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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hollywood's leap of faith


By Scott Bowles
USA Today

LOS ANGELES In the nascent marketing of "The Book of Eli" last year, Warner Bros. executives urged the press not to reveal the title of the book, hoping to save it as a twist.

Now, stars and filmmakers can't be more vocal in pointing out that the titular book is a Bible.

Such is the suddenly divine landscape of Hollywood, where God is selling like hotcakes. Studios have been emboldened by the success of mainstream films such as "The Blind Side."

"Eli" opened yesterday in Hawai'i and elsewhere, and this week "The Lovely Bones," which lushly portrays the afterlife, expands nationwide. "Legion," about a war that breaks out after God loses his faith in mankind, opens Friday.

Hollywood's conversion is simple to explain: There's money in faith.

Last year alone: "Knowing," a Nicolas Cage action film that predicts the Apocalypse, earned $80 million twice what many analysts projected. The faith-based comedy "Madea Goes to Jail" became Tyler Perry's biggest film yet, earning $91 million. "The Blind Side," about a young athlete taken in by an evangelical family, scored $220 million, making it the eighth-biggest film of 2009.

"Access Hollywood" film analyst Scott Mantz said movies with messages of faith aren't necessarily limited to niche audiences.

"Religious-themed movies do well with big stars in front of or behind the camera," he said. "I don't know how long it lasts. I think it's cyclical. But considering the times we live in, people are looking for something to believe in."

"Eli" star Denzel Washington said movies that address faith are "being put in the hands of good directors. If you don't have a good story to tell, your movie isn't going to work no matter what you put in it."

But don't expect the conversion to last long, Mantz says. "I wouldn't give Hollywood too much credit for finding religion," he says. "When they're not making money off it, they'll lose it again."