Christian Cinema in Hollywood

26 Mar

By Comic Relief

If you are a Hollywood film enthusiast with a hunger for biblical content you have no doubt heard of three esteemed projects in the development pipelines.  Many have heard of development for Steven Spielberg’s Moses film [1], Darren Aronofsky’s Noah film [2] and even Mel Gibson’s Judah Maccabee film [3] might qualify.  If you are familiar with these directors, then you will likely be bored by descriptions of how they required their reputations.  We will have some time before those movies are released, until then let’s review some of the history of this genre.

If you are discussing specifically Hollywood’s Christian films they generally fall into these categories:

  • Biblical Narratives
  • Inspirational Narratives
  • Negation Narratives

Biblical Narratives

This example is the most illustrative of the set, and illustrative would have been a good title if extracting audience experience weren’t one of the goals of the Bible.  When a film hopes to surround the reader in a specific experience of places, attitudes, customs, and beliefs it hopes viewers will be honest about their current previous or expected feelings, ideas, and notions. Though many have expressed the contrary, the interactive and comparative aspect of the Bible diminishes its strength as a purely explicative or demonstrative manual. Unfortunately, this may be exactly where readers may find their greatest resistance.  Should the reader reject the book as a whole or possibly just specific sections and/or interpretations; that may be just fine. Believers would likely presume a change in reader attitude might come with time.  For Christian feature film producers, believers believe God offers a caveat if the audiences never finds an interest or agreement.  Believing scriptural messengers, below see a scriptural self-assessment regarding an assertive unbeliever.

  • New International Version (©1984)If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
  • New Living Translation (©2007)If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.
  • English Standard Version (©2001)If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” [4]

Inspirational Narratives

These movies actually expect the believer to remember the Bible stories, parables, verses, and all range of Christian references, yet these films frequently situate the narrative outside of an original biblical document.  The literary scholar may be crying fowl!  Why? Because you may interpret that these stories “preach to the choir.”  If the Bible were a standard piece of literature, there would be reason to claim one was receiving a poor narrative.

Yet believers accept that the Bible is the word of God.  As entertaining as it might be, it’s not entertainment.  As didactic as it might be it’s not opinion. And as descriptive as it might be, it is not interpretation.  And for those reasons, despite how fanciful, metaphoric and allegorical it is the book should not be approached as a work of art.  It is easy to make this mistake because the tome is printed in book form.  Why should a cinematic story help you make associations that you would find in another narrative?  Why, because Christian’s are a community. Sometimes communities congregate purely to reinforce ideas, reinterpret feelings and reexamine ideas that were already specified and held dear.  According to these translations, believers are relieved, when scripture reiterates:

  • New International Version (©1984) “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
  • New Living Translation (©2007)
”Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
  • English Standard Version (©2001)
”Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [5]

In a transitory world, Christians prefer this.  Therefore they hope these movies will restate, and reinforce many of the tenants of their faith. When sought after, this reinforcement is warmly appreciated.

Negation Narratives:

This last category may be the greatest because it demonstrates what many believers think is one of our greatest liberties; the ability to reject or ignore God entirely.  Though all are not entirely dismissive, many of these examples explore being critical in some way or another. Based upon the imaginations of conspiracy theorists, one claims the Vatican is run by a secret society of despots.  Another is a not so veiled challenge to Catholics; the second makes drama out the Priestly sex abuse scandals of a few years back.  And the third, championed by a famous comedian, is a celebration of atheist rebellion. With so much disinterest, (all of these movies scored box office totals above the million dollar mark), we can still be out done by Biblical expressions of love for us.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” [6]

Proving both comfort and controversy, after a more than 80 year history this list proves Christian religious themes do earn well at the multiplexes. Still with all the debate concerning its messages,

All three of these categories were combined into one list with the latest entries being the first and the later work appearing last.

Recognize each clip was selected due to its categorization, its title, it’s date, its director, its lead actor, and it’s box office accomplishment.

Negation/Angels and Demons/2009/Ron Howard/Tom Hanks/$133,375,846

Negation/Doubt/2008/John Patrick Shanley/Meryl Streep/$33,446,470

Negation/The Da Vinci Code/2006/Ron Howard/Tom Hanks/$217,536,138

Negation/Religulous/2011/Larry Charles/Meryl Streep, etc./$13,011,160

Inspirational/Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail/Tyler Perry/Tyler Perry/$90,508,336

Inspirational/Couragious/2011/Alex Kendrick/Alex Kendrick/$34,522,221

Inspirational/Fireproof/2008/Alex Kendrick/Kirk Cameron/$6,836,036

Inspirational/The Chronicles of Narnia: (TLTWATW)/2010/Andrew Adamson/Tilde Swinton/$65,556,312

Biblical/One Night with the King/2006/Michael O. Sajbel/Tiffany Dupont/$13 MILLION

Biblical/The Nativity Story/2004/Catherine Hardwicke/Keisha Castle-Hughes/$7,849,304

Biblical/The Passion of the Christ/2004/Mel Gibson/Jim Caviezel/$370,782,930

Please join our discussion Tuesday 3/27/2012@7pmE/12UTC


Article References:







40 Responses to “Christian Cinema in Hollywood”

  1. littlebells March 26, 2012 at 10:11 PM #

    very well written, CR.

