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One Year of Reviews

By God’s grace, we’ve made it through one year of Christian movie reviews and opinion pieces!  We’ve gone through over 200 movies and were able to find plenty of favorite films.  A big thanks goes to the Box Office Revolution team for all the work they did in 2016: KCApproved, amg16, and caleb0114.

However, we’re not anywhere near done.  Our team has much planned for 2017.  More reviews and columns are coming and more upcoming films.  We can’t wait to see what God has in store!

Box Office Revolutionary Saves Christmas

He knows when you’re sleeping and stuff

After watching Kirk Cameron’s infamous Saving Christmas masterpiece, I was left feeling both inspired and cheated.  I feel like good ole’ Kirk didn’t go as far as he could have with this award-winning film.  There are so many more elements of Christmas that need explaining and redeeming.  Take note, Uncle Kirk: this one’s for you!

 

Don’t you want to build a snowman?

Snowmen

What is the Biblical-historical origin of snowmen, you may ask.  Take a moment to talk with me down the historical timeline.  Imagine darkness.  Imagine a few stars peeking out in the cold Judean night as sheep graze on the countryside.  Imagine gripping a wooden stick called a staff and staring off into the distance, wandering what your true purpose is.  Then suddenly, you are knocked off your feet at the sight of mind-searing light coming from the heavens.  The very fabric of the universe has been pulled back and you see beings dancing across the firmament.

That’s right—snowmen represent the shepherds who went to see baby Jesus.  Even today, when we build snowmen, we are still referring back to those lowly men who visiting the neigh-tivity scene.  This is clear when you realize that snowmen just stand there, never moving, always watching…always watching you…

 

I can’t think of a witty caption to put here

Christmas Lights

Go back to that Judean countryside.  Walk with me as we enjoy the crisp evening.  Look up to the heavens and see the millions of blinking lights across the celestial array.  The panorama stretches as far as you can see.  Each star is named by God and each one worships Him.

You are correct again—our modern day Christmas lights represent the stars that were there the night Jesus was born.  Each star worshipped Him that night.  So the next time you’re hanging those annoyingly tangled things up around your house, remember that you are participating in the real meaning of Christmas: stars.

 

You know what kinda train this is?

Hot Cocoa

Seriously, Kirk, you really let us down here after you waxed eloquent in the first opening sequence of your creative wonder.  What does the hot cocoa mean?  I mean, Tom Hanks and the Polar Express already tried to tell us something about it, but we need your wisdom as bad as Rusty Martin Sr.’s.  I guess I’ll have to try to fill your large shoes and explain this one for all the little people out there.

Imagine you are sitting in your house alone, pondering your future life with that dreamy carpenter down the street.  You’ve picked out your new curtains for those modern windows in your first-century Jewish abode and you’ve even got a dress from Lydia of Philippi (it sure was expensive).  Then suddenly, your entire world is rocked as you turn to see a creepy angel staring right through you.  How did he get in here?  Why won’t he say anything as he stares blankly at you?  What would Joseph think if he walked in right now?  You suddenly find yourself bathed in warm light—so much so that you drop the tea you were drinking and it spills all over your new shawl.

We’re really on a roll here.  There’s absolutely no question that Christmas hot cocoa represents the British tea the virgin Mary was drinking when the British angel showed up and gave her the skinny.  So next time you’re drinking that powdery dust from a mug with red and green scribbles and\or a fat Santa on it, remember that you are following in the footsteps of the Immaculate Heart herself.

 

The best non-Christian Christmas film to date

Reindeer

Think back to that neigh-tivity scene in that wooden structure we call a stable.  The snowmen shepherds are there.  Depending on your beliefs, the ‘wise men’ may or may not be there too.  Baby Jesus lays in the feeding trough with a halo around his head.  British Joseph and Mary are there too, each with their own halo.  It smells so fresh in this ancient garage—like a cow farm.  The animals are gathered all around, just like in that song we sing in church sometimes, looking at their Creator in their feed bucket.

Right again!  The modern day reindeer are actually the animals at the neigh-tivity scene.  They were all there to witness the birth of Jesus, just like a Disney movie.  So the next time you see those red-nosed critters, think back to how the animals witnessed the birth of our Lord and Savior.

