First, sorry for the delay on this week's "Crossroads" podcast. We had some technical difficulties, which happens every now and then in the Tower of Babel environment that is the Internet. Every now and then the software gods just don't get along.
The topic of my chat this week with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in) was, on one level, the box-office problems of the latest version of "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ." But my earlier post on this topic also focused on the ongoing interest, in the mainstream media, in Hollywood's quest to tap into the "Christian" movie market, in the wake of the $611 million box office haul taken in by Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
It's a great story and a very timely one. Basically, the folks behind the new Ben-Hur made a big-budget religion-niche movie, thinking that the young, male, action-movie demographic would show up for the chariot race scene.
What chariot race scene, you ask? Well, the one that movie scholars -- but not, it's safe to say, today's video-game fanatics -- remember with awe from the 1959 classic.
What were the producers of the new flick thinking?
That would be a great hard-news story, methinks, as opposed to a kind of no-sources analysis thumbsucker like the Atlantic piece I previously discussed.
Well, what do you know? The Los Angeles Times team produced a real news story about this bad, bad summer in Hollywood. The headline: "Hollywood's summer problem? Reboots people don't want."
The opening is pretty brutal:
Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer aren’t talking about their decision to produce a remake of the classic epic “Ben-Hur,” and it’s easy to see why.
Their re-imagining of the New Testament-era tale grossed a measly $11.2 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada in its debut last weekend, making it one of the biggest flops in a summer movie season that has been marred by multiple big-budget disappointments. The film, which grossed just $10 million overseas, could end up losing $75 million for the studios involved, according to Hollywood executives.
The contrast to the 1959 version couldn’t be greater. That film won 11 Oscars, made Charlton Heston into an even bigger movie star, and is widely accepted as a classic. On top of that, it was a box-office smash, collecting nearly $850 million when adjusted for today’s ticket prices.
“Ben-Hur” was not just another misfire for Paramount Pictures and its parent company, Viacom, but the poster child of a problem that has plagued the industry this summer -- a glut of reboots, sequels and remakes that audiences don't want. Retreads that underwhelmed included Disney’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass," Fox’s “Independence Day: Resurgence” and Sony’s “Ghostbusters.”. Paramount’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” was another notable bust.
Now, this piece does devote a bit of ink to the quest for the Christian-movie demographic. However, it also talks about a major theme in this new podcast -- the fact that modern Christians are just as celebrity mad as anyone else.
The bottom line is the bottom line:
... Catering to the faith-based crowd is no guarantee of success. Although the churchgoing audience has turned out for profitable low-budget movies such as “God’s Not Dead" and “Heaven Is For Real,” more expensive, mass-targeted efforts like “Noah," the 2014 film starring Russell Crowe, have divided audiences.
“Ben-Hur" won endorsements from pastors and famous Christians including Tim Tebow. But Matthew Faraci, whose marketing firm Inspire Buzz focuses on reaching religious audiences, said the marketing campaign for “Ben-Hur” didn't connect as well to faith-centric moviegoers as hoped. The ads, he said, tended to emphasize the action and racing elements.
In other word, as this point the "Christian" market works with small, focused films targeting a choosy, dedicated audience. And that's that.
Unless your name is Mel Gibson.