By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN)—In spite of tepid reviews from some film critics, "Les Miserables" is booming at the box office, and that financial success can in part be traced to a group of its biggest boosters: Christians, particularly evangelicals whom NBC Universal went after with a microtargeted marketing strategy.
The story in "Les Miserables" is heavy with Christian themes of grace, mercy and redemption. The line everyone seems to remember is "to love another person is to see the face of God.”
NBC Universal looked to capitalize on those components and promoted the film to pastors, Christian radio hosts and influence-makers in the Christian community.
The latest film adaptation of the musical is raking in the cash. As of Wednesday, NBC Universal reported, it had pulled in $80.57 million in 2,814 theaters. After winning Christmas Day, the film finished third in the box office totals over the weekend, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, narrowly losing out to "The Hobbit" and "Django Unchained" despite being on significantly fewer screens.
“If you’re a Christian and you’re seeing this film, you can’t help but see these themes,” said Jonathan Bock, founder and president of Grace Hill Media, the firm hired for the targeted marketing campaign.
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“We were targeting specifically people who had a bully pulpit,” Bock said. His company’s goal was to draw Christians who would “be impacted by it and then tell anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of people what they just saw.”
Screenings set up across the country in advance of the film’s release filled up fast, he said.
Bock’s firm has worked on marketing campaigns in the faith community for hundreds of television and film releases, and normally, the screening invite-to-attendee ratio is 4-to-1. “This movie, we booked at 1.4-to-1, and we had turn-aways in every single market. Almost everyone who signed up showed up for the movie,” he said.
“There’s a great deal of awareness about the movie itself, and the great thing is that the movie itself delivers,” added Bock, ever the marketer.
My Take: The challenge of hope in 'Les Misérables'
Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family was one of the groups that partnered with Grace Hill Media for a special screening. For the event, Focus on the Family brought in partners from across Colorado, adoption agencies, child welfare officials and church leaders.
“We’re trying to raise awareness for the needs of kids, particularly in the foster care system who don’t have any families. We love to come alongside them and welcome them home, and for that reason, we loved the movie,” said Kelly Rosati, vice president of community outreach for Focus on the Family. She oversees their adoption and orphan care initiative.
A movie like "Les Miserables," she said, “is able to engage the heart in a way straight facts and calls to action can never do.”
“I think that’s something the movie did in a beautiful way: It stirred the heart without ever having to directly issue a call to action,” she added.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
Another coup for marketers was getting young evangelical leaders like the leaders of Catalyst, the hip conference for young evangelicals, out to see the film. Brad Lomenick, executive director of Catalyst, called it “Epic film. Powerful" on Twitter and suggested that Hugh Jackman’s performance was Oscar-worthy.
Mainstream movie critics have not been as glowing. The Los Angeles Times movie critic, Kenneth Turan, wrote in his review, “Because it is so shameless and so popular, ‘Les Miserables’ and its ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’ theme are tailor-made for mockery.” (Turan did give the movie a favorable review overall.)
Ann Hornaday in her review in the Washington Post said it was “less a fully realized film than a strung-together series of set pieces, showstoppers, diva moments and production numbers.”
Lisa Schwarzbaum asked in Entertainment Weekly, “Shall I go on about all the ways in which this fake-opulent 'Les Miz' made me long for guillotines while millions of viewers who have softer, more generous hearts than I may swoon with money's-worth contentment?”
“Christian film critics who view themselves primarily as film critics generally pointed out the same flaws in the movie that everybody else did, which is (director Tom) Hooper’s insistence on closeups and going for the easy emotional cues instead of visual storytelling,” said Greg Wright, managing editor of HollywoodJesus.com.
That seeming inattention to the artistry of the cinematic endeavor is probably lost on most Christians who have seen the film, Wright said.
“I always felt, looking at the success of the musical, you couldn’t explain it any other way than it was resonating with people on a spiritual level, not just on a musical level,” Wright said. It carried over in the film too, he said.
His site had four reviewers take a stab the film. “The response was overwhelmingly positive,” Wright said. “The point for us is not what the art is but what the art does from a spiritual point of view.
