Christian film industry

The Christian film industry is an umbrella term for films containing a Christian themed message or moral, produced by Christian filmmakers to a Christian audience, and films produced by non-Christians with Christian audiences in mind. They are often interdenominational films, but can also be films targeting a specific denomination of Christianity.

Popular mainstream studio productions of films with strong Christian messages or Biblical stories, like Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Book of Eli,[1] Machine Gun Preacher and Silence, are not specifically part of the Christian film industry, being more agnostic about their audiences' religious beliefs. These films generally also have a much higher budget, production values and better known film stars, and are received more favourably with film critics.

Many films from the Christian film industry are produced by openly confessing Christians in independent companies mainly targeting a Christian audience. This has been on the rise since the success of Sherwood Pictures' Fireproof, which was the highest grossing independent film of 2008.[2] The success of Fireproof may have been due in part to a door opened by the box office success of The Passion of the Christ.



Wymondham magic lantern
Magic lantern at the Wymondham Museum.

Before the invention of the movie projector, European audiences gathered in darkened rooms to watch magic lantern presentations. Catholic priest Athanasius Kircher promoted the magic lantern by publishing the book Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae in 1680.[3] Controversy soon followed as priests and masons used the lanterns "to persuade followers of their ability to control both the forces of darkness and enlightenment" and temperance groups used the lanterns to fight alcoholism.[4] In the 1800s, missionaries such as David Livingston used the lanterns to present the Gospel in Africa.[5] After movie theaters emerged, magic lanterns lost their popularity and disappeared from the public.

Throughout the late 19th and into the 20th century, there was much dispute among Christians as to "Christian film". Many thought motion picture was creating a graven image, and shunned having anything to do with the film industry. Through the years, however, many Christians began to utilize motion picture for their own purposes.[6] Herbert Booth, as part of the Salvation Army, claimed to be the first user of film for the cause of Christianity, in 1899.[6]

Surprisingly, the Protestant Church encouraged film from the early 20th century, with Congregational minister, the Reverend Herbert Jump writing his influential pamphlet, The Religious Possibilities of the Motion Pictures, in 1910.

By the 1940s a renaissance of Christian filmmaking occurred as recorded by Andrew Quicke and Terry Lindvall in Celluloid Sermons: The Emergence of the Christian Film Industry, 1930-1986 (New York University Press, 2011), the sequel to Sanctuary Cinema.

20th century

In the 1940s, Christian film libraries emerged. Christian businessmen interested in renting audio visual materials started libraries to rent films to churches.[7] Harvey W. Marks started the Visual Aid Center in 1945. Circa 1968, Harry Bristow launched Christian Cinema in a small theater in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, and in the early '70s, the ministry moved to a theater in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Christian Cinema operated a movie theater that showed only Christian films, but closed down in the mid 1990s. The growth of Christian film libraries led to the Christian Film Distributors Association (CFDA) being formed in 1974. The CFDA began holding a conference each year for Christian filmmakers and distributors. The Christian Film and Video Association (formerly the Christian Film Distribution Association) gave out Crown Awards for films that "gloried Jesus Christ."[8]

In 1949 Ken Anderson, editor for a Youth for Christ magazine, decided to form a small Christian film studio. An old shut-down dancehall was purchased and moved onto some donated land to become the first home for Gospel Films, which grew into the largest Christian film distributor. Seeing the potential of Christian films, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association created World Wide Pictures as a subsidiary in 1951 to produce and distribute Christian films. Throughout the '50s and '60s Christian films were produced with increasing professionalism and ads for Christian films often appeared in magazines such as Christianity Today. A year earlier, the Protestant Film Commission began a series of non-theatrical feature films intended for rental to churches and other, related organizations. Chapel Films, servicing Catholic interests with feature and short subjects, already dated back to the 1930s.

