Sometimes, I don’t get us.
We Christian moviegoers can sound oh-so-superior when we critique Christian movies. We whine a lot. We complain about the scripting, the acting, the hokey dialogue, the maudlin sentimentality.
And what happens when we’re given a Christian movie that’s good? More often than not, we ignore it.
Take the disappointing story of All Saints, released by Affirm Films this weekend.
Everything seemed lined up for this little movie: The summer’s biggest blockbusters had come and gone, and its biggest competition came from second-tier holdovers (The Hitman’s Bodyguard), small niche indie flicks (Wind River) and lightweight newcomers (Leap!). All Saints was being released in nearly 850 theaters—a hefty rollout for a Christian flick.
Then the reviews started trickling in … and they were pretty great. Not just Christian reviews: Secular critics praised the movie, too.
“Steve Gomer’s fine fact-based, faith-based film showcases a career-highlight performance by John Corbett,” wrote Variety’s Joe Leydon. Katie Walsh of the Los Angeles Times called it “rather fascinating” in her thumbs-up critique. And Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com called it “a bit of a miracle.”
“It’s a faith-based movie inspired by a true story that lets its dramatic moments unfold without relying on melodrama,” she wrote. As someone whose seen a lot of melodramatic Christian flicks, I know how rare that can be.
All told, All Saints has racked up an 89% “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes thus far—better than The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Wind River and Leap!. But, during the slowest weekend at the box office in 15 years, All Saints collected less than $1.6 million and finished 16th.What gives?
We say we want quality, but sometimes, our movie choices suggest otherwise. It can seem like the more successful a Christian film is financially, the less successful it is aesthetically.
Take 2014—a banner financial year for Christian moviesg. Heaven is for Real made $91.4 million. God’s Not Dead another $60.8 million. Son of God hit $59.7 mil. Those aren’t Avatar numbers, obviously, but in the niche world of Christian moviemaking, each one of them would be considered a genuine blockbuster. But on Rotten Tomatoes, these films stand at 48%, 15% and 21%, respectively. The surprise Christian hit War Room banked $67.8 million the following year, but only a third of critics found it worth seeing, according to RT. Last year’s God’s Not Dead 2—which boasts a 9% “freshness” rating on RT—has made more money than The Case for Christ, which stands at 79%.
For years, Christian filmmakers have been encouraging Christian moviegoers to send Hollywood a message with our money: “Buy a ticket to a faith-based flick, and you’re telling the entertainment industry that there’s a market for quality, family-friendly movies that take faith seriously,” they tell us.
Well, Hollywood’s gotten half of that message, all right. It knows that faith-based audiences will support some faith-based films. But quality faith-based films? Meh.