March 26, 2016
Faith-Based Films Gaining Foothold In Mainstream Film Industry

Faith-based movies seem to be gaining a foothold in the mainstream film industry.

Where faith-based films were once only seen in limited theaters, movies like Miracles From Heaven starring Jennifer Garner are reaching a wider audience, leading producers and executives to flock to similar, inspirational screenplays.

In an article by the Los Angeles Times, Miracles From Heaven producer DeVon Franklin told the news outlet that he flew to churches around the country to screen the inspirational film about a young girl diagnosed with a rare medical condition who receives an unexpected miracle.

Franklin, a former Columbia Pictures executive who has a production deal with Sony, said at one gathering in Baltimore that audience members responded to the film by sharing their own stories of healing and loss, including one woman's tale of her son's gunshot death four years ago.

"This is why I've dedicated my life to making stories like this. It's more than a ticket sale at the box office. It becomes real-life ministry."
Faith-based films are growing and becoming more profitable than they were in years past. War Room, the 2015 prayer-focused hit, cost $3 million to make but grossed $67.8 million in box office receipts.

According to Connect Faith, research indicates that family-friendly, religious films are earning more money every year. Fox News reported in February that for the first time, four of the top 10 grossing movies in 2013 at both domestic and international box offices had a family-orientated theme.

In recent weeks, Miracles From Heaven and the Biblical epic Risen — both produced by Sony's faith-based division, Affirm Films — have seen success despite opening just a few weeks apart.

Affirm films has plenty more faith-based projects in the works, including the sequel to the 2014 indie drama God's Not Dead, which opens in theaters on April 1.

Other studios are following suit. Paramount Pictures will release its version of Ben-Hur, co-produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in August.

Chris Stone, founder of the Christian advocacy group Faith Driven Consumer, says America is hungry for faith-based content in their entertainment choices.

"Hollywood is still learning, The community is hungry for content, and there's very little content that is strictly made for them."
The bigger studios are still wary of producing faith-based films, primarily because they underestimate the pull of such movies, partly because they tend to draw people who don't often go to see movies in theaters, said Paul Degarabedian, a box-office analyst for ComScore.
"It's easy to put these movies on the side. But it's hard to ignore movies that are this successful on a regular basis. I feel like this genre is really coming into its own."
The Los Angeles Times notes that executives are still uncertain on how to pursue religious moviegoers and "overcome the enduring perception that the studio system is out of touch with Christians."

One reason previous faith-based movies tended to do lackluster business at the box-office in the past was its lack of star power, financial backing, and production quality. They just could not compete with other secular films.

But that trend seems to be changing with A-list celebrities taking on more and more roles in faith-based films.

Dennis Quaid and Oscar-winner Helen Hunt starred in the 2011 offering Soul Surfer, and Greg Kinnear starred in one of the most successful faith-based films to date — Heaven Is For Real, which surprised the industry by making $91 million in domestic box office receipts.

Miracle From Heaven grossed $18 million in its first five days, which also has surpassed expectations.

Rich Peluso, the head of Affirm Films, said the influx of A-listers is a game-changer.

"The craft is getting better within this space. If someone had sat me down 10 years ago and said you're going to be working with Dennis Quaid, Jennifer Garner and Patricia Riggen, I would have said you're insane."
The marketing of faith-based movies is unique, with studios like Affirm Films, which has exceeded $350 million in ticket sales since it launched in 2007, reaching out directly to pastors and other religious leaders to help promote the film to their congregations.

For some releases, Affirm has even distributed sermon notes and discussion guides for small Bible study groups, according to the Los Angeles Times article.

Many churches take the initiative to buy out theaters for their congregation as part of their regular worship services.

Social media has helped promote faith-based films as well. A web page for Miracles From Heaven encouraged people to share their photos of loved ones, giving the film social media boosts.

It can be a catch-22 for studios that take on Biblical adaptations, especially if the studio chooses to take some liberties with the story. The Paramount film Noah is a prime example of how a Biblical movie received backlash from religious audiences because it did not follow the story related in the Bible.

One thing is clear — faith-based movies are growing and will likely continue to grow as moviegoers become hungry for more inspiring, family-friendly film fare.

[Image via Twitter/Miracles From Heaven]