Retelling of nativity lags behind Gibson's blockbuster

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • December 18, 2006

 Hollywood movies often generate all sorts of movie paraphernalia, from McDonald's action figure trinkets to coffee mugs and posters, but knock off items for this year's Christmas release The Nativity Story are sparse.

Box office sales on the opening weekend for the film also weren't what New Line Cinema had expected. It opened in fourth spot in ticket sales behind Happy Feet, an animated film about a penguin who is a gifted dancer, and the new James Bond film Casino Royale. On the opening weekend, The Nativity Story grossed approximately $8 million. Compared to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which exceeded expectations, taking in just over $80 million on its opening weekend, on its way to $370 million at box offices throughout North America, there really is no comparison. New Line Cinema blamed snowstorms across the southern and midwestern United States for its lack of sales, according to the Associated Press.

For its second weekend, The Nativity Story ranked eighth in box office sales, taking in $5.4 million.

"We're disappointed that it has not made it big at the box offices," said Sr. Mary Peter Martin, FSP, of Pauline Books and Media Centre in Toronto. "This is the first time since the 1950s that a large company in Hollywood has put on a major Bible-based Hollywood story."

Martin said she worries these types of films won't continue if Catholics don't support them.

A colleague of Martin's, Sr. Rose Pacatte, FSP, director of the Pauline Centre for Media Studies in Los Angeles, has authored and edited two Nativity-related books published by Pauline Books and Media Publishing House.

For the most part it is Christian-owned publishers and businesses that are producing and stocking The Nativity Story-related merchandise.

The Nativity Story: a film guide for Catholics is a 32-page pamphlet divided into three sections: personal prayer reflection, small study groups and community catechesis.

The Nativity Story: Contemplating Mary's Journeys of Faith is a 160-page paperback compilation of 11 women who've experienced journeys similar to Mary. Three of the contributors are Canadians from Toronto: Marilyn Elphnick, Selema Lei and Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP.

"(Sales) haven't been going tremendously well, but it's been pretty steady," said Martin.

Sales could pick up before Christmas if the movie isn't pulled from theatres before then, said Martin.

The Nativity books by Pauline Books and Media Publishing House aren't being widely carried by major retailers, but they can be ordered online at

While Pauline Books and Media Publishing House produced its products independently, it's a different story for Tyndale House Publishers.

Canadian big box stores and Christian retailers are stocking The Nativity Story books produced by Tyndale House Publishers, the same Illinois-based Christian publisher that released the official gift book of The Passion of the Christ, which became a New York Times bestseller and has sold more than 500,000 copies.

New Line approached Tyndale House Publishers last spring to produce a book related to the film. The publishing house ended up producing a series of five Nativity-related books, including two officially licensed books: a full-colour coffee table book and a novelization of the script.

The Nativity Story gift book is a 90-page hardcover with colour photos taken on the set of the film with Scripture passages taken from the New Living Translation, a revision of Ken Taylor's Living Bible by close to 100 evangelical scholars. The NLT is also published by Tyndale House Publishers.

The Nativity Story: a Novelization of the Major Motion Picture is an adaptation of the screenplay for The Nativity Story by author Angela Hunt. Again, Scripture from the New Living Translation is interspersed throughout the novel.

Mavis Sanders, corporate publicist at Tyndale House Publishers, said sales have been doing well. She said she didn't have sales figures available nor did she have a clear picture of how a poor opening weekend at the box office had affected their product sales.

Sanders remains optimistic sales will gain momentum. "It's (a film) people will be going to closer to Christmas as families gather."

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