Why Too Many “Christian” Movies Suck, and Why It Matters, by Brennan Mark Smith

Part of ongoing series: The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking

Many Christians see these movies as a safe alternative to Hollywood’s immorality. Are they? 

by Brennan Mark Smith

People have asked me to write on this for various reasons, but let me say at the outset: my goal is not to mock anyone’s creative endeavors, but to move the cultural conversation forward.

Try to keep an open mind…

You’ve already read the title and more than likely by now the sphincter clenched, pupils contracted, jaw set, and all guards flew up because you already know the unwritten rule: never badmouth Christian movies in mixed company.

You see, there are many who see Christian movies as a strange and largely inscrutable subgenre of drama that pushes aesthetically inferior, preachy, simplistic stories for the Christian ghetto.  Thus, they dismiss every Christian movie by association. (See What is a Christian Movie?)

On the other hand, many Christians see these movies as a safe alternative to Hollywood’s immorality, and the only reason they do not receive more critical acclaim is bigotry.  If you don’t agree, well then, you “love the world” or have backslidden into Hollywood’s lure of sex, violence, profanity, and hedonism…

The resulting argument always generates more heat than light, largely because both sides fail to recognize that Christian movies “suffer” under a different paradigm.

The Hollywood Way

Hollywood storytelling burgeoned over 100 years ago, born out of the theories of Aristotle and the Greek theater, rising through the medieval minstrel shows, through William Shakespeare and other Elizabethans, and into vaudeville.  At each stage they refined a craft according to technology, culture and audience response.

The result is a storytelling template that emphasizes, generally speaking, a single protagonist who must go through an inner journey of transformation in order to overcome an external problem.  We refer to that external conflict as “A plot” and the inner struggle as “B plot.”

Critiquing Hollywood movies, which takes graduate-level courses to explain, involves Aristotle’s principles as well as modern aesthetics.  While this analysis may still seem like a popularity contest, most of the time the questions are:  how unified is the story?  How true to our human experience is it?  How deep is the protagonist and how fulfilling is his arc?  How well does the movie connect emotionally with its audience?

So a “bad movie” by Hollywood standards lacks aesthetic value (bad sound, bad lighting, bad acting, bad editing, etc) or it lacks unity (see: Aristotle’s Poetics) or is false, meaning we don’t accept the reality of the plot, character or theme.

The Christian Alternative

Christian movies, however, are part of a history of Biblical storytelling…

Continue reading


Other posts in the series so far:

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

The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking through Better Stories

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

Why Most “Christian” Movies Suck, by Screenwriter Brennan Mark Smith

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

Christian Movie Establishment vs. “Blue Like Jazz”?

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

3 Replies to “Why Too Many “Christian” Movies Suck, and Why It Matters, by Brennan Mark Smith”

  1. The problem with most so-called “Christians” is that they aren’t.
    They wish to portray the world in a false, Disney like light.
    You can’t ban things because it’s not about what is shown – it’s about
    the perspective taken. For instance…

    A director can show violence, say gangsters in a car doing a drive by shooting… And if he glorifies it and makes the audience want to be
    like the gangsters, then even if he shows little or no violence, it’s
    a negative perspective. This is bad. However… If he shows a mother
    weeping over her child and the victims and forces the audience to
    see how tragic it really is then the more violent he makes it, the
    more good the movie is actually teaching people because it’s being
    real and showing things for what they are.

    I can’t stand the false Christian idea that people should live in
    boxes, in an imaginary fairy tale world. This is why I’m against all
    forms of censorship because it isn’t about what is shown and you
    can’t censor the perspective taken. In fact, when you censor what is
    shown, you just make directors with ill intent imply things and this
    allows them to be rated for even younger viewers…
    This is why regular TV is destroying kids without “showing” anything
    bad or allowing “vulgar language” to be heard, etc. – Censorship is evil.

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