Christian Moviegoers, Do You Even Know What You Want?

Woodlawn-PosterJon and Andrew Erwin’s Woodlawn just scored another fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the 9th positive review out of ten, giving the film a pretty solid 90% rating, although with an admittedly small sampling of reviews.

As I wrote about before, this sort of thing is unprecedented in the world of Christian-made filmmaking. Phil Vischer’s animated “Jonah: A Veggietales Movie” was the previous high-ranking film of the genre with a 65% from 55 reviews.

And yet, curiously, as of this writing, Woodlawn has only made about 5.5 million in ticket sales in 1,553 theaters. At this time in War Room‘s release, it had made over 15 million in 1,135 theaters. God’s Not Dead had made 12 million in 780 theaters.

The only conclusion I can reach is that compared to War Room and God’s Not Dead, or even the much less overtly Christian faith-based football movie, When The Game Stands Tall, the Big Christian Audience is not supporting Woodlawn.

And I just don’t get it.

Fellow Christian moviegoers, brothers and sisters who make up the casual movie-going target demographic for Christian-made films, I don’t understand you.

I really don’t!

So often I’ve heard you complain about how badly you want Hollywood to make movies that you can take your families to see, movies that reflect your values, movies that treat your faith with respect. I’ve heard you gripe that Hollywood – which you abandoned a long time ago – doesn’t get you, your wants, and your needs for entertainment.

But then, when one of your own makes just the sort of film that you’ve been clamoring for, a film that apparently rises above the standard “Christian movie”, a movie that is actually a pretty good movie, with high production values, recognizable and respected actors, and a compelling and relevant true story, what do you do?

The vast majority of you just… stay home.

55c2a97f776f726211004f8dAnd the craziest thing? Woodlawn is a film that is right in your wheelhouse. Up until now, the audience has been largely Christian, and that audience has given the film a CinemaScore of A+ (the last time a film did this? War Room, which you turned out for in droves). Woodlawn hits all the right beats for a Christian-made film, with faith-based film regular/hobbit/Goonie/Rudy – Sean Astin – sharing the gospel right at the top of the film, the film also features a sympathetic Christian protagonist struggling to be true to his faith and his life’s calling in the face of immense opposition, and it winds up with a feel-good rousing sports-related climax.

This is a film that was made for you, but for some odd reason, you aren’t there for this film.

I don’t get you, brothers and sisters. I really don’t.

The thing that I really don’t get is that with Woodlawn, this movie that was made for you, we also have a Christian-made movie that is actually being treated kindly by secular film reviewers, and this doesn’t typically happen for Christian-made movies.

War Room? 37%. God’s Not Dead? 16%. Little Boy? 20%. Do You Believe? 18%.

Woodlawn? 90%.

And you aren’t showing up to support it.

So, members of the Big Christian Audience, just so you understand what you are doing by not supporting Woodlawn: you are sending Hollywood a clear message that quality filmmaking doesn’t matter to you.

To be honest, at this stage of the game, I’m not sure what matters to you, and I’m one of you! Imagine how perplexed the suits in Hollywood must be!

And it makes me wonder – do you even know what you want?

The real irony is that Woodlawn director, Jon Erwin, defended you when Mom’s Night Out was getting high audience praise but low critical reviews. In an interview with The Blaze, Erwin said, “What you see is a group of underserved people who have not felt appreciated who now have an outlet and a voice and an ability to celebrate themselves,” Erwin said of the fans’ positive reviews. “Hollywood and the mainstream press doesn’t understand these people.”

Hollywood and the mainstream press aren’t the only ones.

Fellow movie-going Christians, thanks to the mega-mixed messages that you are sending to the filmmaking gatekeepers, thanks to the way you are being so flakey of your support of quality Christian-made films, the next few years of Christian-made filmmaking will probably be pretty interesting.

But not in a “quality Christian-made film” way. Rather, it will probably interesting in a “more of the same old, same old” kind of way.

Thanks so much for that.

And yes, that was sarcasm.


15 thoughts on “Christian Moviegoers, Do You Even Know What You Want?

  1. Great article!! I have gone to Christian movies and supported them only to walk out shaking my head because the production quality and acting was so bad. My wife and I saw “Woodlawn” opening night and we were so thrilled to have seen two great Christian films in a row, War Room and Woodlawn. But to see the numbers for the first weekend was so disheartening. Your article is right on target thanks again.

  2. Two equally terrifying theories:

    (1) The same mentality that says “Christians should support Christian art regardless of quality” ruled when moviegoers responded to CinemaScore, and they gave it an A+ when they really didn’t like it that much, probably because it was too good.

