It’s not all in your head, there really has been a flood of faith-focused flicks in the theaters in the last few months.
The most recent: Easter weekend movie-goers delivered a stellar box-office opening for “Heaven is for Real,” a (relatively) low-budget movie adaptation of a book about a little boy’s trip to heaven and back. It brought in $21 million, debuting in third place behind blockbusters “Captain America 2” and Fox’s “Rio 2.”
Before that, there was the big-budget “Noah” and the pseudo-controversy over the film’s stylized depiction of the well-known biblical tale. And before that, “Heaven’s” cousin of sorts “God’s not Dead” tackled the faith-science divide for the millennial generation.
All this at a time when Americans seem to overwhelmingly believe that religion is losing its influence in their society, according to 77 percent of Gallup respondents.
In reality, Hollywood never really stopped producing so-called “Christian” films. After the blockbuster success of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” in 2004, they’ve been coming fast and furious. In the last five years, 26 “Christian” films were produced and released, including some in the hugely successful “Chronicles of Narnia” trilogy, according to Reuters.
If anything, this year’s movies display a surprising degree of variety.
“Noah” managed to suffer criticism from Christians who thought the film was more of a fantasy adaptation than an accurate telling of the biblical tale.
“God is Not Dead,” perhaps the most religiously outspoken of its cohort, charted its path to modest box office success by waging a “grassroots campaign.”
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the film’s star and producer David A.R. White outlined the strategy, which included outreach to a network of 8,000 pastors, and partnering with the popular Christian band Newsboys for the soundtrack and a series of concerts ahead of the movie’s release.
And if people are surprised by the success of “Heaven is for Real,” they probably shouldn’t be.
To begin with, the film was smartly released on Easter weekend when some American movie-goers may have found themselves in a more spiritual state of mind.
Also, despite being co-produced by mega church pastor TD Jakes, watching 30 seconds of a“Heaven is for Real” trailer doesn’t leave you feeling stealthily indoctrinated.
The Atlantic’s Emma Green suggests the term “spirituality porn” to describe the genre:
If my tears are any indication, this movie succeeds at inspiring sadness and empathy and comfort. But the spiritual experience it offers is a very specific one: tapping into emotions via the mysterious experience of a very cute, likeable child. The film doesn’t try to convince people that heaven is real; it tries to make them feel as though heaven is real. Call it spirituality porn—faith as a purely visceral experience.
“Spirituality” bait or not, Americans are definitely watching.