“Christian” Movie = “Don’t See This” Movie (part 1)

Ok – that title is a bit strong, but close to how I feel.

  • Often, Christian movies are embarrassing.
  • Occasionally, they are good (I want to say "rarely" but I don't want to exaggerate)
  • Typically, I find myself thinking, "Not bad for a Christian movie." And then I realize – how sad when that becomes the standard. I guess I'm really saying, "At least it wasn't terrible."
  • Predictably, non-Christians are not nearly as impressed with our movies as we are.
  • Sadly, we are surprised when a Christian movie is actually "good." Actually, I'm pretty shocked. I think I'm still waiting for the first "great" Christian movie.

Christian movies never win Oscars and it isn't because of prejudice or persecution. They don't win awards because they don't deserve to.

Christian movies for Christ-followers are often like family vacation photos. Everyone in the family loves reviewing them and talking about them. But if you invite a friend over to look at them – they might not tell you, but more than five-minutes of photo viewing and they are bored and they can't wait for the pain to stop. Christian movies are best for "insiders." Please don't invite your non-Christian friends. You just embarrass the family.

If you take away some Bible-themed movies ("Son of God" "Passion of the Christ") it seems that perhaps many feel that the "best" of the Christian movies in recent years are "Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants." But I think only "insiders" really thought they were of good quality. Again, it is like our children. Only a parent thinks their child's junior high piano recital is worthy of Carnegie Hall. Others will be polite, but they won't be impressed. 

I haven't seen "God's Not Dead" but it is coming out soon. My guess is – those who are already convinced (of Christianity) will love it. Those who aren't, will think it is unrealistic and corny. And too often, the already convinced just can't believe everyone doesn't love this movie. And they wrongly think that any unbeliever will see it and become convinced. No, they won't. 

By the way – my mom worked for the company that made the "Thief in the Night" movies back in the 70s. If you grew up in a church like I did – you know what I'm talking about. It was "the" movie at every jr. high lock-in for years. Thousands were saved watching that movie. Some for the first time! I know my corny, Christian movies.

I often feel guilty about how I feel about Christian movies. Sometimes, I've felt unspiritual. What about you?

God's Not Dead Rochester NY

16 comments
  1. Interesting. I have wondered if other people felt this way. I tend to keep my opinions to myself because I don’t want to sound critical…but somebody asked me directly what I thought of one of the recent Christian movies…and he was irritated when I honestly said that I thought it looked a bit low-budget and cheesy. I think next time I’ll decline to comment.

    I guess Evan Almighty doesn’t count…I liked that one. 🙂

  2. ‘God’s Not Dead’ is a horrible film, from everything I’ve heard about it. The atheists are incapable of loving–Dean Cain’s character dumps his girlfriend when he finds out she has cancer–selfish, shallow, mean-spirited, and jealous of all the goodness and light Christians have. One of the female atheists is a liberal vegetarian blogger, and my immediate response when I heard that was, “Why not just make her a lesbian who doesn’t shave and complete the stereotype?”, because that totally fits into the stereotype of what a conservative would imagine an atheist liberal woman to be like. She’d probably also have had at least one abortion, and view abortion as a form of birth control. I know a number of atheists, a number of vegetarians and vegans, and I am a liberal, so I can safely say that it’s only stereotype that atheists are more likely to not eat meat (and the rest is stereotype and complete bunk as well, so don’t believe any of it).

    The Chinese character is good at math and science, making the Chinese character a stereotypical Model Minority. Asian=/=better at math and science.

    The two Muslim characters are a father and daughter, and the father is abusive and controlling of his daughter. That is 100% stereotypical and promotes anti-Islamic sentiment.

    The atheist professor in the movie is stock stereotype of Angry Atheist Professor with an Ax To Grind with God. I have attended three state schools and I have never encountered any professors who were this profoundly unprofessional, and I have had professors who were atheists and agnostics.

    As always, it is the white male who stands up and fight for what is Right and Good. The only ‘bad’ Christian is his girlfriend, who tries to keep him from standing up in class. Good for him, resisting the temptations of a woman! Bad woman, trying to lead your man astray from doing the right thing! Misogynistic much? The female characters who get screen time only end up in a better place because Josh steps in. Without the intervention of a man, they would have still been miserable. Mina, the Muslim character, would have still been with her abusive father. Amy, the atheist blogger, would have still been angry and bitter. The entire focus of the film is on Josh, so he’s going to get the credit for positive change that comes to Amy and Mina’s lives. It’s because of *him* things are better. Him. A man. What *he* did. Not her. She had no part, because *he* is the one who opened her eyes to what needed to happen. She wouldn’t have done it on her own. Yes, that’s sexist. The writers need to wake up to the fact this is 2014, not 1974. Women do not need men to rescue them.

  3. “thief in the night”….oh wow!! i am sure you prayed for “traveling mercies” for those coming to see that film…could not call it a movie back in the day.

  4. I would like to see Christian movies made much better. From the one’s I’ve seen I come away asking some of these questions: Why does Christian culture feel the need to make movies? What is the point? What is the goal? Many times they become analogous in idea to “campy” sci-fi movies which are only admired by a cult following and can delegitimize the genre (sharknado being the most recent obvious reference).

