Thirty Favorite Christmas Movies and TV Specials

We compiled our list from Stratton family favorites and suggestions from the Two Handed Warrior community. Did we miss your favorite?

by Gary & Sue Stratton

If the stable teaches us anything it’s that you can’t always judge a Christmas classic by its humble beginning. The highest-rated Christmas movie of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life, was known as Frank Capra’s greatest failure until countless TV reruns brought it back to life.  CBS executives nearly killed the most-watched Christmas special of all time, A Charlie Brown Christmas, because they feared it was too ‘sacred.’  With a worldwide audience of over 2 billion, the BBC calls Jesus (1979)  “the most watched movie” of all time, yet most Americans have never heard of it. The most-watched opera in television history, Amahl and the Night Visitors, may never recover its audience after a tiff between composer Gian Carlo Menotti and NBC kept it off the air for over three decades.

So Sue and I put together our own list of favorites in hopes of inspiring your search for true greatness. Some are well-known. Some are secret treasures. We categorized the films/shows between those with a more-or-less ‘sacred’ view of Christmas (focused more on the birth of Jesus), and ‘secular’ offerings (focused more on Santa Claus). Then we listed them chronologically within each group.

We hope they inspire as much holiday cheer in your household as they do in ours.

Merry Christmas!

Gary & Sue

 

GREAT Films with a More (or Less) ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

A Christmas staple Menotti's 'Amahl and the Night Visitors' is worth finding in a local live performance or the original video
The most viewed opera in TV history, Menotti’s powerful ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’ is well worth the search to find it

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra’s masterpiece is not just a great Christmas movie, both the WGA  and AMI list it as one of the twenty best films ever made.

Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951) Gian Carlo Menotti’s most popular opera was originally written for NBC as a one-hour Christmas Eve TV broadcast. Find a local live performance if you can, but the hilarious and inspiring original is also available on DVD.

Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) Charles Schultz’s enduring glimpse at Charlie Brown’s search for the true meaning of Christmas. CBS feared it was ‘too sacred’ for prime time.

The Nativity (1987)  This Hanna-Barbera Greatest Adventures of the Bible video is hard to find, but worth it for your kids. We found a couple of YouTube links, but, uh …they might be bootleg.

The Nativity Story (2006) Not everything you’d hope it would be, but does a marvelous job of capturing the incredible faith (and sacrifice) of Mary and Joseph.

 

GREAT Films with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas as Part of  a Larger Movie

078nativity
Zeffirelli’s Juliet (Olivia Hussey) makes a breathtaking Mary in Jesus of Nazareth

Ben-Hur (1959) At least one wise man continues his search for Jesus as Charlton Heston’s title character strives to put his life back together after profound betrayal. Also, on the AMI list of best films ever made. As an added plus, that chariot scene can really get you in the mood to face Christmas traffic.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) Jean Negulesco directed this understated and haunting Nativity sequence.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977) Franco Zeffirelli’s masterful TV mini-series. Incredibly complex and textured. Get Episode 1 for the Nativity scene.

Jesus (1979) A clear and compelling account of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. Our normally chatty group of friends didn’t speak for a full hour after watching it together.

The Gospel According to Matthew (1996) The Visual Bible‘s straightforward retelling of the birth of Christ from Matthew’s perspective. Watching Luke (Jesus, 1979) and Matthew’s narrative back-to-back creates a marvelous disequilibrium. Throw in the prologue from The Gospel of John (2003), with LOST’s Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus, to complete a remarkable Christmas trifecta.

 

GOOD Movies with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

Bill Murray at his comedic best
Bill Murray at his comedic best

A Christmas Carol (1951) When you hear them singing The Most Wonderful Time of the Year in the Mall, you know it’s time for “scary ghost stories.”  You don’t get any scarier than the original adaptation of this “Dickens Horror Picture Show.”

Scrooged (1988) A snide and cynical take on Dickens tale with the inimitable Bill Murray as Scrooge himself.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)  Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the gang in an offbeat, but faithful retelling of Dickens’ classic.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Okay, it’s cheating a bit, but there is a Christ figure, and a Christmas, and presents, and everything. Just don’t let the White Witch hear you talking about it.

Silver Bells (2013) When a scuffle with the ref at his son’s basketball game lands an ambitious television sportscaster in serious trouble he finally encounters the true meaning of Christmas.  Act One graduate Andrea Gyertson Nasfell‘s third Christmas movie, after Christmas with a Capital C (2011) and Christmas Angel (2012), not to mention her 2014 hit Mom’s Night Out.

