Why I am glad the movie “Woodlawn” bombed

Note: It is not my intent to offend or anger anyone with this post. If you are offended or angered, I’m sorry. Let me know by commenting, and we can talk about it. Thank you.

Before you read this post, click Here to have a full understanding of why I’m saying what I’m saying. (It’s a link to my first — and only other — post on Woodlawn.) In a reply to a comment on that post, I say this:

“If I see Woodlawn for myself and I like it, or if the majority of audience members and critics like it (if it gets a ‘Fresh’ rating on http://www.rottentomatoes.com), than I will gladly take back every negative thing I said about the movie.”

I can no longer, in good conscience, “take back every negative thing I said about the movie,” for a reason that I will explain in this post.


As of October 25th, 2015, Woodlawn has gotten positive reviews from the majority of critics and audience members.

And as of October 25th, 2015, Woodlawn has earned just under $8 million dollars.

Critically, Woodlawn was a success. I’m happy about this. I’m glad that movies with an overt Christian worldview are being made better and are, thus, being received better.

But, in terms of box office gross, Woodlawn bombed. The movie was released on October 16th. It was made and marketed for $25 million, and so far has made just under $8 million. Unless there is a surge in ticket sales, Woodlawn won’t break even, and won’t be the $100 million blockbuster that its creators want it to be.

Watch 11:11 — 11:29:

There is a part of me that is sad that Woodlawn bombed. I haven’t seen the movie, but the majority of people who have seen it have liked it. I’m glad that people have liked Woodlawn. No one likes walking out of a movie thinking it was a waste of time and money.

But there is also a part of me that is glad Woodlawn bombed. Here is why:

Ever since the success of the TV series The Bible, and the success of the movie Son of God, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have been the go-to people to produce movies with explicitly Christian worldviews.* It’s like filmmakers are thinking to themselves “If we get Mark Burnett and Roma Downey onboard, we’re golden!” I’m glad that Woodlawn‘s box office numbers show that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey don’t guarantee success: That there is, in fact, no go-to person or group of people who will insure that a movie is profitable.

Pure Flix is the studio that produced Woodlawn. Similar to Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the Christian movie studio Pure Flix is, to many, the studio that can do no wrong. Relatively unknown until God’s Not Dead, Pure Flix follow-up movies — Do You Believe?Faith of Our Fathers, and now Woodlawn — have shown that the reason for the success of God’s Not Dead was that movie’s Us vs. Them worldview.

I’m glad that Mark Burnett, Roma Downey, and Pure Flix, were not enough to ensure that Woodlawn was a success at the box office. (Which is what they were brought onboard to do.) I’m glad because I want Woodlawn‘s box office numbers to be a lesson for the makers of Woodlawn, and the makers of “Christian movies” in general: The lesson being that there is no way to guarantee a movie’s box office success — there is no magic potion, formula, or silver bullet.

And the reason I can’t “take back every negative thing I said about the movie,” is the following:

Woodlawn is built on a lie. Let me explain: In the “Woodlawn Keynote” video at the top of this post, Jon Erwin, one of the directors, makes it clear that he wants Woodlawn to be more than just a fun time at the movies: He wants Woodlawn to lead to a spiritual revival that will change America. I have no problem with that goal. What I have a problem with is how that goal is achieved: By lying. How? This is how: For a movie that is about the “undeniable true story” of what happened at Woodlawn in 1973, the filmmakers had no qualms with making changes to that story.

Watch this:

Then watch this:

My point is this:

The filmmakers made up that scene where the chaplain is talking to the crowd while they hold candles. That scene is based off of an event that former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee went to when he was younger. Such a move by the filmmakers, for me, turns Woodlawn from art to propaganda.

“Propaganda” is a strong word to describe Woodlawn, but here is why I think it is accurate:

The definition of the word “Propaganda” is: “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

That scene in Woodlawn, with the chaplain and the candles, is in the movie for no other reason than to “…promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” In this case, the “…cause or point of view…” is the Jesus Movement.

The heart of Woodlawn — the scene with the chaplain and the candles — a movie that is supposed to be the catalyst for a new spiritual revival in America, is based off of a lie: America’s new spiritual revival is based off of an event, in a true story, that did not, in fact, happen.

That just seems wrong to me.

So there.

That is why a part of me is glad that Woodlawn bombed.

*The other movie they were producers for being Little Boy.


8 thoughts on “Why I am glad the movie “Woodlawn” bombed

  1. In addition I think you’re being pretty harsh calling the candle scene a lie. There’s such a thing as good story telling and combining events into a good story, and part of Woodlawn is telling the kinds of things that happened during the Jesus Movement. There was more than one such candle service back then, I even remember one at my hometown church in North Texas. The undeniably true part is that most of a football team gave themselves to the teachings of Christ and hate and bigotry were exchanged for love. Revival broke out at Woodlawn, spread to Banks HS and changed the community. You should at least go see the movie you are reviewing! Even if it’s not a blockbuster, it is still being used to inspire people to exchange hate for love. It’s not perfect, but God is indeed using the film to change many lives. I appreciate your striving for excellence in film, but rejoicing in what you consider a bomb just seems cold and unproductive . Go see the movie! Find things in it to rejoice positively in! You won’t know till you check it out. There is much good there, and represents much hard work by a lot of good people. We can all be better at what we do. Let’s encourage each other to do that.

