For years, Christian movies have doing very well in theaters. Revenue return over cost invested in Christian films are some of the highest percentages in the film industry. This is not just considering independent films, but releases from major studios are experiencing the same results. It seems the better these films are produced (and the less they look “B” grade), the higher the profit margin. So if Christian films are making more money per dollar invested, why is Hollywood not making more? For years this has been the question that American Christians have been asking. Finally, Hollywood seems to be listening. The current trend in film making is that more and more major studios releasing Christian films. But I have to ask – is this really a good thing? Let’s examine.
As Christians, it is exciting to see Christian films come out of Hollywood. The most memorable release in our recent memory has to be Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. That film, while very controversial, was a huge success both in the eyes of those who saw it, and in box-office sales grossing well over $600 million. That number made The Passion of the Christ, the highest grossing ‘R’ rated film ever. Since its release in 2004 Christians were screaming “If you make it, we will come”, and wondering why there were not more films released like it every year. After all, there really had not been anything like it since 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told starring Max Von Sedow, and then the TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth from 1977 starring nearly everyone in Hollywood, and running 3 and a half hours in length.
The February release of Son of God, started a run of bible based films to be released this year. Noah, featuring Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Russell Crowe really got the Christian community excited when it was released March 28th. As matter of fact, 2014 has been deemed by some as the “Year of the Christian Film” with God’s Not Dead, Heaven is for Real, Mom’s Night Out already released, and Persecuted due out in just a couple of days. We’d be remiss not to mention the most anticipated Christian film of the year, due out in October – a remake of Tim Lahaye’s and Jerry Jenkins now classic Left Behind starring Nicolas Cage and other Hollywood regulars. Hey, maybe Hollywood finally got the message. Or did they?
Is this a growing trend for Hollywood? Have they turned a new Christian leaf? Knowing Hollywood and their historical moral, social and political agendas up to this point, what makes us think that after 125 years, the film industry has suddenly gained a conscience? With the precedence solidly set, how do we explain this trend? How do we account for the “Year of the Christian Film“? I think I can explain, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.
You see Hollywood really did catch on. They found out that if they make Christian movies, they do not have to be accurate, they do not have to represent the spirit of God properly, they do not even have to tell the story correctly at all, and can insert fictional characters and whole events that never happened…..and Christians will still go – IN DROVES!
Over the past 50 years or so, a very short period of time in Christian history, we have seen a big shift in world view. Yes, traveling through history Christians struggled through the “Enlightenment” and through a Darwinian shift, and still saw a great revival in the ‘Jesus Movement’ among the hippies in the 1970’s. Over 40 years later, those converted hippies are still going strong but society is shifting further and further, and at more rapid speed then ever, to a fully secular world view – post-modern, post-Christian. So now, faced with fewer and fewer choices that satisfy our Christian ideals, anything that even resembles ‘Christian’, or touts itself as ‘Christian’ (movies, books, musical artists, etc.) is consumed by Christians with joy, no matter how much it looks like the world. We like to call these things “Christian alternatives”. These are movies, books, musical artists etc, that look, sound, taste, and smell just like similar items from the secular world. But because they have a ‘Christian’ label, or self-identify as ‘Christian’ (like Katy Perry and Norah Jones once did), most will take those declarations at face value and think no more of it.
When it comes to movies in particular, Hollywood knows that the average Christian will go see the movie Noah (as an example) pretty much without reservation. After-all, it is a Christian story, it must be good. At best they know it will cause confusion and a rift among Christians themselves arguing about whether it should be seen or not – and thereby getting millions of dollars of publicity for free! (follow the money – remember?) At worst, they do it on purpose with the intent to confuse active Christians, and show Christian stories in as bad a light they can, which I submit is the case. They know that ‘big-name’ Christians will support their work, and excuse their ‘editorial license’ in the name of just getting the movie out. So what if the first thing they say and portray Noah doing when he gets out of the Ark is to get drunk as if he could not wait to do so and was some sort of lush angry at God? Who cares if that’s not accurate. So what if the lead actor Russell Crowe states in an interview that Noah was not the benevolent biblical figure we know of, but rather the cruelest man alive because he “stood by and watched the entire population of the planet parish”. Remember, it’s not the Christian voice in America that is making a difference – it is cash. Money. Profits. This will never change. As long as unsuspecting Christians keep going, Hollywood will continue to stretch its dramatic silence in the name of secularism, and its cause – the humiliation and marginalization of those repressed, holier-than-thou, racist, homophobic, spirit-filled Christians
But here’s the worst part: a large portion of those who would self-identify as Christian, could not tell you whether the movie in question was biblically accurate or not – because quite frankly, they themselves are biblically illiterate.
America has gotten so far away from the bible that the American Christian has stopped reading their bibles. Bible stories cannot be taught in schools, and when studies in institutions of higher learning, Christians are portrayed as the aggressors and haters. A recent study by Pew Research and reported on in the N.Y. Times states more than half of those people surveyed that identified as Christians could not answer even the most basic bible questions. That report stated:
On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith. Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.
So what is really happening with Hollywood? Yes, directors and producers are creating and showing more Christian films. However, they are Christian films that perpetuate lies about Christianity, and push stereotypes that are not true – and they are doing it on purpose. Why? Because they know they can get away with it.
The children of this generation will be raised on movies like Noah and Son of God that take ‘dramatic license’ as a means to skew the story, and in many cases go out of their way to tell lies and add events that do not take place. The MGM classics that barely live on today were not perfect, but they were not going out of their way to present a false story or image of the characters. In fact Cecil B. DeMille took a good 10 minutes before the movie even started to come out on stage himself and offer a speech about the importance of the Bible and the story he strove to tell accurately (watch the full length DVD at home some time and see). Those days are gone, relegated to off prime-time showings on cable networks around Easter, and are being replaced with new Hollywood productions. Ask your grand-kids if they ever heard of Charlton Heston?
To the children of today, these new films like Noah and Son of God will be biblical fact. This is what they know, and it must be true because I saw it on the movie screen or TV. When asked by their children and grandchildren if an event depicted in a film is true or not – they won’t know.
When I was a boy and the Ten Commandments or Jesus of Nazareth came on TV, it was an epic television event for virtually every family. We gathered in the living room with popcorn and a glass of soda-pop, sat close by the small screen – and – we would have our bibles on our laps so we could follow along. We could see the words on the paper of our bible pages come out the mouths of the actors and we knew this was special! Sure, some license was taken, but we as kids recognized it and called them on it! As children! My Dad would follow along with us and confirm our suspicions; “Dad, it doesn’t way that in the bible!’, “You’re right son, it doesn’t. What it really says is…” – but those days seem to be fading quickly in America.
In the end, yes, there is a trend to make more Christian themed movies, but it’s just not a good one.