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Low Budgets, Big Returns - You Gotta Have Faith (or Horror)

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By Chris Kavan - 04/30/14 at 06:13 PM CT

Movies - they are meant to entertain, to inspire, to teach - but, and let's face it, they are also there to make money. Sure, you have indie films and passion projects galore to choose from - many might never make it beyond a handful of theaters or a few festival showings. But those the general public are aware of - Hollywood is after profit, and if people like the movies? So much the better. But how best to make money? The more you spend, the slimmer the profit. But if you start out small and gain a following - that's where the real money is going to be.

For a long time, horror has been the go-to genre for starting off with a little and winding up with a lot. Recent examples include: Sinister (Budget: $3 million, Domestic Total: $48.08 million), Insidious (Budget: $1.5 million, Domestic Total: $54 million), The Purge (Budget: $3 million, Domestic Total: $64.47 million), The Conjuring (Budget: $20 million, Domestic Total: $137.4 million) and Devil Inside (Budget: $1 million, Domestic Total: $53.2 million). The best part is, you don't even have to be a particularly good horror movie - Devil Inside was ravaged by critics and audiences alike, and still was highly successful. Granted, not every low-budget horror movie can be a knockout (See recent examples like The Quiet Ones and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) - but that's the beauty of these films - because they don't cost very much, they don't have to make very much to justify their release.

Of course, the so-called "found footage" trend is the driving force behind this horror resurgence. And the king of the hill still has to be the 1999 release, The Blair Witch Project. Filmed for just $60,000 - and with a monster marketing push behind it - the film went on to make $140.5 million. Heather Donahue, scared as hell, in the Blair Witch ProjectBut, surprisingly, Hollywood didn't realize at the time what a gold mine they had on their hands and let it slip away (the less said about Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, the much, much better). It took ten years until Paranormal Activity came out in 2009 - with an even smaller budget ($15,000) and made $107.9 million that the suits took notice. For better or worse, we got a new franchise out of it and everyone wanted to jump on the "found footage" bandwagon. Let's face it - the movie are cheap, you don't have to hire big names, the effects are simple (yet effective) and the reward is far greater than the risk. But horror isn't the only genre that has found success, and a whole different kind of animal has entered the low cost, high return arena.

Faith-based films have become big news this year. Three big examples have thus far proven that Christian audiences are not to be taken lightly, and given the support these films have received, we could be seeing quite a few more on the horizon. Son of God, God's Not Dead and the currently-playing Heaven is for Real have all made big returns on small budgets. God's Not Dead cost $2 million and currently stands at $53 million while Heave is for Real cost $12 million and is at $53.4 million (and still climbing). But this is genre that has enjoyed success in the past as well. Facing the Giants cost just $100,000 and earned over $10 million. Alex Kendrick, playing a coach with faith, in Facing the GiantsKirk Cameron found success with FIreproof (Budget: $500,000, Domestic Total: $33.4 million). And thrown in Courageous (Budget: $2 million, Domestic Total: $34.5 million) as well. Granted, the most well-known example of a religious-themed movie doing well is the bloody Passion of the Christ. Mel Gibson's graphic retelling of the finals days of Christ was made on a $30 million budget and went on to earn $370.78 million. All this points to the fact that if you have a Christian film with a message to send, audiences will respond - and with three hits in the early months of 2014, I can guarantee you that, much like "found footage" horror - faith-based films are likely to become a staple because why wouldn't you take a chance when the risk is so low?

Of course, this is all leading to only one conclusion - a faith-based horror "found footage" film is going be the biggest thing ever! Actually, I might pay to see that - but what it really means is that as soon as something comes along to make money, the market becomes saturated (even overly-saturated) - until people get sick of them. Found footage has already lost a step (most horror films these days focus on "supernatural" elements rather than hand-held cameras) so we'll see how long it takes for faith films to fall into the same trap. Hollywood has a way to milk every last drop out of something profitable - but at least for a short time, thing turn out well for everyone (that is people who want to make money and audiences alike). At least until things get old and people get sick of the same thing over and over. Originality is not Hollywood's strong suit, after all.


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