SALT LAKE CITY — This year has seen an unusually high number of religious-themed wide releases coming from Hollywood. So far in 2014 studios have released “Son of God,” “Noah” and “God’s Not Dead.” This week we’ll get one more in the form of “Heaven is for Real.”
The number of religious-based films seems uncharacteristically high, but the films are finding an audience and making a solid financial return.
“God’s Not Dead” was made on a $2 million budget and has grossed more than $40 million domestically at the box office.
The marketing for the film was almost non-existent; it opened in only 780 locations across the nation. Thanks to its unpredicted success, however, it’s now in over 1,800 theaters nationwide. The film relied on direct marketing to churches and religious groups, which resulted in heavy group pre-sales. The film grossed $9 million opening weekend and almost $13 million the first week.
“Son of God,” which was a re-cut from History’s miniseries “The Bible," opened to more than $25 million.
Christian politician and former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum has seen the upward trend in religion-based films and plans to keep it moving.
Santorum is the head of EchoLight Studios, a faith-and-family-based production company. He said his studio plans on releasing four films a year, which will play in churches, not theaters.
“EchoLight wants to empower the church to bring in people to see films,” EchoLight Studios spokeswoman Kristin Cole told Deadline. “At the same time, it allows them to keep more of the profits not having to distribute it through theaters.”
Even major Hollywood studios are cashing in on the trend.
Paramount’s “Noah” carried its fair share of controversy, but the movie based on the story from Genesis cost the studio $125 million and has made nearly $250 million worldwide.
Twentieth Century Fox has plans to release the film “Exodus: Gods and Kings” this December. The big-budget biblical film stars Christian Bale and Aaron Paul and is directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ridley Scott.
The faith-based film trend will likely continue as long as the films keep making money. It appears, for the time being, that these films have found a place in Hollywood.
Curtis Linnell is a communications graduate from Brigham Young University and writes for ok.com