    I find I enjoy inspirational narratives more. I like some of the biblical films, like The Passion of the Christ and Moses, but I really like watching a film without biblical or church references. I like to find the spiritual message on my own. I find it becomes more personal and gets me thinking and reflecting more deeply.

  2. Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 4:03 PM #


    Thanks for the compliment.

    I like both the inspirational and the biblical narratives, yet for different reasons. Both seem to require a different kind of attention.

  3. Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 4:18 PM #

    I think the hardest thing about the article was figuring out where to start and where to stop.

  4. Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 7:03 PM #

    Pertaining to the way movies are circulated everywhere, I have a question for everyone.

    Since the United States and many western or multi-national states are multi-cultural do you think it is rude or disrespectful for Hollywood to have such a frequently Judeo-Christian genre?

    Or do you belief we should see more evidence of Islamic, Eastern, or other world religions. If so why? If not, why not?

    • littlebells March 27, 2012 at 8:00 PM #

      Great question. Personally I would be very interested in seeing other religions portrayed. However, with everything that has happened since 9/11, I dont think most Americans would be interested, and most Catholic films are usually done in a negative light. JMO.

  5. littlebells March 27, 2012 at 7:07 PM #


    How well have biblical narratives done in theaters?

    • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 7:19 PM #

      Hi LB.

      • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 7:24 PM #

        If you look at the end of all of the titles before the trailer clips the box office is specified there.

        “The Passion of the Christ” was the largest box office for a recent movie. But the Narnia trilogy and the Da Vinci Code movies scored over 100 million also.

        • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 7:27 PM #

          Sorry: “the largest box office” winner.

  6. littlebells March 27, 2012 at 7:29 PM #

    HI CR!

    What was it about the Narnia trilogy/spiritual story line that is so captivating to audiences do you suppose?

    • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 7:51 PM #


      I’m glad you asked. Had I not included the movies dedicated to being critical or the “negation narratives” I would have given more attention to parent chosen oppositions.

      I loved Narnia as a child, so of course I wanted to see it in the theatres. At least 2 other of the higher ranking films were kid fare stuff. Honestly, being a parent you have a lot more insight as to why parents gravitate to this material.

      Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie $25,581,229
      The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything $12,981,269

      Unlike the Hunger Games, I guess it could be that these parents don’t have to worry about seeing teenagers kill other teenagers on screen.

      • littlebells March 27, 2012 at 7:55 PM #

        Veggie Tale movies are awesome. 🙂

        • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 8:06 PM #


          Obviously, I focussed on the wrong thing. Thanks for the laugh LB.

          • littlebells March 27, 2012 at 8:09 PM #

            U r welcome!

            • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 8:46 PM #

              “Oppositions” above should have been “OPTIONS.”

              I’m going to try to rent “Couragious” soon.

  7. Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 7:36 PM #


    What is it about the “inspirational narratives” movies you like specifically? I can understand not wanting to hear quotes yet I’m not sure you would necessarily hear that specifically.

    I haven’t seen either “Fireproof” or “Courageous” but now that I know how much they made I’m curious. I also did not know that Kirk Cameron starred in “Fireproof” yet I heard it was the highest grossing independent film of 2008.

    • littlebells March 27, 2012 at 8:05 PM #

      I loved Courageous, not because it was a “Christian” film but it was a about what it means to be a great man/father/husband.

      I don’t know if these films qualify as “inspirational narratives” but I love Field of Dreams, The Neverending Story, first three Star Wars, and most recent The Lorax. They aren’t religious films, but they teach/ insinuate spiritual themes.

      Blatant preaching isn’t my thing per se. I like to find my own message.

      • littlebells March 27, 2012 at 8:07 PM #

        Honestly i think u can find a spiritual message in any film, whether the message be positive or negative..

        • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 8:34 PM #


          You are so right. I rewrote this article at least 5 times.

          I originally had a section called christian reflective narratives
          that glossed over a ton of narrative including; Dead man Walking, “Unforgiven,” “the Matrix”, and I could keep going. Many weren’t even remotely positive, in fact the acting leads we’re frequently jerks like in “J.Edgar,” “Iron Lady,” “Young Adult.” I thought to say that I might have been a little manipulative, because that may not have ever been discussed on set.

