Having written about the problems with poorly made Christian films, we turn to a more positive focus on what have been good examples of Christians making enjoyable and worthwhile films.
These films aren’t blockbusters. Most had limited budgets, limited releases, and casts that didn’t have huge star quality. However, they made the most of what they had and produced memorable films, and they carry lessons for Christian filmmakers as budgets and opportunities and rise.
This isn’t an all-inclusive and it doesn’t mean a movie was bad if I didn’t list it. Also, I’m focusing only on Independent Christian-produced which leaves out other Independent films about Christians that were very good such as the The Apostle starring Robert Duvall. This first article will focus on films from the late twentieth century with the next article focusing on outstanding films from after the turn of the century. The films highlighted I list in chronological order.
Cross and the Switchblade (1970)
One of the first Independent Christian films ever, Cross and the Switchblade tells the true story of rural preacher David Wilkerson (Pat Boone) journeying to the inner city to reach gang members with the gospel where he runs smack into gang leader Nicky Cruz (Erik Estrada.)
The film is very gritty with its realistic portrayal of violence and drug use that would be astonishing given the family friendly focus of most of today’s Christian films. However, the portrayal is not gratuitous or meant to glorify the behavior, but to be realistic.
The film isn’t without problems as its dated to its era and is somewhat confused in its time as it often looks and feels more like the late 1960s when it was filmed rather than the 1950s when the event actually happened. However, at the end of the day, it’s a film about a man driven by the love of God to take extraordinary risks and reach people who want to destroy him.
This is a story that benefits from being taken from true life events. What makes the movie so fascinating is that when Nicky Cruz threatened David Wilkerson’s life, he really told the young gang leader, “You could cut me in a thousand pieces and lay them out in the street and every piece would love you.” If it were merely a line from the mind of a screen writer, it’d be easy to dismiss as cheese, but it was a courageous statement of one man sharing God’s love in the face of great danger.
Cross and the Switchblade isn’t the only Christian film based on true events to make for a great movie. Films like The Hiding Place or more recently Soul Surfer come to mind, but Cross and the Switchblade will always stand apart for its honesty and heart.
Deadly Choice (1982):
Thankfully, the film was re-edited as well as given the more apt title by Christiansfilms.com in 2001, Deadly Choice.
The film focuses on a doctor who is a relatively new Christian and single father working in a major hospital who, overwhelmed by the consequences of legal abortion (including distraught young women attempting suicide or dying from complications), makes the decision to draw a line in the sand with his employer.
However, his daughter is actually pregnant, he doesn’t know it and she doesn’t know what to do about it. However, she has a teacher who is more than willing to “help her.” In essence you get a picture of a crusading doctor trying to save the world but losing his own daughter and he’s totally oblivious to it.
It’s a powerful bit of a family drama, leading up to a dramatic climax in an ER. It’s thought provoking as well as heart breaking, but still manages to offer hope. This is a film I’d love to see updated by the right director because the story is still relevant even if the technology (both medical and filmmaking) has changed.
The Wait of the World (1985)
Wait of the World tells the story of three reporters for a Christian magazine assigned to report on Christian missions. One goes to Africa, one goes to Central America, and the other to Philadelphia to cover inner city mission. The middle of the movie, in effect, has three separate story lines going with the reporters not getting back together until the end.
Each story is well done. There’s real emotional connections by the reporters with people in the area that they’re covering. As well, the story works in humor, which is a little corny, though that’s to be expected given that Super Christian was among Schmidt’s earlier works.
Probably the best part of the movie is the Africa storyline which finds the reporter TJ in an area of Mali that’s dominated by Muslims. He finds that the workers distributing the Christian food aid aren’t Christians but Muslims will come and do the work. The leader of the Muslims, named Mohammad, is a fascinating character. He’s definitely TJ’s antagonist but he’s not a villain. He’s trying to take care of his people (i.e. the Muslim people of the village.) He also challenges TJ’s status as a mere “observer” of events.
Wait of the World does a great job establishing how utterly alone TJ feels in this Muslim area. One of the most memorable parts of the film is when TJ stumbles on a small group of Christians who are singing a song in their language. TJ doesn’t know the words but on hearing the melody, he completes the song.
The richness and complexity of TJ and Mohammad’s relationship was so interesting that it led to a sequel Guess Who’s Coming to America. While flawed, Guess Who’s Coming to America definitely has some great elements in it that I’ll discuss in a later column.
Omega Code (1999)
This was the first Christian film with a significant budget. $7.5 million isn’t much by Hollywood standards. But given that most Christian films to this point cost $100,000 or less to make, this was fairly substantial.
While it’s not perfect, there’s a lot the Omega Code did right. It was an end times movie that wasn’t about the rapture nor was it an encyclopedic explanation of every single end times prophecy. Rather, it narrowed its focus. The Omega Code was essentially a movie about the type of person the anti-Christ would be.
Michael York was fantastic in the role of the antichrist Stone Alexander. Too often, the anti-Christ blandly acted or played as an obviously evil villain. However, York plays an anti-Christ who is charismatic and charming. He talks about unity and tells us what we want to hear. When overly enthusiastic author Gillan Lane (Casper Van Dien) suggests that the world needs him to fill the role of Caesar, he rejects the idea out of hand as it’s not time for that.
The movie also highlighted elements of the end times that are rarely discussed such as the Two Witnesses. The film also has far more speculative element of the Omega Code which is a nice innovation on the typical End Times film. More than anything else, The Omega Code’s focus isn’t on the horrors of being left behind but the final coming of Christ as shown at the end of the movie.
Sure there are silly elements of the film. Alexander’s right hand man Dominic (Michael Ironside) gets upset when the Alexander decides to make Lane the false prophet and screams at Alexander, “You said I could be the prophet!” However, that silliness doesn’t cancel out the fact the producers managed to take a different spin on the idea of the End Times film and come up with something that was unique, a fun story, and still delivered a good message.
We’ll continue our look at solid Christian films examining some more recent films that, while still not having Hollywood budgets, had higher production values and managed to tell some memorable stories.