The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking: What is a Christian movie? by Mike Rinaldi

Christian Movie, Faith-based Film, or Christian Worldview Movie? Can you tell the difference?

Part of ongoing series “The Future of Faith in Film and TV”

by Mike Rinaldi

The Passion of the Christ may have Christ as the lead character, but is it a “Christian” Movie?

What is or isn’t a Christian movie? What is the difference between a “Christian” movie and a “Faith-based” film? Many people use the terms interchangeably but they are very distinct things. The distinctions may appear too subtle to make a difference, but believe me, when you talk to studio executives and marketing departments… they are acutely aware of the distinctions. So you, the screenwriter, must be aware also.

There’s a perception that the majority or entirety of actors and crew– pretty much everyone involved in the films– are Christians. This is generally not the case. Some Christian movies are produced by churches utilizing a lot of volunteers and in those cases, it tends to be that the majority of folks involved are Christians, but this is a minority of the Christian movies. It’s not a requirement for Christian movies to use only Christian people in the production and this has no bearing on the definition of a Christian movie. The movie is defined by its content.

Some of this is a bit subjective and you’ll hear some audiences (or even people who avoid movies all together) disagree on the nuances. Some of the defining points may even be fluid. But I’ve worked with many producers of Christian and Faith-based movies and continue to work regularly with the top producers and distributors in these genres. So as best as I can convey the definitions, here they are.

Compare, contrast, tell your friends.

Christian movie 

*Contains a Christian worldview
*Prescriptive (not descriptive)
*Made primarily for Christian audiences
*May or may not contain subtext (but even if it does, it’s theme and message must be stated verbally by at least one character– even if the intent is clearly understood visually or subtextually)
*Usually contains a minimum of one quoted Bible verse
*Usually includes no cursing, not even “hell” or “damn”
*Contains no overt sensuality, definitely no sex scenes
*Generally produced by Christian producers
*Budget rarely exceeds $1 million
*A studio (Sony Affirm, Fox Faith) may distribute, but likely won’t produce
*Indicative stars: Kirk Cameron, Stephen Baldwin, Rebecca St. James
*Indicative studio, prodco: Sony Affirm, Sherwood Pictures, PureFlix


Film examples: 

Facing the Giants
What if…
Mercy Streets
One Night with the King
The Ultimate Gift

Faith-based film

*Contains a Christian worldview
*Descriptive storytelling (not prescriptive)
*Theme (may not have a “message” per se)
*Made for Christian and secular audiences
*Contains subtext
*May or may not contain a quoted Bible verse
*May include mild cursing such as “hell” or “damn”
*May contain some sensuality, but probably no sex scenes
*May or may not be produced by Christian producers
*Budget may exceed $1 million
*May be produced by a studio
*Indicative star: John Schneider
*Indicative studio, prodco: Fox Faith, Downes Brothers Ent., Walden Media

Film examples: 

Soul Surfer
Like Dandelion Dust
Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie
The Chronicles of Narnia
Blue Like Jazz

Christian worldview movie 

I coined this term to clear up the confusion caused mostly by Christians who run around willy-nilly categorizing movies as Christian even though the movie doesn’t fit their own criteria. They do this because the movie does communicate a Christian worldview (whether or not that was the intent of the filmmakers) and they want to label it as such. So Hollywood and Christians, you can start using this term now. You’re welcome.

*Contains a Christian worldview
*Descriptive (not prescriptive)
*Theme (may not have a “message” per se)
*Made for secular audiences
*Contains subtext
*Often produced by a studio

Film examples: 

The Book of Eli
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Blind Side
Paranormal Activity
The Village
Tyler Perry Movies**
Stranger than Fiction
The Passion of the Christ*
A Serious Man
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Lord of the Rings


*Bible Epics from the golden age of Hollywood are given their own category, not referred to as Christian or Faith-based films. (The Passion of the Christ is really the modern contribution to this category, but that throws people off so I included above in Christian Worldview. People are often baffled why it‘s not considered a Christian movie so if you‘re surprised, you‘re not alone.)

Film examples: 
The Ten Commandments
The Greatest Story Ever Told
The Robe
The Passion of the Christ

**Tyler Perry movies probably fall under the category of Christian Worldview even though many Christian bookstores sell his DVDs. They don’t usually clearly fall into either the “Christian” or “Faith-based” categories.

Other posts in the series so far:

Why Most “Christian” Movies Suck, by Brennan Smith

The Future of Faith in Film? Youth and Evangelicals Outstrip All Other Movie-going Audiences, by David Kinnaman

Current Films by Act One Graduates Reveal Strange Dichotomy in Box Office Mojo’s ‘Christian Movie’ Category, by Gary David Stratton

The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking through Better Stories, by Gary David Stratton

Oh Crap! The Theater’s Full! by Actress McKenna Elise

The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking: What is a Christian movie? by Screenwriter Mike Rinaldi

Christians in Hollywood: A Mission Impossible Writer Offers a Treatment, by TV Writer Ron Austin

Christian Movie Establishment versus Blue Like Jazz

Why Story Structure Matters: Even if you don’t want it to, by Screenwriter Christopher Riley

Opening Doors for Others: An Interview with Writer-Director Brian Bird


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