By Dr. Charlie W. Starr
I’ve talked before about how Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ woke up Hollywood to the fact that there are a lot of Christians in America, and they are willing to pay money for Christian-themed films. Since then, many Christian films have been made, but not many have been popular enough to find their way to big audiences. Between February and April of this year, however, Christian filmmaking crossed a milestone we definitely want to be aware of.
Selling a film is all about getting a distributor (something small filmmakers often can’t do till after they’ve made their movies, if at all). The job of a distributor is to market a movie. They package it, advertise it, sell it to theaters and/or networks, and make Blu-ray and DVD copies, which they try to get stores to offer for sale. And all of this takes money.
Before The Passion, distributors weren’t very willing to take a risk on Christian films. Dollars have to be spent by distributors before they can make any money back. Imagine paying to make 100,000 DVDs of a movie but only selling 10,000. Distributors take risks when they spend advertising dollars, make copies of films for movie theaters to run, or make copies for public sales. They never know if the movie they’re spending money on will pay off.
I say all that to make sure you have a sense of just how monumental it is that six Bible, Christian-themed, or Christian-made films had fairly wide releases between February and April this year. I don’t have exact numbers, but I remember witnessing for all these films some combination of movie trailers in theaters, TV commercials, magazine advertisements, TV spots on national morning news shows, theater runs, and, a few months later, Blu-ray/DVDs for sale at national chain stores.
Three Out of Six
My plan here is to briefly mention three of these widely released Christian films from the spring so you can put them on your movie-watching radar. The first two I haven’t seen. (I always say, if you haven’t seen a movie either don’t talk about it or admit up front that you haven’t seen it.) In my next column, I’ll talk about the other three movies.
Son of God is the story of Jesus. In 2013 Mark Burnett and Roma Downey brought a mini-series to television called The Bible. One of the episodes (plus parts of another) focused on the story of Jesus in the Gospels. That portion of the TV series was excised and reworked for the big screen with some additional scenes. The negative comment I heard from someone I trust was that the movie was a bit “cheesy,” a word we often use to suggest poor production quality or forced/insincere emotions. One Christian review I read suggested it was a bit bland but another pointed out that it did a good job of showing both the divinity and humanity of Christ. That is always a hard thing to pull off in movies about Jesus.
God’s Not Dead has several plot threads but centers around a college student who enters a philosophy class and is told by the professor he must deny the existence of God. A colleague who saw this movie told me the production values were good and the acting OK, but the movie suffered from what I’ve said Christian film too often suffers from, and that is being too preachy. Others I talked to loved the film. What is, again, remarkable is the fact that a film which overtly defends the Christian faith against the attacks of atheism could be distributed nationwide by Hollywood.
I read the book Heaven Is for Real, a true story about a little boy who, a little over a decade ago, died on an operating table for three minutes. He spent those minutes in Heaven for what was, experientially, a much longer time. The story is remarkable. The proofs that the boy offers of his time in Heaven (like meeting his grandfather and later only recognizing him in a photograph from when he was young) are compelling. The complaint I heard about the film is that it didn’t really tell people how they can get to Heaven through Christ. When I recently watched it on DVD, I thought the climactic sermon at the end was more like greeting card wisdom than biblical truth, but otherwise I loved the film from beginning to end.
Next time: Mom’s Night Out, Noah, and Ragamuffin.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.