Viewpoint: Christian films don’t need to be substandard

By Julia Eckardt

I have never been a fan of Christian movies. You know the ones I’m talking about. They almost always have obnoxiously direct dialogue, underestimating the intelligence of the audience to interpret the message on their own. They feel more like propaganda than artistic expression. I can’t stand them. “Soul Surfer” soul-sucked my desire to live for the entirety of its 106-minute run time.

The majority of films promoting the Christian agenda have less than a 50 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet in 2014 Hollywood will have released more biblical-based or Christian themed movies than in the last 11 years combined. The year has been coined “The Year of the Bible.”

It is no secret that the underlying reason why any movie gets the green light in Hollywood is because someone believes the film will make money, but what about this year caused movie executives to believe that movie with Christian themes would be a good investment?

Part of the reason is the success of the 2013 History Channel mini series “The Bible.” Each week an average of 100 million people tuned in to watch. The finale captivated more viewers than top rated shows “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead.”

The same team that worked on “The Bible,” including producer Mark Burnett, came together once again and released “Son of God” in February. In its opening weekend the film made $26.5 million, a much higher number than originally predicted by

“Noah,” Darren Aronofsky’s take on one of the most widely known biblical stories, did not perform nearly as well. Despite boasting big names like Russell Crowe and Emma Watson, its total domestic gross only ended up at $101 million, $75 million short of the production budget.

“Son of God” featured relatively unknown actors and had a much smaller scale than “Noah,” yet it made back its entire budget plus $22 million just in domestic gross alone.

On the other end of the spectrum, movies with Christian themes without roots in the Bible did incredibly well. “Heaven is for Real,” based on a best-selling book by the same name, made over $91 million dollars, more than seven times its production budget.

“God’s Not Dead,” also based on a book, made over $60 million in domestic gross, 30 times its production cost. Both of these movies provided a great return on their investments despite poor reviews on popular rating websites like Rotten Tomatoes.

“God’s Not Dead” got a 17 percent critics approval rating and “Heaven is for Real” got a 46 percent critics approval rating. Despite critics’ overall poor reception, audiences rated the films at 81 percent and 68 percent respectively. “Noah,” on the other hand, got a 77 percent approval rating from critics and just a 44 percent approval rating from audiences.

For the same reasons “Son of God” thrived, “Noah” failed. The atheist director claimed that his version of the story would be “the least biblical film ever made.”

The Christian community blasted the movie, spreading word across the Internet warning fellow brethren not to hand over money to what was summed up as a gross misinterpretation of the Bible. Each weekend, the box office polls showed drastic drops in attendance.

These numbers indicate Christian audiences don’t care so much for the quality of a movie so much as the message. They would gladly sit through a sub-standard film with a heavy-handed, yet positive reinforcement of their beliefs week after week than see a tent-pole film loosely related to a familiar Bible story.

This drives me crazy.

A large part of being a Christian is spreading the word of God to others. Movies happen to be one of the best ways to reach large audiences. Christian movies should make more of an effort to create quality films that secular audiences will enjoy without feeling like the Bible is being shoved down their throat.

By creating terrible movies, non-Christians are more likely roll their eyes and scoff or not see the movie at all than accept the intended message.

It’s not terrible to like a movie just because it’s “feel good” but at some point we need to say, “Carrie Underwood, your love of Jesus is not a compelling enough reason to pretend to be an actress. We as an audience deserve better.”

Secular audiences don’t care about the message; they care about the delivery. It is possible to make a movie with a Christian message without resorting to c-list actors and Sunday school screenplays. Take “Bruce Almighty” and “The Shawshank Redemption” as examples. Both films contain prevalent Christian themes but are executed in a way that non-Christians can watch them and not feel like a third wheel.

Julia Eckardt is a senior film and digital media major from Alexandria, Va. She is a reporter for the Lariat.