceed the entertainment value expectations of general audiences, while also exceeding the expectations of Christian Audiences for Christian movies. Like in THE SOUND OF MUSIC or SEARGENT YORK the hero would be in a quest to find the will of God. Imagine a movie with the entertainment value of INDIANA JONES, but with a hero who openly seeks God’s wisdom in defeating the villain.
Please pray that Pure Flix will land a movie in the box office top five. The path will be paved by providing tremendous entertainment value on a modest budget. The resulting box office will help raise Christian filmmaking to higher levels of quality.
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