 

No, we’ve never seen this film and never intend to

Elves

Forget elf worship, these creepy little pointy-eared guys are nothing but bundles of Christmas cheer!  Think back to the day (whatever day you think it was) when the wise men guys from the East Magi visited the baby boy Jesus and gave him like a million dollars worth of gifts.  As they knelt in the stable house, they presented their gifts to the King of Kings.

In our modern Christmas ways, we think of elves as creepy little guys always watching Santa’s cute little helpers, who assist the jolly ole’ Saint Nick in body slamming liberal Christians delivering gifts to kids.  Well, that’s exactly what the Magi did!  They brought gifts to Jesus!  See, elves aren’t so bad after all!

 

 

There, I did it! Where Cameron forgot to save Christmas traditions for you, I saved them!  You’re welcome.

Why We Need More Christian Series’

A failed Christian series

With the rise of independent entertainment, the increase of interest and quality in Christian entertainment, and the availability of on-demand video services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, and even Vimeo and PureFlix On Demand, Christian creators no longer have any excuses.  One does not have to look far to see that the popularity of Amazon Original and Netflix Original Series’ is growing.  Instead of being left behind in the entertainment curve once again, it is time for the Christian creative to stand up and seize the opportunity to change the culture.  Starving artists no longer have to hope for networks to pick up their shows when they have the ability to market their ideas to possibly favorable on-demand video providers such as PureFlix On Demand.  There are many advantages to the creations of Christian original series’ and miniseries’, as will be outlined in this article.

 

Opportunity for better character development and plot twists

Too often, independent Christian films are severely limited in funding, thus causing their otherwise good plots to be squeezed into a less than two-hour runtime.  With series’ and miniseries’, this does not have to be.  Running multiple 40-minute to 60-minute episodes about the same plot with the same characters provides ample time for deeper development and more complex plot twists.  Naturally, funding is necessary for this to happen, but we believe it is possible.

Longevity

Today’s entertainment consumers want more, period.  We all want more interesting movies, more things to laugh at, more effects to be wowed by, and more plots to enjoy.  With series’, we get to see more of the same characters following a common plotline across a continuum.  Of course, this has to be done responsibly so that the series does not meander, but it is definitely possible.

Ability to make quick new ideas without undertaking a major screenplay

I’m no expert in the inner workings of what it takes to get a movie to the big screen, but I suspect that it’s much easier to present a series, at least ‘on trial’, and to have it provided to viewers through the cloud than it is to work in the major movie distribution business.  Especially since PureFlix On Demand is such an open network (you would think), someone with a good idea *should* be able to expose it to more people faster through such mediums.  Of course, I could be wrong, but I’m going to bet that I’m not.

More popular with the younger generation

Perhaps most importantly, on-demand is simply the wave of the future.  It’s not that Christianity is outdated, it’s that we’ve stopped listening to the younger generation (my generation) and stopped trying to make sure that the message of Christianity is able to be understood by all.  In a more simple vein, I know for a fact that many professing Christians my age just swear off all Christian entertainment completely, and sometimes rightly so, due to the horrible reputation of Christian film that is constantly being added to.  But what if a Christian on-demand series all of a sudden materialized?  If done properly, it would be popular almost overnight.  Just look at how much people desperately cling to When Calls the Heart, which is only a shadow of what a Christian series could be.

 

In short, if God calls us to be creative, then we have to be creative.  We have to listen to people and pay attention to what they are doing so that we can know how to effectively reach people.  It’s been too long since the inception of on-demand series’ for Christians to not have a voice there.  But maybe that’s a good thing up until now, so that the reputation is not tarnished by terrible productions.  Yet the time has come for Christian creators to rise up, to make their mark, and to take their place in the Kingdom.

What Audiences Want

Per the Calgary Herald, When Calls the Heart fans, also known as #Hearties, are very much in love with the Hallmark series because it’s family friendly and wholesome.  At the beginning of the show, there was an attempt to craft meaningful characters, and fans still hold on to this, even though character quality has significantly decreased since the inaugural season.  Michael Landon Jr. right hand man Brian Bird has said before that their show fills a deep desire in fans for wholesome entertainment.

