Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
God’s-eye view? Universal Studios from 23 stories up
LOS ANGELES – In a hotel suite overlooking Universal Studios in Hollywood this past week, a hodgepodge band of Christians from around the world gathered for prayer, asking God for servants’ hearts to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and for transformation of the entertainment industry.
And if the next day’s red-carpet events in the same hotel are any indication, God has been answering those prayers.
Ministry leaders from New York City and Germany, scriptwriters from Wisconsin and New Zealand, representatives from as far away as Hong Kong and Japan were gathered with Hollywood insiders – and those who simply appreciate the power of cinema – at the Universal City Hilton outside Los Angeles to pray in preparation for Moveguide’s 19th Annual Awards Gala and Report to the Industry.
The event marked more than two decades of prayer and hard work by Movieguide – since its inception in 1985 – to re-instill Christian values and faith-friendly messages into the movies.
In his organization’s 80-page statistical analysis and report to the entertainment industry, Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of MovieGuide and chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, gave evidence of the transformation he’s been praying for:
According to the report, the number of R-rated films Hollywood produces has declined dramatically from 81 percent of the major movies released in 1985 to about 40 percent in 2010.
Among the year’s top 25 best-grossing movies, 12 were R-rated in 1996, compared to only 4 in 2010.
And while R-rated films are in decline, the percent of films with positive moral content is on the rise, from 26 percent of major movies in 1991, to 62 percent in 2000, to 84 percent in 2010.
The percent of films with positive Christian content is also on the rise, from 10 percent in 1991, to 41 percent in 2000, to 60 percent in 2010.
Dr. Ted Baehr delivering 2011 Movieguide Report to the Entertainment Industry
“There is good news in Hollywood,” the Movieguide report states. “Since we started to redeem the values of the mass media of entertainment, we have seen more and more of the results of our strategic efforts to clean the screens because 1) the number of pro-Christian movies has increased dramatically; 2) Hollywood studios have developed working relationships with us; and, 3) more and more top Hollywood executives and creative talent have joined with us to produce better movies and entertainment.”
The report continues, “There are now more family movies and more movies with positive Christian content and positive Christian worldviews than since the end of the Golden Age of Hollywood in 1966.”
Movieguide was launched in 1985, after Baehr met George Heimrich, former director of the Protestant Film Office, which had for years kept Hollywood immorality in check through the Motion Picture Production Code, until the film rating system used today took effect in the late 1960s. Baehr believed that Christians had since abandoned the filmmaking industry to a swift moral decline and determined to restore a Christian presence in Hollywood.
Movieguide began as a typed newsletter, compiled at a local copy store in Atlanta, Ga., but eventually moved to Hollywood, where in 1992 it began to honor films and filmmakers whose work embodied the virtues and messages of a Christian worldview. The growing ministry also began analyzing box office data, only to discover that the kinds of films it was promoting were far more profitable than films laced with sex, drugs, profanity and anti-Christian messages.
Baehr determined to trumpet the findings to Hollywood executives through a report given at the Annual Movieguide Awards.
Christian author and 1980s TV star Nancy Stafford – who played Andy Griffith’s law partner Michelle Thomas on “Matlock” – attended this year’s award show and explained to WND the impact of the Movieguide awards.
“There’s a real hunger for film and television that is life-affirming and faith-affirming. And certainly Movieguide is the one awards show that really highlights that programming,” Stafford said. “And I think Ted’s report to the entertainment community, when he gets to actually give the nuts and bolts, the numbers that studio people really care about, it’s an eye-opener.
“When they get to see a night like this and see some of these hidden little gems of films and television that really are touching and poignant and funny, but life-changing, I think it’s really making an impact, and I know audiences love it,” she continued. “And I think when audiences are voting, I think pretty soon, Hollywood is going to get the message.”
According to Baehr’s report, however, Hollywood is already “getting the message”:
“Our Annual Report to Hollywood shows once again, with relevant financial statistics, that people, including most moviegoers, want good to conquer evil, truth to triumph over falsehood, justice to prevail over injustice, and true beauty to overcome ugliness,” the report states. “And they want to see their religious faith respected and celebrated.”
“Since 1992, Movieguide has been analyzing the box office totals of all the major movies and revealing what we’ve found to top studio executives and celebrities in Hollywood,” the report continues. “Because of our early efforts … the tide began to shift in 1999, when 40 movies had strong, positive Christian content. Titles as widely different as ‘The Green Mile,’ ‘The Straight Story,’ ‘Runaway Bride,’ ‘Toy Story 2′ and ‘The Winslow Boy’ contained firm nods to Christianity and Christian virtues, often in very explicit ways.
“Then, of course, came another watershed year, in 2004,” the report explains. “That was the year that Mel Gibson released ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ and, with help from such movies as ‘The Incredibles,’ ‘Spider-Man 2,’ ‘Ladder 49′ and ‘Woman, Thou Art Loosed,” the strongest Christian movies set a record in average box office.”
But 2010, the report reveals, has proven better than ever.
“For 2010, we … counted more than 150 movies with at least some, positive, Christian, redemptive content reflecting biblical values (161 to be exact), and even more movies containing morally uplifting content of some kind,” the report states. “Since we began sponsoring the Annual Movieguide Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry, the number of movies with positive Christian content and moral, biblical values has more than quadrupled!”
As WND reported, this year’s Movieguide awards recognized a number of television programs and major motion pictures, granting its highest prize – for a film that “greatly increases man’s love or understanding of God” – to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” The same prize for a television movie went to “Amish Grace,” which was telecast on Lifetime Television.
Movieguide also selected “Toy Story 3″ for the Best Movie for Families award, while choosing “Secretariat” in its Best Movie for Mature Audiences category.
Pat Boone and his wife, Shirley
Music and Hollywood icon Pat Boone stepped off the red carpet leading into the ceremony to talk with WND about the significance and impact of the Movieguide awards over the years.
“I have been coming to these events for the past 15 years,” Boone said. “Producers, directors, writers – they’ll come here to get an award, and when they do, they see why they’re getting an award and the kind of things that we’re hungering for [in films]. Then they go back to their studios and they look for other projects that might merit an award for the same reason that they’ve gotten one, which is uplifting family, not denigrating the faith, not glamorizing degenerate behavior.
“And so it is a strong influence, and it’s not just condemning the bad, it’s awarding the good,” Boone said. “So I think it’s genius. I think it’s God.”