Should Christians Stop Using the Label ‘Faith-Based Movie’?

Does describing a film “faith-based” the best way to promote films where Christian themes predominate? If a film is only promoted as “faith-based,” then I believe it’s a mistake. In the ultimate sense, however, all films are “faith-based.” All films tell a story based on some underlying religious commitment. A film where God is never mentioned or considered is still “faith-based.” That faith commitment may be exclusively in man, some ethereal impersonal cosmic force, occult influences, or nihilism.

Star Wars is very religious. There would be no Star Wars without “The Force.” The E.T. parallels with Christianity are unmistakable. Al Millar, Christopher Newport College in Virginia (now deceased), in his “E.T.”—You’re More Than a Movie Star, lists thirty-three parallels between E.T. and Jesus Christ.1 When Universal City Studios got wind of the booklet, they immediately called on Millar to retract it and cease and desist from any further publication and distribution.2 What were they afraid of? Certainly not a loss in revenue. Millar sold about 25 copies for $1.00 each. Spielberg did not want his movie to be viewed as having a religious theme storyline.

The rejection of one religion and savior means the adoption of another religion and savior no matter how much it’s denied. The underlying premise of movies like E.T. is that there are aliens in our universe who can perform “miracles” in the same way that Jesus did. The purpose of this idea is to minimize the uniqueness of Jesus. Atheists like Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, downplay the religious overtones in works of science fiction, but they can’t escape them. “If certain parallels exist between E.T. and the Christ story, they are not unlike similar religious parallels contained in the many science fiction works (film or literature) that have been created before.”3 There is no need for God, even though these aliens display god-like attributes. If we can just contact our distant alien brothers, we will learn the age-old mysteries of the universe and attain eternal life. While the Humanists declared, “we will save ourselves, the new spiritual humanists believe that “Alien supermedicine” will save us all.4

Spielberg and studio lawyers were so upset about the publication of Millar’s four-page typewritten booklet that they sent the big legal guns after the professor. The following is from a 1982 Associated Press article:

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A movie studio has warned a college professor against continuing to distribute a pamphlet in which he compares the movie E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial with the life of Jesus Christ. An attorney for Universal City Studios Inc. notified Albert E. Millar Jr., chairperson of the English department at Christopher Newport College, by telegram last week that the sales of the booklet “without our consent, permission or authorization … infringe upon the proprietary rights which we own.” “It’s like using an atomic bomb to kill a flea,” said Millar of the studio’s telegram.

The telegram alleged the four-page pamphlet produced by Millar infringed on the studio’s copyright and trademark rights and constituted “unfair competition.” Millar, who teaches a course on the Bible as literature, listed 33 items he noticed in the movie he believes closely parallel the life of Jesus. “I think the thing that struck me most was the idea of the capacity to heal, and then when E.T. died and was resurrected,” Millar said . . . Millar published the booklet — titled “E.T.-You’re More Than A Movie Star” — in July at his own expense. . .

This Threatened to Bring down the entire “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial” Franchise

Universal attorney John G. Nuanes asked that the professor advise the studio he has “ceased all distribution and sale of any E.T. merchandise”; that he advise them of the number of copies sold and all revenues; and that he “advise us of the manufacturing sources.” Nuanes also asked that Millar indicate his “willingness to surrender all unsold goods for destruction.” “Our goal is not to destroy Dr. Millar or put Dr. Millar out of business. Our goal is to protect our rights. We have certain rights we are forced to protect and we have to protect our rights ainst both the little and big,” Nuanes said.

This had nothing to do with copyright infringement; it had everything to do with E.T. being a religious film.

The following article is from Movieguide®:


Tuesday [4/9/17], Fox News published an article quoting several “experts” making Christian movies as saying that the label “faith-based film” is “unnecessary” and “needs to disappear.”

Movieguide®, the family and biblical guide to movies and entertainment, believes this is a ridiculous notion and displays a lack of understanding about the movie industry.

