Ever since the success of both The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, we're always hearing about how certain movies are looking to the Christian market to succeed at the box office. The interest in the untapped Christian market is understandable, since those two movies grossed a combined $662 million in the United States alone, and an astounding $1.3 billion worldwide. The problem is that these movies are the exception, rather than the rule. According to Box Office Mojo, the other 51 Christian theatrical releases produced since 1980 have grossed a combined $178 million.
Why? Take the example of Left Behind. The book series has been a massive success, selling 65 million books. By comparison, The Lord of the Rings sold approximately 100 million books, and the theatrical trilogy grossed over $2,900 million worldwide (with a little over $1 billion of that from U.S. theaters.) Left Behind? An astounding $4.2 million! The two sequels were released direct-to-DVD.
Granted, the movie wasn't exactly Oscar material. The DVD for the film was available before wide release in theaters. Last but not least, the producers promised an epic, big-budget flick, and underdelivered with an hour and a half picture starring Mike Seaver. But the movie received heavy promotion from religious broadcast networks, televangelists, and even grassroots efforts within churches. Christians were well aware that success at the box office would lead to potential buzz, and the possibility of crossover interest from the mainstream market. So why did it, and so many others, fail?
I don't have the answer. But there are a few possibilities worth speculation. (Because, I mean, why not?) My theory? Christians tend to be more family-oriented, which means adults who wish to spend the night at the multiplex need a babysitter. The cost of $10 tickets, popcorn and soda, and $10-20 for a babysitter for the night mean a movie date runs somewhere between $30-50. And who knows what the kids will have done by the time you get home. So if you're going to go out to the movies, Christian or not, it better be worth your while. Christians may have an interest in religious-oriented programming, but the convenience of staying at home with the kids and watching it on the small screen outweighs the desire to support Christian filmmaking endeavours.
That doesn't mean they're not a viable market. Narnia (like the books it is derived from) is a mediocre mish-mash of fairy tales and anecdotal religion, yet it was the second highest grossing movie of 2005, losing to Revenge of the Sith, but beating out Harry Potter 4, King Kong, and Batman Begins. So Christians may set the bar high when determining whether or not a movie deserves the hassle of a night out, but once the bar is high enough, you don't necessarily have to set it much higher.