If you had to guess, what movie franchise would you say is the most profitable? Marvel would certainly be a safe bet, the studio has been raking in cash for years thanks to entries like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. Star Wars probably also jumps to mind, with its iconic lightsaber duels and space battles ensuring plenty of packed theaters. Well, this may come as a surprise, but the biggest contender is actually The Fast and the Furious series. Debuting in 2001, the franchise has rolled out seven films with a worldwide gross of over $3,899,849,616, and the series shows no signs of slowing down (pun intended). The secret to their success is pretty straightforward: They give the viewers what they want.
This is important to keep in mind, since the same rule applies to Christian movies. When producer Mark Joseph told Fox News it was time to abandon the term “faith-based film”, his comments were met with no small amount of shock. He later went on to explain,
“‘The term faith-based in an odd term to describe movies— or anything else,’ he said. ‘For most Americans, faith is a normal part of our lives, so it’s only normal that faith is weaved into movies as it’s weaved into most of our lives.’”
“The term scares away both the marginally religious and the irreligious, and it’s a signal to them that the story is going to be preachy and overbearing,”
Joseph’s comments aren’t without merit. Modern films with strong Christian backgrounds, such as Hacksaw Ridge and Queen of Katwe, have found critical and commercial success without resorting to the “faith-based” label. Still, its unlikely producers or marketers will retire the term anytime soon, for the same reason The Fast and the Furious franchise will continue to make movies: They’re giving viewers what they want.
It’s already been noted that most faith-based films are made exclusively by and for Christians. God’s Not Dead 2 had a successful box office run upon release, but only because the audience was made up entirely of Christians. The same holds true for other faith-based movies such as Do You Believe?, I’m Not Ashamed, and Miracles from Heaven. While Joseph was right to say movies don’t need the faith label to portray a Christian testimony, what he failed to understand is that Christians want them to have it. “Faith-based” is no longer a term, it’s a brand.
So what does all of this mean for us as Christians? Well, for starters, it proves there will always be a market for Christian films. No matter how much our culture changes, there will still be movies designed to win souls, bolster the faith of believers, and share the name of Jesus, if only because they’re profitable. Secondly, it puts an enormous responsibility on Christian filmmakers to create good films. If we intend to make art which shares the gospel, we should strive to give it our best.
Lastly, we need to step out of our comfort zones and engage the world around us. Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world, not stay in clusters and make movies for themselves alone. Media can be a powerful tool for the gospel, but only if we’re willing to take risks. So let us step outside the walls of our heart and discover the stories God has been preparing for us.