A movie’s quality has as much to do with its success as the movie’s genre. There are many mediocre movies in every genre of film that fail at the box office for one reason or another, which doesn’t mean the genre should be totally abandoned.

Also, the article fails to even quote anyone from Pure Flix Entertainment Films (GOD’S NOT DEAD, DO YOU BELIEVE? and THE CASE FOR CHRIST) or the Kendrick brothers (FIREPROOF and WAR ROOM), who are two of the most successful and most talented of the filmmakers making faith-based movies today.

Contrary to the Fox News article, Gibson’s THE PASSION and HACKSAW RIDGE and Sandra Bullock’s THE BLIND SIDE are indeed faith-based movies. However, like GOD’S NOT DEAD 2, which is also a courtroom drama, they are also (1) a biblical movie, (2) a war movie and (3) a family drama, respectively.

Finally, smaller, more independently produced faith-based movies that are well made, such as GOD’S NOT DEAD or WAR ROOM, actually make far more money than the average independent or arthouse movie and, in today’s market, much more than foreign language movies currently in the U.S. and Canada, which seem to be failing miserably these days. So, it makes more sense to stop using the labels “independent” movie or “arthouse film” or “foreign language movie” than it does to stop using the label “faith-based movie.”

Since MOVIEGUIDE®: The Family/Biblical Guide to Movies and Entertainment began rewarding movies with faith and values at our Annual MOVIEGUIDE® Faith & Values Awards, featuring our Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry, the number of “faith-based” and “faith-friendly” movies with “strong Christian content” has increased from only 11 movies in 1995 (the first year we adopted this label) to 67 movies in 2016, an increase of 509%!

Also, the earnings of such movies have gone from making about $200 to $500 million every year to regularly making more than $3.8 BILLION!

In addition, under our continuing support, the number of successful family-friendly movies has also greatly increased, including such movies as the recent remake of THE JUNGLE BOOK, FROZEN, CINDERELLA, the SHREK movies, and the DESPICABLE ME franchise.

Our expertise in these fields has encouraged an increasing number of filmmakers to consult with MOVIEGUIDE® about the kinds of movies and entertainment that make the most money, year in and year out.
In the wake of our success, MOVIEGUIDE®’s website at www.movieguide.orghas become the favorite and most popular Christian review service and the favorite and most popular family review website of parents, grandparents, children, teenagers, and young adults.

The 26th Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry will take place Feb. 2, 2018 in Los Angeles.

Now in its 32nd year, Movieguide® is the largest, longest-running international, not-for-profit ministry dedicated to “redeeming the values of the entertainment industry by influencing industry executives and by informing and equipping the public about the influence of the entertainment media.”

Movieguide®’s Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala honors the best, most family-friendly movies and television programs honoring God and inspiring audiences with messages of faith, hope, goodness, justice, redemption, forgiveness, and true divine love. At the Awards, Movieguide® Founder and Publisher Dr. Ted Baehr presents highlights from Movieguide®’s Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry, a comprehensive financial analysis of the movie business showing what kinds of movies and what kinds of movie content moviegoers favor the most with their hard-earned money.

  1. Al Millar, “E.T. You’re More Than a Movie Star (New Port News, VA: privately published, 1982), 4-5. See Donald R. Mott and Cheryl McAllister Saunders, Steven Spielberg (Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers, 1986), 126, 167, note 41. []
  2. “E.T. and Jesus: Virginia Professor Warned to Drop Booklet Comparing Them,” The Washington Post (September 27, 1982), B5. The story of the publication of Millar’s booklet and the response by Universal Studios is told in The Flea’s Reprieve, an unpublished manuscript in my possession and graciously made available to me by Heather Millar Felts, Mr. Millar’s daughter. []
  3. Mott and Saunders, Steven Spielberg, 126–127. []
  4. Searles, Films of Science Fiction and Fantasy, 116. []
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