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The World Doesn’t Need Christian Movies

March 17, AD 2015 12 Comments

I remember when I first fell in love with movies. It was 1989, I was four years old and saw The Little Mermaid. While watching those beautiful ocean scenes wash over the big screen in that now-closed Pittsburgh, PA movie theater, something came alive inside of me. I was suddenly attuned to the vastness of the world, to the vastness of God, and all four years of me was irreversibly changed.

That feeling of bigness came over me again a few years later while watching Hook (starring Robin Williams), and then again in 1994 while viewing The Lion King with my friend and our families. It was also while watching The Lion King with that same family that, as the credits rolled, I pointed to the name of the screenwriter and announced, “That’s where my name will be someday!”

For me, movies represent the vastness of life, the common thread that run through all our lives, and the vastness of God. Like Lucy Pevensee being led through the New Narnia (see The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis), movies lead me “further up and further in.” But what the world absolutely does not need is “Christian” movies.

The world needs good movies. Not those movies black people make poking fun at themselves, not those “romances” that are basically big screen pornos, not those little-Christian-films-that-could that make us look like the dullest of pansies to ever barely bloom. The world needs good, artistic, creative films that proliferate faith, hope, and love without downplaying the hardships and without preaching to us.

Now, of course, there are exceptions to each of the stereotypes I mentioned, but that’s the problem. Good pieces of art, good movies should not be the exception, they should be the gold-standard rule. That Catholics, Christians have fallen from grace artistically and creatively is perhaps the greatest travesty of the modern Church. If we cannot master and dominate the present media that the world engages in and is moved by, how can we possibly expect to stir souls, to move minds and hearts?

When was the last time you watched a movie that truly moved you? Moved you to the core of your being? I’ll tell you my very first one: The Lion King. All nine years of me was moved from beginning to end of that movie and in countless ways. I was imbued with a greater understanding of life and purpose. That’s why I decided then and there that I wanted to be a screenwriter – because I wanted to move people. That movie (and many others that have moved me since) is not a “Christian” movie but it is more Christian than most that claim to be. We see sin and pride, grace, redemption, and forgiveness, the hint of an afterlife, being created in the image of a father who loves you without bounds…I could go on. The point is, good art, good movies, are not forthright; they gradually unveil the deeper mysteries they have been hinting at the whole time.

“The glory of God is man fully alive,” said St. Irenaeus. Movies should inspire us to live more fully, to be more alive. No sinner or pagan was converted by being told that his present way of life sucks and that this other, kind of weird-looking alternative lifestyle is way better. Conversion happens when people are affirmed in what they are doing right and gently offered a way to bring fullness to the desires they hold.

Now, you may wish to admonish me at this point and say, “You talk a good game but have no skin in it! You’re the one who wants to be a screenwriter, you go make the movies!” To that I say, you are absolutely right. I’ve been putting this off for too long. I have again begun writing a book and am self-learning the art of writing screenplays so that I may adapt a story into one. But I am not enough on my own. We need hundreds and thousands more like me with the passion and talent to again dominate the modern arts and we need even more people to patronize those arts. I urge you to, today, begin praying for our modern artists, writers, and filmmakers. Answer this call in the way that is appropriate for you but don’t deny your part in it. Four year old me, nine year old me, me now could never forgive myself if I did not, in some small way, live out this calling from God. If you do feel you have a calling to artistry, especially film, check out Act One (I’ve applied to their writing program).

“It is with this in mind that I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theatre and music, of the plastic arts and the most recent technologies in the field of communication. I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man.” – Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to Artists

About the Author:

"I have become all things to all, to save at least some" (1 Cor. 9:22) basically describes her life as writer, homemaker, friend and sister, wife, and mother of 2 spunky children, all for the sake of Gospel joy. She received her BA in Theology, Catechetics/Youth Ministry, and English Writing from Franciscan University of Steubenvile. Currently, she is a homemaker and freelance writer. Her life mottos are Ad Majoram Dei Gloriam and "Without complaint, everything shall I suffer for in the love of God, nothing have I to fear" (St. Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart). She is Pennsylvanian by birth, Californian by heart, and in Texas for the time being. Yinz can find her on Twitter @TheresaZoe.
  • james

    If you haven’t seen the 2006 Best Movie ” Crash ” I urge you to do so. It has
    everything including redemption. Great post.

    • Theresa Williams

      2006? I’ve not heard of the movie but can’t find the one you’re talking about

      • james

        It stars Matt Damon.

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  • Nick Alexander

    You may want to check out the Arts and Faith 100, which routinely lists the most profoundly religious movies through surveys. But most of these movies are small, or are foreign titles. Do not let that dissuade you. You owe it to yourself to be proficient in some of the most religious movies of all time.

    Along those same lines, you should try to see every movie on the Vatican 45.

    http://artsandfaith.com/t100/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vatican%27s_list_of_films

    • Theresa Williams

      Thanks for the tip! I still think that part of the problem is that there are too many small Catholic or Christian films and they just cannot contend with the Hollywood blockbusters in draw– and that is what we need to start doing. We need to start making big films that are profoundly religious too!

      • Nick Alexander

        Ack! No! Did you ever hear of the last faith-based big budget epic movie–the one with an all-star cast, way, way back in 1981? No, you probably haven’t. That movie was called “Inchon” and it was the only venture put out by the cult group The Unification Church. They sank $45 million dollars (in today’s dollars, more than $100 mil), and hardly got distribution. Look it up on imdb, and smile.

        By contrast, horror movies are made with increasing regularity with budgets similar to that of Christian movies today, and are released with great fanfare, either with exceptional distribution and advertising, or direct-to-Redbox where they still make a profit.

        The issue isn’t budget. It’s distribution. Last year, the distribution model improved. But the quality of the movies were still greatly to be desired. According to Christianity Today’s head critic, the best Christian movies were actually outside of this network: Calvary, Selma, and Ida. How many churches made a concerted effort to see these in the theater? I don’t know of a single one.

      • Theresa Williams

        The problem is threefold: mediocre scripts, low budgets, and poor distribution. Improving any one of these will put us in a better place, but improving all three will make us masters of the craft.

      • Nick Alexander

        Many, many movies have all three in place, and yet still fail to make a profit.

  • johnnysc
    • Theresa Williams

      I have heard so many wonderful things about that film and am quite excited to see it. But again, a tale like this is a bit out of the ordinary in our current culture but it should be the norm. More films like this!

  • James Templeton

    You need to see War Room.