Faith-based films have become a new way of framing the components tied to traditional Christian values and beliefs. The fact that moviegoers expect something massive from the highly anticipated sequel to The Passion of the Christ is only slightly indicative of how big of an audience there is for these films. They do incredibly well (the first God’s Not Dead made 30 times its budget at the box office alone) and have inspired their own streaming platform, PureFlix, and yet remain critically reviled (the same film has a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and hardly any modern Christian films break 30%).
Perhaps the discrepancy is that Christian audiences want something different from a film than critics do. Critics and cinephiles cherish style, artistry, aesthetics, strong performances, unique scripts, and an impressive mise-en-scene; the massive fan base of films like Left Behind or Do You Believe? essentially just want one thing: a powerful religious message that supports the (often evangelical) dogmatics of Christianity. Different audiences want different things.
Faith-based films have recently emerged throughout the last decade that have crossed over into the mainstream by not prominently addressing religion itself, but relying heavily on the centralized idea of withstanding and overcoming adversity, even when it seems impossible (American Underdog’s Kurt Warner story may be the best recent example). In recent years, there’s been a noticeable growth in people who want to watch some inspiring movies in order to be inspired themselves, but do not specifically believe in any religion, at least dogmatically. The films just happen to slip in a little faith.
This kind of popular filmmaking, which could be called the New Christian Cinema, is a fascinating subgenre which does not play by the rules of traditionally ‘good’ filmmaking. While some films have obviously gotten better reviews than others, the majority of them (and the filmmakers) could not care less about positive reviews from critics (who they likely perceive to be liberal and non-religious, anyway). They care about the Christian fan base. As such, they’re almost counter-cultural in their defiant dismissal of what professional critics and cinephiles term ‘good filmmaking,’ and are actually a bit subversive. These are the biggest films in the New Christian Cinema.
8 God’s Not Dead
The film series, God’s Not Dead has been a massive part of the New Christian Cinema, spawning the series of films God’s Not Dead 2, God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darknessand God’s Not Dead: We the Peopleand is based on Rice Broocks’ book God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty. It seems to be a direct response to Nietsche’s parable of the madman, in which he famously declared “God is dead,” along with the so-called ‘Death of God’ theological movement spearheaded by Thomas Altizer in the ’60s.
The first film revolves around Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), as the college student’s faith becomes extensively challenged by his philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo). The professor, who’s an atheist, claims God is an act of pre-scientific fiction. Wheaton is then forced to defend Christianity in the midst of his classroom environment. Like many films of the New Christian Cinema, it paints atheists in a condescendingly negative light, but its influence has been huge and God’s Not Dead continues to appeal to people of faith who believe that their beliefs are being edged out in modern society.
The 2008 film Fireproof tells the story of Caleb Holt (played by New Christian Cinema’s figurehead, Kirk Cameron), a decorated firefighter who attempts to save his relationship with his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea). After learning just how bad his marriage has become, through noticing his personal failures as a husband, Holt turns to The Love Dare, an acclaimed Christian self-help book. He then embarks on a 40-day experiment to heal his marriage from an impending divorce. Fireproof demonstrates the personal struggles in which married couples face on a day-to-day basis and how Christians have incorporated Biblical faith to mend them.
6 Show Me the Father
Including a range of intriguing stories, Show Me the Father offers multiple perspectives on the importance of fathers and their essential roles (in a traditional sense), all interconnected by commentary from Tony Evans. The Christian documentary expands on the stories of five fathers, good fathers, absent fathers, and abusive fathers. The film also goes in depth into the perspectives of the wives and mothers of these men, and strives to be an inspirational account of Biblical fatherhood.
5 A Week Away
The Christian teen musical A Week Awayalso a Netflix original movieis one of the few originals from the streaming giant to approach New Christian Cinema and faith-based filmmaking, straddling the lines between the subgenre and the mainstream in a kind of evangelized version of La La Land. The film details the story of Will Hawkins (Kevin Quinn), a troubled youth who moves from foster home to foster home, until his mischievous behavior becomes too much for each of his temporary foster parents. Left with nowhere to go, Will ends up at a camp that he initially tries to run away from, but later stays as he finds community in the group of Christian people who are also there. Once Will finds a male father figure, new friends, and even a girl that he likes, he realizes that he has a place to belong.
4 Left Behind
Left Behind was the 2000 picture that arguably kick-started the whole New Christian Cinema craze, after the widespread success of the Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins series of novels. The apocalyptic movie paints a picture of what it feels like to uncover a mystery that hits close to home. Ray Steele (Brad Johnson), an airline pilot, finds that a number of passengers on his flight have suddenly disappeared, including his wife and son. Ray, his daughter, and others who have remained (left behind) from the supposed rapture all work together to find out what really happened. Of course, Left Behind stars Kirk Cameron. The film was actually remade with Nicolas Cage in 2014, but the idea of a sudden apocalyptic rapture was perfect in the theologically fascinating and massively underrated HBO show The Leftovers.
3 Do You Believe?
When Matthew (Ted McGinley), a community pastor, is captivated by the heightened level of faith in a nearby street-corner preacher, he becomes inspired in his personal life and profession to help others in Do You Believe? Reminded that true belief is only possible throughout action, he and other individuals (physician, a paramedic, a homeless woman, and others) who are also struggling with their own problems, come together as they begin to question what their religious beliefs mean.
A motivating example of how orthodoxy is nothing without orthopraxy, and filled with some of the better performances of faith-based films, the film nonetheless plays to some unfortunate racial stereotypes common in the predominantly white New Christian Cinema.
2 American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story
Although the main synopsis of American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story does not directly incorporate religion, it does include important components of faith that even people who do not practice region can watch. Based on the true story of Kurt Warner, he undergoes years of setbacks (both in his personal life and in his professional life), to later become two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback. The film has perhaps the highest rating of any part of the New Christian Cinema, with a 75% score on Rotten Tomatoes and strong, professional performances from Anna Paquin, Zachary Levi, and Dennis Quaid.
1 The Shack
Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington), after suffering a family tragedy, spirals into a deep state of depression which additionally causes him to question his innermost beliefs. Debating his faith, he mysteriously receives a letter, urging him to travel to an abandoned shack in Oregon. Mack sets out to go, despite his doubts, and meets a group of allegorical strangers who transform his life for the better.
Overall, The Shack looks into the components of suffering and evil in the world, while placing importance in withstanding those mental conundrums through faith that is not tangible. The Shack was a massive success, largely because of good performances (especially from Octavia Spencer as God), grossing $ 100 million despite its 21% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is a testament to the fact that the critics do not matter when it comes to faith.
The Passion of the Christ and Other Great Easter Movies to Watch
About The Author