With “Jesus Revolution” the believers are back in the cinemas – deadline
Watch after Jesus Revolution Surpass $45M in Lionsgate Ticket Sales – Matching or Best The Fabelmans, Banshees of Inisherin, tar, women speak And triangle of sadness, combined — it finally seems safe to say. The faith-based audience is back.
Between Covid and the culture wars, it’s been a rough few years for those who make, promote and/or enjoy what are loosely termed inspirational films. Sometimes the images are overtly religious, as with Jesus Revolution, the true story of a pastor and his countercultural followers in the 1970s. Others are just ambitious – moralistic, value-laden stories, like Creed III or Respectabout people striving to be more and better than they already are.
However, the Uplift business was having a rough time up until then Top Gun: Maverick broke through on a strictly secular level in the past year. The last explicitly religious film to top $40 million at the box office appears to have been breakthroughby Fox, in 2019. Especially in 2021 Darker Fantasies—Spider-Man: No Way Home, Venom: Let there be carnage, Black widow– enforced. (Although the most inspirational, but deprived at the box office KODA slipped into the Oscars.)
Anyway, it’s nice to have the faithful back in their seats.
Before the great lockdown and the simultaneous socio-political outbursts on abortion and gender identity issues, left-leaning Hollywood seemed to be finding common ground with more right-leaning religious conservatives, who are a mainstay of the inspiration market.
Early 2016 while still reporting for The New York Times, I actually spent several months mapping the often-hidden interface between conventional film companies and these tens of millions of mostly Christian, faith-based viewers. In a loose partnership with fellow reporter Brooks Barnes – although the obsession was mine – I put a lot of energy and Just Capital in meeting dozens of people who were quietly trying to reconcile movies and spiritual matters.
It was a fascinating tour. I remember having lunch with the fairly secular producer Joe Roth explaining this by making a film like miracles from heavenhe didn’t have to believe what his associates believed, but he had to believe that She believed. A few days later, I spoke to Roth’s fellow producer Bishop TD Jakes, who was stunned to learn that Roth had once been a plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that banned school prayer. They had too much in common to worry about their differences.
The most interesting collaborators were those hired by studios to find and promote faith-based values in seemingly religious mainstream films Frozen, sully, Hidden Numbers or Twelve years as a slave. Even a movie as unlikely as Room, about the tight confinement of a kidnapped woman, had his faith campaign. Until culture boiled over in the 2016 election, movies mattered to religious audiences, and those audiences mattered to the movies.
The Just Project, intended as a three-part series, more or less imploded when I left the newspaper in the summer of 2016. Brooks took up the subject and wrote a beautiful article that was published on December 25th of the same year (with an illustration, as far as I recall, showing a strangely incongruous crucifix on Christmas Day).
As for the producers and consultants who built bridges—Roth, DeVon Franklin, Corby Pons, Marshall Mitchell, Jonathan Bock, Matthew Faraci, Ted Baehr, and others—they didn’t evaporate. You can still find most of them with a simple Google search that will do the same job.
But they seemed to be backing off a bit, going quiet as the films got darker, angrier, and less prone to inspiration.
Maybe until now. When the faithful are back in the theater pews, amen. Some buoyancy is appropriate.