Politics & Policy

God Reigns at the Box Office

Noah and God’s Not Dead serve different audiences, but synergy is possible.

God’s Not Dead performed a minor box-office miracle when the religiously themed picture saw its ticket sales decline by only 4.5 percent in its second week in release. According to an industry study, a 35 percent drop in the second week is considered normal for a film targeted at grownups, while some genre films expect declines of more than 50 percent. Last week’s first-place film, the young-adult science-fiction film Divergent, fell 53 percent in its second week. According to Box Office Mojo, some of the biggest moneymakers of all time dropped more than 60 percent after their opening week.

God’s Not Dead, a drama about a student’s quest to prove the existence of a supreme being to an atheist college professor, has raked in $22 million so far, on an undisclosed but presumably low budget. The film’s debut weekend was helped by pre-sold tickets, which had already put it in third place at the box office on its first day in theaters. It’s during the second weekend that positive word of mouth counts, and this film has been helped by eager fans and the lure of on-screen cameos by Duck Dynasty’s Willie and Korie Robertson.

Last weekend’s No. 1 opener was a film with a more vaguely religious theme, the $125 million Noah, which has so far made $47 million domestically. Christians and people of Abrahamic religions agree: Noah is good, but it isn’t really Biblical. A month ago, director Darren Aronofsky called Noah the least biblical biblical film ever made.” Paramount Pictures took that into account and re-cut the film five times. The worst-sounding of these edits was described as “an 86-minute beatitude that began with a montage of religious imagery and ended with a Christian rock song” — which honestly sounds a lot like God’s Not Dead.

Rotten Tomatoes shows that just 20 percent of critics liked God’s Not Dead, but 87 percent of viewers enjoyed the film. The site also has that Noah receiving 75 percent favorable reviews from critics, while only 48 percent of audiences approve. That seems to show a disconnect between religious filmgoers and Hollywood. The fans want to see creative Biblical films that are beautiful and find their creative spark within the challenges of the text; the critics want movies that turn Noah into a homicidal maniac who believes God wants his family dead. 

There will always be an audience for evangelistic films like God’s Not Dead, but Hollywood could do a better job of courting religious people to see films like Noah if they, like all artists, could use the constrictions of their story and medium as an opportunity to innovate.

— Joshua Encinias is an Agostinelli Fellow at National Review.

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