Christian film industry

The Christian film industry is an aspect of Christian media for films containing a Christian-themed message or moral. They are often interdenominational films, but can also be films targeting a specific denomination of Christianity.



Popular mainstream studio productions of films with strong Christian messages or Biblical stories, such as Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Prince of Egypt, The Robe, Sergeant York, The Blind Side, The Book of Eli,[1] Machine Gun Preacher, Risen, Hacksaw Ridge, and Silence, are not specifically part of the Christian film industry, being more agnostic about their audiences' religious beliefs. These films generally also have a much higher budget, production values and better known film stars, and are received more favourably with film critics.

Many films from the Christian film industry are produced by openly confessing Christians in independent companies mainly targeting a Christian audience. This has been on the rise since the success of Sherwood Pictures whose Fireproof was the highest grossing independent film of 2008.[2]




Magic lantern at the Wymondham Museum.

Catholic priest Athanasius Kircher promoted the magic lantern by publishing the book Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae in 1680.[3] Controversy soon followed as priests and masons used the lanterns "to persuade followers of their ability to control both the forces of darkness and enlightenment" and temperance groups used the lanterns to fight alcoholism.[4] In the 1800s, missionaries such as David Livingstone used the lanterns to present the Gospel in Africa.[5]

Through the years, many Christians began to utilize motion picture for their own purposes.[6] In 1899, Herbert Booth, as part of the Salvation Army, claimed to be the first user of film for the cause of Christianity.[6]

20th century


In the 1940s, Christian film libraries emerged. Harvey W. Marks started the Visual Aid Center in 1945. Circa 1968, Harry Bristow launched Christian Cinema in a small theater in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, and in the early 1970s, the ministry moved to a theater in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Christian Cinema operated a movie theater that showed only Christian films, but closed down in the mid-1990s. The growth of Christian film libraries led to the Christian Film Distributors Association (CFDA) being formed in 1974. The CFDA began holding a conference each year for Christian filmmakers and distributors. The Christian Film and Video Association (formerly the Christian Film Distribution Association) gave out Crown Awards for films that "glorify Jesus Christ."[7]

Spencer Williams's 1941 race film The Blood of Jesus was screened in cinemas and in black churches.[8] The film was produced in Texas on a budget of US$5,000. To present the afterlife, Williams used scenes from a 1911 Italian film called L'Inferno that depicted souls entering Heaven and in addition to Williams, the cast was made up of amateur actors and members of Reverend R. L. Robinson's Heavenly Choir, who sang the film's gospel music score.[8] The film's commercial success enabled Williams to direct and write additional feature films for Sack Amusement Enterprises, including two films with religious themes: Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus (1942; now considered a lost film[9][10]) and Go Down Death (1944).[11]

The 1971 Christsploitation film If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? was based on a sermon by Estus Pirkle held on January 31, 1968 at Camp Zion in Myrtle with the title "If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?". The sermon was made available by print, and Estus W. Pirkle joined with filmmaker Ron Ormond in their first collaboration, and converted the sermon into a film. The pair made a number of other films together (each being 1974's The Burning Hell and 1977's The Believer's Heaven), but this first film is the team's most well-known. The film became widely distributed among churches and church camps in the 1970s.[12][13]

Movie theaters and film festivals


Since The Great Commandment opened in movie theaters in 1941, many Christian filmmakers have attempted to pursue theatrical releases. World Wide Pictures was a pioneer in partnering with churches to bring Christian films to the cinema. Gateway Films (now Gateway Films/Vision Video) was "formed with the express purpose of communicating the Christian Gospel in the secular motion picture theaters" and released The Cross and the Switchblade in 1972. In 1979, the Jesus film appeared in theaters across the United States. This film, based on the Gospel of Luke, was made for $6 million by Campus Crusade for Christ.[14]

In 1993, Tom Saab launched the Merrimack Valley Christian Film Festival in Salem, New Hampshire. Each year this festival is held during Easter week and draws an audience of thousands to a theater to watch Christian films for free. Saab's organization Christian Film Festivals of America has also presented film festivals in Salinas, California and Orlando, Florida. In October 1999, the Voice of Pentecost Church in San Francisco hosted the 1st Annual WYSIWYG Film Festival. Other Christian film festivals include San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, 168 Hour Film Project, and the Redemptive Film Festival.

