by Tom Olago
Son Of God. Noah. God’s Not Dead… In what is now being described as Hollywood’s “Year of the Bible”, there seems to be a renewed interest in Christian faith based movies in 2014, and in Hollywood’s understanding of how much interest can be generated, and money made, in this movie niche. And this despite the historic culture of Hollywood producing movies that openly mock and deride traditional faith based principles and moral values, while glorifying carnal, worldly and even openly Satanic themes.
It seems to be a win-win situation for Hollywood producers and actors on the one hand, and Christian believers and moviegoers on the other hand: Hollywood has its cash registers ringing incessantly, while Christians have the opportunity to both be entertained while celebrating the power of Bible based movies to make converts, or at least create a `foothold’ awareness of the Bible stories and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The door to indirectly evangelize through a popular means of entertainment (big-screen movies) has seemingly never been so wide open.
Hollywood seems to be belatedly awakening to the popularity and revenue-generating potential of faith based movies. In addition, they are now increasingly honing their skills to capitalize on raising just enough controversy to arouse curiosity, while managing Christian sensitivities by avoiding major offences to Biblical truth. The lessons from the screening of supposedly Bible based movies with clearly blasphemous and offensive themes such as Martin Scorsese’s `The last temptation of Christ’ or Ron Howard’s `the Da Vinci Code’ seems to be have been learned by Hollywood, at least when it comes to Bible-related movies and Christian themes.
The movie Noah is a case in point. Christian opinion on whether it is Biblically based enough to watch, or distorted enough to avoid, has been sharply divided, leaving many so confused about the split reviews. The DailyBeast.com stated that the film- Russell Crowe’s Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky, has sparked a great deal of controversy from allegations that say it strays too far from Biblical text, to criticisms it omits the word God from the story altogether. (The word “creator” is used instead.) On the other hand, proponents argue that the movie prompts people to think about God, the relevance of the Bible and its application to humanity, which then reaches the unconverted who may otherwise not consider going to church, reading the Bible or taking the gospel of Jesus Christ seriously. With Noah topping the box office at #1 and raking in a hefty $44 million to date, Hollywood has reaped handsomely from the ongoing controversy over the film. It is not as easy to measure the impact of the movie on non- Christians, at least at this point.
Dr. Brian Mattson, in his analysis on the movie Noah titled `Sympathy for the Devil’ , brings out some unique and highly interesting observations on Noah, describing it as a blatantly Gnostic subversion of the Biblical story, and is actually based not on the Bible but on the Kaballah, with Kabbalist imagery, quotations, and themes. Dr. Mattson is emphatic that : “…Darren Aronofsky has produced a retelling of the Noah story without reference to the Bible at all. This was not, as he claimed, just a storied tradition of run-of-the-mill Jewish “Midrash.” This was a thoroughly pagan retelling of the Noah story direct from Kabbalist and Gnostic sources. To my mind, there is simply no doubt about this.”
“God’s Not Dead”, has perhaps been the biggest `crossover’ surprise in that the movie went beyond appealing to mainly Christians, roping in non believers by using a clever and effective approach: playing the perennial debate of whether God does or does not exist, a subject whose arguments cross over into general society because everyone has their own opinion on it, whether they believe in God or not. The creation vs. evolution debate that pitted Bill Nye against Ken Ham in early February seemed to have attracted a wide audience for similar reasons and due to the universality of the selected theme.
The DailyBeast.com reported that “God’s Not Dead”, the fifth most popular film in America for the second week in a row tells the story of a Christian college student locked in a battle of wills against a professor who is an atheist. A recent article from the Christian Science Monitor comments: “…God’s Not Dead is a very different kind of film… It has a deep resonance in the Evangelical subculture, which often feels mocked and demeaned by the nation’s media and entertainment elites. ..There’s negativity towards Christians in Hollywood,” said Kevin Sorbo, the actor who plays the atheistic philosophy professor, “And a negativity towards people who believe in God.”
True but not surprising, as Jesus prophesied that this would be so (John 15: 18-21). The negative attitude also explains the preference for Hollywood’s preference for the term “faith-based” whenever they clearly mean Bible-based or Christian movie scripts and films.
Despite a tiny budget and its lack of marquee stars (TV actors Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain appear) the film has pulled in more than $20 million at the box office so far, with very impressive earnings per screen as well.
Son of God has been somewhat different in that it has stuck to the core gospels records and appeals most to Christians not comfortable with watching movies unless they are simply a direct translation of the Bible: in effect a change from just reading the Bible to watching it on the big screen. This approach has also worked well, with enough movie goers going to watch it to impress Hollywood. The film was condensed from the History Channel’s smash TV hit, “The Bible,” and has taken in nearly $56 million since its release on February the 28th.
So what conclusions can be drawn from the renewed interest and increasing prevalence and popularity of these Bible based movies?
One factor would be the sheer power of one-on-one grassroots marketing of the movie, way before the effective movie release dates. Onenewsnow.com quotes God’s Not Dead producer David White in October 2013: “And then as the marketing starts to unfold in October, we release the movie trailer and it became the number-one shared page on Facebook in the world. In that week it was shared close to 50 million times,” he concludes. White is hopeful the audience walks away energized to show their community that God indeed is not dead – and that God is alive and working through Christians all over the world.
The Christian Science Monitor summarizes it as follows : “The success of God’s Not Dead shows at least three things,” says Paul Levinson, media critic and professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in New York: “Big budgets are not necessary to make popular movies, there is a significant part of the population that cherishes faith-based movies, and students like narratives about arrogant professors who get their due.”
LifeNews.com states that God’s Not Dead brings out the predominant Biblical themes that all life is meaningful. Maria Gallagher writes: “In one poignant scene of “God’s Not Dead,” a pastor helps a young woman to understand that she is not a mistake, because God doesn’t make mistakes. Yet, more than three thousand times a day, the abortion industry tells American women that their babies are mistakes, and therefore should be eliminated.”
Charismanews.com concludes: “… it seems quite clear that more than ever, God is working in the hearts and minds of Americans through the medium of movies.”
Other Bible-based movies such as Heaven Is for Real and Exodus are also due for release later in 2014(April and December respectively). It remains to be seen how much they will benefit from their highly popular predecessors in 2014, and how effective they will be in their own right.
Whatever the case, these movies provide one avenue through which Jesus’ prophecy could be fulfilled:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14).