(Photo: Warner Bros)
The 2012 film version of the famous novel and stage production "Les Miserables" has been surpassing many expectations and building up an impressive box office haul, with leading analysts saying its strong Christian values are drawing believers to the theaters in droves.
"In many ways it's the perfect story," filmmaker and media consultant Phil Cooke, who has worked on a number of Christian projects in Hollywood, told The Christian Post in an email. "This is the kind of movie Christians should be supporting, taking their friends to, and then discussing afterwards."
"Les Miserables," originally a French historical novel by Victor Hugo published in 1862 and considered by many to be one of the most significant works of the nineteenth century, explores a number of central Christian themes, such as forgiveness, hope and redemption, and has been adopted into various formats.
The novel was turned into an English-language musical, performed originally at the Barbican Center in London in Oct. 1985, and went on to become one of the most successful stage productions worldwide, being adapted for Broadway in 1987, and revived again in 2006.
While "Les Miserables" has previously played on TV and movie screens, the 2012 effort to bring the musical to the big screen could be considered the most significant one to date, as it features a star-studded cast with actors Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfriend. With a relatively modest production budget of an estimated $61 million, the "Les Mis" the movie has grossed over $103 million domestically for a total of $170 million worldwide since its release on Christmas Day.
A table of total box office grosses of Christian movies by Box Office Mojo would currently place the film, affectionately referred to as "Les Mis," in third place, behind only "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
Despite "Les Mis's" impressive box office performance, critical reviews have been of a more mixed nature, but most remained positive. The film currently holds a 7 out of 10 rating by movie critics on RottenTomatoes.com, although user reviews have been more generous – audiences on RT rated it 4.2 out of 5 based on 91,000 reviews, while it enjoys a 8.2 out of 10 user rating on IMDB.com from 28,000 ratings.
Besides the star-studded cast, several reviews have noted that the movie's strong Christian themes are what are drawing audiences in.
"'Les Miserables' is booming at the box office, and that financial success can in part be traced to a group of its biggest boosters: Christians, particularly evangelicals whom NBC Universal went after with a microtargeted marketing strategy," a CNN review states.
"The story in 'Les Miserables' is heavy with Christian themes of grace, mercy and redemption. The line everyone seems to remember is 'to love another person is to see the face of God,'" it adds.
"If you're a Christian and you're seeing this film, you can't help but see these themes," Jonathan Bock, founder and president of Grace Hill Media, the firm behind the movie's marketing campaign, told CNN.
Some faith-based groups have even been using the movie as a way to promote adoption, which is featured in the story as one of the main character's prime means of redemption.
"We're trying to raise awareness for the needs of kids, particularly in the foster care system who don't have any families. We love to come alongside them and welcome them home, and for that reason, we loved the movie," said Kelly Rosati, vice president of community outreach for Focus on the Family.
Her group partnered with Grace Hill Media and brought in partners from across Colorado, where Focus on the Family is based, including adoption agencies, child welfare officials and church leaders for a special screening.
In his email to CP, filmmaker Cooke agreed that the central themes and the engaging ways in which they are weaved into the story is what makes "Les Miserables" so poignant for Christians and movie-goers in general.
"I believe first – Christians (like everyone else) enjoy a great story. Well-written, well-produced, and engaging. Most Christian moves fail on that alone. They're cheesy, and poorly written, directed, and acted," Cooke added.
"The redemptive aspect [in "Les Miserable"] is powerful, and one of the most clearly demonstrated in the history of the movies. It's an almost perfect example of redemption happening without being explicit. Jean Valjean didn't wander into a Billy Graham Crusade and accept Christ. It's all played out dramatically which is what pulls you into the story."