by Marc T. Newman [critic]
Once again, MovieMinistry rejects the backward-looking top ten lists. (Do you really need someone else’s opinion to determine which ten films you thought were best?) Instead, we look ahead, to try to help you to identify the upcoming films that appear to have some ministry potential. So if you use film for outreach, or if you are trying to find some movies that may have some great clips that represent teachable moments, this is our first take. Do remember that I have not seen most of the films on this list. It is compiled based on synopses of plots, familiarity with the books or myths that inspire the films, and trailers. Release dates are subject to change at the last minute, and any number of great films could suddenly appear on the schedule that are absent from it now. Also, the MPAA has yet to rate most of these films, so exercise discretion.
To make the most of these films, assuming they meet expectations, MovieMinistry will be preparing FilmTalk Small Group Bible Studies to drive discussion of moral and spiritual content toward the Scriptures. Consider subscribing to our FilmTalk card service today.
Here are MovieMinistry’s Films to Look for in 2010:
The Book of Eli — January 15
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, salvation lies within the pages of a single sacred book. The problem is, only one copy exists and Eli must protect it from destrucion. If you cannot see the implications in a film like this you are not looking very hard.
To Save a Life — January 22
Finally, a film that shows Christians dealing with something other than demonic possession or the apocalypse. To Save a Life is a challenging film about teen suicide and the self-destructive nature of contemporary teen culture. It refuses to sugarcoat the complexities of church life, bringing into the light the lukewarmness, outright rebellion, cliques, and other struggles that are a part of working in youth ministry. The characters are real. The film does not shy away from Christ as the answer, but He is not the genie in a bottle waiting to grant your wishes once you rise from the baptismal waters. Instead He is a rock to cling to when the waves of a dangerous culture and those caused by your own sinfulness, threaten to wash you away.
Legion — January 22
I expect that this will be a terrible film. But any movie about bands of renegade angels is bound to stir up some conversation about the existence of angels, what they are, and what purpose they serve. For a quick overview before the film, see Billy Graham’s book, Angels.
Extraordinary Measures –- January 22
John Crowley is father to two children with a rare genetic disorder. Desperate for a cure, he finds an ally in Dr. Robert Stonehill. This film is being pitched to the faith community, and there is clearly a strong family ethic in this film, revolving around the connection between love and sacrifice.
Dear John -– February 5
People have a soft spot for Nicholas Sparks, the writer of The Notebook and A Walk to Remember. This story is about an enlisted man with a troubled past who meet a beautiful, straight-arrow college student. As feelings grow – expect this movie to revel in longing in a way that may put Twilight to shame – circumstances conspire to keep the lovers apart. There is always an underlying morality to Sparks’ tales. I would expect no less from this one.
The Wolfman -– February 12 (this is a crowded date)
A holdover, previously expected to be released during the Christmas season. I am not sure if the change in the release date is a marketing strategy, or an indication that the film is sub-par. I am hoping for the former. After years of slogging through monster films that try to use scientific explanations for conditions like vampirism, so that we can have simple, biological weapons to defeat the undead, it looks like Hollywood is going to bring back supernatural horror. The Wolfman, a remake of the classic 1941 film, concerns Lawrence Talbot and the calamity that befalls him when he kills what he believes to be a wolf. Bitten during the struggle, Talbot discovers from an old gypsy woman that he is now cursed to transform into a wolf when the moon is full. The trailer reveals a period film where a minister warns the congregation of “the power of Satan to turn a man into a beast.” This film looks to be graphically violent, but if it hits (and crackerjack casting indicates that it will) doors will open to discuss the nature of supernatural evil and just what kind of “silver bullets” we need to overcome it.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief -– February 12
The central idea of this film series is that the Olympian gods are real and the demigods (half god/half human) walk the earth. The movie will deal with coming-of-age issues which are often easier to discuss in a fictional environment than the real one many adolescents are experiencing. Additionally, I think that a film that reveals that gods thought long dead or fictional are actually real and active might create an interesting bridge to discuss the existence of God, despite persistent cultural denial.
Beauty and the Beast -– February 12
In a great piece of counter-programming, Disney has decided to re-release one of the best, most romantic animated films of the ’90s just in time for Valentine’s Day. Sure, it is an unusual romance, with a plucky heroine and a singularly unattractive beast of a man. But it is filled with things to talk about: arrogance, bigotry, hospitality, self-sacrifice, and a host of other topics. And it looks great on a big screen.
Alice in Wonderland -– March 5
People either love or hate Tim Burton, but there is little denying that he is one of the most original directors in the business. Expect this film to be more action-packed than you may have remembered when reading the story, and much darker than the original Disney animated feature. Still, the idea of doing whatever it takes to discover your true destiny (even if, at first, it seems a bit foolish) may open up some interesting conversation areas.
Why Did I Get Married Too –- April 2
Even when Tyler Perry is not firing on all cylinders (Madea Goes to Jail comes to mind) his films still has more thoughtful content than any dozen other Hollywood features. The four couples from the first film Why Did I Get Married? reunite, this time in the Bahamas. Lots of marital and family drama will erupt, some of which is sure to touch on the long-term implications of sin. Madea does not make an appearance.
