"We got 10,000 letters from ministers telling me I was not interpreting the scripture correctly," recalled Yordy, a Christian. "You have to take a broader perspective so everybody can interpret based on their own faith."
But what really propelled the idea of devoting a label to Christian titles was Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." The film's success stunned Hollywood and confirmed Fox executives' hunches about the Christian market.
Although 20th Century Fox passed on distributing "The Passion," fearing a firestorm of controversy, its home entertainment division, which acquired the domestic home video rights, has sold more than 15 million units on DVD. Fox Home Entertainment continued to acquire and distribute Christian videos such as "Mother Teresa" and the documentary "Beyond the Gates of Splendor."
Last year, the studio developed a FoxFaith website and since has sold more than 30 million faith-based DVD titles to Christian retailers. FoxFaith has brought in about $200 million over the last year, which is equivalent to the box-office sales of Fox Searchlight, the studio's specialty film division. Both Fox units share some portion of their revenue with partners.
In preparation for its theatrical debut, FoxFaith partnered with the Dove Foundation, a nonprofit organization that monitors "wholesome" family entertainment. Dove agreed to place its seal of approval on some FoxFaith films.
In February, Yordy unveiled the FoxFaith logo at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, bringing the normally skeptical crowd to its feet. Seeing the label on the big screen formalized the commitment from Fox, Yordy said.
Three years earlier, the idea of launching a Christian label at Fox was considered a joke, but Yordy said the use of humor helped win the convention-goers' trust this time around.
"The approach we took was ... 'At Fox, you may know us for our quality family programming,' " Yordy said he told the audience, against a backdrop of video clips from Paris Hilton's "The Simple Life" and the reality show "Temptation Island."
"The room just died laughing," he said. "I said to them, 'That is exactly what you expect from Fox. But that is not what we at FoxFaith are.' "
FoxFaith's biggest splash came in July at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, the largest annual gathering of Christian retailers in the nation.
Inside a massive white tent across from the Denver Convention Center, a studio-sponsored event had all the earmarks of a Hollywood fete: a lavish buffet, an exclusive movie preview of 20th Century Fox's upcoming family-friendly horse drama "Flicka" and acrobats from Cirque du Soleil. Because it was a Christian convention, no alcohol was served and the performers' costumes were inspected to ensure demure necklines.
Outside the studio system
Here are key movies produced by Christians outside the Hollywood studio system:
Title, Release date: Domestic box-office gross (in millions)
The Passion of the Christ, 2004: $370.8
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, 2005: $291.7
Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, 2002: $25.6
The Omega Code, 1999: $12.6
End of the Spear, 2006: $11.7
Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, 2001: $6.0
Luther, 2003: $5.8
The Other Side of Heaven, 2001: $4.7
Left Behind, 2001: $4.2
China Cry: A True Story, 1990: $4.2
Source: Box Office Mojo