2014 has been a fabulous year for Christian films at the box office. We had Heaven is for Real cost 12 million and made 101 million. Noah (I know some Christians didn’t care for it but I liked it!) cost 112 million and made 359 million. While not a huge hit, Mom’s Night Out doubled it’s budget. The Bible on History channel was a massive success and Son of God spinoff from that film made 67 million.
This makes me very happy because I want Christian films to be made and made well. If Hollywood knows they can make serious money the quality will continue to improve and we can hopefully get messages of faith without the excessive preaching and poor production values of direct to video variety films. People of faith deserve to have their stories told and have a spot for them at the movies just as they do in music and literature.
Of all of the Christian releases this year the one I was looking forward to seeing the most was God’s Not Dead. This scrappy little Christian film made 62 million off of a 2 million dollar budget! It was in the top 10 for a long time and earned 8.6 million in it’s opening weekend. In contrast, Disney’s Muppets Most Wanted earned 16.5 which is shocking when you consider its wider demographic and marketing budget.
Remember my post on Consider the Audience? Most of the critics hated it but the audience felt favorably. That is because it is a movie made for a specific Christian audience, which many critics do not fall into.
I really enjoyed it and was moved by it. In fact, I related to it quite strongly. It is about a boy named Josh who is asked by his philosophy professor to sign a paper saying ‘God is Dead’. Being a man of faith he cannot sign such a document. The teacher challenges Josh to prove God is not dead or he must sign the document and fail the class.
Some not of faith may think this scenario is ridiculous but if you talk to most Christians who have attended secular higher education they have faced similar circumstances. While perhaps not as dramatic as the movie portrays, most of us have been forced to defend our ‘insane notions’ of our particular faith before academics who think they know better than us (and I love academics BTW).
Before I was accepted into a church-ran school, I was called out in front of my history class and forced to debate my teacher about my faith on more than one occasion. At first it started with Mormon history and defending Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. Then it moved to basic Christianity and theology. He proceeded to try and enlighten me on why I was stupid and foolish and the whole class should take note. A similar incident actually happened that same year in a political science class I took (you see why I was so glad to go to BYU!)
This type of attempted public shaming of those of any faith is unfortunate but it has an opposite effect of what’s intended by the person doing the shaming. It only makes us stronger and more aware of God’s strength and power. While my class didn’t stand up and cheer like in this movie, several came up to me after the sessions commenting on how impressed they were with me and my courage. Again, not having the effect the teacher was intending on any of the students. If anything it just makes them look like atheist bullies.
Capturing this kind of challenge of faith is where God’s Not Dead is very strong. Shane Harper as the student is very good. He’s confident but nervous and doesn’t have an answer to every question Professor Radisson, played by Kevin Sorbo, throws at him. I liked that. None of us have every answer but enough to carry us through.
Some of the other side plots are more mixed. I enjoyed seeing the guys from Duck Dynasty but they are a little wedged in to the story. Dean Cain has a laughable scene where his fling girlfriend tells him she has cancer and he says ‘and this couldn’t wait…’. I don’t pretend to understand atheists but feel confident none of them would be so cold to anyone who has just found out she has cancer!
The cancer sufferer is played well by Trisha LaFache and a Muslim girl who is converting to Christianity is also very convincingly played by Hadeel Sittu. Radisson’s Christian girlfriend is played effectively by Cory Oliver. All in all a good cast. We also get cameos from the Christian rock band Newsboys and I liked them also.
This is one of those movies if it sounds like something you will like than you will probably like it. If it sounds like something you’d hate than you’d probably hate it. It is made for a specific audience and especially the scenes of debate between Radisson and Josh are very moving for a Christian audience. Most of us can relate to those moments and can empathize with what Josh is going through. Like I said, a few of the subplots are forced and cliched but all-in-all I really liked God’s Not Dead.
There’s nothing wrong with a film being made for a select audience, and I’m glad they do not seek to be well-rounded and appeal to everyone who could see the film. There’s plenty of movies atheists or agnostics can see that praise their perspective. They can see those. We can see this. I’m hopeful the money trail will lead to even better movies for those of faith in the future.
Content Grade- A+ (nothing offensive in this at all) Overall Grade- B