Silver Screen, Silver Lining
BY RYAN O’QUINN
Get out to the theater this weekend and support a faith film.
In the world of film and television, where I work in Hollywood, there are a lot of opinions about what makes great art. Probably nearly as many opinions as there are people. The entertainment industry, in general, has always been considered liberal — I’m speaking broadly and not just politically — but we have come a long way in changing minds in Hollywood about faith-based projects.
Years ago there were a handful of films that would fit into the category of “Christian movies.” In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, titles like The Omega Code and Left Behind had a niche audience, yet managed to make a splash in the mainstream with theatrical releases that topped $2 million on opening weekend. This got the attention of some behind the studio walls but not enough to convince them to hang out a shingle within the studio system for faith and family projects.
In Hollywood, not unlike most industries, money talks. Once the studios got wind that evangelicals, number one, had money, and number two, would show up to the movies, everyone wanted in on the game. There have been more than 90 titles that would be considered faith-based film projects that have amassed a whopping $2.2 billion in the U.S. box office alone.
The range of storytelling topics has also broadened from biblical-period pieces to romantic comedies. As varied as secular studios’s offerings in genre and tone, so are family and faith projects these days. With the release this year of projects like The Resurrection of Gavin Stone and Youth Group, (Disclosure: This author was a producer and had a role in the latter.), there are actual faith-based comedies out there that may rival anything else available. The difference is that there’s no offensive language, content, or situations. Just good, clean comedies with heart.
In 2005, one major Hollywood studio released a grand total of one faith film. In 2016, Hollywood studios released 31. This hockey stick trajectory proves that someone is doing something right and audiences are responding. My theory is that it’s not just local pastors convincing congregations to support faith movies but that moviegoers are longing for something different. The proof is in the data: R-rated films do far less in the box office than their G and PG rivals.
One thing I’ve noticed in my 20 years in the industry is the verbiage has changed a bit, as well. One could argue that we can do more now with less and that accounts for better movies. But that goes for everyone in film-making, not just those who would categorize themselves as Christian filmmakers. With the advent of changing technologies across all sectors of the industry, the production quality has continued to increase in faith films. It’s amazing what special effects can be done in the editing bay, not to mention video versus expensive film stock.
Years ago, if someone were referring to a faith film, they would likely use a moniker like a “Jesus movie.” Somehow that morphed into a “Christian film.” Later, the genre became “faith films” then “faith-based films.” Now, more often than not, I’m hearing “family and faith projects.” While it may sound on the surface like we’re moving away from Jesus, I don’t think that is the case. I believe it’s the studio system trying to figure out what to do with this force that can no longer be ignored as a genre of entertainment. We all know that Jesus in idea and name will always be offensive to some, and the world is trying to determine how to categorize this ever-growing brand.
In 2006, Sony Pictures entered the faith space, followed by Universal Studios in 2008. In the last three years alone, Lionsgate, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and MGM have all come to the table with nationwide, faith-based theatrical releases.
Again, the data speaks for itself. Faith films (or however you want to categorize them) are here to stay. The way you and I can ensure we continue to have a voice in the world, as well as an option to take our entire family to when we go to the local cineplex, is to get out and support these projects.
Speaking from experience, films and filmmakers live and die by box office numbers and ticket sales. We have spoken loudly, and Hollywood has finally woken up. Let’s continue to tell our stories and be proactive about supporting wholesome family entertainment. Now get out to the theater this weekend with your family and support a faith film. •
Ryan O’Quinn is an actor, writer and producer and lives in Los Angeles with his wife Heather and their three children. He starred in last year’s BELIEVE, which is available on DVD.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (April 2017). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.