So what does this mean?  It means that however cheesy and disappointing WCTH may become, they still have a devoted fan base because there’s nothing else. WCTH exists in a vacuum.  They were obviously trying harder at first because they had to, but now they don’t have to try because there’s no competition in their genre.  This is a sad reality, because there is so much potential in WCTH alone, but we firmly believe that this genre of TV series is largely untapped.  What if there were even better family-friendly weekly series on television and on-demand services?

Christian and inspirational viewers may like certain aspects of non-family-friendly entertainment (this definition is very broad and subjective), they still desperately want wholesome entertainment.  So where are the Christian creative geniuses?  Entertainment still remains to be another area where western Christians have allowed other ideas to fill the vacuum.  The inspirational genre is starved for quality creations.  Hallmark, despite their flaws, would likely approve any series that marketed well and was crafted for their target audience.  The vast world of on-demand entertainment remains untapped by Christians.

What we need is a generation of creative Christians to rise up and redeem entertainment by making better entertainment.  Due to financial constraints, they would obviously have to start out small, but it’s better to start somewhere than nowhere.  If God wants you to create redemptive entertainment, then He will provide.  We must be open to what God wants us to create, because as we have seen, entertainment has a profound effect on western culture and even the entire world.  Christian entertainment has too long been dominated by low-quality and propaganda-ridden sediment, and it’s time for that to change.

On the 88th Academy Awards

While I rarely watch Hollywood awards shows and do not really keep up with any inside Hollywood information, I happened to watch portions of the Oscars last night.  Therefore, I cannot actually comment on the entirety of the event, but I can offer my assessment of what I did see.  What I saw was what I will term as ‘bored Hollywood’.  In my opinion, they, as a collective, have reached a point where they don’t really have to try anymore.  Some could say they are phoning it in.  In the follow up to the event, there were many accusations of silent racism, and from what I saw, they were justified.  Attempts to combat an all-white show were lame and obviously pandering.  Besides this, it seemed to me like the same movies won all the awards.  Overall, the 88th Academy Awards, I believe, demonstrated an overarching attitude in collective Hollywood–apathy and procedural overconfidence.

Besides Pixar, what studios and distribution companies are creating and carrying movies that are not remakes of old films?  The Hollywood collective are obviously always trying to relive the good old days–and making a killing off of it–the days when special effects were in their early stages and when white actors dominated the scene.  In short, I believe that originality left southern California long ago.

So where does that leave the Christian film scene?  What is the application for us?  Simply this: it’s our time to rise up and prove that we can do it better.  We can have more diverse casts than mainstream movies.  We can create original plots rather than remakes and break into unique genres.  We can be more professional and family friendly.  We can speak about social issues in ways that people will listen.  This is our call to rise up and take the opportunity we have to make a lasting difference in modern film-making.

2015 in Review: The Turning Point for Christian Films

2013 and 2014 were billed as the ‘years of the Bible’ in Hollywood, but this never panned out.  Unfortunately, barring a few exceptions, the Christian movies from these years were largely negative.  Yet they did signal a sign of things to come.  Before 2013, Christian movies were randomly and sporadically produced.  No consistent creators existed save for the Kendrick brothers and other Affirm creators such as the budding Erwin brothers, the PureFlix conglomerate, and the remnants of Fox Faith.  2013 and 2014 also promised Hollywood-driven faith based and inspirational films and many movies crowded to seize on this new label, presumably to capture a consistent Christian audience.  But in the end, little good came out of this push except for a promise of greater things to come and a blueprint on how to do it.

Fast forward to the year 2015, by far the best year for Christian films and the start of a new Christian movie era.  With a record-breaking four Box Office Revolution Hall of Fame movies, it was a year for the books.

 

Old-Fashioned

Early in 2015, rookie film maker Rik Swartzwelder burst onto the scene with a Valentine’s Day alternate to the grotesque Fifty Shades of Grey, which is a move that Christians need to take note of the next time they complain about or embrace all the bad movies in America.  Untested and unproven, PureFlix took a chance with Swartzwelder and cashed in big.  Swartzwelder brought a fresh look at Christian romance, driven by quality production and Jane Austen-like dialogue.  Old-Fashioned not only signaled the possible beginning of a new era for PureFlix distributed movies, but the beginning of a new Christian film era.

