The year is 2014.
Hollywood wide-releases two films based on biblical accounts: Noah, and Exodus: Gods and Kings.
The Big Christian Audience responds by complaining:
“Why does Hollywood hate us so much? Why can’t they make something that is safe for my whole family? Why can’t they respect the Bible as much as I respect the Bible?”
(See here, here, here, and here.)
Fast forward to 2017.
Devon Franklin and the folks at Sony Animation wide release the animated nativity movie The Star on nearly 3,000 screens. When asked about the film, Franklin says:
“We really looked at the scriptures that everyone is familiar with, looked at all the gospels in order to pull the right information about the birth so that when we did the film, those moments would feel authentic…we really tried to honor scripture and that was the number one priority.”
And does the Big Christian Audience respond by running out on opening weekend to support this – a big Hollywood movie put out by a major studio working together with a bunch of Christians – a project that the filmmakers have gone out of their way to “honor scripture” in the making?
The Star only made $10,000,000, giving it the dubious distinction as the worst opening on a Sony Animation film ever, and with a budget of around $20,000,000, I doubt that there were many uncorked bottles of champagne in the Sony offices.
People who study this sort of thing think that The Star will ultimately make money, as it could conceivably play up until Christmas (why didn’t they didn’t take advantage of the Christmas season and release it later, I’ll never know), and it will also make a lot of money in DVD sales, streaming, and other post-theater revenue areas. But, this less-than-stellar (see what I did there?) opening will probably not encourage the big studios to try this again any time soon.
The argument could be made that the Big Christian Audience is just fatigued. After all, The Star was released at the end of a trio of faith-based films (Same Kind of Different as Me, Let There Be Light), and that’s a lot of movies to support. Who’s got the time or money to see so many Christian movies? But this argument does not shine very bright. After all, neither of the other two films performed very well, especially when compared to 2015’s mega smash, War Room. It’s not like the Big Christian Audience emptied out its collective pockets to support Pureflix and Kevin Sorbo, so they got nothing left for the poor animated donkey.
They’re just not showing up.
Even when Hollywood tries to cater specifically to the wants of the Big Christian Audience by making a family movie in which the filmmakers go out of their way to be “largely faithful to the biblical narrative”, the Big Christian Audience just stays at home, apparently stewing over the secret agenda of Starbucks cups. Again. Didn’t we already have that hissy-fit?
That’s good and well. After all, the Big Christian Audience is under no obligation to support Christian-made films, any more than they’re under any obligation to support CCM artists, Christian radio, Christian politicians, or anything else labeled “Christian”, and if that were the end of it, there would be no reason to write this article.
But here’s the thing. In a few years, some big Hollywood studio will put out their own retelling of a biblical story. They’ll hire a non-Christian to direct it, and the story will be given a non-traditional treatment that won’t jive with the sensibilities of the Big Christian Audience.
And the BCA will immediately jump on their smart phones and share negative articles about the director’s controversial take on the subject. They’ll take to the social media airwaves to complain about it. They’ll threaten boycotts and cry “persecution” and play the victim, because this is what the BCA does.
They’ll lament, “Why does Hollywood hate us so much? Why can’t they make something that is safe for my whole family? Why can’t they respect the Bible as much as I respect the Bible?”
And a simple, animated donkey will trot into the picture and bray…
8 thoughts on “The Star – Faithful Biblical Adaptation… Where’s the Faith-based Audience?”
Total agreement here… I was shocked by the low attendance when I went to see it this weekend.
I agree much of what you said in this article, but you left out some things. First, The Star was made on a budget less than half of any other SPA movie. Second, one of the reasons it didn’t perform last week was because it was eclipsed (see what I did there?) by Wonder, another film that attracted the faith audience.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, Tim.
Question: why do you see the budget as an issue? It certainly makes it more likely that they will make back their money over time – less of a risk for the studio – but I doubt that it factored into the low turnout.
I’ll agree that Wonder took away potential family audience folks – but I would argue that it didn’t take away lots of potential Big Christian Audience folks. Wonder seems to be incredibly family-friendly, but is there anything explicitly Christian about it? Meanwhile, everything about The Star screams “CHRISTIAN!”
Sure! I wasn’t implying that the budget is a problem. I was just saying it shouldn’t be overlooked when measuring the success of the film. Also, I don’t think that most Christians go to films simply because they’re labeled “Christian”. I could be wrong, but I think the vast majority of Christians see fulms that are in line with their worldviews. Honestly, I do wish The Star had a better first week at the box office. However, I know there are a number of factors that lead to this beyond the reasons stated in your article. On the other hand, like I stated before, I do agree with you for the most part!
Got it. One that I think played a big role – as Mr. Knutson says below – is that the film was apparently not marketed as well as it could be. I follow Christian movie releases pretty closely, because it’s a subject that interests me. I suppose lots of Christians don’t pay much attention at all, and to get their attention requires a special effort. Seems like Sony dropped the ball on this one.
It’s still interesting, considering all that the movie had going for it with celebrity power (although that doesn’t necessarily bring in the Big Christian Audience unless your stars are Tim Tebow and Duck Dynasty, and even then maybe not so much), the wide release, and the fact that there weren’t any other animated movies out at the time.
True, and like you said, this movie may have legs. It could be that the target audience just isn’t ready for a Christmas movie before Thanksgiving.
My position as a Christian Radio Station Manager allows me to feel the pulse of what Christians were expecting with The Star. Well, they didn’t care. Some folks thought that it was a Hollywood attempt at making fun of or at least comedify Jesus’ birth. There were no pre-release interviews available at least for our station that I knew of. Their pre-release campaign was less than many smaller Christian films over the last few months. Even myself as the manager of a Christian Radio Station had to find out about The Star after the fact. Not good. KKVV Las Vegas, Best News Radio The Gospel Airship over the Las Vegas Valley and beyond. AM1060 and KKVV.COM
Interesting perspective. I wonder if they just didn’t budget the money for more traditional marketing, and were hoping on more social media pushes and word of mouth?
If it falls back on the studio not giving it enough press, then that would be a shame.