By Joe Boyd
Among other things that I do for a living, I’m a movie producer. Rebel Pilgrim, my production company, was briefly mentioned on Fox News as one of several companies specializing in making “Christian movies.” As an independent producer, I’m happy to have my company mentioned on a national platform. Fox stated that we have six “Christian films” in development. That’s (sort of) true. We have six or so films in development at all times. I’m a Christian. Some of them overtly address God and faith. Some do not.
It begs the question, What is a Christian movie?
It seems accurate to call box office successes like Fireproof and God’s Not Dead “Christian” movies. In the industry, we might say these films are “on the nose.” They address the Christian faith—at its core—head-on. But is Noah a Christian film? It’s inspired by a Jewish story. Christians are, technically speaking, a Jewish movement . . . so, yeah. Maybe? It also has Rock People . . . so there’s that. Maybe it’s just a big-budget action movie.
If you were to ask for a list of my favorite Christian movies, I might say The Apostle, Leap of Faith, Sister Act, Lars and the Real Girl, The Matrix, Wall-E, Elmer Gantry, and Les Misérables. I was recently moved by Mel Gibson’s film Hacksaw Ridge.
Are these Christian films? Do the director, producer, and writer have to be self-confessed Christians for it to count? Does the film need to clearly address God or Jesus? Do the Christian gatekeepers need to sign off?
Are Avatar and Promised Land “environmentalist” films? Maybe. Probably. Who cares? They are what they are. You either liked them or you didn’t.
This is when we will know Christian movies have made it—when the movie doesn’t need the “Christian” label to draw an audience.
But I’m not naive. It is the label that allows these movies—generally made for budgets of less than $2 million—to exist. If Christian movies are a genre, they most closely resemble horror movies (from a business perspective) more than anything else. A decent movie in either genre, with the right elements, can serve a niche audience and succeed financially. The filmmakers need just to follow the unwritten rules of the audience they are serving. Both genres—Christian and horror—can be blasted by critics and those unfamiliar with those types of films as “cheesy,” but the core audiences don’t care. They like what they see. A business plan for making a slate of Christian movies is very similar to a business plan for producing a set of horror movies. And in reality, these two types of films are probably the safest movie investments in the film world.
By the standard definition, some of our films in development are more “Christian” than others. And for the record, we aim for “not cheesy” . . . and usually get there.
Informed by Faith
Personally, I’m a producer. I’m also a Christian. My faith informs everything I do, so in that regard I make Christian movies. I suppose it also means I make a mean Christian hamburger on my backyard grill.
It’s my job as a businessperson to give people what they are asking for. My job as an artist is to give people what they aren’t asking for but need to see. That’s the trick of making any movie with a message. When we learn to do both, we’re onto something.
One of our more recent movies, Hope Bridge, mentions God only once. It never mentions Jesus or church. It stars Kevin Sorbo, the lead in Christian films like God’s Not Dead. It also stars Booboo Stewart who plays Warpath in X-Men: Days of Future Past. It’s a sometimes-dark story about suicide and a boy’s journey to find answers. There is hope in it.
If I can help spark a little hope in the world, then I’ve done my job. People can call it a “Christian” movie or not—that spark of hope is what I deeply care about. The truth is, many stories point us to Christ. The most important thing we can do as disciples is to tell our stories in such a way that gives God the opportunity to change a heart.
I don’t know if movies, books, music, or anything else can technically be “Christian.” But people can be. And the world needs more of us to create stories that make a difference.
Joe Boyd is founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio.