With the rise and success of online streaming, fewer people are going to see films at the theater, and box office revenues are declining.
All it takes is a $50 HDMI cable, and viewers are able to stream even the most recently released films straight to their home entertainment systems. In fact, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Entertainment and Media Outlook 2014-2018 said that by 2017, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu generated $14 billion, which is $1.6 billion more than the box offices.
Because of this, film marketers have started to use more unconventional approaches to bring audiences into the theater. They have been reaching out to religious leaders in hopes of the films’ messages making an impact on the congregation.
Last month, 1,000 ministers gathered in a Marriott ballroom to watch a film.
“Imagine this clip playing to your congregation, perhaps tied to a theological discussion about our sacred lives and our secular lives and how there is really no division,” said Rev. Roderick Dwayne Belin, a senior African Methodist Episcopal Church leader. He was showing the trailer for “Hidden Figures.”
While the film has no religious aspect, talking about religion in conjunction with seeing the film promotes the idea that religion is everywhere, even if it’s not the obvious message or topic.
Despite Hollywood’s notoriously loose lifestyle, studios have found that targeting Christian filmgoers this way will develop deep and meaningful connections between the attendees and the theater, especially as a social event.
Churches, military groups, and right-leaning bloggers, as well as a number of marketing specialists who mainly focus on overtly religious films, are now putting energy towards mainstream films like “Hidden Figures.”
Estimates show that the U.S. may have somewhere near 90 million evangelicals. Despite further efforts to target them, embracing Christianity in Hollywood isn’t particularly new. But the problem is that effectively reaching these audiences prove to be more difficult.
“Most studios, to be honest, have no idea how to market to us,” said Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, a megachurch minister in Baltimore. “They’re still doing the Sammy Davis Jr. tap dance: ‘Look at me! Aren’t you impressed?’ Well, no, not really. But if you bring us into the tent, we are often excited to spread the word.”
With some very recent flops, Hollywood producers are becoming much more mindful about the content that they are showing, what their marketing ploys are, as well as adjusting the way that they tell the story. However, not all pious film goers are seeing films for a sermon.
“Nobody wants to feel used, and sometimes the movie business acts like people of faith are there to be turned on and off as the marketers see fit,” said DeVon Franklin, an ordained minister, and film producer who is responsible for films like “Miracles From Heaven.”
Film, in this aspect, is more or less about connection with a story and relating the story to your peers, regardless of religion.
Rev. Marshall Mitchell of Pennsylvania finds religious themes in many movies, whether they were intended or not.
“We see this as a healing movie,” Mitchell said. “At a moment when so many people — right and left, black and white — are arguing over what America is or what America isn’t, here is a chance to come together in a theater and look up, to space quite literally in this case, but metaphorically too.”