Are Christians snagging a bigger share of the box office?

Zoë Petersen, Deseret News
Zoë Petersen, Deseret News
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jesus Revolution” premiered in February with more fanfare than industry wonks expected. On a slim budget of $15 million, the film grossed more than $54 million worldwide. On its opening weekend, the movie doubled expectations.

One of the directors on the project, Jon Erwin, is no stranger to making successful movies geared toward a Christian audience.

Erwin and his brother, Andrew Erwin, made the biopic “I Can Only Imagine” about the lead singer of MercyMe, Bart Millard. With a production budget of $7 million, the movie made more than 10 times that, clocking in at $86 million worldwide.

Now Jon Erwin has his sights set on creating a production company called The Wonder Project with Netflix executive Kelly Merryman Hoogstraten. The goal? To become “a trusted brand that serves the faith and values audience globally with movies and TV shows they didn’t know were possible.”


The Wonder Project isn’t alone in that goal. Over the course of the last decade, streaming services and production companies like Minno and Angel Studios have arisen to meet an audience interested in faith-based entertainment. Companies like Sony Pictures (Affirm Films) have launched faith divisions.

One of the recent offerings from Sony Pictures and Affirm Films was “Journey to Bethlehem.” Adam Anders, the Grammy-nominated producer of the “Glee” albums, made his directorial debut with this live-action musical that told the story of the birth of Jesus.

Auteur Martin Scorsese has diverted his attention away from his usual fare scrupulously making crime dramas toward a new movie about Jesus in response to a call from Pope Francis for artists to engage divinity and faith in their work.

“I responded to the Pope’s appeal to artists the only way I know how: by imagining and writing a screenplay for a film about Jesus,” Scorsese said to Antonio Spadaro, editorial director of a Jesuit magazine. “And I’m about to start making it.”

Scorsese has not revealed plot details yet.

And it would be remiss to not mention the beating heart of Christian entertainment in 2023: the hit series “The Chosen.”

Created by Dallas Jenkins, “The Chosen” is inspired by “West Wing” and “Friday Night Lights.” It’s the story of Jesus’ life with his disciples. Since its inception, episodes from the first three seasons have been viewed more than 600 million times and recently, the show’s combined social media following exceeded 10 million people.

Jenkins has hinted at plans to make more content in a prior interview. “We do hope that someday we’ll be able to make some announcements about expanding this Chosen universe and Bible universe and telling more stories beyond just the Gospels,” he said.

In addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we just might get The Chosen Universe.

“The Chosen” has managed to attract top Hollywood talent like Katherine Warnock and Mark Sourian and brought them onto the team.

While on set in Midlothian, Texas, Sourian explained why — after a storied career in Hollywood (executive positions at DreamWorks and Universal) — he came on board. It was because he saw something in Jenkins. Since joining, Sourian still thinks he’s right about what he’s seen in Jenkins and that the show is “becoming a phenomenon.”

Neal McDonough, a Hollywood actor famous for expressing his values in public, announced in December 2022 that he would be making a new film company with his wife Ruve McDonough called McDonough Company.

McDonough told The Christian Post that their plan is to make “faith-friendly (content) in so much that we want to reach out to people who aren’t just Christians.”


There are numerous other examples of new companies and efforts aimed toward this same general goal: making Christian entertainment that is accessible to a wide audience and that is high quality.

So, what is Christian entertainment and is the audience for it growing?

Christian entertainment encompasses movies, TV shows and other media that has Christian themes or elements. It doesn’t have to be directed exclusively toward Christians (in fact, the heavy hitters in this space appealed to a general audience), but it’s generally the kind of entertainment that Christians think portrays their faith authentically and well.

It’s worth mentioning that there’s an overlap between Christian entertainment and clean entertainment. Clean entertainment is directed toward people who have content concerns and this audience encompasses people of all different kinds of faith or no faith at all.

Market forces may be indicating that an audience for Christian entertainment is either increasing or becoming more visible.

The Wonder Project has raised $75 million so far to make this kind of content and TV shows like “The Chosen” are raising north of $40 million, per Vox. Both the creation of new studios and streaming services and the success of crowdfunded entertainment indicate that there’s an audience willing to put money up for the content they’d like to see.

In mainstream markets, Christian entertainment has punched above its weight.

On top of the already mentioned box office success of “I Can Only Imagine” and “Jesus Revolution,” movies and TV shows over the last decade like “God’s Not Dead,” “Heaven is For Real,” Miracles from Heaven,” “The Star” and “The Chosen” have seen commercial success when run in theaters.

With a few exceptions, the Christian entertainment industry has largely been indie films — not backed by major studios and with smaller budgets. These kinds of films have still managed to surpass box-office expectations.


New movies have also been announced that are in the lane of Christian entertainment. Jenkins is currently making “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in Canada (it has an anticipated release date of holiday season 2024). And Alex and Stephen Kendrick (creators of “The War Room,” “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof”) reportedly have a wide-release faith-based film coming out on Aug. 23, 2024, according to The Christian Post.

2024 will also see the release of “Unsung Hero,” a biopic about the Grammy Award-winning band For King and Country.

The recent rush of Christian entertainment may seem oddly timed because religious faith is on the decline. A 2023 report from the Public Religion Research Institute found that religion is less important in practitioners’ lives and religious affiliation and participation are generally declining.

It might be that this entertainment is thriving because it’s figured out how to capture the audience it does have. “The contemporary religious movie isn’t an epic. It’s a smaller-scale model that recognizes its audience is niche, almost entirely domestic, and the films are made to that scale,” Tom Brueggemann wrote for Indie Wire.

In other words, filmmakers are laser focused on the kind of content that draws those who already are the target for Christian entertainment and makes content that speaks to them.

That’s one school of thought. There are TV shows and movies that seem directed toward the niche audience for Christian entertainment.

But there’s another way of looking at this kind of content that some filmmakers are embracing: Christian entertainment that appeals to a general audience.

The future of Christian entertainment will likely include both.