 

GREAT Films with a “Secular” View of Christmas

A Christmas Story ( ) somehow manages to hit the mark with holiday perfection
A Christmas Story (1983) somehow manages to hit the mark with holiday perfection

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Classic, “Do you believe in something you can’t prove” premise.  Many remakes, none come close to the original.

White Christmas (1954) Not much Jesus (or Santa), but a wonderful tale of friendship and loyalty. We watch it every year as it chokes us up every time.

A Christmas Story (1983) I don’t know why we all get such a kick out of this admittedly B movie.  A pitch-perfect coming-of-age story surrounding the hopes and fears of a nine-year-old boy. Just don’t shoot your eye out.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1996) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) Both the television classic and Jim Carrey’s (over the top) psycho-drama-remake are well worth an evening. “I’m feeling!”

Elf (2003) Perhaps  Will Ferrell’s best movie. The story of Buddy the Elf is an irresistible recasting of the Santa story.  Zooey Deschanel‘s sterling role doesn’t hurt one bit.

 

GOOD Films with ‘Secular’ View of Christmas

Tim Allen featured in Bill O'Reilly's new book, Killing Santa
Tim Allen to be featured in Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Santa?

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) A New York food writer’s personal brand as the perfect housewife is in danger of being exposed as a sham when her boss invites a returning war hero for a traditional family Christmas at her home in Connecticut. Only one problem, she doesn’t have a home in Connecticut.

Christmas Vacation (1989) Didn’t get enough of Chevy Chase on Community? This is the movie for you. The Griswold family’s big Christmas turns out to be “nuts’?

Home Alone (1990) A zany battle against the world’s least scary criminals. It made the list this year because so many THW conversation partners mentioned how the strangely moving church scene (which wasn’t even part of the original script) added much needed gravitas to the moral premise of a very silly movie.

Prancer (1989) A bittersweet, but poignant tale of loss and redemption. One girl’s desperate faith changes her life and her father.

The Santa Clause (1994) Can you be drafted into the ranks of Father Christmas? Apparently, yes. Tim Allen’s best role since Home Improvement.

 

GREAT Films set During the Christmas Season (but, uh, not all are kid-friendly)

If you like Christmas RomComs, but hate the Hallmark Channel, While you were Sleeping is for you
If you love Christmas RomComs, but hate the Hallmark Channel, While you were Sleeping is for you

While You Were Sleeping (1995) A touching and laugh-out-loud funny tale for anyone who ever cherished a secret love (or faced a Christmas alone). Might be Sandra Bullock’s best role before The Blind Side.

Die Hard (1988)  Police Officer John McClain thwarts a ring of Euro-terrorists who crash a corporate Christmas party. Bruce Willis is his smarmy best, but Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber almost steals the show… and the dough.

Family Man (2000)  Turns the “what if” premise of It’s a Wonderful Life on its head. With Don Cheadle as an angel on the edge, and some of the best acting of (Madam Secretary)  Tea Leoni and Nicholas Cage‘s and careers. Sue and I watch it every year and ponder our own “what if?”

Joyeux Noel (‘Merry Christmas’ in French, 2005) The remarkable true story of the WWI Christmas truce. German, French, and Scottish soldiers lay down their arms for a day of celebration and wind up friends with the ‘enemy’ on the opposite side of a brutal war.  A powerful expression of both the spirit of Christmas and the power of friendship. (Subtitles.)

Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece confronts us with a tale of a miraculously pregnant unwed mother and her reluctant protector set amidst the most horrific violence an empire can throw at them: in short, a stark retelling of the Christmas story.

.

See also:

It’s a Wonderful Life and the Courage to Live (and Create Art) Idealistically

Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Children of Men’ (2006): A Stark Retelling of the Christmas Story

Thirty Good to Great Christmas Movies for 2014, by Gary and Sue Stratton

Our annual Christmas movie extravaganza compiled from our family’s favorite Christmas movies of all time and suggestions from members of the THW community.

by Gary & Sue Stratton

charlie-brown-christmas2
The #1 Made-for-TV Christmas movie of all time almost never aired because CBS doubted its ‘sacred’ view of Christmas would draw a large enough audience.

What better way to get in the holiday spirit than to fire up the DVD, Blu-Ray, Tivo, Wii, XBox, Laptop, IPad, Kindle, Smart Phone, Hulu, NetFlix, Roku, Amazon Prime, etc. and watch your favorite Christmas films.

