In 2014, Hollywood has set its eyes squarely on the faith and Christian movie market – a noticeable change that been nearly 30 years in the making.
So far in 2014, in what many publications have dubbed “The Year of the Bible,” moviegoers have flocked to faith- or Bible-based films “Son of God,” “Noah,” “God’s Not Dead” and “Heaven Is for Real,” with many more in store for the coming months, including Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” “A Long Way Off,” “Left Behind” and “Alone, Yet Not Alone,” to name only a few.
“There hasn’t been this much Hollywood interest in biblical material since the last midcentury,” remarks London’s Financial Times, “when movies such as ‘Quo Vadis’ (1951), ‘The Robe’ (1953), ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956), ‘Ben-Hur,’ ‘Solomon and Sheba,’ ‘The Big Fisherman’ (all released in 1959), and ‘King of Kings’ (1961) came out to popular and critical success.”
But it was not that long ago when it seemed as though Hollywood had forgotten all about faith and family audiences.
Back in the mid-1980s, the trend in Tinseltown tilted toward the rated-R variety, as even the most popular films often contained graphic sex scenes or outright nudity, like in “Top Gun” (1986, shockingly rated PG) or “The Terminator” (1984), or heavy profanity, such as in 1984’s top movie, Eddie Murphy’s “Beverly Hills Cop.”
Movieguide’s revolutionary approach to transforming Hollywood began with analytically comparing the content of every movie made to how much money it made at the box office. Movieguide founder Ted Baehr then launched an annual awards ceremony, in part, to reveal to the captive audience of Hollywood executives the statistical reality that faith- and family-friendly films outscored their seedier competitors with ticket buyers.
And, as they say in Hollywood, “Money talks.” Movie executives started to realize they were throwing millions down the drain by making filthy and faithless movies. One by one, the big studios began changing their ways.
“When we started Movieguide in 1985, the major studios in Hollywood released few movies with any positive Christian content or values – less than 3 percent [of the total number of movies made that year],” Baehr told WND. “By the time we started the Annual Movieguide Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry in 1992 and 1993, however, there were 27 such movies, or about 10.38 percent of the market share. Incredibly, 22 years later, in 2013, at least 179, or 65.57 percent, of the movies released by the movie industry contained at least some positive, Christian, redemptive content! That’s a numerical increase of almost 563 percent!
“Also, when we started in 1985, less than 6 percent of the major movies were aimed at families,” Baehr continued. “In the past several years, movies marketed to families have increased to nearly 40 percent of the top movies released in your local movie theaters.
“Finally, since we started in 1985, there were only about one or two movies being made with strong, explicit Christian content or values [each year],” Baehr said, “but now, there are 65 or more such movies each year! That’s at least a 3,150 percent increase.”
Baehr claims a former chairman of a major Hollywood studio told him he attributed all these positive shifts directly to Movieguide’s influence, through its work with the Christian Film & Television Commission’s box office analysis and the annual report to the entertainment industry made at Movieguide’s awards ceremony.
“Many studio executives and entertainers are getting the message,” Baehr said. “More good movies are being made each year. Hollywood is being redeemed.”
Baehr noted that many major movie studios now have a Christian, faith-based film division, and several studios are doing major movies with strong and overt Christian or biblical content, like Sony’s “Heaven Is for Real,” 20th Century Fox’s “Son of God” and the upcoming Warner Brothers film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” starring “Batman” actor Christian Bale as Moses. Also, Baehr noted, all the major studios – not just Disney – are doing movies for young children and families.
“This doesn’t mean, of course, that the studios aren’t doing bad or horrible movies any more, but it does mean there are fewer and fewer bad movies and an increasing number of good ones,” Baehr said. “It’s our prayer that the movie industry will make more and more commendable movies and remove all offensive elements from them.”
Baehr even hinted that there is talk at MGM’s studios about remaking one of the greatest Christian epics ever made, “Ben-Hur,” for release in 2016.
Baehr credits the success of Movieguide and the transformation in Hollywood to the grace of God, but he also says it’s his hope other media ministries will recognize the success Movieguide has found by not just bemoaning the wickedness in society, but also commending the good.
Baehr suggests a two-pronged approach: “To commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:14) and to expose “the fruitless deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11).
“Of course, this is only God’s work,” Baehr concluded. “But I hope we can be a model for effective strategy to help other conservatives and ministries take every thought captive for Jesus Christ.”