God and the Movies, Radio 4

Holy Hollywood! Mel Gibson has a lot to answer for

Unbelievers look away now, and blame Mel Gibson. His bloodthirsty religious blockbuster 'The Passion of the Christ' has opened the studio doors to Christians, who are now all over Hollywood like a plague of locusts. Richard Coles, who as a clergyman and former pop star possesses a CV both sacred and profane, was Radio 4's man on the Walk of Fame.

So is the American film industry developing a heart and soul, locating deep down within itself a sense of decency and morality? Don't be daft: look at the bottom line. Unable to get backing for a movie without stars and with a script written in dead languages, Gibson put up $30m himself – and raked in $700m. As Phil Bock, a director of Grace Hill Media, a marketing company in the vanguard of the god-squad invasion, told Coles, "this is an industry that exists to catch lightning in a bottle – twice." The success of Gibson's film opened Hollywood's eyes to the massive market in God-fearing Middle America, and now most studios have "faith-based divisions".

There are two fronts in this holy war: as well as getting explicitly religious projects made – what Bock calls Godsploitation movies – there are the covert operations, slipping in Christian messages under the radar. So in 'Spiderman 3' there's the line: "Listen to them – they're calling out for a saviour", and in last year's Indiana Jones retread, the intrepid archaeologist visits a church at the end.

Overtly evangelical films aren't faring as well, however. According to Barbara Nicolosi, who runs a company that trains and mentors Christian scriptwriters, films like 'Constantine', the 'Left Behind' series and 'Facing the Giants' are "a source of amusement to the industry". That though, isn't because of the message – it's just that they're holy turkeys: "They're unchristian because they're so bad. Christians are known as the audience that likes mediocre schlock."

Coles retains an open mind about whether Tinseltown will truly succumb to the lure of the Lord. But in the pipeline is a Virgin Mary biopic and an adaptation of C S Lewis's 'Screwtape Letters'. What's next: 'Terminator: Crucifixion'?

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