 

Beyond the Mask

In the underrated release of Pendragon, the Burns family showcased their ability to do a lot with small resources.  Now, with better funding, better support, and a better cast and crew, they broke out with a rare Christian action adventure screenplay.  Mask not only showcases a new genre but also demonstrates the ability to craft a complex non-typical Christian plot.  We expect it to be the first of many Christian films to break into new genres.

 

War Room

Following their blockbuster Courageous and their exit from Sherwood, the Kendrick brothers’ next release was highly anticipated and highly marketed.  It lived up to its expectations, both in quality and box office success.  War Room proved that the Kendricks are not done any time soon and remain the Fathers of Christian Film Making.

 

Woodlawn

The Erwin brothers have always performed ahead of schedule, with their only three films all being Hall of Fame rated.  They demonstrate expertise in assembling and directing highly talented crews and casts and in amplifying the strengths of individuals.  Not to mention that they write some great plots.  Woodlawn was heavily marketed as well and did not disappoint on the big screen.  The future is bright for these Alabama brothers.

 

 

Honorable Mention: Do You Believe

Following their first box office success God’s Not Dead, PureFlix sought to build on it with another inspirational film about the interconnected lives of individuals in a city.  With increased production quality and interesting plot potential, Do You Believe continued a new era of PureFlix films.  However, it still did not live up to Hall of Fame status.  Nonetheless, it was something to build off of.

 

***

In summary, 2015 was a year that unexpectedly brought Christian movies to a new level—setting new standards for the industry.  No one saw it coming, but it happened regardless.  2016 promises to bring films from new Christian creators to the scene, and we anticipate a fresh wind of creativity to blow across the Christian movie landscape.  It’s time for a new generation of film makers to stand up and redeem the field—the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

We Need More Genres of Christian Movies

For too long, Christian films have struggled to find identity amidst a sea of limited inspirational plots, small-town romances, slightly true miraculous events, and Amish intrigue.  There are those, such as the Kendrick Brothers, who have mastered the generic inspirational genre, and there are sparse successes that can be discovered from time to time.  But for the most part, there are simply too many typical Christian films—those that include a male or female Christian or soon-to-be Christian protagonist who has an inevitable love interest and who is caught in some type of small-scale conflict with a predictable antagonist that will be neatly resolved in ninety minutes or less.  There are a lot of well-meaning intentions and great messages to be heard from these sorts of movies, but are they making a difference?  Both Christians and non-Christians need to hear what quality Christian film-makers have to say, but sometimes the messages get lost in translation due to stock packaging.  This is not to say that Christian films need outlandish plots and wild special effects like so many run-of-the-mill Hollywood screenplays.  What is needed is diverse genres coupled with solid plots and acting, without forgetting the need for high quality production.  This opinion piece aims to outline genre suggestions for future Christian films.

 

Action adventure

Burns Family Studios has already laid out a blueprint for the creation of great Christian action adventure films, and we fully expect them to continue to produce within this genre.  Action adventure is needed in Christian movies not only because it attracts younger audiences, but it also demonstrates that Christians can do more than just a Hallmark movie.  Box Office Revolution understands why this genre is not often used—more funding than usual is needed and scenes take longer to film.  But we maintain that it is better for make a few standout films than to continue to add to a growing pile of generic screenplays.

 

Epic

Woodlawn is the only modern Christian epic to date.  By definition, an epic movie is a minimum two-hour length film that depicts the entire life of an individual, a lengthy and complex portion of an individual’s life, or a group of individuals moving together across space and time in pursuit of a common set of goals.  Older screenplays such as The Robe and Ben-Hur can be placed in this category.  Epics are very hard to make because they require a lot of time and effort put into a concise portrayal of a long series of events.  They cannot be too rushed or too long.  Well-crafted epics will always be few and far between, but they are worth the wait.

 

Suspense

Hollywood is replete with cheap suspense movies because many audiences like seeing things blow up.  But Christians can do suspense better, if proper effort is put forth.  There are not many strictly suspense films on the Christian scene; Escape, Unconditional, and Courageous all have suspense elements.  The older Left Behind movies attempt to be suspenseful, but not successfully.  This genre is necessary because suspense is realistic, so long as guns and explosions are kept moderate.  Such movies can appeal to different audiences, both Christian and non-Christian, and can drive messages home in ways inspirational films cannot.