  2. Paul Mills,

    Thank you for explaining to me why you feel the way you do about my post. That is what this blog is all about: Communicating with people.

    The reason I called the candle scene a “lie” is because it did not happen in real life.

    I understand that, all the time, fictional events are put into movies based on true stories, for one reason or another.

    The reason that this bothers me in Woodlawn, and not in other movies based off of true stories, is that those movies aren’t the hoped-for catalyst for a spiritual revival in America: The makers of Woodlawn have made it clear that they want Woodlawn to be more than just a good time at the movies — they want it to be the start of something big.

    That’s the reason why I was so hard on the candle scene: Because I am bothered by the fact that the heart of a movie based on a true story, a movie that is hoped to be the start of a spiritual revival in America, is an event — the candle scene — that did not, in fact, happen.

    I am glad that the majority of people who have seen Woodlawn have liked it, and I’m glad that people have made the decision to follow Christ because of it.

    The Erwin Brothers — the directors of Woodlawn — made a good movie. It’s not the blockbuster they hoped for, but it’s a good movie nonetheless.

    If there is anything I am glad about, it is that Woodlawn’s failure at the box office — the movie won’t break even — will drive the Erwin Brothers to make an even better movie next time.

    I hope that Woodlawn is a learning experience for those who made it, and for those who watch it.

    I won’t be watching Woodlawn anytime soon. It’s not because I think I won’t like it — there is much I have seen in it that I do like — it’s just because football movies, or movies about sports in general, aren’t my favorite kind of movies.

    I hope I explained my reasoning for why I said what I said in my post.

    If you have further comments about anything I’ve written, let me know.

    Thank you.

  3. One of the reasons you should see the movie is to be more accurate in your critique. The candle scene is not even close to being the “heart”, or any kind of pivotal moment in the film. The revival of the football team is the pivotal moment, and that takes place earlier in the film. That is the event that changes Woodlawn HS, then Banks HS, then the community. That is the fact that could change people’s hearts today, and the heart of Woodlawn.
    The candle scene is there to bring home 3 other thoughts to the viewer: your life is not insignificant, you are not alone and Jesus is the One Way. There is not a call to decision time or any sort of altar call or pivotal moment on screen during the candle scene. The revival that is the heart of this movie has already taken place and in full swing.
    Calling this scene “a lie” (and by default calling the Erwin Brothers etc liars!!) is definitely over the top, and in my humble opinion you should ratchet down your thesis. And making such important critical comments based on watching trailers or listening to word of mouth is just poor journalism.
    Lastly, while I wish Woodlawn was a box office success, that in itself is not the final measurement by which good art is defined. Your making it so, without even seeing the movie, again just weakens your stance. We all (or at least I hope we all) know examples of good movies that “failed” at the box office. Same goes for books, paintings, music etc. While I most definitely don’t look to critics as my guide to the movies I like, I do have to point out to you that most of the mainstream critics, who until now have scathed Christian films, give Woodlawn good to high marks (91% fresh). These critics saw the movie from beginning to end. It’s also the first Christian film to get an A+ Cinemascore. So the Erwins did in fact make a good movie, that you should break down and see 😉 Again we can all always do better at our respective crafts, always continue to learn. The Erwins would be the first to admit this. And you might even admit that you could do better at movie reviewing, especially if you are going to accuse the filmmakers of being dishonest liars. That kind of accusation carries great responsibility, one that requires the prerequisite work and effort on your part. Even if a football movie is not your cup of tea, good craft and journalism now pretty much demands that you see the movie, since you have already made major errors in your analysis of this film. At least try to put the same effort into your craft that you demand of the Erwin Brothers.
    I don’t mean to sound harsh. Food for your thoughts. Be blessed.

    1. Paul Mills,

      Thank you for your feedback.

      In my post, I do acknowledge that Woodlawn was well-received by critics: I provide a link to the movie’s rating on http://www.rottentomatoes.com.

      You are correct: Box office success is not the measurement by which good art is defined. (I can’t even find information about the box office gross of my favorite movie….)

      I never said in my post that box office gross was the measurement by which good art is defined.

      I said in my post that Woodlawn was a critical success, but not a success in terms of box office gross.

      I think Woodlawn is good art. The majority of people who saw it liked it. And I’m glad. But. People didn’t like Woodlawn as much as the filmmakers wanted them to — the movie won’t break even.

      This post is me expressing my opinion about a movie. Furthermore: I provide a link to another post about my thoughts on Woodlawn. And in that post, which I suggested that all readers of this post read too, I make it clear that when I am criticizing Woodlawn, I am not criticizing Woodlawn as the movie that it is, I am criticizing Woodlawn as the movie that I think it will be.

      I, personally, saw the candle scene as the “heart” of Woodlawn: The scene where the filmmakers said to themselves “Ok! Let’s hit the audience with everything we’ve got!”

      The reason I called the candle scene a “lie” is because it is the only scene that I know of in the movie that is not historically accurate. And that bothers me.

  4. I’ve yet to see a historical film that doesn’t take creative licenses. I get your point but inevitably its a movie and when your making a movie your going to shape, pick or outright create scenes that go along with the themes of your movie. If you’ve ever seen the movie Patton you know that not ever single drop of it was truthful, but the point was to capture the overall essence of the character, not present reality.

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