These Are the Top Christian-Themed Movies of the Century

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These Are the Top Christian-Themed Movies of the Century

“Faith-based films have been a mainstay of Hollywood almost since the advent of cinema,” says Comscore box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

That said, Christian films come in two categories: The obvious kind, like when actor Kirk Cameron accepts Christ as his personal savior in the movie Fireproof from evangelical filmmakers Alex and Stephen Kendrick; and the more subtle kind like Sound of Freedom, a movie about real-life former Homeland Security agent Tim Ballard’s effort to rescue children from sex traffickers.

A scene from ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ the top grossing faith-based movie of the 21st century.
Icon Distribution Inc.

While Sound of Freedom comes from Angel Studios, a faith-based studio, there aren’t many references to Ballard’s Christianity. Nevertheless, some consider it a faith film and 4 million people, presumably the bulk of whom are Christian fans of Angel Studios, have participated in the “pay it forward” campaign, as the studio calls it, by purchasing tickets that strangers may claim for free.

While there’s currently a resurgence in faith films—at least 28 of them have been released in the past six years, says Comscore —Hollywood was once a bastion for the genre. Consider Ben-Hur, a 1959 blockbuster starring Charlton Heston as a Jewish prince enslaved by Romans during the time of Christ, or The Sound of Music, about a faithful Christian played by Julie Andrews who leaves the nunnery to become a nanny in one of the most beloved musicals in history. There’s also The Ten Commandments, which is certainly Christian-friendly though the story of Moses takes place thousands of years before Christianity, plus myriad Christmas movies celebrating the birth of Jesus that are more prayerful and reverent than modern holiday films.

Faith-based, therefore, is a more complicated and debatable genre than most realize. The 2016 release Hacksaw Ridge, for example, features a strong Christian character but is predominantly a World War II film. Some consider 1973’s The Exorcist faith-based, though it’s also one of the most successful horror movies of all time.

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Actor Kirk Cameron at the premiere of ‘Fireproof,’ one of the less debatable films in the Christian-themed genre.
Neilson Barnard/Getty

And sometimes the filmmakers themselves aren’t quite sure if they have made a faith-based movie or not, as was the case when Fox 2000 Pictures told Christian leaders that Aslan, the lion in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, represented Jesus, though others involved with the film told other demographic groups that Aslan did not. While all three films in the series incorporate recognizable Christian themes, they are not explicitly religious; some compilers include them on lists of faith-based movies, others do not.

Using data and analysis from Comscore and Box Office Mojo, the Amazon-owned source for box office revenue, Newsweek has compiled its own list of the most successful Christian-themed movies of the 21st century. Out just over two weeks when the list was compiled, box-offfice hit Sound of Freedom already makes the cut and is likely to climb higher than No. 5 by the time it leaves theaters.

FE Jesus Hollywood SIDEBAR Chart
FE Jesus Hollywood COVER
Britt Spencer for Newsweek

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