Many believe that the entertainment machines of Hollywood are motivated by nothing but crass commercialism, that the people who make movies are enslaved to mammon. An examination of the numbers, however, reveals that movies might be better and more interesting if they were.
If Hollywood were motivated solely by the profit motive, the buying public might more often be offered films they actually want to see – with strong moral content, true virtuous heroism and critical examinations of prevailing social conditions. As it is, the Hollywood movie machine is preoccupied with a nihilistic and materialistic worldview and a myopic devotion to leftism.
In 2003, movie insiders were stunned when Mel Gibson pulled off what looked to them like a dark and menacing box office gamble. His film about the last 12 hours of the earthly life of Christ, without a single word spoken in any living language and starring a cast of relative unknowns, made a total of $612 million (US) around the world – before DVDs – and remains 10th on a list of all-time biggest U.S. box office hits.
All of which has caused many to wonder: why did Hollywood hate it so much? We thought Hollywood liked money.
While it is far from the only one, The Passion of the Christ presents the plainest example of the rift between Hollywood’s ideologies and what the public wants. The Passion was the biggest ever independent film, the third-biggest box-office movie of the year and one of the most daring directorial feats in movie history. Gibson discovered in the Christian market a long-forgotten financial seam in the all-but-tapped-out movie mine.
Long before its release, however, the secularist establishment in the media had damned it for its unapologetic and unflinching presentation of Christian doctrine. From that moment, it became clear even to those on the sidelines of the culture wars that the central message of Christianity is anathema to those who control filmmaking and will be savagely attacked if it dares to show its face in public.
In 2004, the year the Oscars pointedly ignored The Passion, it gave its accolades to a group of films depicting icons of Hollywood values: a man who euthanizes his adopted daughter; an abortionist; a dishonest sex researcher whose discredited work laid the foundations for the devastation of family life; and a billionaire libertine who died an insane syphilitic. All of the films that received the statue that year were, at best, mediocre movers at the box office.
The Academy and media reaction to The Passion made it impossible for the secular dogmatists to hide their hatred for traditional values behind the usual condescension and “tolerance” rhetoric.
A five-year study by Movieguide, a Christian media research group, found that while Hollywood does like money, it likes its leftist, secularist, sexual libertine philosophy even more. The study showed that in 2003, movies with very strong moral content, such as Finding Nemo and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, took in an average $92.5 million, while movies with very strong atheistic content averaged only $5.3 million. Films with strong homosexual or radical feminist orientations did even worse financially.
This year’s homosexual propaganda film, Brokeback Mountain, while hyped by an adoring Hollywood and reviewers alike, is doing only moderately well at the box office. Its opening weekend made $5,805,082, compared to The Passion’s opening weekend of $83,848,082. In 10 weeks, Brokeback has grossed just $68,242,262 in North America. In its full 22-week run, The Passion made $370,782,930 in the U.S.
Barbara Nicolosi, a Catholic and former religious sister, brings Christians into the media business through Act One, a screenwriting school she founded in Hollywood in 1999. Nicolosi says that things may be turning around, with more Christians participating in the media. She argues that the solution is not to ghettoize Christian filmmakers, but to bring them into the industry as full players. She said in an interview, “Everybody realizes that the separation of faith and art that happened in the 20th century was a really bad idea.”
The gap is starting to hurt the movie industry. At the end of a dismal summer movie season in 2005, the New York Times ran the headline, “Movie slump stirs tensions in Hollywood.” Attendance at theatres was down 12 per cent from 2004 and revenues dropped 10 per cent.
According to the Christian Film and Television Commission’s Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry, 80 per cent of the 10 most popular movies had strong or very strong traditional moral content. “Every year, our financial analysis proves that good guys always finish first,” said Ted Baehr, chairman and founder of the Christian Film and Television Commission. “Movies with traditional Judeo-Christian values and heroic virtues always do best at the box office.”