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Christian Cinema Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
By Dr. Ted Baehr, Host of MOVIEGUIDE® TV and Radio
Movies with Christian, redemptive content and movies by Christians are experiencing a dramatic growth. The number of movies with positive Christian content has increased from less than one percent each year to nearly 50 percent. The number of movies produced by Christians also has increased dramatically, especially since the release of FIREPROOF. Some of them are excellent.
To understand the future of Christian cinema, we need to look at the past. In the early days of the entertainment industry, may of the movies were Passion Plays, Nativity stories and morality tales. Thomas Alva Edison gave the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, a film camera in the 1890s, and Booth used it to make several movies.
By 1914, a significant portion of movies had Christian content and were shown in churches as well as theaters. Then, the theater industry complained about Hollywood movie companies showing their movies in churches. So, the Hollywood Entertainment Industry stopped showing movies in churches and stopped making as many morally up and spiritually inspiring movies that could be exhibited in churches. In fact, in the 1920s, there was a great divide between Hollywood and the church. Hollywood cracked down on movies screenings in churches, and movies got very debauched. The movie ECSTASY, for example, had over 10 minutes of sex and nudity in it, launching Hedy Lamar’s career.
This terrible situation got so debauched that the Hollywood box office started to collapse. Studio mogul Jack Warner invited three churchmen to help restore public confidence in Hollywood movies. From 1933 to 1966, the church, including the Roman Catholic Legion of Decency and the Protestant Film office, worked behind the scenes to make sure that the movie industry represented the concerns of the vast majority of the public. As a result, a child could go see any movie, although some of the themes may have been too mature. Thus was born the Golden Age of Hollywood, when Mr. Smith went to Washington and it was a wonderful life.
Then, in the 1960s, tragedy struck again. The Protestant Film Office had to shut down for lack of funding, and the movie industry went from THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD to the first sex and Satanism movie, and from THE SOUND OF MUSIC to the first X-rated movie.
The situation grew worse as movies became more and more violent, and sexual content became more and more graphic. Then, in the 1980s to reverse the trend, I started The Christian Film & Television Commission® ministry and MOVIEGUIDE®: The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment, as well as the Annual MOVIEGUIDE® Faith & Values Awards Gala. MOVIEGUIDE® quickly became the first Christian and family guide to entertainment broadcast on TV and radio, and the first Internet resource for Christians and families.
As a result in part of our economic Report to the Entertainment Industry, the number of movies with solid Christian content has increased from less than one percent to nearly 50 percent, and the number of R-rated movies went from 82 percent to 40 percent or less. Not only that, but most of the major movie studios, and some of the biggest independent studios, now have divisions for producing family-friendly movies and home videos, but also Christian movies and home videos.
Much of the improvement has come about because of our work behind the scenes in Hollywood, and especially our Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry that shows that good movies with faith and values do better at the box office.
As a result, the studios are trying to put out more movies with faith and values. The chairman of Disney said that they will make movies with romance but no sex, action but no violence, dialogue but no foul language under their Walt Disney label. And, every studio is encouraging producers to put in church scenes and other faith-based content, as well as encouraging new filmmakers with faith-based movies.
FIREPROOF helped show independent movies with strong Christian content helped improve the box office. Now at MOVIEGUIDE®, we’ve been screening more and more movies with Christian content, some of them mediocre, but more and more of them very entertaining and some of them great.
Thus, the future looks bright for Christian cinema and for movies made by Christians. But, they have to be well made and also entertaining. To do that, get a copy of my book SO YOU WANT TO BE IN PICTURES?, read MOVIEGUIDE® and analyze the Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry. Then, come to the 18th Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala, and you can hear from major leaders in the entertainment industry just how important our work has become in their lives, and how much your support of their family-friendly, Christian movies and television programs means to them.