It now seems safe to say that the faith-based audience is back. After Jesus Revolution surpassed $45 million in ticket sales for Lionsgate. matching or outperforming The Fabelmans. The Banshees Of Inisherin. Tár. Women Talking and Triangle Of Sadness, combined.
Those who make. promote and. or enjoy inspirational films have had a tough couple of years between Covid and the culture wars. Sometimes the pictures are overtly religious. like Jesus Revolution. a real-life story of a pastor and a counter-cultural following during the 1970s. Some are simply aspirational – moralistic and values-laden tales. about individuals striving to be better than they already are. such as Creed III or Respect.
In either case. Uplift was having a hard time last year until Top Gun: Maverick broke through on a strictly secular level. Breakthrough, from Fox, appears to have been the last explicitly religious film to hit $40 million at the box office. (Despite CODA being fairly inspirational but box office-deprived and darker fantasies predominated in 2021—Spider-Man: No Way Home and Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Black Widow.)
In any case, it’s nice to see the faith crowd back in the stands.
Right-leaning religious conservatives. Who are a mainstay of the inspiration market were finding common ground with left-leaning Hollywood before the great lockdown. Simultaneous sociopolitical eruptions.
In early 2016, while still reporting for The New York Times, I spent several months trying to map the often hidden interface between conventional movie companies and tens of millions of primarily Christian, faith-oriented audiences. The obsession was mine, and I spent a fair amount of energy and Times capital on getting to know dozens of people who were quietly trying to reconcile movies with spiritual matters.
It was an interesting tour. I recall having lunch with Joe Roth the secular producer. and he made it clear that when making. films like Miracles From Heaven there wasn’t a necessity to align with his coworkers’ beliefs. but to understand that they have convictions. A few days later. I was conversing with Bishop T.D Jakes another producer and he was astonished to hear that Roth had one time been involved in the Supreme Court case regarding banning school prayer. Despite not having concurring faith. they still found a way to coexist peacefully.
A number of interesting operatives were hired by studios to find and promote faith-aligned values in mainstream films such as Frozen and Sully. and Hidden Figures and Twelve Years A Slave. and all of which seem not religious. Until the culture boiled over with the 2016 election, even a film as unlikely as Room. About a kidnapped woman’s close confinement, had its faith campaign.
When I left the paper in the summer of 2016. and the Times project. I intended as a three-part series. and almost collapsed. Brooks picked up the theme, and wrote a fine piece that appeared on Dec. 25 of that year (with an illustration that featured a strangely incongruous Christmas Day crucifix, I recall).
Those who were building bridges—Roth. and DeVon Franklin and Corby Pons. and Marshall Mitchell and Jonathan Bock. Matthew Faraci and Ted Baehr. others didn’t vanish. You can still find most of them, doing the same work.
The movies became darker, angrier, and less inspiring as they pulled back.
Until now. If the faithful are back in the theater pews, amen. We need some uplift. Jesus Revolution