Iron Man 2 — May 7th
The new Iron Man looks to be more political than spiritual, but themes concerning vengeance, greed and the need to pay for past sins appear to be at the fore. This will be one of the biggest movies of the summer. Prepare to look past the explosions (okay, you are free to enjoy them while they are happening) and into the heart of this film. The first Iron Man was a gold mine of discussion topics. This one looks like it will continue that tradition.
Robin Hood — May 14
The trailer for Robin Hood looks a lot more like Gladiator than an Errol Flynn film. With Ridley Scott directing, I would expect no less. If the film sticks to the popular story line, there may be opportunities to talk about injustice and what constitutes an appropriate response, leadership, and what makes someone a hero.
Sex and the City 2 — May 28
I need not go too far out on a limb to say that this film will be a cautionary tale. While it should not be seen, it will be, and talked about all around the water cooler. Because a sanitized version of this sexualized series has been playing on cable for years, some parents were a little surprised at the degree of blatant sexuality in the first film version. But even with the more explicit material cut out in syndication, these women do not represent proper role models. Christians have a better answer about questions concerning romance, love, and sex. While not supporting this film with our wallets, being aware of the plot line once it materializes might provide openings to speak up about a more fulfilling approach to love and sex.
Toy Story 3 — June 18th
Pixar returns with the third installment of Woody and Buzz Lightyear. The Pixar brand has come to stand for such unstinting quality, and the trailers have the right mix of wistfulness and humor. This will be another hit. Andy is all grown up and heading off to college. The toys, now feeling abandoned, are to be donated to a day care. Mayhem, and a desperate need to plan an escape, ensues. I am anticipating talk about perseverance and commitment.
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse — July 2
I had some good things to say about the first in this series of vampire romance films, but the second outing, New Moon, was morally disturbing on many fronts. One thing is for certain: Stephenie Myer’s audience is built in, and this will be a blockbuster. These movies feed teen angst and the need to belong to someone and something greater than themselves. Christians should take notice and expose the kinds of compromises these films require. The Scriptures contain many stories of romance and love. When it comes to eternal life, we have the right answers.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice — July 16
Disney takes the segment from Fantasia and molds the basic idea into a full-length, live-action feature. Magic is big this year, so it would behoove Christians to learn more about what the Bible has to say about sources of power. I expect the film to be high on action and light on the philosophical and theological angles — but that doesn’t mean that heavier topics should be off the table. Despite the fantasy element, the desire of human beings to have and horde power and to exercise it over others is a perennial problem – particularly if you are in the role of victim.
Secretariat — October 8
Sports movies tend to have a lot of biblical parallels. Perhaps that is why the Apostle Paul uses sports as metaphors for the spiritual life. Secretariat was the name of the horse that won the Triple Crown in 1973. With director Randall Wallace, who wrote the screenplay for Braveheart and who was the screenwriter for We Were Soldiers and The Man in the Iron Mask, I expect to see those metaphors fully explored.
Rapunzel — November 12
Continuing its return to 2-D animation, Disney is releasing an updated version of the classic fairy tale about the girl with the ultimate hair extensions. The Brothers Grimm version of the story has some distressing turns in it, so expect a Disney-fication that will focus on love and perseverance in the face of potent obstacles.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — November 19th
Probably the most anticipated film of the year. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are no longer at Hogwarts. Instead, they are on a quest to locate and destroy the horcruxes that maintain the evil Lord Voldemort’s power. Some Christians have a perennial problem with Harry Potter, while others love the books and movies. Millions will flock to the film. Beyond the obvious “good vs. evil” plotlines, there will be a number of themes ripe for discussion, especially since J.K. Rowling peppered the book with Bible references. This is the first of a two-part film that will wrap up in summer of 2011.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader — December 10th
C.S. Lewis continues to duke it out with J.K. Rowling on the silver screen. Twentieth Century Fox picked up the partnership with Walden Media that was abandoned by Disney after Prince Caspian failed to deliver at the box office. Michael Apted has, thankfully, replaced director Andrew Adamson. Apted will have a more nuanced touch, as demonstrated in Amazing Grace. But don’t forget that he knows action, having directed films such as The World is Not Enough — a James Bond movie. The book is probably one of the most cinematic of The Chronicles of Narnia. This film will evoke talk about honor, commitment, fear, greed, freedom, and responsibility — all depending, of course, on how much of the book can make it to the screen.
As the economy continues to stumble along, going to the movies is providing people with escapism – temporary relief from their troubles. For the first time, in 2009, Hollywood box office receipts for North America topped $10 billion. As people seek entertainment, they are also exposed to persuasive messages and attractive worldviews. Some of these are consistent with Christianity, while others are not. Either way, Christians have an opportunity to engage those ideas by taking monologues (films talking to audiences) and turning them into dialogues (people talking together about the content of a film). Filmgoers often talk about moral, ethical, and spiritual ideas, over coffee, after a movie. So we should be ready to explore those ideas and give ready answers when given an opportunity. Always remember: people go to the movies to see stories. Don’t forget that you have one of your own to tell.
copyright 2009 Marc T. Newman
Marc T. Newman, Ph.D. is founder of MovieMinistry.com and is an associate professor in the School of Communication and the Arts at Regent University. Requests for media interviews, or reprints of this article, can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org