We divided our list between good and great films and categorized them with either a ‘sacred’ view of Christmas (focused more on the birth of Jesus), or a ‘secular’ version (focused more on Santa Claus). Then we listed them chronologically within each group.

We hope they inspire as much holiday cheer in your household as they do in ours.

Merry Christmas!

Gary & Sue

 

GREAT Films with a More (or Less) ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

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The toughest on the list to find, but worth the search if you want to talk about the real meaning of Christmas with your kids.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra’s masterpiece is not just a great Christmas movie, it is one of the ten best films ever made.

Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) Charles Schultz’s enduring glimpse at the meaning of Christmas. Set the DVR and experience the least commercial Christmas tale ever told on network TV.

The Nativity (1987)  This Hanna-Barbera Greatest Adventures of the Bible video is hard to find, but worth it for your kids. We found a couple of YouTube links, but, uh …they might be bootleg.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Okay, it’s cheating a bit, but there is a Christ figure, and a Christmas, and presents, and everything. Just don’t let the White Witch hear you talking about it.

The Nativity Story (2006) Not everything you’d hope it would be, but does a marvelous job of capturing the incredible faith (and sacrifice) of Mary and Joseph.

GREAT Films with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas as Part of  a Larger Movie

078nativity
Zeffirelli’s Juliet (Olivia Hussey) makes a breathtaking Mary in Jesus of Nazareth

Ben-Hur (1959) Charlton Heston’s character’s life parallel’s the life of Jesus, (even if he actually misses his birth). Also, one of the best films ever made. As an added plus, that chariot scene can really get you in the mood to face the mall.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) Jean Negulesco directed this understated and haunting Nativity sequence.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977) Franco Zeffirelli’s masterful TV mini-series. Incredibly complex and textured. Get Episode 1 for the Nativity scene.

Jesus (1979) A clear and compelling account of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. With a worldwide audience of over 2 billion, the BBC calls Jesus “the most watched” movie of all-time.

The Gospel According to Matthew (1996) The Visual Bible‘s straightforward retelling of the birth of Christ from Matthew’s perspective.

GOOD Movies with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

Muppet Christmas Carol: A scary ghost story for the PG set.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) Samuel Goldwyn’s romantic comedy about a Bishop’s fundraising prayer that nets a lot more than cash. Cary Grant plays the angel with more on his mind than money. (The 1996 remake, The Preacher’s Wife, featuring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston isn’t bad at all.)

A Christmas Carol (1951) When you hear them singing The Most Wonderful Time of the Year in the Mall, you know it’s time for “scary ghost stories.”  You don’t get any scarier than the original adaptation of this “Dickens Horror Picture Show.”

Scrooged (1988) A snide and cynical take on Dickens tale with the inimitable Bill Murray as Scrooge himself.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)  Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the gang in an offbeat, but faithful retelling of Dickens’ classic.

Silver Bells (2013) Bruce Dalt (Bruce Boxleitner) is an ambitious television sportscaster who approaches the holidays as he does life – competitively. But when a scuffle with the ref at his son’s basketball game leads to serious consequences Bruce finally encounters the true meaning of Christmas and hope.  Act One graduate Andrea Gyertson Nasfell’s third Christmas movie, after Christmas with a Capital C (2011) and Christmas Angel (2012), not to mention her 2014 hit Mom’s Night Out.

GREAT Films with a “Secular” View of Christmas

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We watch it as a family every year as we decorate the tree. And every year we say, “They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.”

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Classic, “Do you believe in something you can’t prove” premise.  Many remakes, none come close to the original.

White Christmas (1954) Not much Jesus (or Santa), but a wonderful tale of friendship and loyalty. We watch it every year as it chokes us up every time.

A Christmas Story (1983) I don’t know why we all get such a kick out of this admittedly B movie.  A pitch-perfect coming-of-age story surrounding the hopes and fears of a nine-year-old boy. Just don’t shoot your eye out.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1996) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) Both the television classic and Jim Carrey’s (over the top) psycho-drama-remake are well worth an evening. “I’m feeling!”

Elf (2003) Perhaps  Will Ferrell’s best movie. The story of Buddy the Elf is an irresistible recasting of the Santa story.  Zooey Deschanel‘s sterling role doesn’t hurt one bit.

GOOD Films with ‘Secular’ View of Christmas

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Totally idiotic and totally entertaining.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) A New York food writer’s false personal brand as the perfect housewife is in danger of being exposed as a sham when her boss invites a returning war hero for a traditional family Christmas at her home in Connecticut. Only one problem, she doesn’t have a home n Connecticut.