“We don’t care as much if this is the best movie ever, but are people responding to it, and if so, why?” Wright said.
Like others, marketers heavily targeted HollywoodJesus.com.
“We’re probably the strongest skeptics as anybody when it comes to this stuff because we see so much of it. When you smell a rat, it’s pretty clear that it’s a rat, and 'Les Mis' was not that,” Wright said.
The microtargeting campaign aimed at the faith community included the bully pulpit model and traditional advertising in Christian periodicals, on radio stations and on websites.
Flashback: 'Soul Surfer' opens after fights over depicting faith
“Studios have been well aware of the size and strength of the faith market,” Bock said. “On particular films, it really helps move the needle.”
For a film of this size, Bock said, it isn’t uncommon for studios to spend anywhere from $30 million to $130 million on a worldwide marketing campaign.
Though he was unwilling to get into specifics on what his company earned for this job, he said that for a job like this one, it would not be uncommon for a studio to spend upward of seven figures for a marketing campaign targeting the faith community, including ad buys in traditional and digital media.
At the end of the day, most marketers won’t say what specifically got viewers to get off their couches and buy tickets to the movie. Christians see the same ads in mainstream newspapers and same trailers at movie theaters as everyone else. Bock says it’s more of an art and less of a science.
Bock is himself an elder at his Presbyterian church in Los Angeles. While that gives him an edge in marketing to the faith community for certain, he said, the best tool any marketer can have is a great product.
“You can put a turd in a Tiffany box, but in the case of this film, there was a Tiffany ring in the Tiffany box,” he said with a chuckle.
CNN's David Daniel contributed to this report.
Oh yeah i saw it coming, CNN just can't stay away from trolling one way or the other. Here they come, the Atheists will jump on this one. TomTom the dumb atheist, TheCheesemaker the moron and their bunch of idiots with no life other than staying in front of their computers night and day in search religion articles to attack believers.
"...bunch of idiots with no life other than staying in front of their computers night and day in search religion articles to attack [non-]believers."
Us athiests, myself included, do not necessarily have a problem with Christianity and God. It is more that we do not want to have it shoved down our throats by people who do not necessarily practice what they preach. A lot of the Christians I know of today would of made great Romans 2000 years ago...
Many of the athiests I know would of made great Christians 2000 years ago, too. They are kind, compassionate, loving, caring, they are not bigoted. I have never been told by an athiest that something horrible will happen to me if I do not follow their beliefs.
"I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Gandhi.
"Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts, but by his intentions. For God alone reads our hearts." Gandhi.
Perhaps the Christians should let God judge other people. If they truly believe that God exists, then they would...
I'll skip it. I go to movies to escape and be entertained, not have religion shoved down my throat.
we already know Christians love fiction...
I knew it, i knew i would find you over this article. You're spending your entire days just doing that. Get a job.
Do people not realize who Victor Hugo was? Saying that Les Miserables was "targeted to Christians" evinces zero knowledge of the source material, written by a French Catholic at a time when everyone else was a French Catholic and anyone who was not was lucky to be able to get by at all. Every version of this story, from the original novel to the musical to this film, is already explicitly Christian; movie executives did nothing to change or even enhance that.
World would be better off if greedy, narrow minded and fanatics stop abusing religion as their way of making money and earning cheap publicity. Once British emperor followed Catholic religion but since the king could divorce his wife, they are not catholic anymore! Good example of human selfishness and conveniecy.
Wow...you mention Christianity and all the haters come out. Haters gonna hate.
They are actually here all day. Every day. They hate 'god talk', but read and comment on every 'belief blog' story. :)
"Haters" is another word that should be put on the banned list for 2013. Anymore, the word simply means "one who doesn't think like I do".
Damn christies...stay off the science blogs with your crap and maybe we'd hate you less.
Some folks must really be miserable with themselves for posting so much hatred. This is an article on Les Miserables, and what does it lead to...name calling Christians. That is incredible, just let the hate go. Walk outside and get some fresh air.
