As “faith-based” films flooded into theaters last year, writers fell over themselves to declare 2014 the “year of the Bible movie.” It seemed as if the market—meaning Christian audiences to many—had finally come into its own, a decade after the runaway box-office success of The Passion of the Christ.
Certainly, movies that reinforce beliefs their target audience already hold can make a lot of money, from political documentaries directed by Michael Moore or Dinesh D’Souza to films titled with declarations of religious certainty. God’s Not Dead, a drama about an evangelical student who clashes with a philosophy professor, earned $62.6 million on a $2 million budget. Heaven Is for Real, starring Greg Kinnear, cost $12 million and made $101.3 million. Son of God, which cut down the television miniseries The Bible to feature-film length, made $67.8 million, or three times its budget. And even Biblical epics that religious audiences found questionable, such as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, did respectable business abroad.
But those numbers only tell part of the story. Left Behind, a remake of the bestselling apocalyptic novels, starred Nicolas Cage and had a $16 million budget but opened to dismal reviews and grossed only $14 million domestically. Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, universally panned, made $2.8 million, as did The Identical, with a cast including Ashley Judd and Ray Liotta. Grace Unplugged, a family drama, made about $2.5 million; The Song, which most critics ranked a notch above its peers, pulled in barely $1 million at the box office, as did Persecuted, a thriller that grossed $1.5 million.