Recent years

edit is a website that lists movies related to Christianity.

Many Christian films have been released to theaters since that time, such as The Omega Code (1999), Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001), Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie (2002), Facing the Giants (2006), The Ultimate Gift (2007), Amazing Grace (2007), the CGI animated version of The Ten Commandments (2007),[15] Fireproof (2008), The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry (2009), To Save a Life (2010), Preacher's Kid (2010), Letters to God (2010), What If... (2010), The Grace Card (2011), Courageous (2011), October Baby (2012), Last Ounce of Courage (2012), Home Run (2013), Grace Unplugged (2013), I'm in Love with a Church Girl (2013), Son of God (2014), God's Not Dead (2014), Persecuted (2014), Old Fashioned (2015), Do You Believe? (2015), War Room (2015), Beyond the Mask (2015), I'm Not Ashamed (2016), I Can Only Imagine (2018), Breakthrough (2019), and Overcomer (2019).

In 2006, nearly 50 Christian-faith films were produced. The films grossed an average $39 million. All five of the major Hollywood studios have created marketing departments to target the growing demand for faith-based and family fare. Movieguide publisher Ted Baehr said, "There is competition for the Christian audience now that there hasn't been before. I thought at some point it would level off, but so far it's getting bigger and bigger. It's more than I could have possibly imagined. One of the audiences that has become stable and even grown for books, music and movies is the Christian audience."[16]

The proliferation of Christian movies and Christian films has led to the establishment of many online retailers that focus their business exclusively on the sale and distribution of Christian movies online and family-friendly films such as, Exploration Films based in Monument, Colorado,, and Parables TV also provides streaming and linear TV. In 2013, opened the first ever DVD store devoted completely to Christian DVDs in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[17]

The 2014 film God's Not Dead is one of the all-time most successful independent Christian films[18] and the 2015 film War Room became a box office number-one film.[19]

List of highest-grossing Christian films


Following is a list of highest-grossing Christian films of 2004–present, including only those films with overt Christian themes explicitly promoting The Gospel or an otherwise Christian message and targeted primarily at Evangelical Christian audiences. Grosses presented here are worldwide box office receipts.

Top 10 highest-grossing Christian films
Rank Title Distributor Worldwide Box Office Domestic Opening Weekend Year References
1 The Passion of the Christ Icon Productions $622.3 million $83.8 million 2004 [20]
2 Heaven Is for Real Sony Pictures $101.3 million $22.5 million 2014 [21]
3 The Shack Lionsgate $96.9 million $16.2 million 2017 [22]
4 I Can Only Imagine Roadside Attractions $86 million $17.1 million 2018 [23]
5 War Room Sony Pictures $74 million $11.4 million 2015 [24]
6 Miracles from Heaven Sony Pictures $73.9 million $14.8 million 2016 [25]
7 Son of God Twentieth Century Fox $70.95 million $25.6 million 2014 [26]
8 God's Not Dead Freestyle Releasing $64.7 million $9.2 million 2014 [27]
9 The Star Sony Pictures $62.8 million $9.8 million 2017 [28]
10 Breakthrough Twentieth Century Fox $50.4 million $11.3 million 2019 [29]

Christian film in Africa


South Africa


Faith-based, family-values films are popular in South Africa due to its predominantly Christian audience including Faith Like Potatoes, a 2006 biopic of farmer-turned-preacher[30] Angus Buchan.[31]



Nigerian Christians are actively contributing to the booming Nigerian film industry known as Nollywood. Christian films makes up about 20% of Nigerian films. Independent companies, ministries, and large churches producing hundreds of Christian films often see themselves as an alternative to Nollywood. Nevertheless, they have participated in mainstream success and many of the films appear on state television channels.[32]

The Redeemed Christian Church of God founded Dove Studios, which has become the country's biggest movie studio and distributor.[33] More than 50,000 copies of their movies were sold before April 2006.[34] The Gospel Film Festival (GOFESTIVAL) is also a major Nigerian film attraction.[35]