It's on the religion blog, so religion sort of comes up
If someone took a classic story and made it into a major movie bolstering Islam or any other non-Christian religion, you know these very same Christians of which you speak would grab their torches and pitchforks and do everything in their power to stop the movie and demonize those involved with creating it.
Not much you can do about it, atheists will jump on this like piranhas. They have no life and no jobs.
cf...I highly doubt that. Southpark, Madonna, Saturday Night Live, Lady Gaga, plethora of movies, ect....all pretty much mock Christianity, and I haven't seen/read anything about them being assaulted or killed( with pitchforks or torches)
If they killed the people who mock them pretty soon Christians wouldn't have anything to complain about so they let them live.
I saw it, I thought it was well done, excluding some of the songs being slightly off. It saddens me to think books like these don't get written anymore, I really feel our world is culturally stagnating, the life is being sucked out of it, as if people have lost heart, I would hope this eventually reverses it self.
People living in the "best" of times rarely realize it.
The grass was always greener in the good ole days.
And here I just went to see it for Hadley Fraser. :) Okay - not [entirely] true. For Killian Donnelly, too. ;)
An absolutely wonderful film which eclipses previous versions by presenting the themes Hugo intende...human suffering, squalor, and the worst is the human treatment of one another which makes every other injustice and irony pale by comparison. If Anne Hathaway does not not get an oscar, then no one should. The singing is perfect and natural and intentionally not operatic...which is what really touched me....truly an amazing film. It deserves Best Picture.
I hate to burst your bubble, but Victor Hugo was a deist. He saw the church as corrupt and uncaring.
So true, but the fundies see Jeebus in burnt toast and dog droppings
Just imply it is Christian, and the pinheads pull out cash
Look at that Passion movie made by the wacko actor
S&M desguised as religion.
Short-form notes on Hugo's religiosity can be found here:
"... in later years settled into a Rationalist Deism similar to that espoused by Voltaire. A census-taker asked Hugo in 1872 if he was a Catholic, and he replied, "No. A Freethinker".
After that point, Hugo never lost his antipathy towards the Catholic Church, due largely to what he saw as the Church's indifference to the plight of the working class under the oppression of the monarchy; and perhaps also due to the frequency with which Hugo's work appeared on the Church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Hugo counted 740 attacks on Les Misérables in the Catholic press)."
"The story in "Les Miserables" is heavy with Christian themes of grace, mercy and redemption. The line everyone seems to remember is "to love another person is to see the face of God.”"
Kind of begs the question as to whether grace, mercy and redemption are in fact universal human themes coopted by Christianity.
"Bully pulpit"...lol...that's a great description of a lot of pastors. Marketers know that Christians/sheep are very organized and usually follow their pastor's/Sheppard's orders so it's no accident they tap into this bully pulpit just like politicians do.
Reading the comments here, and the responses to Facebook posts about the movie, I conclude this is the timeline of French history many Americans have:
1. Helped us win the Revolutionary War
2. French Revolution
4. World War I
Les Miz was not set in the time of the French Revolution. It astounds me that people who watched it don't know that.
Its star is just getting out of jail from the revolution
It is about 16 years ater the end of the main revolution
William – have you even read the book?
In fact it is in one of the "revolutions"
More were to follow (for at least another decade.
No, I prefer factual works, based on REAL history, without the poor singing and propoganda
I was forced to endure the play, in return for some gratuitous "relations"
She was not worth it, as the play was agony.
What is a "factual" work?
You read chemistry and math books?
All our known "history" is effected by human bias.
Well yes, don't you?
As a programmer in relational database structures, I read math and related works every single day of my life.
Try it, you might learn something.
I've not seen the movie – or the musical and always wondered what the setting was. So I looked it up:
According to wikipedia, Hugo's novel:
"Beginning in 1815 and culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris, the novel follows the lives and interactions of several characters, focusing on the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption."
As to the June Rebellion, wikipedia has this to say:
"The June Rebellion, or the Paris Uprising of 1832 was an unsuccessful, anti-monarchist insurrection of Parisian Republicans—led by student societies—from June 5 to June 6, 1832.
