- March 22, 2017
Over the last 15 or so years, Christian movies have become a more common addition to the local theater’s lineup. The film industry is always evolving to fit different markets and focusing on different kinds of stories to tell. Using that same timeframe of roughly 15 years, you’ll remember that superhero films were kind of a joke back then. In 2016, superhero films raked in nearly $5 billion worldwide at the box office and that number may even be eclipsed in 2017. Not much of a joke now, huh?
During this same span of time, Christian movies saw an explosion of interest as studios realized that a large portion of their audience wasn’t being satisfied with the latest Oscar winners and science fiction blockbusters. The Christian film industry was also helped by the growth of independent filmmaking over the last 20-30 years. Even though Hollywood has grown a little fonder of Christian stories, that doesn’t mean faith-based films are completely at the mercy of an industry that mostly doesn’t understand Christians. We can become our own storytellers and work around the system.
Christian films have seen an increase in production mostly because a number of them have found box office success. This success is defined not just by overall dollars earned but return on investment. If you make a film for $10 million and it earns $12 million in theaters, that’s not exactly a great success. Production budgets often don’t include the costs of marketing or details on distribution rights, so a safe formula for financial success is generally that a movie must make double its listed production budget. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Christian movies which had the biggest box office success.
The Passion of the Christ
When Mel Gibson released “The Passion of the Christ” in early 2004, it was one of the biggest stories in entertainment that year. Gibson was still a marquee name in Hollywood, having just won 2 Oscars and wrapping up the “Lethal Weapon” franchise a few years earlier. Here he was spending $30 million on a movie about Jesus that featured almost no known actors. The investment paid off as the film went on to make over $600 million worldwide. Hollywood’s ears were perked for more religious films.
Miracles From Heaven
A more recent film, “Miracles From Heaven” is the true story of a family that received an unbelievable blessing through an otherwise difficult time in their lives. Like many Christian films, this one arrived a little under the radar. Starring famous actresses like Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah, the film found its audience and enjoyed quite a bit of success. On a $13 million budget, the film was able to make $73 million in ticket sales.
On top of Mel Gibson’s investment in his passion project, one of the other catalysts for modern Christian filmmaking was Sherwood Pictures. Born out of the ministry of a church in Georgia, the group has released some of the highest performing Christian movies in history. Sherwood’s second film, “Facing the Giants,” was produced for only $100,000 but made over $10 million. Other successful films were “Fireproof” and “Courageous,” each of which earned over $30 million at the box office. Sherwood’s latest film, “War Room,” made just shy of $70 million on a $3 million budget and won the Film Impact Award at the 2016 K-LOVE Fan Awards.
Heaven Is For Real - Christian Movies
Just like it impacted the book market, the story in “Heaven Is For Real” found a lot of success when it dropped into theaters in 2014. Starring Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church, the film tells the story of a country preacher whose son comes out of surgery saying that he visited heaven. Though the idea of “heaven tourism” has come under some scrutiny in recent years, there’s no denying that “Heaven Is For Real” was a massive success. The film made over $100 million at the box office with only a $12 million budget.
Chronicles of Narnia
“The Chronicles of Narnia” is one of, if not the biggest Christian entertainment franchise in existence. C.S. Lewis’ magnificent world has been brought to the screen three times. First, there was “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” which earned around $750 million on a budget of $180 million. Next, we had “Prince Caspian” in 2008. This is the only film featured on this list that doesn’t match up to the “double the production budget” rule. The film did earn $420 million, but it had a really steep budget at $225 million. The Narnia series picked things back up with “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” two years later. That film made roughly the same amount of money as its predecessor, but it cost $60 million less to make. The Narnia films each have a huge budget for Christian movies, but they tend to make their money back.
God’s Not Dead 1 & 2
Drawing from the headlines and a number of stories that have been circulating in Christian circles, the “God’s Not Dead” series has been very successful thus far. The first film, released in 2014, was made for the low amount of $2 million and earned over 30 times that amount. Two years later, the sequel also managed to earn $20 million on a $5 million budget. The third of these Christian movies is due to hit theaters in 2018, so we’ll see how that performs soon.
This is the true story of teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm to a shark attack but persevered to one day return to the water. Taking the same title as her biography, “Soul Surfer” was a favorite for families seeking clean entertainment in 2011. The film had a lot of Hollywood talent behind it with stars like Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Craig T. Nelson, and Carrie Underwood. Made with a decent budget of $18 million, the film took in $47 million at the box office.
Do You Believe?
The next two films are both financially successful, but on a slightly smaller scale than, say, the Sherwood films. “Do You Believe?” is a 2015 film that weaves together a series of stories involving characters who are dealing with faith and redemption in different ways. The plot involves many characters played by familiar faces like Delroy Lindo, Sean Astin, and Cybill Shepherd. With a budget a little over $2 million, the film was able to earn $13 million.
“October Baby” was a modest success that took home over $5 million in ticket sales on a budget about one-fifth that amount. Released in 2011, the film is about a young woman who discovers that she was adopted by her parents after her birth mother tried to abort her. It’s a very emotional film as you can imagine. Adding a personal story to such a hot button issue is the kind of thing that Hollywood often does with themes like immigration, health care, and war.
These are just a few of the Christian movies that have been popular in theaters. There are many more that make back their money or squeeze out just a little profit. Christian entertainment is still just getting started, but we have already seen that it can be a profitable business. The faith community just needs to show up for the success to continue. Instead of focusing on the negative images and ideas that the world throws at us, why not look at the inspirational stories that we can explore?
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