Films about Faith – a sequel

It’s been more than four and a half years since my first Morlocks blog on this topic, which is so long ago that Google no longer caches the page. While I’ve added a little bit to the original essay on my site (after watching Martin Luther (1953), A Man Called Peter (1955) – available via DIRECTV’s TCM on Demand this month, and One Man’s Way (1964) in fairly quick succession this fall), I haven’t written about the most deeply spiritual and openly Christian films I’ve seen, until now.

Alex and Stephen Kendrick of the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia have written, directed, acted in and/or produced four commercial movies for Sherwood Pictures over the past 8 years. All are unabashedly Christian message pictures in which the lead characters openly profess their faith in God and/or ultimately proclaim their trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In so doing – by using their talents to do His will (vs. their own) – the plots’ main conflicts are resolved. Each of the four films was made (and is set) in Albany, with their casts featuring many of the church’s pastors and members.

Flywheel (2003) was the Kendricks’ and Sherwood’s first effort, and it shows. While its production values and quality is not as amateurish as say The Blair Witch Project (1999), it can be rather rough viewing. But the acting is just good enough that it shouldn’t detract from the story’s message if your heart is in the right place while watching it. The movie is about a stereotypically shady used car dealer named Jay Austin (played by Alex Kendrick) whose business – and marriage – is suffering due to his lack of character. Even though he occasionally goes to church and would probably claim to be a Christian, Jay is a hypocrite at best: he brags about how much he overcharges his customers, and even cheats his own pastor, setting a terrible example for his employees and his impressionable young son. His business descends into debt and he verbally abuses his wife in front of his son. But seeing a preacher on TV helps Jay to realize what kind of “man” he’s become, so he repents and turns his life over to the care of God. Jay then begins to “walk the walk” and not only changes his business practices but makes amends for past transgressions. Although Jay’s new path is not entirely smooth, its trajectory is true.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GAMs9mUHFc]

If you’re an NFL football fan and by chance have seen Facing the Giants (2006), then you’ve probably had a feeling of déjà-vu this fall during the remarkable run and inspired play of the Denver Broncos – whose quarterback, Tim Tebow, is an outspoken evangelical – this season. Sherwood Pictures’ second feature is about a similarly motivated team’s success. Alex Kendrick again plays the lead character, Grant Taylor, the coach of a Christian high school football team that’s yet to have a winning season during his tenure. Because football is a religion of another kind in the Southeast, some of the fathers who want their sons to have a chance to play at the next level begin to organize in order to fire Coach Taylor and replace him with one of his assistant coaches. Grant and his wife are also struggling with infertility. A colleague reminds Grant that God that has a plan for everybody, and that it’s no accident that he is where he is at the present. Realizing the position he’s in, the coach decides to change his approach. He begins with the most talented member of his team, who is somewhat of a prankster, and helps him to accomplish a seemingly impossible task by encouraging him throughout and not letting him quit. Grant encourages another player to reconcile with his father and leads the entire team by demonstrating his faith in them, and in God. What follows is reminiscent of Remember the Titans (2000) and there is yet another miracle, off the gridiron, as well. Georgia Bulldogs’ Head Coach Mark Richt – whose testimony can be read here – appears as himself in the film.

Sherwood Pictures’ third film Fireproof (2008) is unique among the four to date because it doesn’t feature Alex Kendrick as a main character. Instead Kirk Cameron, who starred in the TV series Growing Pains in the 1980’s and is also known for his “born-again” Christianity and evangelism ministry, was chosen to play Caleb Holt, a firefighter whose marriage is in crisis and headed for divorce. Encouraged by his father, Caleb embarks on a “Love Dare”, a 40 day ‘journey’ to strengthen his (self discipline and) marriage. On a budget of just $500,000 and with box office receipts in excess of $33 million for its four month run, Fireproof (2008) was one of the highest grossing independent films of that year.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAER68zS-qI]

Released September 30th, Courageous (2011) is the most critically acclaimed of the Sherwood Pictures, and it too features Alex Kendrick in a leading role, as Adam Mitchell. However, the plot also features several other men – four of whom are police officers – that, after a tragedy befalls the Mitchells, strive to establish their positions as the spiritual leaders of their families. Although each of the men’s stories is different, the central theme stems from the impact of their fathers (or a father-figure) on their lives, the men’s realization of the importance (and their stewardship) of this role in their children’s lives (and as husbands), and their subsequent “courage to change”. As with the other three films, the men’s faith in God – particularly Adam’s and Nathan’s (played by Ken Bevel, a retired Marine whose other screen credit is Fireproof (2008)) – has a major influence on the proceedings. Most viewers will find the movie to be a potent tearjerker throughout, evoking a mix of both sorrow and joyfulness. However, there is a healthy dose of comic relief – most of which involves Robert Amaya’s character – along with an uplifting conclusion which keeps it from becoming heavyhearted. Ultimately, this movie’s message and purpose – like Flywheel (2003), Facing the Giants (2006) and Fireproof (2008) – is a call to action.

