Amid big budget flops and crashing DVD sales, studio executives are turning to what they call “faith-based audiences,” more specifically America’s vast church-going community.
In the case of Secretariat, a $35 million (Â£22 million) Disney production which opened across the US this weekend, trailers featuring the quote from Job were distributed to religious websites, previews were held for Christian groups and the film’s subtext of faith emphasised.
More mainstream films embracing Christian themes, like forgiveness and redemption, are in the works. They include next year’s Soul Surfer, starring Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt. It tells the story of American surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm in a shark attack but eventually returned to her sport.
Hollywood’s pursuit of Christian audiences is nothing if not thorough. There are websites for pastors to download trailers and film clips for use in sermons, along with suggested Biblical quotations to link them to. Screenings are held for religious leaders months before official release dates, and promotional materials are produced for Bible study groups.
“The silver screen is the pulpit of today,” pastor Phil Hotsenpiller told The Sunday Telegraph. “People get their values, their depiction of God, from the silver screen. It doesn’t mean it’s the best pulpit, but you have got a ton of people listening.”