Los Angeles (AFP) – Marilyn Monroe famously invoked a Hollywood “where they’ll pay you $1,000 for a kiss and 50 cents for your soul” — but these days it’s as likely to be the other way around.
Religion is reclaiming cinema for sacred purposes at a rate never seen in history, with faith-based movies exploding from an obscure cottage industry last century into a multi-billion-dollar business.
“You can add faith-based movies to the list of genres that you can count on as box office, as much as you can count on any genre. But these movies have to come from an authentic place,” comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told AFP.
“You can’t just suddenly have executives in board rooms saying, ‘Faith-based movies are big right now so let’s do one.’ You have to come from an authentic place. Those in the faith-based community will know if it’s not the real deal.”
For most of the US film industry’s short history it has turned out a few religious films a year, but the end of the 1990s saw a sudden boom, and by 2006 theaters were showing four or five new releases a month.
The relatively recent upsurge is down to smaller distributors who have “really cracked the code” on what religious audiences want, says Dergarabedian, often eschewing the epic Biblical dramas for modern, contemporary stories.
A staple of the weekly menu of releases now, faith-based filmmaking accounts for two of the weekend’s top ten movies at the domestic box office.
“I Can Only Imagine,” starring Dennis Quaid, amassed $17.1 million in its opening weekend — by far the biggest debut for a film from Roadside Attractions — and has earned an impressive $38.1 million from its first two weeks in theaters.