The first three of these are available on DVD and through Netflix; Courageous (2011) can still be found in theaters, and its DVD release is scheduled for January 17th.

26 Responses Films about Faith – a sequel
Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 11:48 am

My problem with these movies is their poor production values and bad acting. Their overt messages are also quite heavy-handed. There is something to be said for subtle dialogue. All of these problems could be avoided if Hollywood wasn’t full of people who look down down on people of faith and those who believe in God. Hollywood used to make movies that had religious themes and they used to spend a lot of money on them. They starred big stars, were directed by big name directors and had bonified screenwriters writing them. While I can appreciate what these filmmakers are trying to do, due to the end product, these movies will remain in an evangelical niche and are not for me. I would love to read your original write-up.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 11:48 am

My problem with these movies is their poor production values and bad acting. Their overt messages are also quite heavy-handed. There is something to be said for subtle dialogue. All of these problems could be avoided if Hollywood wasn’t full of people who look down down on people of faith and those who believe in God. Hollywood used to make movies that had religious themes and they used to spend a lot of money on them. They starred big stars, were directed by big name directors and had bonified screenwriters writing them. While I can appreciate what these filmmakers are trying to do, due to the end product, these movies will remain in an evangelical niche and are not for me. I would love to read your original write-up.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 11:57 am

I just went back and read your original write-up. Those movies are exactly the type of movies I was referring to in my previous post just minutes ago. I will now search for One Foot in Heaven. My grandfather was a Methodist minister so I am interested in seeing the life of one from that time.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 11:57 am

I just went back and read your original write-up. Those movies are exactly the type of movies I was referring to in my previous post just minutes ago. I will now search for One Foot in Heaven. My grandfather was a Methodist minister so I am interested in seeing the life of one from that time.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 11:58 am

And Stars in My Crown was a great movie. My nephew (who was 16 at the time) even sat down and watched it with me.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 11:58 am

And Stars in My Crown was a great movie. My nephew (who was 16 at the time) even sat down and watched it with me.

Posted By Tom S : December 18, 2011 2:43 pm

Duke- it’s not as though there aren’t totally sincere movies about faith coming from major filmmakers, with major celebrities. One of the best and most thoughtful, The Last Temptation of Christ, was also attacked and picketed (largely sight unseen) by legions of Christians- so I suspect it’s not just kneejerk anti-religious sentiments on Hollywood’s part that keeps them from getting made. Particularly if the faith you want to share is something other than evangelical Christianity.

My favorite movie of the past year, The Tree of Life, is very much a thoughtful and well made movie about faith and God.

Posted By Tom S : December 18, 2011 2:43 pm

Duke- it’s not as though there aren’t totally sincere movies about faith coming from major filmmakers, with major celebrities. One of the best and most thoughtful, The Last Temptation of Christ, was also attacked and picketed (largely sight unseen) by legions of Christians- so I suspect it’s not just kneejerk anti-religious sentiments on Hollywood’s part that keeps them from getting made. Particularly if the faith you want to share is something other than evangelical Christianity.

My favorite movie of the past year, The Tree of Life, is very much a thoughtful and well made movie about faith and God.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 6:01 pm

The idea of The Last Temptation of Christ is not so bad, but when I saw it, and saw Jesus having sex with Mary Magdalene, that was a little too much to take. I don’t think I could watch that again. I think that scene is probably what most people objected to.

If I could stay awake through Malick’s movies I might give Tree of Life a shot.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 6:01 pm

The idea of The Last Temptation of Christ is not so bad, but when I saw it, and saw Jesus having sex with Mary Magdalene, that was a little too much to take. I don’t think I could watch that again. I think that scene is probably what most people objected to.

If I could stay awake through Malick’s movies I might give Tree of Life a shot.