    As you stated, it is apparent the movies are insider focused. This provides little value to secular culture other than new fodder with which to validate cynicism. If given a choice I would rather expend energy defending the tenants of Christianity, the gospel, etc, than the theology or ideologies from a Christian movie (which could be bad).

    I’ve not seen “God’s Not Dead”, but from the title and reviews of my peers who have seen it, the movie seems like a push back against the predominant culture. Is that how Christians want to engage secular culture on such an important topic? I would hope the answer is “no”. To that point, Christians provide some of the best evidence that God’s not dead by loving others as Jesus talked about it.

    With that I think I’ll stop because now we are entering an entirely different discussion.

    David – thanks for this thoughtful post and part 2, as well.

  5. I’ve always felt this way about Christian filmmaking. Low budget affairs with subpar acting, directing and even worse stories. I think the main hurdle is finding a story worth telling that is entirely authentic. Because authentic Christianity doesn’t follow a formulaic story or character arc, bio pics are probably the best route. Or just find a worthy story that has believable Christians in it. The next hurdle would be to secure the financing and the talent willing to do the project. Not easy, but doable as a “sleeper” film.

  6. Christian movies are indeed usually low budget but I don’t use that as my yardstick. If they are bilical and serve to uplift, encourage,and motivate Christians (and create awareness/conversation) – what does it matter? They may not reach the masses, but if only one person receives Christ as a result, the investment is worth it I also support Christian movies because I don’t want Hollywood to silence us. Jesus has been removed from schools, public events, and even Christmas so I’m thrilled to see His presence in movies. Jesus had no earthly possessions and was plain to the eye – nothing physical drew people to Him. I, personally, don’t need all the bells and whistles to say something has value.

  7. My only concern in reading this post and the comments connected to it is the repeated refrain “I haven’t actually seen this movie, but…”

    It is probably unwise to make a judgment about a film that you haven’t seen simply because it is a part of a genre of films that have a bad reputation, the same way as it would be unwise and unkind to make judgments about churches of a certain size or denomination just because you’ve heard or experienced bad things about the larger group that they’re a part of.

    “God’s Not Dead” has resonated with SOMEONE, because as of today it has earned over $42 million in theaters in the U.S., a real breakout hit in a genre that struggles to gross $10 million per film. Several people from my church have gone to see the film and reported that it was much more engaging and well-made than even they anticipated. They were cynical, and got won over.

    Your larger point about the state of Christian film-making is probably accurate, but it’s probably not a good idea to lump this particular film in with it without having seen more than the two minute trailer.

    And no, I haven’t seen the movie either (smile).

  8. Probably true, Toby.

    I guess I almost wanted to talk about a movie I havent seen – so it wouldnt be taken as a criticism of a particular movie. But there is certainly danger in that too!

    It is always interesting to me – what blog posts get strong reactions (like this one) and which ones dont. Not sure what that means, really…

    And beyond the comments on the blog – Ive received at least a dozen emails, and Facebook messages too. It certainly raised more conflict than I anticipated…

  9. In this p_c world, we need to lighten up. Chinese people are smart at math. Lol. at least all the ones I taught. I understand why people are hard on the acting (although I thought it was good) mostly because they didn’t like the message. its funny how they don’t critique secular movies like this. But the message was spot on. and yes controversial. This idea of Jesus is the only way has always been controversial, but truth. That was the point of the movie. God reigns. He is truth and love! go watch it David and have fun.

  10. I will try to remember to let you know, Dave, once I see it. (I will wait for Red Box, likely… too cheap for full cost…)

    Make sure you see part 2 of this post… hopefully you wont be as positive on that one.

  11. Jesus told us to ‘become like children’, but He also told us to ‘love the Lord your God.. with all your mind’. He did not say ‘Love the Lord your God .. with the mind of a child’. Jesus was the smartest man to walk the planet — He was most frequently referred to as ‘teacher’, His parables have resonated for millennia. We are His ambassadors — teaching the gospel. Certainly this includes humility, but humility does not mean ‘cheap’ or ‘trite’. The art we create or purchase should aspire to reveal the greatness of God. Non Christians may disagree with the message, but they should also recognize that it was delivered with intelligence, thoughtfulness, and passion.

  12. Chariots of Fire. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture 1981.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chariots_of_Fire#Accolades

    Of course, we may wrestle over the definition of a Christian movie. If a Christian movie has to be propaganda (I’m really not trying to use that word in a negative sense.), then it’s hard to imagine a good one by the standards of art. A documentary may have artistic qualities and try to do good journalism from an objective point of view about a decidedly passionate person. Or are we talking about a film made by a Christ Follower? But if we’re talking about a movie with an explicitly Christian character portrayed believably, and attractively …

    I vote for Chariots of Fire.

  13. I guess Im thinking of the Gospel presentation Christian movies. I agree that there are many great movies with Christian themes – implicitly or explicitly, but Im thinking more of the evangelistic ones in this post.

  14. I am confused. Are you recommending that people not see these movies because of the budget they are made with, or the content?

  15. Heaven Is for Real – I have theological content issues with that movie.

    Most Christian movies – I struggle with the poor script, poor acting, and unreal situations that end with everything tied in a bow, the team winning the championship, the atheist repenting, etc… 

    I think most attempts at Christian movies are sub-par (regardless of budget) and arent typically helpful in winning people to Christ. But I hope Im wrong.

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