The Passion of the Christ caused its own tipping point in Hollywood by breaking down a barrier that has existed a long time in Hollywood. That barrier involves Christian-themed movies produced by major studios. Mel Gibson had to fund and distribute the project himself. It was such a huge success that it caused a proliferation of Christian-themed movies to be released over the next several years. Movies such asLord of Rings, Matrix Reloaded, Xman 2, Bruce Almighty, Narnia, Amazing Grace and The Silver Chair are just a few of the Christian-themed movies that have been box office hits.Then came two surprising hit movies made on shoestring budgets, by none other than a local church in south Georgia-Facing the Giants and in 2008, Fireproof. Fireproof was the highest-grossing independent film of 2008, more than Milk and Slumdog Millionaire. ABC's "Nightline" did a segment on their Friday evening show dealing with the rise in faith-based films. Fireproof starred former teen idol Kirk Cameron and even beat out the Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire, which opened in mid-November.
The film was written and directed on a shoestring budget by the brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who are pastors in Albany, Ga. Other than Cameron, the entire cast was made up of church members -- and everyone worked for free.Ralph Winter is a successful Christian Hollywood film producer. He would love more Christians to become involved in Hollywood. However, he cautions many young people who want to do films to strive to produce films of quality. Although Facing the Giants and Fireproof have been box office hits with a very limited budget, we must be careful about the quality of product that is presented under the banner of "Christian" to make sure it is not synonymous with poor quality. "People come to a movie to be entertained first," he said in a recent interview. "We have to master the art of filmmaking and create a powerful story before we think about how we're going to put some kind of Christian message in the film. Most Christians fail in the film business today because even though their intentions are admirable, they haven't learned the art and skill of making a great movie. We have to earn the respect of the viewer if we're going to succeed." Barbara Nicolosi, founder of Act One, a nonprofit organization founded to train Christians of all denominations for careers in mainstream film and television, agrees with Winter. In a telephone interview with her she said she was very leery of the recent Christian films and their poor quality and fears what it might say about Christians and their failure to model excellence. My own view is there is a place for both. After all, Jesus did say He would use the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. We don't want to use that as an excuse for poor work, but we also must recognize God likes to show Himself strong through foolish things. The recent success of Fireproof is living proof of this principle.
More faith-based films are on the horizon as the Samuel Goldwyn film company is the first major studio to embrace Christian films. Fireproof was their release in collaboration with Christian the film company, Provident Films, and the genre of Christian film is on the horizon. FoxFaith is a new film division started by Rupert Murdoch in 2006, whose Zondervan Publishing was behind the book by Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life that sold over 30 million copies. That got Murdock's attention when he recognized the shear number of evangelical audiences. Fox describes Fox Faith titles as "morally-driven, family-friendly programming," and requires them to "have overt Christian content or be derived from the work of a Christian author."