CENTURY CITY, Calif. Hooray for Hollywood, it's finally getting the big pictureaudiences want to see movies with a moral, at least that's what box office sales are showing.
One example, "Facing the Giants," a film released several weeks ago, is still shocking critics, supporters and even the volunteer church production team that produced it.
Facing the Giants wasn't made in a Hollywood studio, but instead by the Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia with a volunteer cast that spent only $150,000 on the production. In its first week debut, it grossed more than $1.3 million. As of press time, it logged more than $5.2 million in domestic sales.
Some industry leaders say the success of this film and others with a Christian theme shouldn't come as a surprise because the tide is turning after years of what seems like an unawareness of the Christian market.
Twentieth Century Fox, one of Hollywood's largest studios, has created a label for it's home entertainment division called FoxFaith to cover its growing repertoire of inspirational films.
FoxFaith's parent company is the DVD distributor of "The Passion of the Christ," which in its theatrical release is estimated to have grossed $370 million in the United States, worldwide nearly $613 million. It now is working with churches and other religious groups to market other films to believers.
"Fox has seen the Christian market as underserved for quite a while going back to even before The Passion of the Christ, with "Hangman's Curse," said Steven Feldstein, senior vice president for corporate and marketing communications at Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
"Since that time Fox has launched this entire brand to help facilitate this effort and it has evolved into a marketing engine for some theatrical releases."
Movies such as Facing the Giants are bringing some people back into the movie theaters after years of staying away for fear of what they'd see or hear.
"It's like, finally, my goodness we're doing something about this," said Sandy Manness a mother of three children. "It's great that Christians are in this industry and are investing money to make these kinds of movies."
Manness said that her family rarely goes to a movie and that when they do, she researches the content very carefully beforehand.
"Even in Disney movies there's so many things in there in the undertones that are such a bad influence that I don't want my kids to see at all," she said.
For Manness and others of the 141 million who attend church every week, it was Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ that made them take notice that films based on biblical and moral themes could be quality movies.
Facing the Giants is seeing some of the same success The Passion of the Christ enjoyed as churches and other groups buy blocks of tickets for their congregations to attend the showings together. The current hit is even attracting sports teams to the theater to see this David-and-Goliath themed sports story.
Houston Nutt, head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, took his team to see the movie before its biggest game of the season against undefeated Auburn. Arkansas players must have been inspired because they caused a big upset the next day.
The Arkansas team wasn't the only group to give the movie a boost in its first few weeks at the box office. During the first weekend release, Facing the Giants was listed as the fourth highest per-theater average.
Will the trend of films with this type of theme last? FoxFaith says definitely.
"We're in for the long haul," Feldstein said. "Currently, we're focused on the Christian marketplace with this initiative and in terms of staying power the community will always be looking for entertainment that reflects their values.
"The only difference is that today there is more of a concerted effort to engage them specifically."
A 10-year study by Dr. Ted Baehr, publisher of Movieguide also supports that idea of the staying power of Christian films.
His research shows that movies with strong or very strong Christian worldviews earned far more money than movies with obscenities and profanities in them. Baehr points to movies made in 2005 as an example of this finding as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a movie with strong Christian views, averaged nearly $65 million at the box office while movies with sex, nudity and profanity, such as "Sin City" and "Inside Deep Throat," averaged only $11.2 million to 11.7 million.
Other movies with Christian themes are in the theater and on the horizon and are also expected to see high turnout at the box office.
"A Night With the King," the story of the biblical character Esther, is currently making its mark at the theater while "The Nativity," set to be released Dec. 1, is already getting rave reviews for its depiction of Jesus' birth.
"This is refreshing, very refreshing," said Manness, who said that she plans on taking her family to see The Nativity. "Hopefully, this is something that will continue to take hold."