Christian-themed movies emerge with mixed results


HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Christian entertainment experts are shaking their heads after the mediocre response to "The Nativity Story," a well-touted film depicting the birth of Jesus.

As of Dec. 20, the $35 million film had grossed just $25.6 million, a mammoth disappointment for supporters of family-friendly and faith-based films. Among them was former agent Marty Bowen, who produced the New Line Cinema film.

"I thought it was incredibly disheartening for a variety of different reasons, not the least of which is you hear this common lament from moviegoers that America feels like Hollywood has lost touch with what they want to see," Bowen told Assist News Service. "People feel like there is too much violence in movies and too much disrespect towards the family.

"Now finally a Hollywood studio has stepped up and put their money where their mouth is and has committed to making and releasing a movie, not on a couple of screens but rather on a very big very large fashion—more than 3,000 screens around the country—and giving the audience what they say they want and yet that sense of urgency in that audience isn't there to go and see it.

"What is disappointing is you hear people talk about how we can make movies better but if you don't go see them when they are presented to you, Hollywood's never going to do it again. And that's what is frustrating to me because I changed careers to make movies that would inspire people and if there's not a business for it, and I can't find a studio to make the movies that I want to make, then that's disappointing."

Bowen and other Christian filmmakers were hoping to tap into the phenomenal success of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which earned more than $370 million domestically in 2004.

The Nativity could very well be a victim of pre-holiday shopping and—for a change—competition. Since September, several Christian-themed films have been released theatrically.

'Facing the Giants'
"Facing the Giants," which topped the $10 million mark just days before Christmas, earned less than half of that made by "The Nativity." Even so, Facing the Giants was considered a huge success since the film was created and produced by a Georgia church with a budget of just $100,000. Filming and acting for the film was done with volunteers who had no previous acting experience.

The film will be released on DVD on Jan. 30 and will include a small group study, outtakes, an interview with the film's creators, deleted scenes and more.

'One Night With the King'
The following month, Gener8Xion Entertainment Inc. released "One Night With the King," an epic-style film about the story of Esther. It starred veterans Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif and renowned John Rhys-Davies.

According to the studio, the film was based on the best-selling novel "Hadassah: One Night With The King" by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen. It chronicles a young woman's rise from peasant to princess, her courageous role in the redemption of her people from destruction and death, and her winning of the love of the most powerful man in the kingdom—by seeking his heart rather than the riches of his kingdom.

The film earned $13.3 million and cost $20 million to produce. That film is also due out in DVD on Jan. 30.

'Charlotte's Web'
Charlotte's Web, although not a faith-based movie, is a strong family favorite and is expected to do well at the box office. Released on Dec. 15, it had earned more than $16 million the first week.

The film, based on the best-selling book by E. B. White was produced by Paramount Pictures and Walden Media. Walden Media specializes on films based on sound children's literature and includes study guides for teachers. Its president, Michael Flaherty, is a Christian.

And on Jan. 5, FoxFaith, the new Christian-based film study by 20th Century Fox, will release "Thr3e," based on the Ted Dekker novel. The thriller is about a seminary student who is stalked by a psychopathic killer. The student teams up with a criminal psychologist in an effort to catch the madman before he kills—again.