There was a time not too long ago when quality Christian movies were a rarity. I emphasize the word quality— where storylines, acting, and overall production left much to be desired. But that has changed over the last decade or so. In fact, it was Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” released in 2004 that really helped put Christian films in this generation on the map.
This is not to minimize the impact of faith films in previous generations. Epic films like “The Ten Commandments” and “Jesus of Nazareth” are still family favorites in our home. The difference is the emergence of film companies that are solely dedicated to producing faith-based films. Even more significant is that major studios like Fox and Sony have launched faith-based subsidiaries that produce quality, big-budget films. Also significant is the list of Hollywood actors with major and even starring roles in these films.
The reality is that faith-based films have taken in over $2 billion at the box office, since the early 2000’s, according to Box Office Mojo, which tracks box office revenue. According to a recent article in the LA Times, “Christians are an appealing market for Hollywood, which is looking for ways to expand the cinema audience as digital competition causes long-term declines in theatrical attendance. The movie business is routinely criticized for overlooking the values of religious Americans, and faith-based filmmaking was seen as a way to rebut that narrative and attract an audience that usually doesn’t go to the movies.”
Needless to say, the output of faith-based films has increased dramatically, even in the last couple of years. However, not all films in this category are worth attending— especially from a Bible-Based perspective. Like anything else, as Christians, we must always view things through the lens of Scripture. For example, blockbusters like “Noah” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” did not accurately follow the biblical accounts, so discretion is always advised.
Of the several films that are still in theatres, here are review excerpts for three of them. The full reviews are available at www.pluggedin.com, a ministry of Focus on the Family.
Paul, Apostle of Christ
Paul, Apostle of Christ, is a good movie—a well-crafted, moving film with strong performances and an absolutely magnetic turn by James Faulkner, who plays the titular protagonist. Bravo to Sony’s Affirm films, which distributed the surprising critical darling All Saints last year and the Messianic detective story Risen the year before. As more and more Christian movies seem to make it to the marketplace, let me just say this to aspiring faith-oriented moviemakers: This is how it’s done.
Admittedly, Paul isn’t for everyone. It can be violent and desperate and borderline horrifying in places: It’s not easy to watch living souls burn on walls, or to witness children marching to their deaths on the floor of the Coliseum. And for those who judge the quality of movies by the number of superheroes on screen—well, this Bible-based story, predicated on character, may feel a wee bit slow in spots.Their loss: Paul, Apostle of Christ brings to life one of Christendom’s most compelling founders: a grizzled, worn-down warrior whose soul longs for home, and who longs to bring as many other souls as possible with him. And if Christians bring along an open-minded nonbeliever or two to see Paul … well, the apostle just might snag a few more.
I Can Only Imagine
I Can Only Imagine is about the paradoxical link between pain and redemption, between brokenness and forgiveness. We see plenty on each side of that paradox. For much of his life, Arthur Millard is not a good father. What kind of father smashes a plate on his son’s head? What kind of a father beats his boy senseless? What kind of a father burns something his boy has lovingly created?
But faced with death, faced with his loneliness, faced with his failure, Arthur finds that he’s not beyond the reach of God’s grace and forgiveness, grace that remakes him. Bart says of his dad, “I saw God transform him from a man that I hated into the man I wanted to become.” All of us have broken places inside. All of us stand in need of redemption. All of us have hurt others and been hurt by them. And I Can Only Imagine paints one picture of what working through that hurt—admittedly, a very dramatic variety of it—might look like. It challenges and inspires me to forgive others and to ask for forgiveness myself in the ways I’ve failed others. And I imagine I’m not the only one who’s going to have that kind of response.
God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness
In our reviews of the first two God’s Not Dead films, we’ve suggested that this franchise at times perhaps unintentionally reinforces that kind of us-vs.-them bunker mentality. And as this movie got underway, I suspected the third entry in this franchise might head that direction as well. But this film does something unexpected: It suggests that winning the culture war isn’t what matters most for Christians in America. Instead, what matters is loving and forgiving others, living out the gospel in acts of kindness and graciousness.
Rev. Dave doesn’t get to that realization easily or quickly. More so than the first two films, God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness paints pretty gritty portraits of Christians genuinely struggling with their faith. Dave doesn’t always know what to do. Some of his responses to his struggles are downright ugly. And that characterization of Dave’s flaws lends a depth to his character that was arguably a bit lacking in the first two installments.
I like the overall message here: Being a light in the darkness requires listening and loving. It requires kindness and a willingness to sacrifice our rights. Those are important reminders for us all in the combative cultural moment in which we live; one in which being faithful is just as important—and perhaps even more so—as being a fighter.
These three movies are in theaters now. Maybe plan a trip to the movies this week and show your support to these films and the Christian movie industry!
-Pastor Joe Garofalo