An Almighty Flop

It looks like Evan Almighty is sinking. Thought by some to be a sure-thing summer blockbuster, it garnered some glowing reviews in the Christian media but only lukewarm reviews in the mainstream. With other, better family fare now on the big screen (think Ratatouille which has opened to rave reviews), Evan Almighty is going to be lucky to recover the estimated $176 million it cost to make it. The question is: why?

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At FoxNews author Mark Joseph offers his opinion.

In its aftermath, once again the chatter from Hollywood is how, despite another earnest and sincere attempt to make a movie for “those people,” the elusive faith-based audience that came out to see the Passion of The Christ has once again failed to turn out en masse for a movie thought to be tailor-made for them. The problem with such an analysis is that it’s not unlike making a movie featuring blackface and wondering why the African-American audience isn’t interested.

He goes on to list many reasons Christians stayed away. “The inability of Evan Almighty to connect with the faith-based audience … goes to the choices made by the studio, the director and the writers as well as the systemic problems with the way Hollywood has always done business and seems resistant to changing.” He points out several problems with the film itself that may have caused Christians stayed away: the film portrayed conservative political leaders as corrupt; the statement in the film that God is “in everything;” the suggestion that God’s primary concern with humans is random acts of kindness. He also points out some things that happened before the film’s release: Evan posing like Marilyn Monroe holding down his robe; Steve Carrell’s body of work doesn’t give confidence that he’ll play the role well; the film’s director saying he rejects traditional religion, and so on. Certainly some of these warned Christians off. Simply seeing Carrell holding down his skirt made Christians realize that this film would be at least somewhat irreverent. Hearing the director’s comments about his faith realize that he his brand of Christianity was far from orthodox.

But the real problem, I’m sure, is the one Joseph offered first. The studios just do not understand Christians. They think they know what will appeal to Christians, try to give it to them, and then find that they’ve failed. Why? Because they don’t know the audience. They try to appeal to some watered-down, ridiculous notion of what a Christian is and then are surprised to learn that true Christians really bear no resemblance to that caricature. It would be like me making a movie that tries to appeal to Buddhists or environmentalists or Mac users or some other group I just don’t understand. It wouldn’t work. I don’t understand them, have no credibility with them, and there is no reason to suggest that I would produce anything to interest them. If the movie studios want to make movies that appeal to Christians, it might be a good idea to actually create a panel of Christians that can guide them, telling them what will and will not fly with a Christian audience. The studios could save a lot of money this way!

I do know that Christians love to rally behind movies that are actually worth watching–ones that carry a biblical message (or even just a nice message) and eliminate all the raunch. The studios are going to give up on this audience if they can’t find a way to please them. Yet it’s their own fault that they keep missing the mark simply because they don’t understand the audience.