By Tyler Smith
Christian movies have been around for several decades, though they have become financially viable only fairly recently. With Alex Kendrick’s 2008 film Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron, the modern era of faith-based films began. As subsequent films like Courageous, God’s Not Dead, Miracles from Heaven, and I Can Only Imagine brought in tens of millions of dollars—often on a budget of just a few million at the most—Christian films were seen as a legitimate box office phenomenon, with no sign of slowing down. Entire streaming platforms have been created to allow Christian viewers a centralized place to watch faith-based films.
With the ongoing success of these films, one can’t help but ask the question, “Why are they so bad?”
Almost without fail, any discussion of the artistic quality of these films centers around their many faults. Stilted acting, flat camerawork, awkward editing, and overblown music all work together, struggling to bring an often-unworkable screenplay to life. Even the biggest fans of these films acknowledge their poor filmmaking, often defensively attributing it to low budgets and novice contributors. However, these same fans are often quick to point to the thematic intentions of these movies, excusing their creative shortcomings in favor of their ministry potential.
It is this aspect of Christian filmgoing—this tendency to focus more on intent than execution—that is the most likely culprit when addressing the deep flaws of faith-based films. With an audience so eager to forgive a director’s mistakes, there’s no real reason for these movies to improve. The filmmakers and studios look at the impressive box office receipts and the enthusiastic audience reaction and have no reason to doubt the quality of their product. And anybody who criticizes the films can be easily dismissed as cold, clinical academics who are unable to see the important work that God is doing through these films.
Of course, this is not to suggest that Christian messaging inherently lowers the quality of a film. Quite the contrary, actually. Many of the best movies have incorporated sincere faith-based themes into their stories. From as far back as the Silent Era with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc to more recent films like Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, films have found poetry and inspiration in the biblical promises of God.
That very few Christians seem to be aware of these movies speaks to where the faith-based audience’s interests truly lie. Rather than search for well-made films that weave faith and morality subtly into their storytelling, many Christian viewers opt for more obvious expressions of faith. It would seem that these viewers are more interested in sermons than parables, preferring overt messaging to more nuanced exploration.
While faith-based films have improved over time, they still have a long way to go to achieve the visual and narrative heights that other films have. And whatever improvement there has been appears to be incidental, driven more by filmmakers pushing themselves than by audience expectations.
And so, returning to the crucial question of why Christian films are so bad, the answer is ultimately pretty simple: because Christian audiences have no real desire for them to be good.
This dynamic is further explored in my documentary Reel Redemption: The Rise of Christian Cinema. In it, I trace the history of Christian engagement with Hollywood, eventually arriving at the emergence of faith-based films.
Watch the Reel Redemption trailer:
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