Highly secularized showbiz moguls suddenly realized that religion could pay off when Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ” posted $370 million in box office. That remains history’s highest domestic take for an R-rated movie and tops for any Christian-themed film, beating out the three C.S. Lewis “Narnia” stories.
Woodenly scripted cheapos like 2001’s “Left Behind” that did poorly ($4.2 million total box office) no doubt dampened studio interest. Even after Gibson, Hollywood seems generally uncertain how to capitalize on this market, and treatments of faith are too often either phony or snarky. Hollywood insiders have struggled to find the magic faith-based niche formula.
But something important may be developing. Note that #5 in the Christian genre’s all-time box office is “War Room,” about the ineffable power of prayer to change lives for the better. It grossed $67.8 million last year. Then there’s the current film “Risen,” timed for the lead-up to Easter. It earned a healthy $11.8 million with its opening last weekend and ranked #3 in the market (all data in this item are from www.boxofficemojo.com).
Both films come from Sony Pictures’ Affirm Films subsidiary, which has received surprisingly scant mainstream media coverage and has obvious potential for a good story.
Sony launched Affirm in 2007 with the mandate of “producing, acquiring, and marketing" films that uplift and inspire. Senior Vice President Rich Peluso, formerly with EMI Christian Music, says Affirm works “the space between faith and entertainment.”