    (2) When a secular critics pans a “Christian movie”, the automatic assumption in most of the Church is that the reviewer is predisposed against all things of faith and did not review the film fairly. So the fact that several secular reviewers liked it says to that crowd that it must not be a “good” movie; it must be squishy in its faith message. I mean, c’mon, Sean Astin played a Catholic in “Rudy”, for pete’s sake! 😛

    • One other (slightly snarkier, but perhaps more robust/believable) theory, that’s also a bit more complex:

      There are “first tier” Christian leaders who can get 8 kajillion butts in theater seats simply based on their cajoling to “support Christian art”. These guys are all over “God’s Not Dead”, Kendrick brothers movies, and the like.

      But all of the advance pub that I heard about “Woodlawn” was from “second tier” Christian leaders. These are people I respect (partly because they don’t cajole), but they don’t have 8 kajillion ears listening to them. And their plugs for the movie were based on actual logic, not just a “support our team” kinda way.

      Sidebar question: Do the Erwins not have enough cachet to get the “first tier” guys to pre-screen the film? Or did the “first tier” guys see it and decide not to plug it?

      As it pertains to movies, the use of the phrase “word of mouth” has morphed somewhat lately. It used to mean recommendations based on positive personal experience. Now it means recommendations based on the aforementioned cajoling. And “Woodlawn” doesn’t have that more modern version of “word of mouth”.

      Long ago, we abdicated most forms of ministry, declaring that “that’s the pastor’s job.” Now apparently, we’re even abdicating movie recommendations.

      • Hi Brendt, thanks for the comment. But I don’t think I agree with your thesis.

        I’ve been watching the buildup to Woodlawn, and it seemed like they had much the same plugs. Maybe more! The film is a Pureflix release, and so Pureflix would have had their machine working on it. Plus, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett (the current patron saint couple of Christian filmmaking) came on in the last couple of months before release as producers, and put their machine at work, plugging the movie to all of their followers.

        Not only that, but the Kendricks have been cajoling their massive body of followers to see the movie, too – all over Facebook and Twitter.

        But the massive crowd – the Big Christian Audience, I call it – that turns out for the Pureflix, Kendrick, and D&B films, have stayed away. Even with the Pureflix, D&B, and Kendrick cajoling.

        That’s been the most interesting thing about this for me – to see the big players all pulling together to rally behind Woodlawn in a way they didn’t for 90 Minutes in Heaven or Captive, but it hasn’t worked – even with the positive buzz.


      • Nate, I guess my exposure to the advance pub was just limited. Guess I’ll join you in the Head Scratcher’s Club.

      • This isn’t very helpful analysis, but I think the Big Christian Audience is just an elusive, slippery group of people. This is what has been driving Hollywood crazy ever since Passion of the Christ.

        I’m thinking that the only sure thing is that they keep turning out for everything the Kendricks do. And the really interesting thing would be if the Kendricks felt led to do something outside their typical formula – something less on-the-nose. Would their audience show up just because of the Kendricks name?

  3. I haven’t seen it yet, but maybe I’ll convince my husband that we should go. I’ve been following it for a while but the marketing didn’t make me excited for the film. Now that it’s getting 90% though I’m definitely interested in checking it out.

  4. We don’t get out to see movies much because of babies, etc., but I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing this one because it’s another sports movie. I’m sure it’s great, but I’m not that interested in football. Does that count?

    • Ha, sure. Everyone has their own situation and their own taste. I’m also not a sports movie fan! Not only that, but movies aren’t cheap, especially if you’re living a budgeted life.

      The target audience for this blog post was pretty narrow. Here’s how to find out if that post was intended for you.

      • First, are you a Christian? If not, then it wasn’t for you.
      • Second, are you a Christian who complains about godless Hollywood? If not, then it wasn’t for you.
      • Third, are you a Christian who complains about godless Hollywood and also at some point voiced that the filmmakers behind War Room and God’s Not Dead were persecuted by negative secular reviewers? If not, then it wasn’t for you.

      Hope that helps!

  5. The positive critic reviews don’t really count since Mark Burnett held the film back from secular critics and did not allow them to screen the film in advance.It was a great idea and looked better than most faith films, but it had major problems with the script and storytelling.

    • Why do the positive critic reviews not count? The film was still reviewed, even if it was after opening. And it’s a pretty common practice to not prescreen a film when you’re expecting negative press. And in this case, while the reviews weren’t overwhelmingly positive, the majority of critics have erred on the side of the fresh rather than the rotten – except for one.

      And they all seemed to agree with your assessment that it wasn’t a perfect film. But, it was a step in the right direction for Christian-made films.

  6. I admittedly have not seen it yet, but plan to in the very near future. The only theory I have is that in the case of The Kendrick Bros. they just have a very loyal following where the Erwin Bros. haven’t (for whatever reason) pulled together that kind of following. Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws…I can’t even be sure why I made sure that I was at War Room on opening night but didn’t make the same commitment for Woodlawn. And I DO love sports movies…I’m not much help here…

  7. This article was very insightful. I have to assume the main reason the audience wasn’t there for Woodlawn is simply that it was a football movie. Then again, Facing the Giants made 3 times as much at the box office. I’m with you on the “I don’t get it” statement…

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