Family Friendly Movies Make Big Money: Hollywood Noticing By Paul Jankowski
Movieguide, which has been analyzing how movie content compares with its cash intake since 1991, has found repeatedly that family-oriented movies make more money, while the movies with higher instances of sex and violence do not fare nearly as well.
The overwhelming success of movies like Passion of the Christ and The Blind Side, with their overtly Christian themes, stunned a lot of filmmakers and movie critics. Other faith-prevalent, recent releases such as Soul Surfer, with box office receipts of $43 million so far, are also getting a lot of attention. And while such outright portrayal of faith still is by no means common, more and more movies are sneaking faith-based messaging and values into films.
The family-friendly film, “Dolphin Tale” rose to first place in its second weekend of release, taking in $13.9 million at theaters in the U.S. and Canada for Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. studio.
The film unseated the 3-D re-release of “The Lion King,” which ranked No. 1 for the prior two weekends, and edged out four new movies, researcher Hollywood.com Box-Office reported.
“Family films are a hot commodity right now, and this demonstrates that,” Jeff Bock, a film analyst for Exhibitor Relations in Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg Business Week.
According to Movieguide, the number of movies that include at least a little Christian content has increased 455 percent from 27 in 1991 to more than 150 movies in 2009.
This past weekend, another faith-based movie stunned the industry with a #4 box office ranking. COURAGEOUS, the #1 new movie of the weekend opened against movies with three times as many screens for a total box office of $9 million.
“Sony picked this up wisely, and this film had a great grass-roots marketing campaign,” Bock said. “It’s amazing when a faith-based film does that much money.”
The Hollywood press was surprised:
Box Office Mojo
“Made outside of Hollywood without any major stars, Courageous managed to fly under most radars (including my own) until very recently. It’s unfair to ignore the vast majority of church-going Americans for whom typical Hollywood fare isn’t of great interest, though, and Sherwood Pictures has impressively found a way to mobilize this subset of the population.”
I had to comment on “subset of the population.” According to a Pew study, roughly 74% of Americans identify themselves as Christian; hardly a “subset”.
Like the Christian-themed Soul Surfer, the Kendrick’s holy-cop film (with a $1-million budget) was pitched to the faithful, who came out fervently this weekend and gave it an A-plus CinemaScore. Opening in just 1,161 theaters, Courageous had the top per-screen average of any movie in the top 25. Even an agnostic would call that heavenly.”
Finding family-friendly content is tough. Many parents rely on word of mouth while others use movie reviews and ratings to find what’s best for them. As a result, a host of online sources have popped up that rate movies based on their family friendliness.
Christian-based and sometimes controversial, Focus on the Family, reviews movies online for things like sex, violence, drugs, alcohol, and other “negative elements.” Their reviews are very detailed and even mentioned a cartoon character’s cleavage and tanks of “some kind of strong drink” in their review of Disney’s Tangled animated movie. I’d love to meet the guy that writes these reviews.
Kids-in-mind.com rates movies based on their levels of sex, violence, and profanity, with notes on specific questions kids might ask after seeing a movie, prevalence of things like substance abuse, and the kind of message a movie sends. Fandango also offers up its picks of the best family-friendly flicks and keeps a calendar of upcoming movies for kids.
I personally don’t rely on these websites to determine what’s right for my kids. And yes, the older ones have seen Twilight and read all of the Harry Potter books, twice. But I need to stress that word of mouth is incredibly powerful in the Heartland, especially when spoken by influencers like a values-based website, friends and members of our extended family.
Regardless of how Heartlander’s decide what to see, the box office results are proof that family-friendly movies ring the cash register and that’s the only sound Hollywood wants to hear.