For a long time, faith-based films were saddled with microscopic budgets and unable to draw big-name talent, either in front of or behind the camera. But everyone knows Hollywood worships one thing above all: money. And if a film genre shows it can consistently produce profits, the big studios are happy enough to start cutting checks.
That’s been the case for the past few years, during which faith-based films have finally been able to get the budgets, star power, and wide releases necessary to compete on the national level.
Faith-based films have finally been able to get the budgets, star power, and wide releases necessary to compete on the national level.
Numerous studios have created faith-based divisions specifically to produce such entertainment, such as Sony’s Affirm Films, which released “War Room,” “Miracles from Heaven,” and “Risen” to strong business last year. With that in mind, here’s a list of the seven more notable faith-based films scheduled for release this year.
1.) “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” (Jan. 20). The year starts out a bit quietly — January is typically a cinematic graveyard regardless of genre — with this limited release. A modestly budgeted “Christian rom-com,” it features square-jawed “Marvel’s Agents of Shield” star Brett Dalton and “MADtv” veteran Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, plus notable actors such as D.B. Sweeney and comic actor Neil Flynn of “The Middle.” Sporting the tagline “If church can save him, it will be a miracle,” it looks like a competently made, family friendly comedy with a solid message.
2.) “God Bless the Broken Road” (Feb. 10). Familiar faces abound in the tale of a young mother whose faith is tested after her husband dies while fighting in Afghanistan. While Lindsay Pulsipher (“Justified”) fulfills the lead duties, the additional cast includes Robin Givens, singer Jordin Sparks, and even former NFL superstar LaDainian Tomlinson in his feature acting debut. Most notably, it was directed and co-written by Harold Cronk, whose “God’s Not Dead” was a box-office smash in 2014. Of the new film, Cronk told Christian Today: “I felt it was important to show someone in a crisis of faith in the face of overwhelming loss.”
3.) “The Shack” (March 3). This film version of William P. Young’s enormously popular 2008 novel comes to screens with Sam Worthington in the lead role of a man who encounters the Holy Trinity after his daughter disappears. Worthington, of course, was the star of the highest-grossing film of all time, “Avatar,” and is reprising that role in several planned sequels. For “The Shack,” he’s joined by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, whose current film “Hidden Figures” is a smash hit, and country music superstar Tim McGraw.
4.) “The Case for Christ” (April 7). Easter is always the perfect time for faith-based films, and this one brings us “The Case for Christ,” which boasts a cast that includes Hollywood legend Faye Dunaway, along with Erika Christensen (“Traffic”) and Mike Vogel (“Under the Dome”). Based on Lee Strobel’s popular book, it follows Strobel, an atheist journalist (Vogel), whose presumptions are challenged when he investigates the Christian faith. Strobel co-wrote the film; in his book “The Case for a Creator,” he said of his journey: “If I had stopped asking questions, that’s where I would have remained.”
5.) “Same Kind of Different as Me” (Oct. 20). Few films in 2017 — faith-based or otherwise — feature a main cast as renowned as this one: Renée Zellweger and Jon Voight are both Oscar winners, and Greg Kinnear and Djimon Hounsou are both Oscar nominees. It’s based on a book by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent, the latter of whom also co-wrote the book “Heaven Is for Real.” That tale was adapted into a box-office hit in 2014, also starring Kinnear. This film’s trailer has faced a backlash from some interpreting it as perpetuating the “Magical Negro” trope, a term popularized by filmmaker Spike Lee. Stuart Heritage of The Guardian called the trailer “the worst, most offensive thing I have ever seen,” but viewers can judge for themselves this fall.
“The Star” follows a donkey, a sheep, and a dove as they become “accidental heroes in the greatest story ever told — the first Christmas.”
6.) “The Star” (Nov. 10). There’s not a lot of information available yet on this animated film based on the Nativity Story, but given the star power involved in the project, it’s certainly worthy of inclusion. The executive producers include Brian and Lisa Henson from The Jim Henson Company, which created The Muppets, and the voice cast includes Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. Another executive producer, DeVon Franklin, helped produce 2016’s “Miracles from Heaven,” which starred Jennifer Garner. Per the film’s website, “The Star” follows a donkey, a sheep, and a dove as they become “accidental heroes in the greatest story ever told — the first Christmas.” Of producing “Miracles from Heaven,” Franklin told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s more than a ticket sale at the box office. It becomes real-life ministry.”
7.) “The Reliant” (release date TBA). Former “Hercules” star Kevin Sorbo has been specializing in the faith-based genre of late, following up his appearance in “God’s Not Dead” with numerous roles featuring Christian themes. (He’s even directing another, “Let There Be Light,” also due this year.) “The Reliant” is an apocalyptic action movie with Christian themes. In an interview with The Gospel Herald, Sorbo said of his focus: “Faith-based films have really picked up. It’s just getting better and better, which I think is great. Hollywood is slowly waking up — there’s an audience out there, and the independent film world is well aware of it.”
And not to be forgotten …
Certainly one of the most eagerly awaited Christian-themed movies announced recently is “The Passion of the Christ: Resurrection,” Mel Gibson’s planned sequel to the 2004 box office smash he co-wrote and directed. (That movie remains the most successful independent film of all time.) Although Gibson’s career subsequently nose-dived due to offensive comments he made during a 2006 DUI arrest, he’s cleaned up his act and bounced back impressively: Gibson was even nominated for a Golden Globe this year for directing “Hacksaw Ridge,” a World War II drama.
However, his “Passion of the Christ” sequel remains in the script stage and isn’t expected to hit theaters until 2019, so faithful film fans will need to be patient.
Fans of C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, which has strong Christian themes, will be pleased to know an adaptation “The Silver Chair” is also in development — but it’s unlikely to hit screens until 2018 at the earliest. The most recent adaptation from the series was 2010’s “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” (The Narnia films to date hold the #2 to #4 ranks of most successful Christian-themed films of all time, following Gibson’s movie.)