I have not run a weekend box office report for the last two weeks for two reasons – one, I have been away from the computer for large chunks of the last two weekends doing junkets and other things (which will continue next weekend, by the way). The other reason was that box office reporting is so widespread and boring that unless we have something to say about it, what’s the point in running it?
With that in mind, I have some thoughts about this weekend’s box office, which saw The Nativity Story, Catherine Hardwicke’s take on the birth of Jesus, get trounced. Ed Douglas at Coming Soon has crunched the numbers and says that the film was the second worst opening ever for a film opening in 3000+ theaters. Only Quest for Camelot has ever done worse.
What happened to the masses who came out for The Passion of the Christ? Wasn’t there supposed to be some new faith sector of the moviegoing audience who would bring religious pictures to the top? That’s certainly what New Line was banking on when they previewed the film to hundreds of church groups and even played it at the Vatican (without the Pope’s presence, though. He had to catch Heroes).
The problem here is that The Passion was such a one-off picture, a complete anomaly in the exact same mold as Fahrenheit 9/11, which was released that year, that it can never be properly used for comparison or forecasting. The film had a huge amount of controversy going before it came out, which assured two things: the curious non-religious folks would come out to see what the brouhaha was all about while the devout, who were totally caught up in the War on Christmas and other bullshit designed to make this nation’s vast majority feel put upon so they would vote, went to see the film as a political statement and a show of religious solidarity in the face of ungodly athiests, Jews and Muslims.
There are other things that The Nativity Story had going against it, possibly chief of which was familiarity. While the final hours of Christ’s life have been done on film, they had not been done quite like that – but who hasn’t seen a school group do the nativity? Hell, even Peanuts did it. Nothing about the advertising for The Nativity Story made us think we would see anything new in the film, and especially nothing we couldn’t see on TV. It could also be argued that the film isn’t very good, but that never stopped The Passion.
But I think there’s a secondary aspect that hurt the film, which is that modern evangelical types, the hard core Christians who made The Passion a big hit, just don’t care about these kinds of Jesus stories. Like Mel Gibson these people – who tend to look at their religion through apocalyptic eyes – seem more interested in the sacrifice of Christ. They’re all about the judgment to come, and they tend to politically reject positions that are socially compassionate, which is pretty much exactly where Christ stood. What Would Jesus Do? Not persecute the shit out of gays, that’s for sure.
These people aren’t as interested in the kind and gentle Jesus, and while his origin story has some bloodshed, it’s mostly sweet and maybe even a little corny. These hardcore Christians are often a fire and brimstone bunch, and the baby Jesus – with his multicultural wise men visitors who probably illegally entered the country! – is the opposite of that. He’s not about the end times, he’s about peace and love and how life is sort of a little miracle all its own. These are bad lessons for the religious warriors being trained in Jesus Camp to learn.