Why are most Christian movies critical failures?

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"Paul: Apostle of Christ" premiered March 23. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

There appears to be a nearly uncrossable rift between Christian viewers and film critics when it comes to judging whether a Christian film is good or bad.

Most Christians are confused why this is, because films like “God’s Not Dead” and “Paul: Apostle of Christ” prove to be rich experiences for most Christian audiences.

However, when they go online to check the Rotten Tomatoes score, they’re often greeted by dismal aggregate scores well below the “Rotten” 50 percent.

Why is this? Well, to put it simply, it is because many modern Christian movies are actually terrible films based on the merits of their filmmaking, script and tone.

Films like “God’s Not Dead,” “Son of God” and “Do You Believe?” are the most frequent violators of the objective standards of film critics.

These films have a broad number of characters and subplots thrown into the film in order to lengthen runtime and make points that will resonate with their audiences.

Most would say that “God’s Not Dead” is about a college student defending his faith from a liberal professor, and they would be partially correct.

In addition to that central story, there were subplots including an oppressed Christian convert in a Muslim family; a liberal reporter who was facing a terminal diagnosis; a greedy businessman with a dying Christian mother; Duck Dynasty stars; a Christian rock band; a pastor’s friend and a desperate plea to turn the film into a viral social media campaign, among others.

While some of these connected to the central story more than others did, most served only to make the movie longer or generate popular Christian talking points, thus fracturing the film.

This is the direct result of building a movie on the foundation of sand that is a lazily written and cheaply produced script.

When critics watch a film, they will always look for contributions to the overall story or characters in a way that makes the film more compelling.

When a faith-based film regurgitates the same platitudes in a broken manner, it should come as no surprise that critics take issue.

In addition to their broken, cheap storytelling, many faith-based films feature poor or unimaginative cinematography, bad acting and clichéd dialogue normally involving a character going through some sort of tragedy and finally dealing with their issues by being brought to or reclaiming the Christian faith.

The latest Christian film to commit the cinematic sin of having a jumbled script is “Paul: Apostle of Christ.”

Though it features considerable acting prowess, decent cinematography and a story teeming with potential, “Paul: Apostle of Christ,” never focuses on telling one story and ends up being another pot-luck of a movie due to a complete lack of narrative focus.

None of this means that all Christian movies are terrible or will be. There are many Christian films that are focused and moving, such as “The Shack” and “The Passion of the Christ” that instead receive low ratings for being blunt in the delivery of their message, a factor that varies with how each viewer receives the film.

There are many faith-based films that have reached the height of critical respectability.

“Hacksaw Ridge” was nominated for three Golden Globes and six Academy Awards, winning two.

This film was adored by critics because it focuses on whose story it wants to tell, how it wants to tell it and does so with a real sense of purpose, to the point where every aspect of the film relates back to the main character’s struggle.

This is what more Christian films must do to be received well by broader audiences and realize the universal nature of the Christian story.

However, in modern times, films like “Hacksaw Ridge” are rare glimmers in a genre crowded with too many films that had good intentions but took the easy path.

Christian audiences feel such a disconnect with mainstream Hollywood films that they will support anything that tells a story echoing their own beliefs.

They shouldn’t  be faulted for this; we are all simply looking for art that expresses what we relate to.

Christian studios see that their audience is secured and that they can cheaply make a movie that incorporates faith-based themes and make their money back easily.

As long as they continue to profit with no protest from their customers, audiences cannot expect an increase of quality in the films that try to tell the greatest story ever told.

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