When Matthew McConaughey uttered the G-word as he accepted his Best Actor statuette at Sunday night’s 86th annual Academy Awards, several small gasps were overheard and then only an uncomfortable silence.
“First off,” he said, “I want to thank God. ‘Cause that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates.”
If you’re not clear on what a big deal this was, know this: God is not a star in Hollywood.
Indeed, according to an Associated Press count, God has only been thanked in 14 of the 100 Academy Awards acceptance speeches given over the last 30 years. Winners thanked the Academy more than that in 2013 alone.
And, according to a Slate.com analysis of Oscar speeches since 2002, Meryl Streep has been thanked more times than God during acceptance speeches over the last decade.
So, was the utterance an aberration or a game changer?
Academy Award Twitterati hoped it was the former, with such intelligentsia like the following spewing forth: “Wait, this guy’s one of those weirdo Christians?” (Kyle Smith); “Shhhh McConaughey stop talking about god you’re ruining it.” (Haley Patail); and “Matthew McConaughey thanking God…….I hate him so much.” (Jason Cunnington).
But God may be making a comeback in Hollywood. In 2014, the most popular faith-based films aren’t relegated to independent studios that grow out of churches (like “Courageous,” “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants” produced by Sherwood Pictures), Rick Santorum’s film production company (“The Christmas Candle” by EchoLight Studios) or other small studios (the Left Behind series by Cloud Ten Pictures).
The first one, “Son of God,” hit theaters last weekend and nearly topped the weekend box office take, earning $26.5 million to the $30 million pulled in by Liam Neeson’s “Non-Stop.”
The movie, the first cinematic retelling of the Jesus story since “Passion of the Christ” in 2004, was released by Fox and has behind it reality TV producer Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey of “Touched by an Angel” fame. They’re the same team that released the History Channel’s 2013 miniseries “The Bible,” which averaged 11 million viewers per episode and was America’s most watched new cable show for the year.
BoxOffice.com had predicted a weekend take of only $17.5 million for “Son of God,” according to Newsmax.
Hollywood critics, naturally, didn’t care for it, giving it a 22 percent favorable rating at Rottentomatoes.com. But 83 percent of fans liked it.
Among other faith-based films scheduled for 2014 are:
• “God’s Not Dead,” in which a present-day college freshman and devout Christian finds his faith challenged when his philosophy professor informs students on the first day of class they need to disavow in writing the existence of God or face a failing grade.
• The Russell Crowe blockbuster “Noah,” which is inspired by the biblical story of the ark captain but which agreed last week to mention on advertising that “artistic license” has been taken with the film.
• “Heaven Is for Real,” based on The New York Times best-seller in which a 4-year-old boy “dies” on the operating table but comes back to reveal information about his miscarried sister, a great-grandfather he never knew and various scenarios in heaven.
• The remake of “Exodus,” in which Christian Bale as Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
Still, with this paean to faith, don’t look for Brad Pitt to quit his day job and become an Assemblies of God pastor. Or for Jennifer Lawrence to join the Little Sisters of the Poor.
However, Hollywood has apparently realized — and what took it so long? — to be aware that people of faith are, in fact, people, and like to see their kind on the big screen.
As for McConaughey, whether he reverts to his previous state of lighter-than-air films in which his amount of shirtlessness could be the subject of a drinking game or whether he continues to make more critical films like “Dallas Buyers Club” and points to God as an inspiration is anybody’s guess.
But perhaps with a wife and three children under 5, he has learned what many people of faith — who also see movies — believe: that a higher power and a sense of morality matter. If so, let’s hope he rubs off on some of his fellow actors.