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Hollywood Can't Get an Amen From Church Crowd

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On the face of it, Disney's feel-good drama Secretariat seemed to have all the makings of a hit with the God-fearing crowd: Its writer and director are devout Christians, it opens with a lengthy Bible quote, it uses an earnest spiritual tune at a key emotional moment and it's uplifting.

Then there was a specific marketing campaign to the faith-based audience, spearheaded by filmmaker Randall Wallace, who has legitimate street cred in those circles.

Yet, Secretariat stumbled out of the gate—like its Triple Crown-winning namesake Thoroughbred never did—with a paltry $12.7 million opening weekend. So what are the film's odds of turning into a blockbuster? Probably best not to take that bet.

Some industry watchers might chalk it up to Disney's reshuffled marketing team, headed by an executive who's never hawked movies before. But others say it's par for the course when big studios try to reach the so-called "family values" crowd.

Hollywood, long accused of being filled with heathens, just can't find its religion.

The problem may be that in trying to recreate the massive success of 2004's The Passion of the Christ, major studios now regularly target the church audience with anything on their slates that they think even vaguely qualifies as spiritual.

Any movie that has a happy ending or a hopeful message gets peddled to Christian leaders and faith-based media. That crowd may be conservative, but they're not dumb, said entertainment industry veteran and marketing consultant Mark Joseph.

"The traditionalist audience is far more savvy, post-'Passion,' and is tired of being told that 'Polar Express' or 'Rocky VI' are actually allegories about Christ," said Joseph, also a film producer who's worked on The Passion of the Christ and other marketing campaigns. "This group is suspicious of Hollywood."

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