Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians number an estimated 30 million in the United States, and Hollywood - faced with a prolonged slump in ticket sales - has followed its natural instincts in trying to tap one of the country's most powerful niche markets.
In fact after doing a bit of research, market research has found Christians more apt to go to a movie rated "R" for violence.
And just to complicate matters, a new study by a leading Hollywood marketing firm, MarketCast, suggested that not only do American Christians watch mainstream entertainment, but the most conservative among them are also drawn to violent fare.
Apparently sudio executives are reexamining their preconceptions about conservative Christians and saying, "Huh, who'd have thought." Film makers, let me say this loud and clear: Christians are not humorless killjoys who disapprove of all entertainment and only live to strum a harp on a cloud. They do not sit in darkened homes polishing guns saying, "Well Mother, those heathens have told one to many jokes, we need to make them Repent!"
Contrary to popular misconception, Christians are perhaps more realistic but optimistic than any other slice of the populace. It is precisely because of the major tenents of our faith that we are this way. People are bad, and bad things happen because there is sin. God, through Jesus, has given us a hope and a future, so the outcome is not bleak. Perhaps this is why Christians are more apt to attend a violent movie, these are the movies that Hollywood produces with a good vs. evil distinction instead of silly relativist pablum. This is the allure of the comic book movie, the space invaders movies, westerns and the like. Give us a wholesome comedy we'll like it too.
"There's definitely more of an awareness, but it's just another group to be marketed to, albeit a very strong one, with incredible grass-roots tentacles," said Russell Schwartz, president of theatrical marketing at New Line Cinema, a Time-Warner company.
Christians are not going to recommend movies to their other Christian friends that has lots of obcenity or blastphemy in it's dialogue. There are many times I have watched a movie that I have thought-can't recommend that because of X, Y or Z. X, Y or Z is usually something that could easily have been edited out without damage to the plot or character - gratuitous nudity, bad language and the like. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jones takes the name of the Lord in vain and his father slaps him for blastphemy, every Christian sitting around me cheered.
Religion should not be tiptoed around but neither do Christians want or expect Hollywood to have it themed in every film they make. Really the best portrayal of Christians in Hollywood lately has come from someone wasn't trying to soapbox, M. Night Shamalyan. Signs was about as superb a movie about Christians as has been made for a long time. It helped that it starred Mel Gibson - someone who has been around the block of worldly experience and come 'round to serious Christianity - who brought an understanding and sympathy to the role.
Which brings us around again to Mel Gibson and his newest movie project. I am going to make a prediction - it'll be good. The Sword and Sandal genre is ripe for renewal (Gladiator, The Passion of the Christ) but rewriting history to pay homage to PC talking points (Kingdom of Heaven, Alexander) will not cut it with discerning audiences, Christian or no.