 

Psychological thriller

This is a very rare genre, almost like a gift that only some writers have.  Bradley Dorsey has dabbled into the genre in the past, though his films went mostly unnoticed due to poor funding.  The true definition of psychological thriller is difficult to quantify—it mostly pertains to a thriller whose plot rests on an out-of-the-ordinary plot twist or series of plot twists that do not pertain to average reality, such as a parallel universe or someone seeing life through the lens of a mental disorder.  Though this is a hard genre to write, we would like to see more ideas on the table.

 

Realistic legal thriller

Fiction of all types is replete with cheesy legal thrillers, yet there are those diamonds in the rough that need to be portrayed on the big screen.  Currently, legal ‘thrillers’ on the Christian market mostly pertain to religious freedom issues.  Most written legal thrillers have too much emphasis on evil prosecutors and angry judges.  In legal fiction, proper courtroom and law procedure must be given attention to in order to keep the plot realistic.  Box Office Revolution challenges the Christian faithful to try their hand at good legal thriller movies.  Since it is sometimes difficult to write this type of plot, there are plenty of Christian legal thrillers that are worth adapting.

 

Dystopian thriller

At the time of this writing, the secular box office is saturated with movies that are adapted from young adult dystopian thrillers.  Christians seem to be attracted to this type of movie, but Box Office Revolution has huge caveats about this following due to Hollywood’s usual inclusions of suggestive content and unnecessary violence.  Though there are no dystopian options on the table, this is the perfect opportunity for someone to come along and redeem the genre.  A dystopian society from a Christian worldview would be something to behold.

 

Fantasy\Speculative

The Chronicles of Narnia is the most poignant example of this genre as it pertains to a Christian worldview.  Douglas Gresham, stepson of C. S. Lewis has done an excellent job of preserving the original messages of the books, even though he has dealt with multiple production companies.  There are many ‘underground’ Christian fantasy and speculative works of fiction, so this can be a difficult genre to navigate.  Yet there are good ideas to be found.  New plots also need to be offered, ones that avoid the usual clichés of ‘chosen’ characters and quests.

 

True comedy

Mom’s Night Out is the best Christian comedy to date.  There are many cheap Christian and inspirational attempts at comedy that can mostly be seen on Hallmark and Ion, but not many truly humorous options.  In order to create a true comedy, one must write dialogue that is based in reality and elicit humor from everyday events and from the blunderings of flawed human beings like we all are.  Moreover, it is good to hear that Rene Gutteridge, a comedy genius is now entering the Christian film scene.  Most of her work is worth replicating.

 

Spiritual horror

This is a very difficult topic and it has never been done properly, to our knowledge.  To portray a Christian horror flick properly, it must be bathed in prayer and grounded in firm Jesus-centered spirituality.  Dealing with the demonic should never be taken lightly, but if a Christian horror film that properly portrays realistic spiritual conflict were ever made, it would reach audiences that are never reached by traditional Christian films.  Currently, there are no quality or remotely Christian horror films on the market; films such as The Remaining have unsuccessfully tried to dump Christian themes into cheap horror sequences.  Nonetheless, this genre is still wanting and should not be rushed into.

 

+++

In short, Box Office Revolution maintains that God gives Christians all varieties of creativity for a reason.  No movie genre that has the potential to be morally sound should be passed off as ‘ungodly’.  BOR operates from a worldview that simply states that God owns every jurisdiction and area of human creativity, including genre.  Though many genres have been marred with immortality, they can and should be redeemed by Christian film creators.  After all, Christians have the capacity to make their movies better than Hollywood, and we expect to see more of this in the days to come.

How the Kendrick Brothers Revolutionized Christian Moviemaking

Everyone has meager beginnings and first impressions can be deceiving.  At face value, Flywheel came onto the Christian movie scene with little national momentum.  However, Stephen and Alex Kendrick found some local success by having their movie shown around their home state of Georgia.  Box Office Revolution (BOR) did not exist at the time of Flywheel’s inception, but we would have given it a poor review for multiple reasons.  Even today, BOR suspects that the Kendricks know how low quality Flywheel actually was, but they were not deterred.  All they had to do was start somewhere.

