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Noah‘s impressive launch in the U.S. and select international venues marks another key win for Paramount, the studio behind the once-troubled World War War Z and Martin Scorsese‘s debauched The Wolf of Wall Street, both of which likewise overcame intense controversy.
In the months leading up to its release, Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky, was surrounded by controversy and criticized for its loose interpretation of the familiar biblical story. After reports began to surface that early screenings of the film angered religious audiences, Paramount faced the controversy head-on, and it paid off.
The film sailed to $43.7 million in its domestic launch, thanks to a significant turnout among southern Christians and Catholic Hispanics. It also is playing like a mainstream tentpole, as well as to Aronofsky’s fans. Overseas, the film opened to No. 1 in 22 markets over the weekend, for an early international total of $33.6 million. Noah debuted to $17 million in Russia alone — the biggest opening of all time for a non-sequel and the fourth biggest ever.
So how did Noah, starring Russell Crowe, find salvation? In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Monday, Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore talks about how the studio won over a majority of faith-based moviegoers (Moore himself is a devout Christian).
You’ve now successful opened three films that were controversial, albeit for different reason: World War Z, The Wolf of Wall Street and Noah. How did you accomplish this from a marketing perspective?
The key is that it comes back to the movie, and having a really compelling film. Noah got great reviews from incredibly well-respected critics. This movie has great spectacle, but it also has great filmmaking.
Going back to marketing, did the controversy over Noah hurt it or help it?
We knew the movie would be complicated. Noah was never going to get unanimity. It had been a long time since there had been a biblical spectacle on the big screen. The biggest issue with Noah, and what caused the debate, is the fact that it is inspired by the Bible, and not a literal adaptation. It is OK to have art inspired by the Bible. But the biggest thing we learned from the preview process is that this is what was holding people back. Once we told them it wasn’t literal, people responded to it very differently. This was a huge turning point. The other important element was that we told people that Noah was consistent with themes in the Bible. The National Religious Broadcasters put out a press release talking about the change in the marketing campaign, and this also helped communicate these points.
Does it worry you that there continues to be bad buzz among some Christians and religious leaders?
There are two groups of people: one that is excited that Hollywood has made a blockbuster based on the Bible and book of Genesis, and a small vocal minority who don’t think it’s OK to make a movie that isn’t literal and who don’t have the respect to let people evaluate it for themselves. Darren took a lot of creative license in telling a story from the Bible. Ken Ham, who works for the Institute of Creation Research, has become the guy who continues to take to the microphone criticizing the film…and who has tried to keep the spotlight on himself. But there are a lot of credible religious leaders, including the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez [president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference], who have come out saying this is a movie people should see.
What other religious leaders have endorsed the film?
Former ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn, like Rodriguez, also has seen the film and praised the educational possibilities it presents. If it [Noah] drives people to go read the Bible and the book of Genesis, most people find that to be a good thing. One can’t argue with the absolute benefit of this. The Bible hasn’t gotten this much publicity in a very long time. But that gets a lot less pickup than someone who is attacking a major Hollywood studio.
Noah is doing big business so far overseas, including in Russia. Is there the same sort of controversy internationally?
Maybe a little bit in the U.K., but otherwise, no. Other countries and other cultures are more accepting of the idea that art can be inspired by the Bible.
Where did Noah play best in the U.S.?
It was unusual. You had screens in New York doing well, and then screens in places like Nashville. You definitely have an upscale audience in terms of people who are fans of Darren’s movies, and then you see where the movie really delivered in Hispanic Catholic markets and Southern Christian markets.
Some are making a big deal about Noah’s C CinemaScore. Are you concerned that this will result in poor word-of-mouth?
No. For better or for worse, we’ve had two movies — The Wolf of Wall Street and Noah — that have had the same dynamic. Whenever you have people that are passionate to the extreme, the CinemaScore system isn’t designed to accommodate that. It’s designed for the normal movie. If you have six percent of the people give it an F, as happened with Noah, it pulls down your whole grade. Sixty-three percent gave the film an A or a B. Wolf of Wall Street was the same way, and it went on to get how many Oscar nominations and to earn how much?
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