Anyone who saw the trailer for Do You Believe? in a theater over the last few months probably thought it an odd fit amid other movies that hardly take on the brave subject of faith. For years, most films considered part of the Christian genre have been relegated to indie theaters, limited runs, or the smallest screens in the multiplexes. It didn’t help matters when the original Left Behind movie series with Kirk Cameron ended up becoming a mockery, only because the filmmaking just wasn’t very good.
Then came a spate of Christian or general faith-based films over the last few years that were produced independently and made with outstanding production values. Some might point to Son of God as an example of how a producing team with major clout (Roma Downey and Mark Burnett) managed to take the oft-depicted story of Jesus’s life and crucifixion and turn it into something new and mostly refreshing.
While the above had a pre-marketing push from The Bible miniseries on History Channel, it proved that what you’ve done before makes the difference if someone goes to see a religious movie. The ultimate contrast to this is Darren Aronofsky having a hit with Noah, then Kirk Cameron tanking with his Saving Christmas. Even if the latter was a documentary, Cameron’s reputation with the Left Behind series marred an otherwise well-meaning project.
Conversely, Aronofsky’s stellar reputation in the filmmaking world allowed him a chance to take on a biblical story with more than a few controversial angles. With this, we’re seeing evidence of faith-based films dividing into two paths: those who take more daring stances on biblical stories and those who adhere to more traditional interpretations or principles.
With the premiere of Do You Believe? this week, we finally see the faith genre in a modern-day setting, something we haven’t seen much of in this genre. The continual reinterpretations of bible history never seems to waver, yet how will people react to a romantic story that uses Christian faith as a foundation?
Based on the comments in Variety from Mira Sorvino who stars in Do You Believe?, faith-based films are increasingly turning into hybrids of mainstream fare where faith is the backbone rather than the main plot. This may be the new magic formula for studios that perhaps balked on faith-based films in the past due to choir preaching rather than faith applied to real world situations. In some circles, it might soon mean the same equivalent of an R-rated movie.
It’s this consolidation where possibly more A-list actors will gravitate to as we see growing evidence of how important personal faith is in maintaining their sanity. As far as we know, there could be hundreds more A-list actors who want to do films with the same complex explorations of faith, yet felt their fans wouldn’t support it. The only question is where such things would be seen in a time when TV is taking over movie quality entertainment and theaters look empty.
Perhaps it’s the very thing attracting more people back to theaters since this demographic and ones pining for family entertainment likely feel shunned lately. Regardless, if it’s true faith-based films will turn brutally honest in the depiction of the modern world, it might bring swarms of mainstream audiences if more A-list names sign on.
We may even see HBO or other cable networks take it on once they realize there’s a powerful audience involved. If it seems they’d be the last holdout based on their liberal allowances of sex, violence, and profanity, there isn’t any better way to test the perimeters of faith than with all of those vices at the forefront. Showing the realities and tug-of-war between those elements and maintaining a sense of faith is where entertainment may go more often as the true reflection of society.