Religious-themed movies will see a resurgence this year, according to retailers and other experts polled by SN.
Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," caught the movie industry by surprise with its exceptionally strong box office in its first two weeks of release, going over $200 million. Fueled largely by a grass-roots publicity campaign, the movie previously rejected by studios was quickly snapped up by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Century City, Calif., for video distribution later this year.
In the meantime, many other religious movies are riding "Passion's" coattails with additional rentals and sales. Noting the strong box office showing, supermarkets are not likely to shy from the movie's R rating (for violence) and controversial content (accusations of anti-Semitism), and will bring in lower-profile titles like "The Gospel of John," which had a short theatrical run shortly before "Passion," and re-issues of movies like "The Ten Commandments," "The Bible" and "The Robe."
"We know that the 'Passion' is doing tremendously well at the box office. That certainly is a factor when we put movies into our stores," said Ray Wolsieffer, video specialist, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. On "The Gospel of John," Wolsieffer said, "I need more information on that title before I make a decision."
Two video buyers said "Passion's" success caused them to order the three-hour "The Gospel of John" more heavily, although the three-disk DVD set is priced for the rental market at $45 (VHS is available for the same price) and will release on April 6. No dates have been set for "Passion's" release yet.
Bob Gettner, video buyer/coordinator, B&R Stores, Lincoln, Neb., said he would not have bought "Gospel of John" if not for the success of "Passion." "If Mel Gibson's movie had been a flop, I probably would not have considered 'The Gospel of John,"' he said.
"I probably would have passed completely on 'The Gospel of John,' but I'm not passing now," said Greg Rediske, president, Video Management Co., Tacoma, Wash., which services 100 rental stores and 250 in sell-through.
In terms of the impact of the controversy over "The Passion," Rediske compares it to "Bowling for Columbine," an anti-gun movie that inflamed conservatives because of director Michael Moore's politicized Oscar acceptance speech last year. "I think it will be less controversial than 'Bowling for Columbine.' There are more people who are way positive than are way negative, in my opinion," he said.
The controversy will stir interest in the movie for Doug's Supermarkets in the small town of Warroad, Minn. "It is going to rent for various reasons," said Steve Hagen, general manager. "They are either going to rent it to see what it is all about, or rent it because they are interested in it. It seems like it will be one of the better movies as far as revenues."
Many Mormon customers face a tough choice when it comes to "The Passion," noted Carl Day, owner, Day's Market Place, Heber City, Utah. While they are attracted to the subject matter, their church teaches them not to attend R-rated movies. Some will wait until an edited television version is available, he said.
But in the meantime, the movie will have "a huge impact" on other films in the religious genre, he said, and more new religious movies will be made to attract this audience.
"We have seen renewed interest in religious product due to Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ,"' said Leslie Baker, vice president, sales, grocery and drug, Ingram Entertainment, LaVergne, Tenn.
"People are all over this title," said Andrew Miller, director Supermarket Division, Rentrak Corp., Portland, Ore. "It's going to end up doing $300 million to $400 million, and when it comes out on video and DVD, it's going to be hotter than a pistol. I think everybody is going to want it," he said.
Religious movies have a wider audience than other genres, noted Bill Mansfield, a nonfood supermarket executive formerly affiliated with Tom Thumb, Harris Teeter and most recently Marsh.
Rather than a seasonal genre as it is now, Mansfield sees religious movies generating year-round sales. "For a long time, it wasn't necessarily cool to be tagged as a religious person, but in today's environment, it has become much more accepted and has a groundswell of interest in the community."
Rentals of select religious videos saw a noticeable uptick as the Feb. 25 release of "Passion" approached, said Sean Bersell, spokesman of the Video Software Dealers Association, Encino, Calif.
According to numbers from Rentrak Home Video Essentials provided to SN by VSDA, "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "The Ten Commandments" saw significant increases in rental turns and revenue last month. "Last Temptation," which was as controversial for its liberal interpretation of the Biblical narrative as "Passion" is for its conservative view, increased from 1,992 overall rental turns the first week of February to 4,624 the last week.
Top 10 Supermarket Video Rental Titles
RANK; Last Week; Title; (weeks Out)
1, 1: Runaway Jury (1), Columbia
2, N: The Missing; Columbia
3, N: Matchstick Men; Warner
4, 1: Radio (3); Columbia
5, 3: Secondhand Lions (3); New Line/Warner
6, 4: Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (1); Buena Vista
7, 5: Intolerable Cruelty (2); Universal
8, N: Spy Kids 3D: Game Over; Miramax
9, 6: Under the Tuscan Sun (3); Buena Vista
10, 7: Lost in Translation (3); Columbia
N = New
As of Feb. 29, 2004
This chart, tailored for the supermarket video market, is based on information taken from more than 1,000 supermarket rental locations serviced by Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn.