Shortly before the opening of "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson'sgroundbreaking blockbuster film, I co-wrote an opinion piece with"X-Men" producer Ralph Winter about a tidal wave of box office receiptsthat we saw coming. The Los Angeles Times had suggested that the film might open at $25 million in box office receipts, but we had a far different prediction: north of $70 million--and even we were off the mark. In reality the film made inexcess of $115 million in its first week at the box office. Not evenMel Gibson saw such a tidal wave of tickets coming his way.

We had titled the piece "Passion Changes Everything," but in realityit didn't, because many so-called experts in Hollywood simply dismissedit as a one time event, a fluke that couldn't be repeated.

None of us who foresaw that huge opening were relying on inside movie-business information. We were just listening to the voices of peoplearound the country who don't typically attend many movies and had apretty good idea of the kind of stories they were interested in watching--and notwatching--on the big screen.

Once again signs are pointing to another hit movie that willbe seen by some of the same people who made "The Passion" such a boxoffice sensation: "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe."

I've had a front row seat for these two recent transformative events in Hollywood, having produced the CD of music "inspired-by" "The Passion of the Christ" and worked as a consultant for the company that produced "Narnia" (though I am no longer there). This experience gave me a glimpse into how Hollywood has come to discover that the half of the American population that attends church each week isn't a niche market--it is the market. If a film can successfully speak to them and at the same time not alienate non-churchgoers, there is box office magic to be made.

In the case of "The Passion," the important lessons to be learnedweren't that the country was yearning for Aramaic films subtitled inEnglish, R-rated gore-fests, or films to which many people wouldn't bring theirchildren. In spite of these things and not because of them,traditionalists flocked to see it anyway in record numbers.

But "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is the perfect storm. It isone of the most beloved stories of the 20th century, enjoyed by bothdevout Christians, those of other faiths and their secular counterparts, and is suitable for children and grandparents alike (and, not insignificantly, is presented in English).

News of the death of the film industry willbe put on hold

_Related Features
  • Christian Narnia Fears
  • Interview: Walden Media's Micheal Flaherty
  • Complete Narnia Features
  • Unlike "The Passion," which allowed for no alternative interpretations,"Narnia" will be enjoyed by some as simply a great story, whileothers will read into it what the author C.S. Lewis himself intendedto be read into it: That Aslan the lion atoned for the sins of one ofthe children, Edmund, just as Christ is believed by Christians to haveatoned for the sins of the human race.

    The film mostly follows Lewis's lead and stays true to histext. Traditionalists are likely to be pleased that Disney andthe production company Walden Media, under the supervision of co-producerDouglas Gresham--Lewis's stepson--did not attempt to change some of the obviousspiritual symbolism that Lewis wrote into the series and will likelyshow their gratitude at the box office.

    If the film opens on 3,600 screens or more, it's entirely possiblethat box-office records for opening weekend and beyond will fall in amanner akin to a major leaguer hitting more than 100homeruns in a season. If that happens, Hollywood will no longer beable to slough off such success, and analysts will have towonder why it took an outsider like Walden Media founder Philip Anschutz toteach the industry a lesson about what Americans want to see at the movies.

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