"Christian filmgoers" as a niche marketing group are a fickle bunch. Always complaining about the lack of "wholesome entertainment", yet unwilling to put money where the cake hole is when targeted family fare comes calling. Wanna feel terrible and watch Christ get thrashed for two hours? Awesome! How about a story about His inspirational birth? Eff that!
The Christian filmgoer is out there, but I’d argue they’re not all that different from the average filmgoer, but tend to "sniff out" films in which they feel they’re being pandered to. Regardless, studios are lining up resources to go after the niche and Lionsgate is only the latest to hop on board the Soul (saving) Train with the acquisition of the documentaries: The Case for Christ, The Case for a Creator and The Case for Faith. The documentaries are based on the super-popular books by Lee Strobel.
Prudently, horror house Lionsgate has also joined forces with Christian uber-publisher Thomas Nelson, through which it hopes to gain greater leverage through a distribution channel that can slide its faith productions like Kinkade’s The Christmas Cottage (details here) right into Christian hearts, home and pocketbooks.
Lionsgate President Steve Beeks gives an example of their success which had me wondering how much they’re stretching to claim victory, when your "established stronghold" is in the black faith-based market thanks to a guy dressed in drag named Madea. Not sure what that has to do with God, salvation, repentance and the like, but there you have it. I’d say that just goes to prove my point that the movie goers who see those films happen to be Christian, not that you’ve captured the Christian.
Lionsgate follows in the footsteps of the struggling Weinstein brothers and 20th Century Fox, who literally kicked off the studio mainstreaming of Christain niche filmmaking with Passion of the Christ.
My take? This bandwagon rush to all things Jesus is going to run down the same bumpy and passive road "Mormon" movies have run over the last 8 years. The Intermountain West saw a huge surge of "Christian based" filmmaking in the early part of the decade thanks to a film called God’s Army. Soon, everyone was piling on Brigham’s Bandwagon and the novelty quickly wore thin, all but being buried in an unmarked desert grave when everyone realized 9.5 out of every 10 sucked. While I’d expect the same fate for most of these new faith studios, there will certainly be successes and money to be made, I just don’t expect them to be anything resembling the mainstream Passion was.
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