History of Christianity in films and books
My experience dipping into the whole of Christian films is limited but I am intently invested in the history of the filmography and what it has to offer. From the ever-popular and heavily critiqued God’s Not Dead(2014), to the R-rated, record breaking(in gross profits and box office) film The Passion of The Christ, Christian films have been at the source of our story-telling history at its heart… and can show us the trends of how Hollywood intends to showcase its future.
With the quality of this type of media creating creative works such as The Star (2017), an animated feature for children about the story of the first recorded Christmas ever, we can see how Hollywood and star-studded casts can bring these types of biblical stories into a more mainstream light.
From much of what Christian film and media has to offer, an overwhelming amount of film and media is an adaptation from a novel or book. Such as the more widely known, God’s Not Dead(2014), we see it’s roots etched in education and debate(an important theme in the film), which is an adaptation of Rice Broocks’ 2013 book God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty.
Some Christian films have been inspired by true events such as Soul Surfer(2011), wherein the leaning of faith is used for healing purposes in the event of a tragedy(when 13 year old professional surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm in a shark attack).
In what gives ode to the huge blockbuster hits that are almost always controversial and universally panned, we have stories linked to biblical stories and passages(Son Of God 2014), which is an adaptation of a ten hour mini-series, The Bible (2013). This follows the gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection told by the last living disciple of Christ John. The film recreates many of the moments that were featured in the more popular and emotionally visceral drama The Passion of The Christ, with less bloodied results.
Page to Screen Adaptations 2023
The concept of page to screen adaptations is not a new one but I can see it is a growing trend and I for one am very excited about it’s possibilities for Christian film. I feel popular novel adaptations can reach audiences better than most screenplays, because the way we connect to our own faiths, spiritual thoughts and childhoods is through the characters we read about in books.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret(2023)
Written by Judy Blume, the middle school grade book published in 1979 was a benchmark of culture, giving us a protagonist that was growing up in an inter-faith household and was dealing with very real subjects. This is a young girl just at the very beginning of becoming a teenager, grappling with many different types of emotions and body changes, and who also is faith driven, often praying to God as a source of comfort and solace.
Currently, this film holds a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is being described as, “Effervescent and refreshingly frank about the travails of puberty, this long-awaited adaptation does full justice to Judy Blume’s seminal novel.” I strongly feel that this is the type of Christian media we need to see more of, and the trend of this becoming such a high success in the box office both in domestic and gross sales is only more of a reason we need more stories like this brought to the big screen.
Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World (or simply Big George Foreman) (2023)
Sports and faith films are often as well paired as a classic PB&J sandwich, which in this arena, should’ve been a recipe for success in this intense biopic about heavy weight boxing champion George Foreman…yet, released in the same week as Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret(2023), it fell flat in box office revenue and critical reception.
Suffering poverty growing up, Foreman overcame adversity and grew to become a prolific and esteemed boxing champion. Unfortunately, during a match, he suffers a near-death experience and decides to become a Baptist minister and preacher. This journey circles back around to him eventually going back to his original roots of boxing, but has an overall spiritual and religious overtone to the narrative.
I feel overall this story has heart but as Rotten Tomatoes contends: “Big George Foreman had a classic sports story to work with; unfortunately, the sluggishly ordinary way it’s told here is more Tomato Can than Heavyweight Champion.”
Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist (January 26)
This extremely popular novel by Tim LaHaye’s is what is franchised as the Left Behind series, which has given rise to many other iterations such as films, video games, graphic novels, and music. It follows what the world would look like six months after The Rapture, and millions of people are gone due to that event. A new charismatic leader is in charge and it is unclear where they can be trusted or not or if they are to get involved in the Tribulation, or end of time.
This page to screen adaptations are a huge growing trend that are rising in popularity in audiences and critics, and I see this one as well creating a buzz over its content and creativity.
Jesus Revolution (February 24)
Laurie’s 2018 book (written with Ellen Vaughn) Jesus Revolution: How God Transformed an Unlikely Generation and How He Can Do It Again Today (Baker) is the true story of how young teenagers in Southern California started a religious movement in the 70’s.
The 2023 film adaptation of the novel citing true to life history has become an interesting buzz of high audience score yet mixed critic reception. “High production values and a storyline that works even if you don’t care about Christianity,” Joshua Encinias of MovieMaker succinctly explores, making one feel more and more that the divide between media and religious messages in media is not as powerful as once believed.
Art as a shared medium for many types of religious expression
Art and film are powerful in this way and can reach out to all groups, even if you are not Jewish, Christian, Catholic or of any other belief system… you can still dive into anyone of these diverse stories and find a character or family to appreciate and step into their shoes as they are all inherently human and fallible. I find the era of page to screen adaptations for Christian films, and for all faith driven media, to be of high quality and very inspirational, and I can’t wait to see what is next.