          Christian, Biblical, movies etc. certainly don’t have to be heavy handed or literally be Christian or Biblical movies. Yet people of Christian faiths frequently like to have the influence spelled out because it reinforces ideas they favor.

  8. ozzie20 March 27, 2012 at 7:40 PM #

    Hi CR and LB!

    Great article CR! Very interesting! I must admit I haven’t really put much thought into biblical films so my head is spinning over it all (or it could the headache). Anyway, out of all those mentioned I’ve only seen two but there were another two films that I remember seeing the trailers at the time they were released but never got round to seeing them. However, I have seen many old classic ones! I can’t remember they’re names though… 🙂

    • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 7:52 PM #

      Hi Ozzie.

    • littlebells March 27, 2012 at 7:53 PM #

      Hi Ozzie!!!!!! * hugs *

    • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 8:03 PM #


      You’re right, there are a ton of older films but I started out wanting to talk about recent films then gravitated to box office winners. Of the ones you have seen recently which did you like and why?

      I’ve heard many say that Europeans believe Americans are way too religiously focused? I imagine you might think this because of political coverage that is publicized? Is this your impression? If so please say why and if not please be specific there as well.

      • ozzie20 March 27, 2012 at 9:26 PM #

        I’ve seen The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, but I refuse to watch them again because they both excluded a small but very important plot point in both films, which annoys me alot! Yes, I can be that anally retentive, lol! Normally, I can ignore such things with films adapted from books but I couldn’t do that with those films. I’ll leave it at that because I’m very close to ranting and raving again over it!

        I tend to like more of the negation films because they require you to see things from a different point of view. It opens the minds and I think it makes you more enlightened (of course you don’t have to agree with the angle they take, just consider it so you can understand other people’s views better). Besides, I like to look at things from every angle regardless of the topic, to pick things apart and to put them back together. Typical libra, not that I believe in horoscopes!

        As for Americans and religion versus Europe and religion, it’s very hard to explain! From a British perspective, it’s 50/50. We hear from the news of extreme conservatives to the extremely idiotic reality stars. So from my view is that there are stupid people and there are over the top religious outspeakers but the majority of people are in the middle and are ok! Of course we have that over here too!

        I think there are a few differences but that may be because of me not knowing how things work in the USA. So this is a rough guess. The one thing that is different from the UK is how much religion is used in politics. Again, we have it here but it seems more influencial in America. Here, religion is more removed from politics and more based on equal human rights (don’t get me wrong, we do follow Christian ideals but it’s loosely). I’ve seen some of the promotion videos for the candidates who want to lead the Republicans (not sure of if it is for the political party or whether it’s an independant campaign) and some of them blow my mind! It just wouldn’t happen here at all! Is that man who called a girl a whore for asking for free contraception still working? If he is, then that wouldn’t be the case in the UK. The press and public out cry would ruin him for most likely the rest of his life! It would be case of a public appology, quitting his job and laying low for a very long time!

        Why there are these differences, again I’m not entirely sure. If we just go on the creative side then I guess we Europeans have been exposed to creative religious art and literature that has created scandals for millenia. However, apart from the native americans, everyone is a descendant of a European, so that should be a cause for difference. Maybe it’s the proximity to art (that’s a very far out there idea, I don’t believe it but I’ll throw it out there just for covering all points of view!), but then school education would cover it.

        Personally, I don’t think it’s the creative media that is the problem but specifically politics versus religion and it’s history. However, I have rambled on for too long and that would be going off the point, lol! Sorry, for the novel here! I really hope I make sense too! 🙂

        • Open Book March 29, 2012 at 4:01 PM #
          • Open Book March 29, 2012 at 4:03 PM #
        • Comic Relief March 30, 2012 at 1:51 PM #

          OZZIE, OZZIE, OZZIE,

          Sorry I did not see this comment during the discussion yet I want to respond now.

          I appreciate your transparency so much!!!!

          One of the reasons I asked you this question was I was wondering about other people’s perceptions, (which I can’t know unless I ask). Honestly I think things just look very different from this side of the pond than yours.

          I understand in Europe, the site of many outrageous church battles, Christianity can appear to be a hot mess of arch-conservative politics, vulgar violence, petty greed, etc. Especially if you look through the lens projected by the American media. And the institutional Church may deserve this after centuries of representing, promoting and funding some of the worst atrocities in human history. I am being honest and sincere in my agreement. On that point I will fully accept anyone and everyone’s desire and right to differ with me. After all what can anyone say about that history???? You certainly can’t defend it.

