LOS ANGELES, CA — It has been four years since Bruce Almighty conquered the box office, and a lot has happened at the intersection of faith and film since then.
Many Christians were leery of the film when they heard that it starred Jim Carrey as a man who is endowed with supernatural powers after he complains that God isn’t doing a good enough job of running the world. But many Christians were pleasantly surprised to discover that, despite its bawdy humour, the movie raised serious questions about love, free will, and the need to submit to God’s plan for our lives.
Wanda Sykes is on Late Night with Conan O’Brien right now, as I type this, talking about how she was interviewed by a bunch of religious reporters, including a nun, at the press junket for Evan Almighty. This is funny to me, because I was sitting next to the nun in question at the time, and I remember certain aspects of the conversation that Sykes is riffing on. I even have it on mp3.
Most everyone here is impressed by the performance of Morgan Freeman, who is back playing God four years after he, um, created the role in Bruce Almighty. But Freeman himself is nowhere to be found. This is not too surprising, as Freeman is a busy actor whose talents are constantly in demand; but it does mean the most authoritative voice in the movie won’t be here to chat it up.
Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily has some interesting comments on the box-office prospects for Evan Almighty, which opens this Friday. Given that this is rumoured to be the most expensive comedy ever made, it sounds like the studio has good reason to be concerned it might not make its money back.
It’s an interesting read, and you can make what you will of it, but one paragraph leaves me scratching my head:
Universal moguls have convinced themselves that religious America will turn out for this family fun in droves. I’m not so sure, and I may look like an idiot at the end of the summer by saying so. Even though the studio is dragging out every trick in the Christian playbook, including that PR firm to the religious right Grace Hill Media, to convince holy-rollers in fly-over country to see this take-off on the already tired Noah’s Ark tale. I suspect The Passion Of The Christ crowd wants stories based on the New Testament than the Old Testament. Leave it to heathen Hollywood not to comprehend that.
Does that sound right to anyone else? Most Christians I know like stories from both Testaments. And while there haven’t been all that many biblical movies in the past few years, audiences have not necessarily preferred the New Testament to the Old.
Case in point: The Prince of Egypt (1998) grossed $101.4 million in North America and $218.6 million worldwide — which, at the time, made it the top-grossing non-Disney animated film of all time — whereas The Nativity Story (2006) grossed only $37.6 million in North America and $45.6 million worldwide.
Even taking into account the fact that one film had a massive production and marketing budget, while the other film was made on a more modest scale, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of pattern here — and if there is, it points in the opposite direction.