Named the nation’s “greediest executive” by Fortune magazine in 1999 and recently identified by Beliefnet as the tenth most powerful Christian in Hollywood, Philip Anschutz is bringing faith-based movies to the nation’s cineplexes.
Anschutz is a Denver, Colorado-based billionaire whose net worth was recently reported by Forbes at $7.6 billion. His corporate holdings include: the nation’s largest movie theater chain (Regal Entertainment), prominent news and entertainment venues (Clarity Media Group, owners of the Examiner chain of free newspapers), and professional sports teams (the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and several soccer teams, including the Los Angeles Galaxy).
Anschutz, a native-born Kansan, made his first fortune in the oil business before moving into railroads and then telecommunications. In 2005 Walden Media, his Hollywood production company, in partnership with Walt Disney Pictures, released The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a $200 million film adapted from C.S. Lewis’s children’s book. Chronicles has earned more than $700 million worldwide.
The vast majority of Americans have never heard of him, which is the way he prefers it. Nevertheless, Anschutz is set on transforming Hollywood and the American cultural landscape. “Hollywood as an industry can at times be insular and doesn’t at times understand the market very well,” he told an audience at the conservative Hillsdale College in 2004. I “saw a chance with this move to attempt some small improvement in the culture,” he explained.
In mid-October, Variety reported that Walden Media was “set to unleash seven pics during the next year aimed squarely at the movie-going demographic that Disney used to own: kids and families.” The marketing of Chronicles was a pivotal moment for Anschutz’s production company. Promotion was geared toward churches and conservative evangelical groups. The Christian Post reported that “several influential Christian organizations,” including Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, “endorsed and promoted” the movie.
Narnia Sneak Peek events were held in churches around the country. The Christian Post reported, “At the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, members of the 20,000-plus congregation viewed exclusive clips, received free gift bags full of outreach material, and were treated to a special live performance by [Christian music star] Steven Curtis Chapman.”
Anschutz is a long-time contributor to both conservative and Christian causes. He’s also a Republican Party donor and a George W. Bush supporter. Over the years he has helped fund the notoriously anti- gay Amendment 2, a ballot initiative designed to overturn a Colorado state law giving equal rights to gays and lesbians. He has contributed to the Discovery Institute, a conservative philanthropy-supported “think tank” based in Seattle, Washington that promotes intelligent design and critiques of evolution. He has bankrolled such notable conservative organizations as: the Media Research Center, a group responsible for nearly all indecency complaints to the FCC in 2003; the New York-based Institute for American Values, another conservative philanthropy-supported organization that campaigns for marriage and against single parenting; Enough is Enough, whose president and chair of its Board of Directors is Donna Rice Hughes (the major figure in the sex scandal that ended the 1987 Democratic presidential primary campaign of Gary Hart) and which claims to be “Lighting the way to protect children and families from the dangers of illegal Internet pornography and sexual predators”; and Morality in the Media, established in 1962 “to combat obscenity and uphold decency standards in the media.”
More recently he has provided funding for television advertisements, billboards, and Regal Cinema ads for his “For a Better Life” campaign. The campaign promotes “faith” and “integrity,” using characters such as Shrek and Kermit the Frog. The ads were produced by Bonneville Communications, a Salt Lake City agency connected to the Mormon Church.
Anschutz intends to transform the geographic landscape as well. On Sunday, October 14, “hours before the bill-signing deadline,” the Sacramento Bee editorialized, “California Governor Arnold Schwarze- negger signed Assembly Bill 1053, mak[ing] it easier for Anschutz to obtain state housing bond funds for a mega project he is spearheading in Los Angeles.” Those funds had been previously reserved for use “by developers, nonprofits and agencies with a mission of building [affordable infill] housing,” the editorial noted. AB 1053 “alters that formula by allowing Business Improvement Districts—entities often controlled by retail and office developers—to compete for these funds. Not surprisingly, Anschutz [who owns the Staples Center, home to the LA Lakers] belongs to a business district that wants to redevelop a corridor near the Staples Center, one of his many Los Angeles holdings.”
The Times also noted that, “Companies affiliated with the Denver businessman have donated $225,000 in the last three years to Schwarz- enegger’s California Recovery Team.” A month earlier, the Times reported that “Companies owned or controlled” by Anschutz were “major donors to politicians and their ballot measures.”
Anschutz companies have donated $927,000 “to political causes in California since 2005, including $100, 000 to Rebuilding California (now known as Leadership California), the [Senate President Pro Tem, Democrat] Don Perata-controlled com- mittee that funded several infrastructure bond measures on last November’s ballot.”
Anschutz told his Hillsdale listeners, “Many things happen between the time you hatch an idea for a movie and the time that it gets to theaters—and most of them are bad—so you need to control the type of writers you have, the type of directors you get, the type of actors you employ, and the type of editors that work on the final product.”
He successfully exercised that type of control over the 2004 Ray Charles biopic, Ray, “toning down the film’s focus on the performer’s drug problems and sexual exploits,” according to a report by Bruce C. Anderson in the City Journal. “The movie— funded entirely by Anschutz, after every major studio had rejected it— won six Oscar nominations, winning two, including Best Actor for Jamie Foxx, riveting in the title role.”
Although he’s had some notable box-office failures, Anderson concluded that Anschutz was “off to a gangbuster start.”
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.