The devoted Christian Tom Hamilton prayed for the best but expected the worst. His family are also devoted, thought they had lost their bid to keep an overt reference to the Bible in the upcoming film Soul Surfer, based on the true story of Hamilton’s daughter Bethany, who, at age 13, had her arm chewed off by a tiger shark in Kauai but returned to her board to pursue her dream of becoming a pro surfer.
When religious leaders were shown an early version of the Sony movie, set for release in April, the words “Holy Bible” had been digitally removed from the cover of the book in a scene depicting Hamilton reading in a hospital where his daughter was fighting for her life. Hamilton says producer David Zelon, an executive at Mandalay Pictures, had lobbied to tone down the film’s Christianity in an effort to broaden its appeal to non-Christian audiences. But the Hamilton family objected, and when they attended a subsequent screening, they were pleasantly surprised with what they saw. Tom Hamilton says "I could see the words bright and clear," “I looked at my wife and whispered, ‘Thank you God, they put it back.’ ”
The dust-up over Soul Surfer illuminates Hollywood’s increasingly awkward dance with the faith-based community. After years of neglecting religious audiences, studios now know that appealing to the Christian-values set while also bringing in more secular crowds can lead to an across-the-board blockbuster like Blind Side (domestic box office: $256 million).
Christian media — which includes influential websites, radio and TV hosts and even local ministers — has proven incredibly powerful when mobilized behind certain projects. Disney insiders, for instance, credit the Christian audience for the slow box-office build of its inspirational Secretariat, which opened to only $12.7 million but grinded out nearly $60 million domestically. But some projects that capture the religious crowd fail to cross over into the mainstream.
“This movie is good clean fun, and we wanted mothers to understand that.” — Megan Colligan, Paramount marketing co-chief, on “Never Say Never”
In Soul Surfer, which stars Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as Bethany Hamilton’s parents, country singer Carrie Underwood plays a spiritual mentor to a tight-knit community of Christian surfers. In a scene in which Underwood’s character quotes scripture, some were fine with the verse but didn’t want her to acknowledge that it came from the Bible.