Following Flywheel, Stephen and Alex continued the process of movie trial and error by learning from their mistakes, unlike many Christian movie-makers.  They increased their production budget and invested in better technology, such as better cameras.  As they created Facing the Giants, they continued to show inherent talent in coaching actors to be believable and realistic in their acting.  Facing the Giants burst onto the scene as a national momentum changer in Christian movies, partly due to an improved marketing push.  The movie was filmed with entirely ‘amateur’ actors, departing from a typical Christian movie model.  Giants brought more success than Flywheel, and the Kendricks could have stopped there and coasted the rest of their career.  Yet they did just the opposite.

There is no doubt that Stephen and Alex Kendrick are grounded in the Christian faith they profess and that they care about portraying real people in real life on the big screen.  There is nothing flashy about the Georgia natives, just authenticity and real Christianity.  These factors no doubt contribute to their cinematic success.

Fireproof was a slight departure for the Kendricks, as Christian celebrity actor Kirk Cameron was brought in to star in the movie about troubled marriages.  The Kendricks took on a topic that is unfortunately unpopular in many Christian circles and hit another home run.  Time has proven the actor coaching genius of the Kendrick brothers as Cameron and his co-star Erin Bethea have put on less than quality performances in non-Kendrick movies.  At the time of Fireproof, BOR wondered if the Kendricks would begin to coast through the remainder of their career, but we were wrong again.

Courageous had the largest budget of all Kendrick films, and it paid off.  Popular Christian actors Kevin Downes and Ben Davies were added to the cast list, alongside the typical ‘amateur’ Sherwood actors.  Thanks to Kendrick coaching, BOR saw no difference between experienced and inexperienced actors.  Courageous was the most complex Kendrick plot to date and had the deepest character development at the time.  The film tackled the serious topic of true fatherhood from multiple angles and expounded on the Kendricks’ silent commitment to diversity in actors.  In short, BOR calls Courageous a blockbuster success and the moment when the Kendricks truly ‘arrived’ in film-making.  Once again, at this point, the Kendricks could have sat back and coasted.  Yet, once again, they chose the higher road.

Following the success of Courageous, Alex and Stephen Kendrick chose to leave their seemingly comfortable staff positions at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, and decided to strike out on their own with faith in God that their new venture would work.  They developed Kendrick Brothers Films and seemed to lay dormant for several years.  Alex appeared in a few movies as an actor only, including The Lost Medallion and the blockbuster Mom’s Night Out.  BOR wondered if their film-making days were behind them.  We were completely wrong.

The rumblings of War Room began late in 2014 and continued throughout the spring and summer of 2015.  The early advertisements promised a talented cast, a commitment to diversity, and a solid topic designed to change the church culture in America.  The movie delivered on all three and packaged them all into an exquisite plot centered around well-developed, believable characters.  Complete with a realistic ending, believable life events, a non-linear plot, excellent acting and production, and personal Easter eggs, War Room proved that the Kendricks were not finished making high quality movies.

In addition to perfecting a model for writing and producing high quality Christian movies, the Kendricks are also credited as helping the groundbreaking Erwin brothers begin their movie success.  Along with Sherwood executive producer Jim McBride, the Kendricks are quietly thanked for their help with October Baby, the Erwins’ inaugural film that received meager attention compared to their blockbusters Mom’s Night Out and Woodlawn.  Therefore, the Kendrick brothers have also shown that they think beyond their own movie-making ventures and seek to improve and discover quality Christian films everywhere.  If there ever was a time that quality Christian films were desperately needed, it is now.

The Kendricks have not only found success in grossing high dollar amounts through independent films, but their strong faith and mission clearly drive their film-making.  They mobilize the church not only to advertise but also to make a difference in American Christian culture.  As far as BOR can tell, the Kendricks have no ulterior motives except for strengthening Christians through movies.  Movies are powerful, and the Kendricks have proven this.  Yet there is nothing more powerful than righteous prayer, as was demonstrated in War Room, perhaps the most powerful Christian film to date.  BOR only expects great things from Christian movies in the future, and the Kendrick brothers are partially responsible for ushering in this new era.

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