A Christian Primer for Hollywood, by Brennan Mark Smith

The buzz is out: there’s a Christian market, and Hollywood is selling. But are they marketing the right products?

Though incomprehensible to many audiences, 'Tree of Life' carried a message Christians loved, at least the few who saw it

Many are now seeking to cash in on the “Jesus dollars” Mel Gibson found with Passion of the Christ ($370M) in 2004.  That gold rush may be over, but until Hollywood has a clearer understanding of Christianity, it will not reap what they are now eager to sow, movie-wise.

Hollywood abandoned the Christian market, then fell into it almost by accident in 2009 again with the ironically titled, The Blind Side, grossing $255M.

Other the successes from Sherwood Baptist and Tyler Perry have given some executives encouragement, but other results are spotty:

The Adjustment Bureau worked hard to draw in a Christian market, even though it portrayed a few of God (and angels) no Christian would embrace.

Kingdom of Heaven, though marketed to Christians, was in no way a Christian film, and portrayed Jerusalem’s church leaders as demented madmen (perhaps they were.)

Lars & the Real Girl conveyed a clear moral message and portrayed Christians in a positive light, but completely missed the Christian market.

Tree of Life was inexplicable to many audiences, yet carried a message Christian audiences loved, yet few Christians ever saw it because Christians don’t go see Sean Penn movies.

So what is Hollywood to do?

Understand the Five Separate Audiences in the “Christian” Demographic

Though marketed to Christians, "Kingdom of Heaven" was in no way a Christian film

Despite reports in our current political climate, Christians are people too.  And the church is far from monolithic.

If I had to categorize, my heading labels would be the following:

(No offense, brethren!  Which one are you?)

1) Christians for Christian Cinema

This demographic wants its own sub-genre of film devoted to Biblical stories and religious fiction, such as This Present Darkness.

They don’t care who watches or understands as long as they’re satisfied. Many of this perspective don’t hold much hope for changing Hollywood so they want an alternative.

They ran to the Passion, to see their Savior, and were not pulled in by the sword and sandal fakes like Kingdom of Heaven.  Keys of the Kingdom and Inn of the The Sixth Happiness are good enough for them.

2) Christians for Cinematic Evangelism

Similar to the “Christians for Christian cinema” except that their movies are specifically geared for evangelizing the general audience. Characters in their films make decisions to accept Christ as their savior.

The Adjustment Bureau worked hard to draw in a Christian audience, even though it portrayed a view of God (and angels) few Christians would embrace.

This demographic dragged their friends to the Passion, not because Christians have a thing for violence, as some thought, but because it showed Jesus dying for them. They embraced the film for actively sowing the seeds of faith.

They embrace movies with the Christian label, usually despite of and possibly because of bad reviews.

3) Christians for Clean Culture

Typically disapproves of Hollywood but will go to the good stuff. Pixar. G-rated or overtly inspirational films. They’re not “radical” though they  will sign petitions and boycott theaters showing offensive films like Natural Born Killers or The Last Temptation of Christ.

They just want wholesome stuff to entertain their families…

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