If you happened to stumble across a devout Christian in Hollywood, you’d likely assume he was one of two things: He must be Mel Gibson, or he must be lost.
But, in fact, you just might have run into a Christian businessman named Philip Anschutz. Philip has just spent $150 million to film The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first of the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis. Anschutz is showing us what we’d find at the box office if Hollywood gave Americans the kind of films we really want to see.
When he first considered bankrolling films, Anschutz — a billionaire from Colorado — asked the first question any smart businessman asks: What do the people want? After all, with filmmaking, as with all business ventures, the idea is — or should be — to make money.
The answer was not difficult to find. Of the twenty top-grossing films of all time, not a single one is rated R. Of the top fifty films, only five are rated R. Clearly, Americans want family fare they can take the kids to.
And yet, as Anschutz noted in a recent speech, since the year 2000, Hollywood has “turned out more than five times as many R-rated films as it has films rated G or PG or soft PG-13. . . . Don’t these figures make you wonder what’s wrong with Hollywood just from a business point of view?” — good question Anschutz asked. The films were not just bad business; they were polluting the culture — the culture in which Anschutz’s grandchildren live, a fact that made him mad. So a few years ago, he decided to stop cursing the darkness and light a cinematic candle: He went into the film business himself, forming the Anschutz Film Group and a children’s division, called Walden Media. Then he got busy making movies that were not only entertaining, but also carried strong moral messages.
He visited groups of parents, teachers, and children and asked them: “What kind of movies would you like to see made? How can we affirm the good, and de- emphasize the bad and the negative?”
Among his films is one I enjoyed immensely, the recent Oscar-winner about the life of the late Ray Charles, called Ray. He made the popular family films Because of Winn-Dixie and Holes. Still in production are treatments of children’s classics: Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia. And Anschutz is sparing no expense in making The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which hits the box office in the fall. If it’s a hit, Anschutz may film the rest of the Narnia books.
This is exciting news, because films have such a tremendous impact on our culture. And that is why Anschutz, as a Christian, feels that he has a responsibility to fund uplifting, life-affirming movies. Good for him — a great example of a Christian living his faith. And make no mistake, secular movie- makers understand the cultural impact, because they are willing to lose money making R-rated films few people want to see: It’s more important for them to promote their philosophies and impress their edgy friends and film critics than to produce hits.
Imagine what kind of place Hollywood would be if every filmmaker wanted to please the audience, make money, and honor God. Around every Tinsel Town corner, we’d find someone like Philip Anschutz — or Mel Gibson. And we Christians — to our great delight — would have to find something else to protest.