3.29.23 – The Free Press

“Hollywood’s Great Awakening – JESUS REVOLUTION”

By Olivia Reingold

A man and woman watching a movie in the theater.

Excerpts from this article:


  …These scenes, more common inside a place of worship, happened last month at Starlight Triangle Square Cinemas in Costa Mesa, California, at a screening of JESUS REVOLUTION, a new movie depicting a real-life 1970s movement that saw thousands of hippies give up drugs for God. That crusade, led by Pastor Chuck Smith with the help of hippie preacher Lonnie Frisbee, coincidentally started at a Calvary Church just a few miles away from the theater…

 Inspired by a 1971 Time magazine article about the movement (the codirector bought a copy of the magazine on eBay) and starring Kelsey Grammer as a straitlaced preacher and Joel Courtney as a hippie convert, Jesus Revolution is something of a Hollywood miracle: it’s a religious movie that’s actually a hit

 Made by Christian production house Kingdom Story Company and backed by mega distributor Lionsgate, the film earned back its $15 million budget the weekend it opened, when critics predicted it would gross closer to $6 or $7 million…


Since its release on February 24, Jesus Revolution has grossed $49 million in ticket sales—besting many of this year’s Oscar nominees combined at U.S. box offices.

Jon Erwin, the co-director of Jesus Revolution, told me his goal is to revive the multigenerational entertainment experience at the cinema.

“I went to the premiere of the movie with my wife, my daughter, and our parents, and you have three generations loving the movie together. That is the most needed thing in entertainment right now, especially a story that centers around a set of values that I think is good for the world.” 

Roma Downey, who runs LightWorkers Media, a faith-based division of MGM, agrees, saying Jesus Revolution “is a very good story, well-told. It didn’t hurt that they have the name ‘Jesus’ in the title. For Christians, that’s attention grabbing. It’s a provocative title.” 

Christian colleges and church groups around the country have been pouring into theaters. One couple in Madisonville, Kentucky, bought out an entire day’s showings of the film earlier this month just so everyone in their town could see it for free. 

Also, Downey said, “People are hungry for goodness, people are hungry for change”—especially after the pandemic. “For a minute it looked like the world as we knew it was coming to an end, then what were the things that were important? I think it helped people refocus on family, faith—those sort of values.”

Jesus Revolution marks the sixth—and most successful—movie from Kingdom Story Company, a partnership between producer Kevin Downes, producer Tony Young, and brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin to make Christian entertainment exclusively for Lionsgate.

The Erwin brothers, whose stated mission on their website is “spreading the message of the Gospel through film,” first got Hollywood’s attention when their $7 million budget drama, I Can Only Imaginegrossed over $85 million in 2018. 

Ever since Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ brought in over $600 million at box offices worldwide in 2004, studio executives have been trying to resurrect its success. In 2007, Sony launched its own faith-based studio, Affirm Films, which often teams up with Alex and Stephen Kendrick, the brothers behind profitable Christian movies like War Room and Fireproof

Rich Peluso, who runs Affirm Films, says that Sony and other studios began investing more in faith-based movies once they saw that dramas like War Room—which had a budget of $3 million but made almost $74 million—could deliver massive returns. 

 Late next month, Affirm is set to release its highest budget film yet, BIG GEORGE FOREMAN: THE MIRACULOUS STORY OF THE ONCE AND FUTURE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD,  based on the true story of the boxer-turner-preacher and starring Forest Whitaker of Black Panther fame. 


A-list actors now routinely star in films with religious storylines—like Mark Wahlberg, who played another boxer-turned-priest in the 2022 film Father Stu, and Hilary Swank, who’s set to headline Kingdom Story Company’s next project this fall, ORDINARY ANGELS -- film about a Kentucky hairdresser who helps cobble together money for a young girl’s liver transplant. 

Jesus Revolution undoubtedly got a boost from its star, Kelsey Grammer, famous for TV hits like Cheers and Frasier, and his costar Joel Courtney—a teen heartthrob who previously starred in The Kissing Booth, a successful mainstream teenage comedy on Netflix.

Angel Studios, a crowdfunded production house that has raised tens of millions, has also popped up to meet the demand for Christian content. Episodes of its streaming series THE CHOSEN, a dramatic retelling of the life of Jesus, have been watched over 450 million times since 2019, when the first season became available on the show’s free app—but many studio executives, including Jared Geesey, who now oversees distribution at Angel Studios, initially passed on investing in the show. 

“Everyone was passing on it, both in Hollywood and the faith industry because the model for Christian television was kind of broken and couldn’t really fund a show like that,” Geesey told The Free Press.

Now, he says Angel Studio’s crowdfunding business model bypasses the “gatekeepers” of Hollywood, since its thousands of investors—ordinary people—vote on which projects to greenlight. 

On March 31, Angel Studios will release its first film in theaters: HIS ONLY SON, a biblical drama covering God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his beloved child. The filmmaker, David Helling, is a Marine veteran who put himself through film school on the G.I. Bill after returning from Iraq, and edited the film himself, completing its special effects and even designing the costumes. 

Meanwhile, Roma Downey, who runs LightWorkers Media with her husband Mark Burnett, the creator of Survivor, is releasing a new Christian film on Amazon Prime called ON A WING AND A PRAYER, starring Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham, on April 7.


David A.R. White, founding partner of Pure Flix, a Christian streaming service that Sony acquired in 2020, says he remembers sitting on his curb in Los Angeles with Downes, the Kingdom Story Company producer, decades ago, thinking: We can do better than what’s out there. A young actor at the time, White was used to seeing Christian movies with low budgets and poor scripts. 

“We were just thinking and dreaming going, ‘Someday, wouldn’t it be cool if the studios had faith divisions, and these movies were able to be in theaters, and people would look at it as an actual genre?” 

White points out how many Americans go to church—about two-thirds of Americans identify as Christian, with about two-thirds saying they attend church at least monthly, according to the most recent data. 

“That’s a lot of people,” White says. “So to not have any faith-based movies, or even say it’s a genre, I don’t think it was fair. I thought it was just a marketplace that needed to be filled. And that’s really where our passion was fueled to change the way Hollywood looked at these faith films.”