Hollywood and Religion

The Economist sees Paramount’s dumping of Tom Cruise, as well as Mel Gibson’s problems, to be  a sign that Hollywood does not like religion. Conservatives like to claim that Hollywood is hostile to religion, but using Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson hardly supports this argument.

Mr Cruise’s latest vehicle, “Mission: Impossible III”, performed relatively poorly in part because filmgoers disliked his relentless promotion of Scientology, along with some other eccentric conduct. Mr Redstone blamed Mr Cruise’s behaviour for the film’s box-office take falling short by perhaps $150m. Mr Cruise’s people agree the decision to split was motivated by financial concerns, but insist the star is adopting a radical new business model, whereby hedge funds will invest in his filmmaking.

Certainly Scientology is an odd religion. Adherents give serious sums of money to the Church of Scientology and accept the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, a science-fiction writer. He maintained that humans are spirits that were trapped in ice and banished to earth 75m years ago by Xenu, the ruler of the Galactic Confederation. Mr Cruise is in good company in swallowing this type of nonsense. Many wealthy Hollywood stars have turned to Scientology to plug a spiritual gap.

John Travolta, another high-profile member and vocal advocate of Scientology, also came unstuck in his efforts to promote the religion. Mr Travolta’s “Battlefield Earth”, based on a book by Hubbard, was widely regarded as a dreadful film and bombed at the box office in 2000. But while the public’s taste for Scientology is limited other religious films have fared better.

Mel Gibson, an Australian star, failed to find Hollywood backing for “The Passion of the Christ”. No big film company was ready to take on a film with dialogue in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin. But it made over $370m even without a large Hollywood distributor. Audiences were drawn by the overt Christian message; younger fans liked the gore.

The problem with Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson isn’t that they are religious, but the manners in which they express their religion. Movie goers who might tolerate mainstream religion are turned off by a bizarre cult such as Scientology, and the anti-Semitism of Mel Gibson. As they note, other movies dealing with religion have been successful:

“Recent ones such as “The Da Vinci Code”, which attacks some central tenets of Christianity, or “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, an adaptation of C.S.Lewis’s Christian allegorical novel, have made good money.”

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7 Comments

  1. 1
    kj says:

    An arguement could be made that I was raised in a cult… 12 years of Catholic education, attendance at Mass 6 days a week, all that up and down kneeling, call and response, in-toned Latin, Georgian chants, the incense… what was I saying? Oh yes, the indoctrination of my youth.

    But even young, my questions about the “one and only” Church of Churchs, first church, only-way-to-God church nonsense couldn’t be answered to my satisfaction by the priests and nuns.

    The image was simple. If God was God, then couldn’t all the churches and religions simply be encircling God, each with its own doorway?

    The answer was always, no… there is only one doorway and it’s clearly marked “The Catholic Church” (always with a capital “C.”

    So, even to my child mind, drunken Mel, blaming people of the Jewish faith and the rantings of Tom Thetan wouldn’t have been any different than Pat Robertson or Bin Laden. Just some dustups by different doorways.

    Sad thing though, those “dustups” are quite dangerous to the rest of us.

  2. 2
    kj says:

    ps. For the record, I’m still addicted to incense. And love Georgian chants. 😉

  3. 3
    kj says:

    OH! and the bells. LOVE the bells. House full of bells!

  4. 5
    Dave from Princeton says:

    Hollyweird lurker,

    I just checked them out and I must say the Church of the SubGenius definitely appears to be a pretty good religion. If I ever lose my current faith and stop worshiping Mr. Potato Head, I’d definitely consider either them or the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Nice to know I now have two good backups, since most of the other religions are totally unacceptable to me. Thanks!

  5. 6
    kj says:

    “May the Force be with the Church of the SubGenius” 🙂

    (Didn’t the Jeddi religion rank pretty high in a survey in England a few years ago?)

  6. 7
    kj says:

    I joke, but I do wonder, how many people refuse to believe the Holocaust happened? And what in their worldview lets them deny the violence and hatred that humankind is so obviously capable of committing— not only on its own, but on the environment that sustains its very life?

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