Movie theaters and film festivals

Since The Great Commandment opened in movie theaters in 1941, many Christian filmmakers have attempted to pursue theatrical releases. World Wide Pictures was a pioneer in partnering with churches to bring Christian films to the cinema. Gateway Films (now Gateway Films/Vision Video) was "formed with the express purpose of communicating the Christian Gospel in the secular motion picture theaters" and released The Cross and the Switchblade in 1972. In 1979, the Jesus film appeared in theaters across the United States. This film, based on the Gospel of Luke, was made for $6 million by Campus Crusade for Christ.[9] Many Christian films have been released to theaters since that time, such as The Omega Code (1999), Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001), Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie (2002), The Passion of the Christ (2004), Facing the Giants (2006), The Ultimate Gift (2007), Amazing Grace (2007), Fireproof (2008), The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie (2008), The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry (2009), To Save a Life (2010), Preacher's Kid (2010), Letters to God (2010), What If... (2010), The Grace Card (2011), Soul Surfer (2011), Courageous (2011), October Baby (2012), Home Run (2013), Grace Unplugged (2013), I'm in Love with a Church Girl (2013), Son of God (2014), God's Not Dead (2014), Persecuted (2014), Old Fashioned (2015), Do You Believe? (2015), War Room (2015), Beyond the Mask (2015), Risen (2016), I Can Only Imagine (2018), and Breakthrough (2019).

In 1993, Tom Saab launched the Merrimack Valley Christian Film Festival in Salem, New Hampshire. Each year this festival is held during Easter week and draws an audience of thousands to a theater to watch Christian films for free. Saab's organization Christian Film Festivals of America has also presented film festivals in Salinas, California and Orlando, Florida. In October 1999, the Voice of Pentecost Church in San Francisco hosted the 1st Annual WYSIWYG Film Festival. Other Christian film festivals include San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, 168 Hour Film Project, and the Redemptive Film Festival.

Recent years

ChristianCinema is a website that lists movies related to Christianity.

In 2006, nearly 50 Christian-faith films were produced. The films grossed an average $39 million. All five of the major Hollywood studios have created marketing departments to target the growing demand for faith-based and family fare. Movieguide publisher Ted Baehr said, "There is competition for the Christian audience now that there hasn't been before. I thought at some point it would level off, but so far it's getting bigger and bigger. It's more than I could have possibly imagined. One of the audiences that has become stable and even grown for books, music and movies is the Christian audience."[10]

The proliferation of Christian movies and Christian films has led to the establishment of many online retailers that focus their business exclusively on the sale and distribution of Christian movies online and family-friendly films such as,, and Parables TV also provides streaming and linear TV. In 2013, opened the first ever DVD store devoted completely to Christian DVDs in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[11]

The 2014 film God's Not Dead is one of the all-time most successful independent Christian films[12] and the 2015 film War Room became a Box Office number-one film.[13]

According to Vox, "most of the shows and movies that incorporated religion in 2016 positioned it not as an add-on to life that a person could take or leave, but rather as a system of beliefs among and overlapping with other systems of beliefs, whether political, national, or ideological".[14]

Christian film in Africa

South Africa

Faith-based, family-values films are popular in South Africa due to its predominantly Christian audience. Faith Like Potatoes, Regardt van den Bergh's feature film biopic of Angus Buchan, a farmer turned preacher, bolted the genre when it was released in South Africa in 2006. When Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the film in April in the U.S., it sold more than 230,000 DVDs in the first three months, making it one of the top-selling DVDs in the Christian market.


Nigerian Christians are actively contributing to the booming Nigerian film industry known as Nollywood. Christian films makes up about 20% of Nigerian films. Independent companies, ministries, and large churches producing hundreds of Christian films often see themselves as an alternative to Nollywood. Nevertheless, they have participated in mainstream success and many of the films appear on state television channels.[15]

