How are Christian films so awful?

So I watched this movie “Courageous” which is a Christian-themed movie about Fatherhood. It was pretty awful. This review from Rotten Tomatoes sums up my sentiments nicely regarding this filmspecifically, but also much of the Christian movie making industry in general.

“Fails to answer the more pressing question of why religious sagas such as this treat subtlety as a sin”

Some religious movies I actually have enjoyed are “The Mission”, “Black Robe”, and “The Passion”- though this is a very specific type of film. These movies have great acting and impressive settings and present complex moral questions in a mature and intriguing way- at least the first two. The passion, I enjoyed more as a depiction of a specific event- the Passion ofcourse- so was presented in a different, but authentic and moving way.

Why are Christian movies so bad in general though as pieces of film making? Why do they lack any sense of subtlety and generallly, come at you like a moralistic sledgehammer to the head? This movie “Courageous” is a sachrine-sweet, American-as-apple-pie, shallow, and dry trolip through the most basic moral questions presented in the most obvious manner.

Have other folks noticed this and why do you think this is. I suspect that Christian film makers may be too worried that they could offend their audience, or don’t believe that their prospective audiences are sophisticated enough to grasp but the most basic moral dillemas…

Sherwood Pictures, the outfit behind 'Courageous", is a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church. In other words, they’re an indie studio; consequently, they are not privy to the resources of main stream movies. Shortcomings on the part of acting, cinematography and other technical aspects of film making can be explained through the lack of money.

As for the writing, well, I’ve not clear answers there. I do know that Sherwood Pictures produces a significant amount of Christian movies and likely uses the same writers. Many of the failings of Christian movies may be directed to that one source. I speculate that many Christian film makers are so focused on the message of film that they make sure it is very noticeable. After all, if the message is lost on their audience than they haven’t fulfilled the real motivation behind making their movie.

For what it’s worth, the film critic on Catholic Answers Radio has said that Sherwood Pictures seems to be improving.

As you implied, the point of such films is to press home a point, not tell a story. This is nearly always a mistake in any form of popular medium. I forget which Hollywood studio head said this back the '30s, but it’s still revelant: “If you want to send a message use Western Union.”

Also, these sorts of films are usually very low budget, acted by near amateurs trying their best, and directors with a “purpose” instead of a “vision”.

There are Hollywood efforts that are just as bad, though. These days it’s the left putting out films trashing some conservative or conversative ideas that are so over the top and silly you want to scream at the screen, “Really?!”

So anyone can be guilty of this, but it’s usually the sincere group with an agenda that makes this kind of mistake. They sacrifice good story telling for moralizing and it just doesn’t do what they had hoped, but rather puts people off.

I like that. Very apt.

Like I said, “the Mission” and “Black Robe” are really good films that do send a faithful message, but it is in the context of a rich story.

I saw “Brother Sun Sister Moon” eons ago, as a kid, but I don’t remember if that was a good film or not.

Is less a movie than an evangelical protestant outreach.

Hollywood does this too. “The Cider House Rules” comes to mind as a movie that appeared to have as its sole purpose the destigmatization of abortion and abortionists.

On the other hand the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy was written as a metaphor by JRR Tolkein because he wanted his child to ENJOY being properly formed in the concepts of good and evil and the struggles people face in trying to choose good. Nobody calls that effort shallow or crass.

Well LOTR was a good movie. It’s actually my favorite book and there is a good chance I am the biggest Tolkien nerd on CAF. Tolkien also SPECIFICALLY stated that LOTR was not a metaphor for Christianity.

I love this thread. :smiley:
I see modern American Christian entertainment as predominately diluted, shallow and emasculated. The music is almost as bad as the movies which are almost as bad as the books.

My answer to the OP is $$, or rather, lack of it. I think that’s the main reason any film is awful. It takes big bucks to make a good film, and Christians generally don’t feel comfortable investing big bucks in a movie when there are so many starving people in this world.

Another thought–I believe that the entertainment industry has a severe shortage of devoted Christians.

Think about it–a child is interested in theater and the performing arts, and the loving parents are fine with that as long as it means getting involved with local children’s theater groups, church pageants, school plays and musicals, community theater, local film festival or local classes in movie-making, etc.–AS A HOBBY.

But when the teenager tells his/her parents, “I think I would like to major in theater, or cinema, or screenplay writing, or directing, etc.–in college.”—whooooooaaa, nellie!!

Many parents, I believe, strongly discourage their children from a career in the entertainment field, and with good reason. Unless a family is a “show biz family,” and is familiar with how to actually make a living at it, most parents are terrified (and justifiably so) that their child will end up living in a car, or in a flophouse full of method actors, waiting on tables or tending bar (or worse), and constantly writing home for money just to survive. And of course, no insurance.

IF we want to see better movies and theater with a God-centered POV, then IMO, Christians must seek to infiltrate and eventually dominate the entertainment industry.

And that means Mama letting her babies grow up to be actors, or directors, or screenplay writers, or stage managers, or tech theater pros–etc.

I’m not just talking here. Our daughter was interested in theater from the time she was 2, and announced that she wanted to be a missionary dancer when she grew up. When you think about it, that’s the mentality that’s needed–Christians who are not only entertainment professionals, but who understand Jesus’s words that we should seek to be salt and light.

She never wanted to be anything else but involved with theater. So we encouraged her to major in it in college. She has never been without work in nearly ten years. She will be never be rich, but she makes enough for a comfortable, if rather spartan way of life. She’s a stage manager, and loves the actual production work of theater.

