The Nativity Story came into theaters worldwide last weekend in much the same way that Christ himself came into the world—quietly, without much fanfare, and with only a small crowd witnessing the event.
The film, a $35 million project from New Line Cinema, finished just fourth at the box office with a paltry $7.8 million in ticket sales. A New Line spokesman said a huge snowstorm across the heartland kept some of the crowds away from the cineplex, but they seemed to be able to get out to see Happy Feet, Casino Royale, and Déjà Vu, all of which finished ahead of Nativity.
I was a bit disappointed—and a little embarrassed; more on that in a moment—by the turnout. I think The Nativity Story is a beautiful film about the birth of our Savior, and I think it'll be a Christmas classic in home DVD libraries for years to come. Reviews have been mixed; we gave it three (out of four) stars, and other reviewers are all over the map—everything from high praise to outright slams.
I might disagree with critics who aren't impressed with the film, but I wouldn't call their opinions "outrageous, disingenuous lies," as one outspoken pundit recently bellowed. Outrageous lies? Because they didn't like the movie? My goodness. Aren't people entitled to their opinions without being called liars?
Of course they are; I certainly am, and I don't mind sharing mine—including some opinions that may ruffle a few feathers. Like this one:
With the low turnout for The Nativity Story, compared to the relatively high turnout for other recent Christian movies like Facing the Giants and One Night with the King, I'm afraid Christian moviegoers are sending a message to Hollywood that isn't very pretty:
"We want more lame movies about our faith!"
The major studios are asking, "What films make money, and which ones don't?" If gory slasher flicks make money, they'll make gory slasher flicks. If gratuitous violence, steamy sex and raunchy humor sells, they'll make more movies with gratuitous violence, steamy sex and raunchy humor.
And now they must be thinking something like this: If Christians will settle for mediocre—or worse—films of faith, especially if they're made on a shoestring budget, then we'll deliver the goods! (Here's hoping that won't happen with The Weinstein Company, which just announced its own Christian film division.)
The Passion of The Christ earned a whopping $83.8 million in its first weekend. New Line Cinema didn't expect that kind of windfall, but they certainly hoped for a better debut for Nativity, which cost $35 million to make. (The Passion cost $30 million.)
But forget the comparisons to the incomparable Passion. Compared to the fast start of Facing the Giants and One Night with the King, Nativity was practically stuck at the starting gate on opening weekend.Nativity opened in a whopping 3,183 theaters, averaging $2,466 per theater. Giants opened in just 441 theaters, but averaged $3,046 per theater, while King, which opened in 909 theaters, averaged $4,533.
Had Giants opened in 3,183 theaters like Nativity, it would have earned $9.7 million on opening weekend—$2 million more than Nativity. Similarly, King would have earned $14.4 million—almost twice Nativity's first-weekend take.
While it's nice to see any Christian film successful at the box office, I'm concerned that Hollywood might be getting this message (whether Christian moviegoers are intending to send it or not): Cheaply made, cheesy films with poor acting and storytelling (Giants) and a bit more expensive but not much better movies (King) will satisfy the Christian audience. And well-made, artistic, thoughtful movies like The Nativity Story just aren't worth the bang for buck; why should a studio lose money on a movie?
At least that's the message after opening weekend for The Nativity Story. But there are still a few weeks left till Christmas. Perhaps Nativity will pick up some momentum and gain some "legs" in the weeks ahead, and Hollywood will get the message that making excellent Christian movies is money well spent. It'll never come near The Passion's worldwide take of more than $600 million, but here's one observer who hopes that Nativity picks up enough financial steam in the next few weeks that Hollywood gets the right message.
Speaking of The Passion, Mel Gibson is back in the news, not for drunken anti-Semitic remarks, thank goodness, but back in the director's chair with Apocalypto, his first film since Passion. Some say it's the most violent movie they've ever seen; our reviewer, Peter T. Chattaway, describes Gibson as "a sadist who rubs our faces in cinematic violence," but finds enough worthwhile material to give it 2½ stars.Two more new reviews this week: Blood Diamond, an action-packed drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a mercenary who trades diamonds for weapons in Sierra Leone's civil war, and The Holiday, a Kate Winslet/Camerin Diaz/Jude Law/Jack Black treat that our reviewer says is one of the better romantic comedies out of Hollywood in quite a while.
Also, you'll soon be reaching for It's a Wonderful Life, if you haven't already. But how much do you know about its director, Frank Capra? Learn more about him in our latest edition of Filmmakers of Faith, as writer Frank Smith explores the famed director's history.
Finally, who will direct The Hobbit? Will it be Peter Jackson, who directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Or someone else? Get the scoop in Reel News.
See you at the movies,
Online Managing Editor/Music & Film