The big news out of the 4-day Christmas weekend is the startling over-performance of director Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken,” which nearly doubled a predicted take of around $25 million to slide into Monday with a fat $47 million. “Unbroken” boasts no big name actors and no promise of CGI spectacle, and yet in just four days the WWII drama has grossed almost as much as Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” has over three weeks: $52.5 million.
“Exodus,” of course, enjoys the star power of Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, and Ben Kingsley. Scott’s re-telling of the story of Moses the Lawgiver also promises jaw-dropping CGI spectacle. Nevertheless, “Exodus” is a financial disaster in North America, while Jolie’s second directorial effort is, per Box Office Mojo, almost certainly on its way to blockbuster status with a $130 million domestic gross.
Box Office Mojo credits the surprise success of “Unbroken” to a marketing campaign that “emphasized the redemptive elements of the story, which likely connected with Christian moviegoers.”
There’s no question “Unbroken” was tailored to the Faithful in a way “Exodus” wasn’t. From the trailer to the subject-matter (the inspiring true story of devout Christian WWII hero Louis Zamperini) to the publicity (interviews, etc.) the signals sent to the Christian community were unmistakable: This one’s for you. Everything in the lead up to “Unbroken” showed a respect for the Faithful and war veterans. An A- minus from CinemaScore indicates the film kept its promise to its audience.
“Exodus,” on the other hand, reeked of a “Noah” redux: a studio and director manufacturing a sucker punch for the faithful under the assumption the Christian “rubes” will blindly show up for anything cloaked as biblical. Hollywood has now learned the hard way that that cynical ploy worked for exactly one weekend. After a spectacular opening weekend of $44 million, “Noah” went into a dive. Burned by “Noah” and smelling a similar (for good reason) set-up with “Exodus,” Scott’s film didn’t open to even $25 million.
Contrary to what the small-minded provincials in Hollywood might think, Christians are not stupid. We know a set-up when we smell one and the price Hollywood is paying for their bigotry and bigoted assumptions totals in the tens, if not hundreds of millions — dollars that would have been made had even a grudging respect been shown for the audience.
If you had told me 15 years ago that someday Christian moviegoers would trust Angelina Jolie more than a new Hollywood version of Moses, I would have had you certified as insane. Unlike much of Hollywood, though, Jolie has grown up. Today she is a savvy, mature, and talented player. Jolie found the perfect story to serve a starving, under-served Christian market, and now that her faith in the Faithful has paid off at the box office, she has made history as the first A-list actress who is also an A-list director.
John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC