The Christian Film Genre – Signs of Global Growth?
The Christian film genre stretches back almost to the birth of cinematography itself. While it entirely depends on one’s interpretation of what constitutes a ‘Christian film’, the earliest known example of a film to include a Christian message came in the form of a Salvation Army advertorial in 1900 – less than ten years after the first projectors were being demonstrated around the world.
Fast-forward 113 years, and the Christian film genre is a monolithic part of the industry as a whole. Over the past thirty years, the top 100 Christian films have grossed nearly $1.2bn according to Box Office Mojo. This, of course, excludes DVD sales revenue – while no unified figures exist, runaway sales such as those seen by the Left Behind series combined with the mainstream success of such franchises as The Chronicles of Narnia provide a clear indication that the genre as a whole is here to stay.
Not Stable, But Growing
In terms of market share, around 10% of films produced in Hollywood are Christian-faith based. Prompted by the upsurge in Christian film releases – particularly over the last decade – Ted Baehr (publisher of Movieguide) commented of the genre: “it’s getting bigger and bigger… one of the audiences that has become stable and even grown for books, music and movies is the Christian audience.”
While faith and spirituality are arguably in decline in modern society, the underlying statistics paint a clearer picture as to why people are yearning more for Christian-based entertainment (often regardless of their personal religious beliefs).
The Dove Foundation – a leading organization in investigating and surveying family-friendly entertainment – conducted a poll last year to gauge the wider public’s perception of the entertainment industry. Some interesting points were raised:
– 94% of people felt that offensive material in visual media was increasing
– 93% of people expressed a desire to see more family-friendly entertainment
– 77% felt that over three-quarters of current entertainment “did not meet their expectations or reinforce values important to them.”
– 70% of respondents stated that they were bothered by the amount of sex, violence and profanity in TV and films.
As with the Dove Foundation, CFDb has no interest in commenting on, or denigrating, non-Christian films (neither do they endorse any filmmaker or studio), the figures provide a telling illustration of what is going on at the heart of the Christian film genre.
Additionally, demand fuels supply and this holds true in the film industry as it does in any other. More and more filmmakers are meeting this demand for Christian entertainment – the NYFA, a film school in New York which has taught filmmaking for over twenty years, is seeing an increased success among students who bring faith-based values and issues into their work.
All this, of course, only pertains to the United States – a global look at the industry wouldn’t be complete without discussing one of the (if not the biggest) producer of Christian films.
Welcome to Nollywood
The Nigerian film industry, colloquially referred to as Nollywood, is widely considered to be a big rival to both the US and India in terms of number of feature-films produced. Although the most recent and reliable statistics are a little outdated, a UNESCO survey suggests that Nigeria released 972 features in 2005, meaning it greatly exceeded Hollywood’s output (around 485 films) and became second only to India (which released over 1,000 features).
Strongly reflecting the cultural make-up of Nigeria, a majority of the films released contain faith-based messages; some pertaining exclusively to Christians, some pertain to those who follow Islam, and some explore the interaction between the two communities. In fact, it’s estimated that a fifth of all Nigerian movies can be classed as ‘Christian films’.
Whether subtly or overtly, an unmistakably large portion of Nollywood films are used as a vehicle for discussing faith and morality issues, sometimes more so than to just provide entertainment.
The Christian film market sees extreme variation by locality, and there isn’t necessarily a correlation with the religiosity of a region. To return back to our early 20th century origins as an example, western culture was arguably more Christian-centric than it is currently but strong views concerning graven images had a big impact on the popularity of Christian film. Even today, areas with very closely-held religious beliefs sometimes see a lack of film output (or consumption) due to fears of committing blasphemy in one form or another.
But again, trying to draw any meaningful correlation across the board is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. The Christian film genre is as diverse as any other, as are the people who watch Christian films….
… and long may this integral part of the movie industry continue to surprise, educate and delight.