The Redeemed Christian Church of God founded Dove Studios, which has become the country's biggest movie studio and distributor.[16] More than 50,000 copies of their movies were sold before April 2006.[17] The Gospel Film Festival (GOFESTIVAL) is also a major Nigeria film attraction.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Chen, Sandie Angulo (January 15, 2010). "Will Christian Audiences Embrace Denzel's 'Book of Eli'?". Moviefone. Archived from the original on July 2, 2010. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  2. ^ Buss, Dale (January 21, 2009). "What Christians Watch". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 6, 2009.
  3. ^ Vermeir, Koen. "The magic of the magic lantern (1660–1700)". Catholic University of Leuven.
  4. ^ Herlihy, Patricia (December 12, 2002). The Alcoholic Empire: Vodka & Politics in Late Imperial Russia. Oxford University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-19-516095-9.
  5. ^ Horne, Silvester C. (May 5, 2006). David Livingstone. Kessinger Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 1-4254-9628-8.
  6. ^ a b Lindvall, Terry (February 12, 200 7). Sanctuary Cinema: Origins of the Christian Film Industry. New York University Press. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-8147-5210-1. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ "A HISTORY AND OVERVIEW OF CHRISTIAN FILMS". Retrieved 2010-01-16.
  8. ^ Kintz, Linda; Julia Lesage (April 1998). Media, Culture, and the Religious Right. University of Minnesota Press. p. 194. ISBN 0-8166-3085-2.
  9. ^ Foer, Franklin (February 8, 2004). "Baptism by Celluloid". The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  10. ^ "Hollywood makes room for holiness". The New York Times. The Dallas Morning News. March 8, 2007. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
  11. ^ "Tulsa physician with roots in Turkey sells Christian movies". Tulsa World. Tulsa World. November 23, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
  12. ^ Jeannie Law (December 2016). "'God's Not Dead 3' Is in the Works, Says Actor-Producer David AR White (Interview)". The Christian Post.
  13. ^ Simanton, Keith (2015-09-06). "Weekend Report -'War Room' Walks to #1". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2015-09-06.
  14. ^ Alissa Wilkinson (December 2016). "How 2016's movies and TV reflected Americans' changing relationship with religion". Vox.
  15. ^ Zylstra, Sarah Eekhoff (October 27, 2009). "Nigeria: Christian Movie Capital of the World". Christianity Today. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
  16. ^ "Nigerian church transforms into movie mogul". CBC News. March 26, 2006. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
  17. ^ Murphy, Brian (March 25, 2006). "Redeemed Church Takes Nollywood by Storm". Associated Press. WorldWide Religious News. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
  18. ^ Stephen, Alayande (April 21, 2009). "A Celebration of Gospel Cinematic Excellence". The News. Retrieved October 30, 2009.

Further reading

  • Field, Alex (October 31, 2004). The Hollywood Project: A Look Into the Minds of the Makers of Spiritually. Relevant Books. ISBN 0-9746942-1-5.
  • Kintz, Linda; Julia Lesage (April 1998). "Chapter 7: The Emergence of Christian Video and the Cultivation of Videovangelism". Media, Culture, and the Religious Right. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-3085-2.
  • Bowen, Barry. "A History of Christian Films". Christian Headlines. Archived from the original on July 23, 2010. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  • Hess, Brian. "A Brief History of Christian Films: 1918-2002". A/V Geeks Educational Film Archive. Archived from the original on June 3, 2009. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  • Christiano, Rich (May 8, 2005). "How to Finance and Distribute a Christian Film". Audio CD.
  • Lindvall, Terry The Silents of God (Scarecrow Press, 2001)
  • Lindvall, Terry Sanctuary Cinema (New York University Press, 2007)
  • Lindvall, Terry and Andrew Quicke Celluloid Sermons: The Emergence of the Christian Film Industry, 1930-1986 (New York University Press, 2011)
  • Shen, Hsiang Yen, Cross-cultural effectiveness of Christian message films: Taiwanese responses to the concepts of God and Christianity in the film "Bruce Almighty",(ProQuest, 2010).

External links

Gary Wheeler (filmmaker)

Gary Wheeler is a North Carolina-based film producer. He is the founder and president of Level Path Productions. Wheeler's recent projects include Final Solution, which was shot in South Africa and stars Tony Award winner John Kani, Midnight Clear, a Christmas Special starring Stephen Baldwin and The List, a legal thriller starring Malcolm McDowell, Hilarie Burton and Will Patton which was based on the novel of the same name by Robert Whitlow. Gary Wheeler has also directed the courtroom drama The Trial. This has actors like Bob Gunton and Matthew Modine.

