For many years I have hoped and prayed for Christian filmmaking that would be worthy of the message they can convey. Looking back 30 years ago, Christians were almost universally portrayed on TV and in movies as either monsters or buffoons. Unfortunately, the films being made for and by Christians didn’t help much. They suffered from small budgets and poor writing, acting and production values, featuring cardboard characters with insignificant problems which received too-easy solutions.
Today, that has all changed. For some time it has been possible to go to the theater and see Christian stories, told with quality screenplays and good production values, but March, 2018 has been a banner month, with three Christian films released on consecutive weekends leading up to Easter.
The three films also illustrate the breadth of subject matter available to Christian filmmakers: One is a docu-drama, portraying real events, the second is a biblical film and the third is a fictional narrative film. I’ll take a quick look at each one:
I CAN ONLY IMAGINE: in theaters beginning March 16. This is a terrific true story that shows that a strong Christian message doesn’t have to be devoid of drama. With recognizable stars like Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman and Trace Adkins. It is the story of Bart Millard who wrote the crossover hit song “I Can Only Imagine” and shows how the song came out of his difficult family life, but it is a song of redemption as his father, played by Dennis Quaid, has his personality transformed by the power of God. The movie scored third in its opening weekend, in spite of being on half as many screens as Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” which features Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Michael Peña. “I Can Only Imagine” took in an astounding $17 million its first weekend; several times the cost to make it.
PAUL: APOSTLE OF CHRIST (beginning March 23) stars Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ), Olivier Martinez and James Faulkner. Caviezel, who plays the evangelist Luke, is one of the producers and, as a veteran of many movies and at least one TV series, brings the quality you would expect. The story has a lot of familiar characters, but takes place during the biblical silence after the end of Acts of the Apostles and shows the last days of Paul, including his beheading. The violence of the arena under Nero is portrayed without showing gore, but the impact is perhaps greater as a result.
GOD’S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS (March 30) is the third installment of the franchise. That a Christian movie has a “franchise” is another indication of how far Christian films have come. This is a fictional narrative starring David A. R. White who has been producing and starring in low-budget Christian films for a long time, but the first God’s Not Dead movie really put him and his Pure Flix Entertainment on the map, grossing $62 million on a $2 million budget.
The success of God’s Not Dead, plus the number of quality Christian entertainment available today, made possible “Pure Flix,” a Netflix-like subscription service. Something like that would not have been possible 30 years ago because the product just didn’t exist.
I haven’t seen this installment of “God’s Not Dead” but there’s no reason not to think it will be as good as the others. Dean Cain returns for this installment, along with other actors we’ve seen on TV and in movies like John Corbett and Jennifer Taylor.
There have also been the offerings of Sherwood Entertainment (“Facing the Giants,” “Courageous,” “Fireproof”) and Gener8Xion Entertainment (“One Night with the King”).
Add to that, the appearance of a few intrepid producers and actors on television, like Tim Allen (“Last Man Standing” was cancelled unfortunately) and Patricia Heaton (“The Middle”), whose shows are not “Christian,” but whose families unapologetically attend church services, as if it’s “normal,” which of course it is for about 200 million Americans.