Posted By Doug : December 18, 2011 7:22 pm

Most mainstream “religious” movies are not created by artists expressing their faith. They are created by atheist/agnostic artists drawn to religious stories because the deep drama of those stories touch the hearts of men and women.
Example: Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation Of Christ was not ‘expressing his faith’. Scorsese, if he were expressing his faith, showed that his faith was not in line with the Catholic teachings he grew up with, but with the non-Catholic but spiritual musings of Nikos Kazantzakis.
The Kendrick boys are indeed expressing their faith, and non-Christians, though they may be the target audience, will probably be cold towards their movies. Most of the money made by their films probably comes from Christians.

Posted By Doug : December 18, 2011 7:22 pm

Most mainstream “religious” movies are not created by artists expressing their faith. They are created by atheist/agnostic artists drawn to religious stories because the deep drama of those stories touch the hearts of men and women.
Example: Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation Of Christ was not ‘expressing his faith’. Scorsese, if he were expressing his faith, showed that his faith was not in line with the Catholic teachings he grew up with, but with the non-Catholic but spiritual musings of Nikos Kazantzakis.
The Kendrick boys are indeed expressing their faith, and non-Christians, though they may be the target audience, will probably be cold towards their movies. Most of the money made by their films probably comes from Christians.

Posted By Tom S : December 18, 2011 7:57 pm

That scene in Last Temptation takes place during what is essentially a fantasy sequence, and as it happens about ten minutes from the end of the movie, it seems silly to quit there. That scene was taken out of context to make it appear that the movie was a salacious and pornographic take on the life of Christ, rather than what it was in-context, an aspect of the temptation to a normal life Christ fought off.

I’m not arguing that Dafoe was expressing his faith, but I absolutely do think that both Scorsese and Paul Schrader were expressing theirs. There’s no reason that faith has to be doctrinal, and neither quite lines up with what was in Kazantzakis’ book. Neither Scorsese nor Schrader are as far as I know athiests or agnostics, so that logic doesn’t seem to apply to Last Temptation.

Posted By Tom S : December 18, 2011 7:57 pm

That scene in Last Temptation takes place during what is essentially a fantasy sequence, and as it happens about ten minutes from the end of the movie, it seems silly to quit there. That scene was taken out of context to make it appear that the movie was a salacious and pornographic take on the life of Christ, rather than what it was in-context, an aspect of the temptation to a normal life Christ fought off.

I’m not arguing that Dafoe was expressing his faith, but I absolutely do think that both Scorsese and Paul Schrader were expressing theirs. There’s no reason that faith has to be doctrinal, and neither quite lines up with what was in Kazantzakis’ book. Neither Scorsese nor Schrader are as far as I know athiests or agnostics, so that logic doesn’t seem to apply to Last Temptation.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 8:06 pm

Though I saw the movie over 20 years ago, I well remember the context in which it was shown. That doesn’t make the sight of Jesus having sex any less shocking. As I said, the idea of the film didn’t bother me. The idea of the film still doesn’t bother me. Only that scene bothers me.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 18, 2011 8:06 pm

Though I saw the movie over 20 years ago, I well remember the context in which it was shown. That doesn’t make the sight of Jesus having sex any less shocking. As I said, the idea of the film didn’t bother me. The idea of the film still doesn’t bother me. Only that scene bothers me.

Posted By Jim Vecchio : December 19, 2011 8:28 am

Thanks for mentioning FIREPROOF. I’ve been wanting to blog about it for awhile. As a Christian, I really enjoyed the fact that I and my family could sit through a whole movie dealing with sensitive issues yet not cringe or have to deal with lauguage we don’t appreciate or hearing God’s Name as anything but in its true context. We need more of this genre, as formerly most movies that respected the Christian Life were mostly only able to be shown in Church auditoriums following the sevice, and had nothing that would appeal to the general public, so they were literally preaching to the choir.

Posted By Jim Vecchio : December 19, 2011 8:28 am

Thanks for mentioning FIREPROOF. I’ve been wanting to blog about it for awhile. As a Christian, I really enjoyed the fact that I and my family could sit through a whole movie dealing with sensitive issues yet not cringe or have to deal with lauguage we don’t appreciate or hearing God’s Name as anything but in its true context. We need more of this genre, as formerly most movies that respected the Christian Life were mostly only able to be shown in Church auditoriums following the sevice, and had nothing that would appeal to the general public, so they were literally preaching to the choir.