          Yet on this side of the globe there is this thing called Liberation theology that would be impossible without Christianity. This resistant strain of Christian faith fueled the Civil Rights Movement, the UFW (united farm workers movement), the Feminist movement, the disability rights movement, many parts of the Peace movement, and many would say the LGBT rights movements.

          A great deal of the information below concerns Latin America, yet I will post another link that is more general.

          • Comic Relief March 30, 2012 at 1:53 PM #

            So you can see social progress and Christianity have nearly been partners for most of the last century in the USA despite European history.

            So do politically conservative American Christians talk about God a lot, claim to act in God’s favor, claim to be influenced by the church in many of their actions. Absolutely, and way too much!!!!!! But despots have always been big fans of God and especially the Church.

            I ignore them and many who have nestled up the church to do the wrong things. But frequently wayward Church and God are not one and the same.

            And that seems to give me the capacity to sustain my faith within and frequently without a church home.


  9. Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 8:21 PM #

    OOOPS!!!!!!!!, I can’t believe it!!!
    I just realized this film isn’t up there and I have to mention it!!!!!!!

    I saw this film, it was fantastic!!! Sorry, it has some, (quoting Borat) “sexy, sexy time” in it but it also has great feminist message for women, (yet you don’t see anything in it).

    “One Night with the King” is the story of a young Jewish Girl who eventually becomes Ester. Check it out below.

    • Comic Relief March 27, 2012 at 8:40 PM #

      I have to go everyone, thanks everyone for coming.

      • littlebells March 27, 2012 at 8:53 PM #

        Bye CR,

        I will be back. I’m sorry I was in and out again with the discussion. I have more questions. Have a good night.


        • ozzie20 March 27, 2012 at 9:49 PM #

          CR, I love you for quoting Borat! LOL! “High five!”

          • Comic Relief March 28, 2012 at 5:04 AM #


            Yeah, I was a ridiculous (what else could you be; Sacha’s a nut) Borat fan.

        • Comic Relief March 28, 2012 at 5:00 AM #


          If you have more questions or statements, propositions etc. let them fly. Like I said I changed my mind every one of the five times I wrote this. So I’m sure I’m not finished settling on what I think. Hopefully talk to you later.

  10. parisienne March 28, 2012 at 12:25 AM #

    Hi CR!

    Excellent Article. 🙂 I love One Night with the King. Its one of my favs. I enjoy inspirational films because I feel that everyone is allowed to take their own meaning from it and apply what they learned to their life in whatever way they deem fit.

    As for the different versions of the bible. I believe and this is strictly only my belief that different versions have been written to control people and different versions are targeted toward different demographics, (Teen Bibles, etc.) Different people for example, Jim Jones, only preached out of the Old Testament in order to instill fear into his followers. (I saw a documentary on him)

    I absolutely love Dan Brown for questioning everything. I love the french peas from Veggie Tales, btw!

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2012 at 5:05 AM #


      I think I saw that some years ago. I was surprised that a Biblical story was delivered with so much ………………… liberty. I don’t think I can describe it better than that.

      On the other hand, “Song of Solomon” is really hot for a narrative from the beginning of the century.

  11. Comic Relief March 28, 2012 at 5:06 AM #

    I was watching this video, “The Making of King James Bible,” the process for creating the book seemed extremely convoluted speaking as someone who wanted to learn but mainly veg. Yeah, odd way to fertilize a couch potato. Anyway in many ways I’m willing to let faith suspend my need to understand everything. I want to learn a lot more yet I don’t think I’m an aspiring theologian, as of now can’t imagine going to seminary school.

  12. Comic Relief March 28, 2012 at 5:07 AM #

    As for Dan Brown, I’m not inclined to give every one who needs attention their due. Those wonderful movies successfully removed Ron Howard and Tom Hanks from the nominated Oscar ranks. I doubt this is the intended work of the academy voters. I added the movies to the list because they were popular and spoke to the topic.

    Bill Maher’s work got on for similar reasons I’ve only heard about the movie. Most would never place the two previous movies on a Christian movies list. I love how spirituality and faith-based topics are the favorite topics of atheists. Speaking of preachy, “Religulous” seems oppressive. I think I would likely sleep through the movie. Regardless of ticket sales, I’ve heard a lot of people say they have done a lot of that last year.

    I felt guilty for putting “Doubt” on the critical list. Perverts who become Priests deserve to be ostracized. Yet this reflects very little on how much good the church has done for many people. I thought that “Doubt” had some great performances.

    • Comic Relief March 28, 2012 at 5:08 AM #

      Thanks for tip, yet sorry Paris and LB, Veggie tales may not see me in the audience.

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