Moviegoers Skip the Atheist Pixie Dust

Message to Hollywood: American audiences want to be entertained, not indoctrinated.  

Let's take a look at the December 2007 box office numbers.

The Golden Compass, the much-hyped $180 million film adaptation of the first book of atheist Phillip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials, made just over $26 million during its opening weekend in the United States.  As CMI reported last month, this was short of the $30 million to $40 million opening for which studio execs at New Line Cinema had hoped in the face of a boycott by the Catholic League and others. 

Ticket sales then dropped dramatically for The Golden Compass.  The second weekend  brought in less than $9 million, a 65.8 percent decrease from the previous week.  Sales during the third weekend dropped to only $3.98 million. Twenty-six days after its premiere, the film still had not surpassed $60 million in domestic ticket sales despite a $120-million promotional campaign.  

By contrast, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, raked in more than $65 million in just five days.  To date, the film has made over $143 million and it hit theaters only 11 days ago.  

I am Legend, an apocalyptic thriller starring Will Smith with a traditional moral message amid the mayhem, opened strong on December 14 with a $77 million opening weekend take.  After 19 days, it has made over $205 million. 

Alvin and the Chipmunks, which also premiered on December 14, took in a respectable $44.3 million its first weekend.  As of January 2, it's the No. 2 movie at the box office and has earned over $154 million.

Even Juno, the edgy, independent film about a pregnant teen that opened in limited release on December 5, is performing better on a per-theater basis than the Golden Compass.  Now showing in 998 theaters, Juno's average take for the past weekend was $10, 621 per theater.  The Golden Compass showed in 1,935 theaters and brought in $675 per theater.  Juno has made over $31 million since its premiere. 

December's box office numbers indicate that American audiences are still willing to shell out from $6.50 to $10 a ticket to see movies at the local Cineplex.  That should be good news to film studios.  But if studio execs look at which type of movies are winning the box offices races, they'll notice it's not an overtly anti-church clunker or the over-hyped, ultra-controversial films Hollywood produced last fall.  Three movies with decidedly liberal stances that tackled the War on Terror – In the Valley of Elah, Rendition and Lions for Lambs - combined couldn't surpass $35 million.  Only Lions for Lambs, with the star power of Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, made more than  $10 million, reaping a mere  $14.9 million.       

The adventure blockbusters, family-friendly fare and cleverly written films are topping the box office.

So come on, Hollywood.  Give the people what they want. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.