Christmas Vacation (1989) Didn’t get enough of Chevy Chase on Community?  This is the movie for you.  The Griswold family’s plan for a big Christmas turns out to be “nuts’?

Prancer (1989) A bittersweet, but poignant tale of loss and redemption. One girl’s desperate faith changes her life and her father.

Home Alone (1990) A zany battle against the world’s least scary criminals. It made the list this year because so many THW conversation partners mentioned how strangely moving church scene (which wasn’t even part of the original script) added much needed gravitas to the moral premise of a very silly movie.

The Santa Clause (1994) Can you be drafted into the ranks of Father Christmas? Apparently, yes. Tim Allen’s best role since Home Improvement.

GREAT Films set During the Christmas Season (but, uh, not all are kid friendly)

children_of_men
Long before last year’s Oscar nominee GRAVITY, Alfonso Cuarón was shedding new light on stories of faith, like Christmas.

Die Hard (1988)  Police Officer John McClain thwarts a ring of Euro-terrorists who crash a corporate Christmas party. Bruce Willis is at his smarmy best, but Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber almost steals the show… and the dough.

While You Were Sleeping (1995) A touching and laugh-out-loud funny tale for anyone who has ever had a secret love or faced a Christmas alone. Sandra Bullock’s best role before Blind Side..

Family Man (2000)  Turns the “what if” premise of It’s a Wonderful Life on its head. With Don Cheadle as an angel on the edge, and some of the best acting of Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni’s careers. We watch it every year and ponder our own what if?

Joyeux Noel (‘Merry Christmas’ in French, 2005) The remarkable true story of the WWI Christmas truce. German, French, and Scottish soldiers lay down their arms for a day of celebration and wind up friends with the ‘enemy’ on the opposite side of a brutal war.  A powerful expression of both the spirit of Christmas and the power of friendship. (Subtitles.)

Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece confronts us with a tale of a miraculously pregnant unwed mother and her reluctant protector set amidst the most horrific violence an empire can throw at them: in short, a stark retelling of the Christmas story.

.

See also:

Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Children of Men’ (2006): A Stark Retelling of the Christmas Story

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

Part of ongoing series: The Future of Faith in Film and Television

Clare Sera’s BLENDED and Andrea Nasfell’s MOM’S NIGHT OUT highlight the strange dichotomy between ‘Christian’ movies and the rest of Hollywood. The sense of legitimacy provided by Box Office Mojo’s new “Christian Movie” genre is nice, but is a separate category really a good thing for faith-based filmmaking?

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

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Box Office Mojo, Hollywood’s leading site for reporting movie attendance, has started posting results for ‘Christian’ movies “produced by Christians that promote or embody their religion” from 1980 to present.  The legitimacy and media attention are nice, but is this distinction a good thing for faith-based filmmaking?  While it’s encouraging to see Hollywood recognizing the economic viability of ‘Christian’ films, it is disheartening to see ‘Christian’ filmmaking reduced only to, uh, “less than subtle” explorations of faith.

While being labeled as a ‘Christian’ film might be a kiss of death for many films seeking a broader audience, a number of excellent faith-exploring films didn’t make Box Office Mojo’s list for any obvious reason. For instance, The Blind Side  ($255M) would be #3,  Madea Goes to Jail ($90M) #5, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose ($75M) #6, IF they had been included. In fact, Tyler Perry’s films would have dominated the top twenty-five if BOM had included them.  So why didn’t they?

What’s more, subtle and artistic faith explorations–such as the film’s of Alfonso Cuarón, Brit Marling, and the aforementioned Scott Derrickson–certainly aren’t on the BOM list (perhaps rightfully so), yet probably point the way for future faith-based filmmakers seeking true cultural impact more than a quick-buck from the faith community. I suspect that the great Christian filmmakers of Hollywood’s glory days–Frank CapraCecil B. DeMille, etc.–would roll over in their graves at the thought of a separate genre for ‘Christian’ films. Their films dominated THE Box Office (and Academy Awards) because they were truly outstanding works of art with broad popular appeal. (See, Shouldn’t a Great Film Impact DEEP Culture?)