The rebellion originated in an attempt of the Republicans to reverse the establishment of the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe, shortly after the death of the king's powerful supporter, President of the Council, Casimir Pierre Périer, on May 16, 1832. The rebellion was the last outbreak of violence linked with the July Revolution."
But two future outbreaks occured at later dates (Possibly as late as 1840, but my memory is old)
Barricaded streets, murders, arson, ALL the good stuff!
I don't want to read math for entertainment. Maybe a sudoku puzzle is a form of math entertainment.
Yea, I use math everyday at work. Just the same as atheists, agnostics and believers do.
Yeah, I bet those schekels and cubits are a biatch to convert to reality ain't they!!!
Nope. I like math.
Yes, Valjean was jailed late in the revolutionary period. Still, his imprisonment had nothing to do with the French Revolution and the play is set nowhere near in time to the Revolution. What you are saying is akin to saying a play about a man released in 1982 after 19 years in prison is about the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Acts.
Furthermore, in regards to my original comment, it is quite clear to me that many people think the events of Les Miserables are set during the time of the French Revolution. None of them, at all, say "jailed during the French Revolution." If someone told me a movie set in 1982 was about the Vietnam War, I would expect them to explain the connection. The back story of the protagonist coinciding in time but not in subject matter with a historical event is not sufficient. I fully stand by my assertion that the comments talking about the history don't know the history at all.
However, it is refreshing that you do seem to have some sense of the actual history.
Have you read the book or seen the musical? It's obviously Christian-themed. The question is whether it's well done. Most film critics say that it falls short as a film, not as a theme. I think Milton's Paradise Lost is an amazing poem artistically–do I agree with his view of Christian theology? Not hardly. Do I agree with Les Miserables' view of Christian grace? Most emphatically. Here's something else that occurs to me about the "Christian" rush to see the movie. What's interesting is that back when Jesus Christ Superstar was made into a movie I bet the yahoos over at Focus on the Family, if it had existed at the time, would probably have been front and center at the protests although as a progressive Christian I find its message and take on history pretty amazing. And I'm guessing that were they around when the Paris Blockade occurred they would have been opposed to it and they would have also been on the side of Javert. After all, they're hardly supporting pro-democracy, anti-conservative movements these days are they? As for Les Mis itself, to fully appreciate the original text and the play/movie adaptation requires analytical thinking and close-reading, not to mention an interpretative reading of the Biblical allusions, something adamantly opposed by fundamentalists because they lead to dangerous questions (see for example the Republican party platform in Texas). I'm just saying I'd appreciate a little consistency...
The Author wasn't Christian, so your theory is a bit silly don't you think????
Hugo may not have liked the Catholic church but it is obvious from the book how he felt about core Christianity. Don't confuse the actions of some self-serving church leaders with what Jesus taught – love, forgiveness, helping the poor, etc.
“less a fully realized film than a strung-together series of set pieces, showstoppers, diva moments and production numbers.”
In other words, it is a musical? E.g., Annie Get Your Gun, Cats, Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Grease, Grease 2, The Blues Brothers, City of Angels and every other one I have ever seen. I have yet to see a musical onscreen or on stage that did not fit that description.
Well, okay, not all of them contained showstoppers, but all the good ones did.
I saw the movie, I am a Christian though that is not the reason I went, my friends conned me into going after telling them I did not like musicals. I still don't. I did catch alot of the "themes" throughout and though I would like to read the book, it made for a horrible movie. Personally, I believe it should stay as a musical on Broadway but never enter the theatre and I have told many people that it is not worth going to. The upside is that many of the younger actors were very good at singing, the downside, the lead characters were not. I truly thought the show would never end. After reading the article above, I take offense that it would be "targeted" to Christians, not all of us live in the dark ages, nor do we think of the French Revolution as being a particularly spiritual movement. It just didn't strike me as a "Christian" market type film. I am sure many Christians may have enjoyed it, I was not one of them. And why all of a sudden does "Hollywood" want to market Christians, you don't care about us when you're churning all that other crap out, why now?
The marketing specifically targeted Christians. Sure, not all Christians will like it, but it targeted what it did. Why do you find that offensive?
