by Marc T. Newman - Movie Ministry
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.
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.
Marc T. Newman, Ph.D., is the president of MovieMinistry.com, an organization that provides sermon and teaching illustrations, Bible studies and discussion cards, drawn from popular film, and helps the Church use movies to reach out to others and connect with people. Dr. Newman 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