A Tale of Two Writers

moms_night_out_xlgTwo current films by graduate’s of the Act One screenwriting program highlight this strange dichotomy for the modern Christian screenwriter.  Andrea Gyertson Nasfell‘s hilarious MOM’S NIGHT OUT is included on Box Office Mojo’s ‘Christian’ movie list (currently #18 at $10M and rising), mostly because of the public faith pronouncements of some the film’s producers and stars. Clare Sera‘s equally hilarious BLENDED (currently at $36M and climbing) is NOT included on Box Office Mojo’s list, presumably because it is NOT produced by or starring any publicly vocal Christians.

Both Andrea and Clare are wonderful Christians whose faith deeply informs their writing. (They’ve been part of the same writing group since they sat beside each other in Act One’s inaugural cohort.) Both films portray a strong Judeo-Christian moral promise. Because of their premise, both movies were largely panned by Hollywood critics and adored by the viewing public. (BLENDED received a coveted A- Cinema Score and MOM’S NIGHT OUT an 88% like score on Rotten Tomatoes.)  Both are outstanding comedies. My somewhat cynical teenage daughter–not the target audience for either film–loved them both and kept breaking out in spontaneous laughter for days afterward as lines from each movie kept coming to mind.

What’s the diff?

So why does Box Office Mojo consider one a ‘Christian’ film while the other is not? The reasons may be obvious to their editors. But anyone who reads Two Handed Warriors regularly or, better yet, understands what Act One is attempting to do in training Christians to enter mainstream media knows that it is a false and perhaps even dangerous distinction. We need writers like Clare Sera and Andre Nasfell to write outstanding films that flow from their own authentic faith, no matter which side of BOM’s dichotomy they fall upon. And we need Christian moviegoers who choose movies to view based not upon what Box Office Mojo or any other genre assigning agency thinks is ‘Christian,’ but upon which films reflect moral premises and artistry consistent with the beauty and love of God.

So… should we care that Box Office Mojo now has a ‘Christian’ movie genre?  Should we celebrate? Should we weep?  I’m not sure. But we all should make sure to view BLENDED and MOM’S NIGHT OUT while they are still in the theater.

Read the complete Box Office Mojo list for yourself and let us know what you think.

 

See also:

Support Your Screenwriters of Faith: Go See POMPEII Tonight

The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking

The Future of Faith in Film and Television

Thirty Favorite Christmas Movies for 2013

 

Rank Title (click to view) Studio Lifetime Gross /Theaters Opening /Theaters Date
1 The Passion of the Christ NM $370,782,930 3,408 $83,848,082 3,043 2/25/04
2 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe BV $291,710,957 3,853 $65,556,312 3,616 12/9/05
3 The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian BV $141,621,490 3,929 $55,034,805 3,929 5/16/08
4 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Fox $104,386,950 3,555 $24,005,069 3,555 12/10/10
5* Heaven is for Real TriS $88,412,645 3,048 $22,522,221 2,417 4/16/14
6* God’s Not Dead Free $59,872,680 1,860 $9,217,013 780 3/21/14
7 Son of God Fox $59,700,064 3,271 $25,601,865 3,260 2/28/14
8 Soul Surfer TriS $43,853,424 2,240 $10,601,862 2,214 4/8/11
9 The Nativity Story NL $37,629,831 3,083 $7,849,304 3,083 12/1/06
10 Courageous TriS $34,522,221 1,214 $9,112,839 1,161 9/30/11
11 Fireproof Gold. $33,456,317 905 $6,836,036 839 9/26/08
12 Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie Art. $25,581,229 1,625 $6,201,345 940 10/4/02
13 One Night with the King 8X $13,395,961 909 $4,120,497 909 10/13/06
14 The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything Uni. $12,981,269 1,340 $4,251,320 1,337 1/11/08
15 The Omega Code Prov. $12,614,346 450 $2,354,362 304 10/15/99
16 End of the Spear RM $11,967,000 1,163 $4,281,388 1,163 1/20/06
17 Facing the Giants IDP $10,178,331 441 $1,343,537 441 9/29/06
18* Moms’ Night Out TriS $9,758,646 1,046 $4,311,083 1,044 5/9/14
19 Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed RM $7,720,487 1,052 $2,970,848 1,052 4/18/08
20 Megiddo: The Omega Code II 8X $6,047,691 353 $1,573,454 314 9/21/01

* Currently in theaters.

See entire Box Office Mojo list

 

 

 

 

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)
*Message
*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: 

Courageous
Fireproof
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
Devil
The Village
Signs
Tyler Perry Movies**
Stranger than Fiction
Knowing
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
Ben-Hur
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

 

A version of this article first appeared on www.blakesnyder.com