Religion Returns to Hollywood

March 31, 2023 | Olivia Reingold
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Based on the true story of two preachers who in the 1970s sought to evangelize members of the counterculture, the film Jesus Revolution has proved a box-office success, making profits on par with recent major releases. This is despite the fact that it was produced by a Christian movie studio and targeted to an audience of believing Christians. While much has changed about Hollywood, and America, since the days of Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, Olivia Reingold observes that films such as Jesus Revolution are experiencing an efflorescence:

Jesus Revolution marks the sixth—and most successful—movie from Kingdom Story Company, a partnership between the producers Kevin Downes and Tony Young and the brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin to make Christian entertainment exclusively for Lionsgate. The Erwin brothers, whose stated mission on their website is “spreading the message of the Gospel through film,” first got Hollywood’s attention when their $7 million-budget drama, I Can Only Imagine, grossed over $85 million in 2018.

A-list actors now routinely star in films with religious storylines—like Mark Wahlberg, who played [a] boxer-turned-priest in the 2022 film Father Stu, and Hilary Swank, who’s set to headline Kingdom Story Company’s next project this fall, Ordinary Angels—a film about a Kentucky hairdresser who helps cobble together money for a young girl’s liver transplant. Jesus Revolution undoubtedly got a boost from its star, Kelsey Grammer, famous for TV hits like Cheers and Frasier, and his costar Joel Courtney—a teen heartthrob who previously starred in The Kissing Booth, a successful mainstream teenage comedy on Netflix.

That doesn’t mean that Hollywood has entirely made its peace with Christianity. On March 11, the actor Rainn Wilson, most famous for his role as the dweeby Dwight in The Office, tweeted about “an anti-Christian bias in Hollywood,” referencing the arc of a cult-like preacher on HBO’s zombie series The Last of Us.

“As soon as the David character in The Last of Us started reading from the Bible I knew that he was going to be a horrific villain,” Wilson tweeted. “Could there be a Bible-reading preacher on a show who is actually loving and kind?”

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