Wheeler is known for making films with strong Christian themes. Wheeler often talks openly about his beliefs and how they have impacted his film career. For this reason, he is a recognized figure in the growing Christian-film industry and acts as a board member of the International Christian Visual Media organization.In 2011 Wheeler, released a made-for-television film, The Heart of Christmas, based on a true story. It stars Candace Cameron Bure, Jeanne Neilson, Eric Jay Beck, Christopher Shone and Matthew West in his film debut. He has also made another film with GMC called Somebody's Child.

He recently served as writer and producer on the 2013 feature film Jimmy, starring Kelly Carlson, Ted Levine, Ian Colletti, and directed by Mark Freiburger.

Gary wheeler has also worked on a comedy concert with the Christian comedian Ken Davis.

Gateway Films/Vision Video

Gateway Films/Vision Video is a Christian film company located in Worcester, Pennsylvania, notable for producing The Cross and the Switchblade and other award-winning films, docu-dramas and documentaries of interest to Christian audiences.

Founded in 1969, Gateway Films created its niche within the Christian film industry after it was nominated to distribute The Cross and the Switchblade whose producer had entered receivership. Gateway Films afterward produced successful theatrical and television releases, many (such as the original Shadowlands, 1985) in conjunction with the BBC.Vision Video was formed in 1981 to explore the growing video field. Today it is a significant producer and vendor of DVDs geared to Christian and family audiences, the majority of them its own productions or co-productions, and many of them award-winners.A number of the company's early productions and co-productions focused on Christian biography, such as First Fruits (Count Zinzendorf and Moravian missions), Jan Hus (life and trial of the Bohemian martyr), God's Outlaw (starring Roger Rees as William Tyndale) and John Wycliffe: the Morningstar. Christian biography is a genre to which the company has often returned, as for example in its co-production of Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace (with the BBC and others) and the 2010 John Wesley: a Heart Transformed Can Change the World (with Foundery Pictures).The Cross and the Switchblade introduced actor Erik Estrada to film audiences, playing alongside entertainer Pat Boone. Shadowlands with Joss Ackland as C.S. Lewis and Claire Bloom as Joy Gresham, won two BAFTA TV Awards and the 1986 International Emmy for best Drama.

God's Not Dead (film)

God's Not Dead is a 2014 American Christian drama film directed by Harold Cronk and starring Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, David A. R. White, and Dean Cain. The film was released theatrically on March 21, 2014 by Pure Flix Entertainment.Written by Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, and based on Rice Broocks' book God's Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty, the film follows a Christian college student (Harper) whose faith is challenged by a philosophy professor (Sorbo) who declares God a pre-scientific fiction. It received mostly negative reviews, but grossed over $62 million on a $2 million budget.The film is followed by the 2016 film God's Not Dead 2 and the 2018 film God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.

Haviland H. Lund

Haviland Haines Lund (December 25, 1871 – ?) was the head of the Forward-to-the-Land League which advocated for unemployed city men in America to go to rural areas and become farmers. She was vice president and editorial director of Little Farms Magazine. She was president of the Institute of Government. She was the inspector of home settlement projects for the United States Department of the Interior.

Jed Buell

Jed Buell born May 21, 1897 in Denver, Colorado died September 29, 1961 was an American film producer, director and screenwriter who specialised in low budget B pictures in a variety of subjects including singing cowboy films featuring midgets and black actors.

Kent Osborne (director)

Kent Osborne aka Ken Osborne is a film director and occasional actor. The films he has directed have mainly been exploitation types. His films include Wild Wheels in 1969, Cain's Cutthroats in 1971, The Ballad of Billie Blue in 1972, Women Unchained in 1974 and Hollywood Confidential in 2008.

List of Christian films

This is a partial list of Christian films. Titles are listed in alphabetical order followed by the year of release in parentheses. The month or day of release is stated if known.

List of entertainers in Christian media

List of entertainers in Christian media is a list of people most linked to the Christian media(all denominations) or who have their own ministry and do religious films or shows of some kind. Along with actors it includes directors and producers in the Christian film industry. In cases where they are ordained Gospel musicians will also be included.