See also



  1. ^ Chen, Sandie Angulo (January 15, 2010). "Will Christian Audiences Embrace Denzel's 'Book of Eli'?". Moviefone. Archived from the original on July 2, 2010. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  2. ^ Buss, Dale (January 21, 2009). "What Christians Watch". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 22 June 2015. Retrieved April 6, 2009.
  3. ^ Vermier, Koen (25 May 2005). "The magic of the magic lantern (1660–1700): on analogical demonstration and the visualization of the invisible". The British Journal for the History of Science. 38 (2). Cambridge University Press: 127–159. doi:10.1017/s0007087405006709. ISSN 0007-0874. S2CID 143404000.
  4. ^ Herlihy, Patricia (12 December 2002). The Alcoholic Empire: Vodka & Politics in Late Imperial Russia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 20. ISBN 0-19-513431-1. OCLC 47140987. alcoholism magic
  5. ^ Horne, Silvester C. (May 5, 2006). David Livingstone. Kessinger Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 1-4254-9628-8.
  6. ^ a b Lindvall, Terry (2007). Sanctuary Cinema: Origins of the Christian Film Industry. New York: New York University Press. pp. 56–57. ISBN 978-0-8147-5323-1. OCLC 794701134.
  7. ^ Kintz, Linda; Lesage, Julia (April 1998). Media, Culture, and the Religious Right. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 194. ISBN 0-8166-3084-4. OCLC 37947297.
  8. ^ a b ""Micheaux and Williams: Titans of 'Race' Cinema," Village Voice, March 18, 2008". Archived from the original on October 23, 2008. Retrieved November 18, 2008.
  9. ^ Archival Treasures: Spencer Williams' "Brother Martin" Trailer|UCLA Film & Television Archive
  10. ^ Hall, Phil. "Film Threat's Top 10 Lost Films, Part Five". Film Threat. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07.
  11. ^ "Spencer Williams," Archived 2009-01-01 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Brannock, Jennifer: "Item of the Month - If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?" - University of Southern Mississippi, November 2011
  13. ^ Stadtman, Todd: "IF FOOTMEN TIRE YOU, WHAT WILL HORSES DO?" - TELEPORT CITY festivities revels & nocturnal dalliances
  14. ^ Foer, Franklin (February 8, 2004). "Baptism by Celluloid". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 29 June 2019. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  15. ^ MOVIE REVIEW: The Ten Commandments|CBN
  16. ^ "Hollywood makes room for holiness". The New York Times. Los Angeles. March 8, 2007. Archived from the original on 10 September 2009. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
  17. ^ Sherman, Bill (November 23, 2013). "Tulsa physician with roots in Turkey sells Christian movies". Tulsa World. Archived from the original on 9 December 2019. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
  18. ^ Law, Jeannie (16 December 2016). "'God's Not Dead 3' Is in the Works, Says Actor-Producer David AR White (Interview)". The Christian Post (Interview). Archived from the original on 17 December 2016.
  19. ^ Simanton, Keith (2015-09-06). Weekend Report - 'War Room' Walks to #1. Box Office Mojo (Report). Archived from the original on 30 June 2020. Retrieved 2015-09-06.
  20. ^ "The Passion of the Christ (2004) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 23 October 2020. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  21. ^ "Heaven Is For Real". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 23 November 2020. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  22. ^ "The Shack". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 21 December 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  23. ^ "I Can Only Imagine". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 28 October 2020. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  24. ^ "War Room (2015) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 11 January 2021. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  25. ^ "Miracles from Heaven". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 25 April 2020. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  26. ^ "Son of God (2014) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 3 November 2020. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  27. ^ "God's Not Dead". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 19 December 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  28. ^ "The Star". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  29. ^ "Breakthrough". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  30. ^ Faith Like Potatoes - TV Guide
  31. ^ Faith Like Potatoes|Christianity Today
  32. ^ Zylstra, Sarah Eekhoff (27 October 2009). "Nigeria: Christian Movie Capital of the World". Christianity Today. Archived from the original on 29 October 2009. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  33. ^ "Nigerian church transforms into movie mogul". CBC News. 26 March 2006. Archived from the original on 27 September 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2009.
  34. ^ Murphy, Brian (25 March 2006). "Redeemed Church Takes Nollywood by Storm". World-Wide Religious News. Lagos, Nigeria. Archived from the original on 4 April 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  35. ^ Stephen, Alayande (21 April 2009). "A Celebration of Gospel Cinematic Excellence". Modern Ghana. Archived from the original on 27 January 2016. Retrieved 30 October 2009.

Further reading