Exec behind "Journey to Bethlehem" Hopes it Shows the Viability of Christian Fare
Updated: Nov 16
The Nativity Story musical starring Antonio Banderas is off to a modest start at the box office.
Affirm Films, the studio behind Journey to Bethlehem, is at the top of the heap when it comes to faith-based movies. A division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, it has delivered hits like Fireproof, War Room, Miracles from Heaven, and Risen to name but a few. In other words, they know how to make genre-satisfying Christian movies that are also financially successful.
So, we find it a bit curious that Rich Peluso would ask in an opinion column he recently wrote for Fox News' website whether, in essence, Believers would prove to Hollywood that they will show up to watch a Christ-honoring film, positing the question by repurposing that iconic line from Field of Dreams, saying, "we built it, but will they come?"
First, we will say directly that we love Peluso, a committed Christian who at a filmmaking event we attended a few years ago near Nashville said he thought there needed to be more of Jesus in faith-based movies. Second, we understand his concern stated in the article that this film was unable to benefit from promotion by its cast because the recently ended actors strike prohibited them from taking part in marketing efforts, which he called "the equivalent of coal in the stocking."
That said, he knows well - as his studio's previous films make clear - there is absolutely zero question about the broader financial viability of the genre. In fact, the company's website states that Affirm Films has "5 of the top 10 faith-based domestic openings of all time," which means it is "the most profitable faith-based studio, delivering over $585 million in worldwide box office."
So, the real question is whether their latest offering - Journey to Bethlehem - has what it takes to break through to financial success. As Christian Film Blog previously reported, there is much going for this picture, from its high-profile, on-screen talent - Antonio Banderas, Milo Manheim, Joel Smallbone - to the fact that it is an "epic Christmas musical" that is "retelling of the greatest story ever told - the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus," as the movie's synopsis puts it.
Alas, despite all that - and Affirm Films' track record and know-how - the picture is off to a modest start at the box office. Through six days in release, Journey to Bethlehem, has brought in $3.1 million, according to The Numbers website.
As a point of reference, last year's faith-based Christmas film I Heard the Bells had generated nearly identical revenue by this stage. That biopic about poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was, however, playing in fewer than half as many theaters as Journey to Bethlehem, one, and it had a much lower-profile cast, two: they were almost exclusively stage-play actors we had never heard of.
Why, then, is the financial performance the same? Our suspicion is that Affirm Films jumped the gun on the release date. Are audiences really ready to turnout in large numbers for a Christmas movie on November 9th, the day Journey to Bethlehem premiered? I Heard the Bells released in theaters on December 1st, a much more traditional time for Christmas movie viewing, which likely explains its analogous performance despite those aforementioned disadvantages.
With 30 years in the entertainment industry - half of it running Affirm Films - Rich Peluso has already likely forgotten more than we will ever know, as the saying goes, which we readily admit. He did, however, ask whether audiences would show up for this movie, so we thought we would take a stab at an answer. Here's hoping the movie picks up steam in the weeks ahead!