Mormon cinema

Mormon cinema (informally Mollywood, a portmanteau of Mormon and Hollywood) usually refers to films with themes relevant to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The terminology has also been used to refer to films that do not necessarily reflect Mormon themes but have been made by Mormon filmmakers.

LDS cinema films might be considered distinct from LDS Church movies like Legacy and Testaments, since they are commercial and not produced for teaching or proselytizing LDS doctrine. LDS cinema is usually produced and directed by Latter-day Saints. The films typically have LDS themes and are often marketed especially toward Latter-day Saints, though there has been an effort to "cross over" into more mainstream themes.

Parable (film)

Parable is a 1964 American short Christian film written and directed by Rolf Forsberg, made for the Lutheran Council and became popular when first screened at the 1964 New York World's Fair in 1964, and again in 1965 at the Protestant Pavilion. The film depicts Christ as a clown and the world as a circus and is considered both a revolutionary Christian film and one which proved to be influential.In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Patterns of Evidence

Patterns of Evidence is a film series directed by Tim Mahoney and part of the independent Christian film industry. The films advocate for Mahoney's views on Biblical chronology, which he contrasts with mainstream scholarly opinion.

Sound film

A sound film is a motion picture with synchronized sound, or sound technologically coupled to image, as opposed to a silent film. The first known public exhibition of projected sound films took place in Paris in 1900, but decades passed before sound motion pictures were made commercially practical. Reliable synchronization was difficult to achieve with the early sound-on-disc systems, and amplification and recording quality were also inadequate. Innovations in sound-on-film led to the first commercial screening of short motion pictures using the technology, which took place in 1923.

The primary steps in the commercialization of sound cinema were taken in the mid- to late 1920s. At first, the sound films which included synchronized dialogue, known as "talking pictures", or "talkies", were exclusively shorts. The earliest feature-length movies with recorded sound included only music and effects. The first feature film originally presented as a talkie was The Jazz Singer, released in October 1927. A major hit, it was made with Vitaphone, which was at the time the leading brand of sound-on-disc technology. Sound-on-film, however, would soon become the standard for talking pictures.

By the early 1930s, the talkies were a global phenomenon. In the United States, they helped secure Hollywood's position as one of the world's most powerful cultural/commercial centers of influence (see Cinema of the United States). In Europe (and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere), the new development was treated with suspicion by many filmmakers and critics, who worried that a focus on dialogue would subvert the unique aesthetic virtues of soundless cinema. In Japan, where the popular film tradition integrated silent movie and live vocal performance, talking pictures were slow to take root. Conversely, in India, sound was the transformative element that led to the rapid expansion of the nation's film industry.

The Case for Christ

The Case for Christ is a 2017 American Christian drama film directed by Jon Gunn and written by Brian Bird, based on a true story that inspired the 1998 book of the same name by Lee Strobel. The film stars Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway and Robert Forster, and follows an atheist journalist who looks to disprove his wife's Christian faith. The film was released on April 7, 2017 by Pure Flix Entertainment.

The Cross and the Switchblade (film)

The Cross and the Switchblade is a 1970 Crime film starring Pat Boone as David Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz, the teen gang member whose life was transformed by Wilkerson's ministry. The film was based on a non-fiction book of the same name, The Cross and the Switchblade.

Transforming Stories International Christian Film Festival

Transforming Stories International Christian Film Festival (TSICFF) is an annual Christian film industry film festival held in South Africa. The festival is funded by Humble Pie Entertainment. In 2010, the festival's inaugural year, the award ceremony took place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Screenings took place in five different cities across the country. 18 countries submitted a total of 108 films, 12 of which were chosen as semi-finalists from which 5 became finalists. Awards were presented for Best Feature Film, Best Documentary Film, and Best Short Film. Greg Laurie's Lost Boy: The Next Chapter won the Best Documentary Film Award. In 2011, 19 countries participated, submitting a total of 190 films. Ryley Grunenwald's The Dawn of a New Day was named Best Documentary.

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