And she is a Christian and she has learned how to be a Christian in a very non-Christian environment, the theater world. She’s very tactful and subtle, and provides a good strong but loving witness to Christ to actors, directors, and other theater professionals, without looking or sounding like a fanatic.

Just a week ago, she had a conversation with the director that she’s currently working with about the HHS mandate. He was extremely curious about her conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism, and she told him, “That’s a long story that’s best told over coffee or drinks, not here while we’re working.” And he said that he will take her on that.

Subtle and polite, but not compromising. And I’m sure the director will take her up on it.

Several summers ago, she was an intern at one of the prestigious repertory theaters in the United States. She and her assistant stage manager were both Christians, and they always prayed before shows. The actors learned about this and were extremely touched that someone was praying for them. Again, no big showdown, no evangelical tent preaching–but a definite quiet and loving witness to the love of Jesus.

So that’s my second answer to the OP–we need more Christians working in the industry.

Well Napoleon Dynamite is one of my favorite movies and it was very inexpensive to produce. There are many example of independent films with great production value and excellent stories which are made very cheaply.

I think some of the problem may be the artistic approach of Christian movie makers. It’s this “lack of subtlety” I am speaking of. This need to be so blunt with the message. We see this in much of Contemporary Christian Music as well. Many artists present themselves more as “Christians who play music” than “Musicians who happen to be Christian”.

Some of this could be personal taste as well. I am fairly low key with my faith to others, but will certainly discuss it if someone is curious.

Regardless of the fact that I only saw parts of Courageous it still at least looked decent enough for family viewing - and that in itself makes it worth watching these days.

I do sympathize with you in this though. There are very few “intellectually appropriate” movies out there anymore, nonetheless Christian ones. Honestly, you know there’s a problem when you have MATURE movies [Captain America, Thor, etc.] that require [or encourage] less thinking than children’s movies like Kung Fu Panda 2. I’m not kidding - KFP2 is all-around deeper than most adult movies I’ve seen.

Good Christian films with depth though - definitely look at The Chronicles of Narnia. I just watched my first ones [Prince Caspian, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe] and I must say I was impressed. I was worried they would be akin to Pendragon: Sword of His Father (disliked that one a LOT) but they’re actually pretty good.

Another more intellectual movie [but it isn’t Christian] is Inception. One of my top 5 movies.

Big bucks don’t necesaarily mean a good film.

Tyler Perry’s movies are campy, melodramatic fun - like a really bad Joan Crawford movie - and he manages to have Christian messages in all of 'em. I loved his latest movie “Good Deeds,” which will remind most people of that Will Smith movie “Seven Pounds.” However, I do think Tyler Perry’s dramas are infinitely superior to his comedies. (I still don’t “get” those Madea movies.)

The question of having good, entertaining Christian films is something that I have thought about quite a bit I think that there are two reasons. First of all, the Christian message, and the very deep Christian drama is, to a large extent, internal. How does one portray on film the deep soul searching, subtle revelations and gradual conversions that are part and parcel of the Christian experience.

Second - As I read through your post, two things jumped out at me…So I bolded them above. I invite everyone to think about the majority of movie trailers they have seen recently on TV. gunshots, explosions, sex, car wrecks, laser blasters, kung-fu fighting etc…etc…etc…and the writers at “rotten tomato” have the nerve to accuse a Christian film as lacking subtlety???
It seems that, for Hollywood "lack of subtlety’ is something they rely on to SELL their movies…And taking a quote from the OP above, I could easily see Hollywood using this line with just a one word substitution…
"…come(s) at you like a fill in the blank sledgehammer to the head.

Hollywood doesn’t mind “lacking subtlety” so long as it’s for the right kind of film.

All of the other reasons that people have listed, lack of budget, who made the film and for what reason…these are all valid points, but we mustn’t forget that film is an “action” oriented medium and very “visual”. Good solid Christian films can be really hard to make.


That’s why I intend to get into the gaming/movie business someday. Also, I just went to Ohio and met someone from Cincinnati. I’m very jealous of your weather at the moment.

The standing Joke around her is if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change…I’m afraid that also goes for if you like the weather…:smiley:


A good example of an indie Christian-themed flick: “Diary of a City Priest” with David Morse.

The reason most Christian films are terrible is actually pretty simple. They tend to violate the first rule of drama: show, don’t tell. In most Christian films, you have these lame lectures that take place in between action scenes where the moral or God’s lessons are spelled out. When this is done, the audience is taken out of the action of the movie, thereby destroying the creation of an engrossing story.

A heated but brief argument in the middle of some dilemma in a movie touching on these lessons would be less intrusive and more realistic. You have to blend your material in with action. If people want a lecture, they’ll go to one.

By the way, this problem affects secular movies too. Show, don’t tell.

You summarized what I was trying to say so much better than I did. Thanks.

And this - “Show, don’t tell” - principle is a great limiter in what can be conveyed on screen.
How the deepest, most dramatic, and in some ways, the most “action packed” aspects of the Christian Journey takes place interiorly (a word??). The “Dark nights of the Soul” type things…
Sure, some things can be shown - heroic things like courage in the face of grave evil. But the strength and conviction and struggle behind that courage is more difficult to show.


Can’t let this one go :D. Though I think he stated he does not like the C.S. Lewis type smack-you-in-the-face-metaphor, he did specifically say that “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

Its also Marian: “All my own perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded upon Our Lady.”

Lord of the Rings belongs to the Holy Church, and its nice to have the best fictional work ever created by man :wink:

This is what TRR said about his books.
But can the same be said about the movies…:shrug:
Especially if one has never read the books and only seen the films…


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