Joel Mowbray

  Another interesting case study comes from early 2002 with two non-religious movies, though one did explicitly keep it clean.  One starred PG-rated pop singer Mandy Moore, the other was the debut of Madonna?s prot?, Britney Spears.  Most industry analysts predicted ?Crossroads,? boasting a scene where negligee-clad Spears jumps in excitement, would out-gross Moore?s family-friendly ?A Walk to Remember.?  The experts were wrong.

  To see that there is an audience for entertainment that wears its Christianity on its sleeve, network television probably provides better examples.  Not that there are many, though.

  It seems only CBS has been willing to take the risk of airing overtly religious-themed programs.

  In a world where roughly 80 percent of new shows don?t get renewed to a second season, CBS scored a long-running success with Touched by an Angel and this season has an unlikely hit with Joan of Arcadia. 

  Touched, which outlasted even most hit shows by staying on for nine years, was CBS?s highest-rated drama for much of that time.  And Joan, a quirky show that most critics predicted would flop, has thrived despite being dumped into what is normally a deadly timeslot, Fridays at 8pm EST. 

  Religion is such a fringe element in entertainment that it?s easy to forget that Hollywood wasn?t always afraid to embrace faith. 

  Consider that two of the greatest Tinseltown classics are big-budget religious epics, one of which was ?ripped from? the Bible.  ?The Ten Commandments? raked in a then-staggering $65.5 million back in 1956?and nearly a half-century later, it still garners heavenly ratings for ABC every year on Easter Sunday.  Making slightly more at the box office was ?Ben-Hur,? which grossed $74 million in 1959.

  In today?s dollars, ticket sales like that would translate to roughly $400 million apiece.  Given the graphic violence making it unsuitable for children (or even for repeat viewing for most adults), ?The Passion? faces an uphill climb to reach such lofty heights.

  Already, though, Gibson?s gamble has been vindicated.  The $25 million budget was covered in the first-day gross of $26.6 million.

  Only the ?experts? should be surprised.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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