Posted By missrhea : December 19, 2011 1:55 pm

The only one of these films that I’ve seen is FIREPROOF but I have fond memories of many of the films mentioned in the original article. “One Foot in Heaven” struck a cord with me since I had just become a pastor’s wife around the time that I saw it on TCM once. My husband’s grandfather and great-grandfather were Methodist ministers and I imagine dealt with the same situations. (We actually live in our own house since my husband is bi-vocational but I’m familiar with parsonages/manses and their redecorating/refurbishing committees.)

Regarding “Last Temptation”: we saw it because we believe in seeing a film before making knee-jerk statements. I found the scene mentioned by dukeroberts to be offensive even if it was supposed to be fantasy. We have not seen “The Passion of the Christ” because of reports by friends of its graphic nature and I don’t feel I want someone else’s imagined view of the crucifixion replacing my own.

While many of Hollywood’s ‘religious’ films are fine, they tend to depart from Scripture. I teach an adult Sunday school class and have found it necessary to stress that we need to not fall into the trap of believing Hollywood’s version, no matter how well-intentioned.

Posted By missrhea : December 19, 2011 1:55 pm

The only one of these films that I’ve seen is FIREPROOF but I have fond memories of many of the films mentioned in the original article. “One Foot in Heaven” struck a cord with me since I had just become a pastor’s wife around the time that I saw it on TCM once. My husband’s grandfather and great-grandfather were Methodist ministers and I imagine dealt with the same situations. (We actually live in our own house since my husband is bi-vocational but I’m familiar with parsonages/manses and their redecorating/refurbishing committees.)

Regarding “Last Temptation”: we saw it because we believe in seeing a film before making knee-jerk statements. I found the scene mentioned by dukeroberts to be offensive even if it was supposed to be fantasy. We have not seen “The Passion of the Christ” because of reports by friends of its graphic nature and I don’t feel I want someone else’s imagined view of the crucifixion replacing my own.

While many of Hollywood’s ‘religious’ films are fine, they tend to depart from Scripture. I teach an adult Sunday school class and have found it necessary to stress that we need to not fall into the trap of believing Hollywood’s version, no matter how well-intentioned.

Posted By Chris : December 27, 2011 8:12 pm

You’ve compiled some very good lists here. I might also submit that there have been many additional acclaimed films on faith that are quite well-done and moving. “The Way” with Charlie Sheen, “Soul Surfer” with Dennis Quaid & Helen Hunt, “The Grace Card”, “What If”, and of course “The Passion of the Christ”, “The Cross & the Switchblade”, and many others.

Thanks for sharing your perspective on some of these encouraging motion pictures.

Posted By Chris : December 27, 2011 8:12 pm

You’ve compiled some very good lists here. I might also submit that there have been many additional acclaimed films on faith that are quite well-done and moving. “The Way” with Charlie Sheen, “Soul Surfer” with Dennis Quaid & Helen Hunt, “The Grace Card”, “What If”, and of course “The Passion of the Christ”, “The Cross & the Switchblade”, and many others.

Thanks for sharing your perspective on some of these encouraging motion pictures.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 28, 2011 1:10 am

I am very upset that after hearing about this “One Foot in Heaven” movie I cannot locate a copy anywhere. Does anyone have any information to share about a copy somewhere?

Also, though it is not technically about religion, Disney’s Pollyanna cites scripture and Christian themes about forgiveness and not judging others and some other things. I just love Pollyanna. I’m a 37 year old, single, straight male and I don’t care who knows that I love Pollyanna!

Posted By dukeroberts : December 28, 2011 1:10 am

I am very upset that after hearing about this “One Foot in Heaven” movie I cannot locate a copy anywhere. Does anyone have any information to share about a copy somewhere?

Also, though it is not technically about religion, Disney’s Pollyanna cites scripture and Christian themes about forgiveness and not judging others and some other things. I just love Pollyanna. I’m a 37 year old, single, straight male and I don’t care who knows that I love Pollyanna!

Posted By MDR : December 28, 2011 1:06 pm

Thanks for all the feedback, and the suggested additions to my original list of “Films About Faith”.

Yes, it is unfortunate that so many classics are unavailable on DVD or on-line etc. but thank goodness “One Foot in Heaven” and so many others are shown on TCM.

Posted By MDR : December 28, 2011 1:06 pm

Thanks for all the feedback, and the suggested additions to my original list of “Films About Faith”.

Yes, it is unfortunate that so many classics are unavailable on DVD or on-line etc. but thank goodness “One Foot in Heaven” and so many others are shown on TCM.

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