"nor do we think of the French Revolution as being a particularly spiritual movement"
The French Revolution happened about 40 years before the time the movie was set. Did you watch the movie?
All you have to do is mention 'God' or 'Christian' in an article and trolls just come right now.
It sure made you crawl out from under your bridge.
it brought you out, james
WHAT ARE HUMAN
Human are spirits in state of physical experience, not to be identified by their physical appearance but by their way, only visible in understanding to learn one’s intentions and essence of his or her path. State of their own choice in Hinduism, in denial of fact, truth absolute Allah, as programmed in human ruh, spirit with gift of choice in a limited capacity, or Abdullah, in subordination of truth absolute Allah, source of human spirit, depending on one’s self ability to overcome his soul, desire, NAFS, worshiped as gode’s by hindu’s in hindrance to truth absolute Allah, the merciful, ordained as essence of human by pot head hindu sanatan’s, ignorant secular goon man god’s of hindu’s, ignorant human, beside human physics, race, color and creed to be the most important part of being human by any means, foundation of Hinduism racism as faith. Foundation, not being the truth, but wisdom, known as gods Isis in hindu dark ages and worshipped as Kumari, represented as third eye on hindu female fore head. Hinduism, an illegality without any limits spewed in denial of truth absolute, essence of existence to deny accountability for their Hinduism, illegality.
Human are blessed with eye’s, but contrary to popular belief in hind, ignorance, human have no capacity to see things physically but only through spirituality, enshrined in program of his or her ruh, spirit. Eyes are nothing more than a medium, such as a scanner, a medium for a processor to recognize matter already programmed in data base, in human case, the brain. Quantified as Noor, light, or recognition to be alive or functional.
By quantum physics, everything is dependent on dark matter or program, otherwise known as Spirit, truth of human to be in physical form. Spirit, programs appears in male body after reaching age of puberty by will of Allah, certain matter from blood of man is attracted to spirit on 125 volts. produced by function of human body, after attachment of matter to spirit, matter takes form of a sperm, a living being, transferred to woman's body to grow into human form according to spirit, program, otherwise known as seeded, not physically but spiritually way programmed. Woman has no other function in human life but to mother a child, a greatest service, man cannot do without, reason for a children to carry their fathers name. Heritage of person is physically attached to man's linage, not a woman.
Using stories of poor to enrich themselves is the way of hindu Jew's, crook secular's, creator of hinduism, corruption of truth called religion's, turning fact, truth in to Theo, a theory, a hypothesis, to hind, fool humanity in to hinduism, illegality, Son of Blessed Mary never called himself, what they call him, but always Called upon Ellohim, truth absolute to be his Lord and The God. rest of it is hinduism criminality of Egyptian and Persian hindu's, deniers of truth absolute, preach hindu Mithra racist savior ism on his name.
Hindu Jews are really annoying. Get some help, btw.
i love musicals but i thought this one failed
but i guess Christians want to return to when they ruled the worlds... the dark ages
...i guess Christians want to return to when they ruled the worlds... the dark ages...
Considering that during the Dark Ages the only literate people usually belonged to a monastery; while all the illiterate pagans and barbarians around them were running around killing each other...that would be fine. The only reason we have anything of cultural value leftover and archived from the Greco/Roman times, is because the church kept the stuff around and safe from those too uneducated to appreciate it's value. They made sure the knowledge wasn't lost. In other words, Christians saved civilization; they were the ONLY light during the Dark Ages!
I know the point is that mock Christians for living having an outdated believe, but you might want to pick up a history book if you think the French Revolution was during the Dark Ages.
Besides the obvious absurdity of the Post French Revolution workers rebellion as being even remotley Christian.
That era in French history usually had men of the cloth being beheaded!
"That era in French history usually had men of the cloth being beheaded!"
The Reign of Terror, which is what you refer to, ended in the mid 1790's. The June Rebellion depicted in the film happened in 1832. They are about as closely connected in time as the Reagan presidency and World War II.
I suggest you review the revolutions
Note the "S"
There were revolts before, during AND after the time of Le Mis.
As Barnum pointed out there is a sucker born every minute.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.