Nearly 40 million people will tune in to the Oscars this weekend. Whether for the celebrity fashion or a genuine love of cinema, we find ourselves drawn to this event year after year. The funny part is that most people haven’t seen half the movies nominated, and the outcomes are widely dissatisfying. In spite of being entertained, many of us think, “Who says this movie is good?” or “What makes a movie worthy of an Academy Award?” Essentially, we are asking, “What makes a movie excellent?”
For Christians, the latter question may seem trivial, but it’s actually pivotal to our faith. As consumers, contributors and critics of culture and ministers of the gospel, we must reconcile these two things. If we don’t, how will we steward our entertainment choices? How will we understand and appreciate art? Even more, how will we proclaim the gospel through our creation and conversations about it?
Here are three ways to determine what makes a movie excellent.
All art has a worldview and agenda that drives it. While the message may not be blatant or heavy handed, it’s always there. Not every film exists to make a point, but every film inevitably depicts a story according to a set of ideologies.
As Christians, we know the pertinence and power of biblical truth (Prov. 23:23, John 4:24) and redemption through the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-8). We recognize that that these things must be present within the message for a film to be excellent.
So does that mean we only watch “Christian” films or family friendly fare void of reality? Of course not. In fact, the greatest portrayals of truth and hope almost always come from non-“Christian” films—those filled with the muck and mire of everyday life—because you need bad news before you can have good news.
As we guard our hearts and consider our personal convictions, we must wade through the muck and mire to look deeper—to reflect on the message. Does it glamorize sin or show the consequences of it? Do the truths outweigh the untruths? How does it shadow the gospel of Jesus Christ? How does it envision “the good life”? What does it communicate to be true, good and beautiful?
In order to be excellent, a movie must have an excellent message.
“Christian” films often possess a great message; unfortunately, they rarely have an excellent vehicle—or medium—for that message. But the vehicle is vital—not just because it clarifies and beautifies the message, but also because it glorifies and reflects our Creator.
Humans, as image bearers (Gen. 1:26-27), have the opportunity to reflect God in the act of creating, but God never made anything shoddy or second-rate. His creation is perfect and beautiful (Deut. 32:4). His story is the greatest story ever told.
In Scripture and in creation, we also see that God cares about aesthetics and details. Consider the intricacies of the sanctuary in Exodus 25 or take a look outside. When it comes to the vehicle—visual effects, cinematography, acting, editing, story, character development—we, like Him, should also care.
In order to be excellent, a movie must have an excellent vehicle.
While a film may boast an excellent message, if it doesn’t also boast an excellent vehicle, it can’t be altogether excellent. Likewise, while a film may boast an excellent vehicle, if it doesn’t also boast an excellent message, it can’t be altogether excellent.
Without a proper vehicle, the message proves inefficient. Without a proper message, the vehicle proves empty. A truly excellent film contains both—and the degree to which they sync only enhances such excellence.
An excellent vehicle should be acknowledged and praised, as should an excellent message, but how much more a movie that accomplishes both.