I LOVE MOVIES.
Nothing beats getting a huge bucket of popcorn and seeing a really great movie. It’s even better when its something you can connect with, in my case ”faith-based” or films with Biblical elements. That’s why I believe Christian cinema has had a little bit of a revival as of late. Seems like there are faith-based films being released once a month almost. The only problem is none of them are connecting with anyone other than people like me, that is people of the Christian faith.
I can think of about two Christian movies within the last twenty years that are Biblical and have connected with both people of faith and non-believers: The Passion of the Christ and Prince of Egypt, and one is a cartoon. Every other film I’ve seen that I’m told is a ”must-see” Christian movie seems to get critically panned and isn't really being widely accepted. I couldn’t figure out why but then I realized its because they aren’t good movies outside of the message they're trying to convey.
In my last blog post, I wrote about the importance of Invisible Ink. This is the emotional moral hidden within every scene of a well-written film. Why author Brian McDonald calls it Invisible Ink is because it’s meant to be hidden. If not, it begins to become ”preachy” and turns audiences off. A movies primary goal is to entertain, not preach where a sermons main goal is to preach, not entertain. Now you can have elements of both in sermons or movies but when you lose focus on the primary function you lose the audience completely. Christian movies, at least to me, seem to preach to the choir. Maybe because the Choir is who mainly buys tickets or maybe it’s designed to inspire folks of faith. It’s not made to entertain so, therefore, non-believers don't want to see it and, as a result, it can not evangelize.
Ben-Hur (1959) MGM available to own or rent through iTunes, Amazon, or Vudu
One of my favorite Christian films ever made is the 1959 epic: Ben-Hur. Nominated for 11 Oscars and still considered a classic to this day Ben-Hur bolsters an unforgettable story, legendary acting, and action scenes that, considering how old it is, still wow viewers (partly because it’s Stunts, more on this in another post). The most compelling part of the story though is its message. Ben-Hur is about letting go of hate. The villain was great too. He had reasons why he betrayed Ben-Hur and honestly was hurt that he had to. He wasn’t one dimensional.
Some of the biggest faith-based films in recent history have really good messages, like standing up for your faith or what you believe. They have...acting. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to live up to Heston. The plots exist too. The villains are more or less ”facebook meme villains”. Unsurprisingly every faith-based film seems to be critically panned and NOT just because Hollywood has an agenda. I repeat DON’T BLAME CRITICAL FAILURE ON THE LEFT-WING. Don’t believe me? Hacksaw Ridge, a film about a young man standing up for and inevitably conquering through his faith in Jesus Christ, was nominated for...wait for it...BEST PICTURE.
CREDIT: COURTESY OF LIONSGATE
If you are just making a movie to make Saints nod their heads and feel good you’ll never evangelize non-believers. One note evil atheist villains and perfect Christian protagonists who have to overcome not their own flaws, like Judah Ben-Hur needing to repent of his hatred, but just being oppressed by people who disagree with them aren’t entertaining to anyone who isn’t an “oppressed” Christian. Entertaining Christian movies can exist, if they focus on being good movies that have a message, not a message that’s slapped into a mediocre movie.
Maybe they need to shake the formula that seems to be the current format or maybe we as Christians need to ask for more than feel-good mediocrity. Either way, if it's not preaching the gospel to new souls, what’s the point?
Things to Google:
1. Christian Film reviews
2. Ben-Hur (1959)
3. Hacksaw Ridge
4. Creating realistic characters