This category, the fourth in our four-day unveiling of our Plugged In Movie Awards nominations, seems to be getting tighter and more competitive all the time. It feels as though we’re seeing more explicitly Christian movies in the marketplace these days, and the quality of Christian films continues to grow stronger by the year. Still, even deciding what qualifies as a Christian film can be a little dicey. We opted to put Terence Malick’s A Hidden Life in our Best Movies for Adults category, produced as it was by a secular studio and helmed by a secular director. But the movie’s central plot hinged, largely, on the main character’s faith. You could argue that it’d be just as happily at home here.
But this year, we opted to really salute some strong films made by people in the “traditional” Christian filmmaking fold, if you will … with one notable outlier.
And as I’ve mentioned thrice before, we want to hear what you think, too. Vote for your favorite nominee (right here on the blog, or on Facebook and/or Instagram), and we’ll unveil your selections, along with our own, during our Feb. 6 podcast at thepluggedinshow.com. (We’ll follow that up with a blog as well.) And if you don’t see your favorite on our list of nominees, tell us what you would’ve chosen instead. (All movie capsules were written by Emily Clark, Adam Holz, Bob Hoose, Kristin Smith and me, Paul Asay.)
Breakthrough (PG): On Jan. 19, 2015, 14-year-old John Smith and two friends run out onto a frozen Missouri lake to play. But their amusement is cut short when the ice cracks and the boys slip into the frigid water below. As each boy frantically struggles to get out and climb ashore, John gets kicked in the face and knocked out, sending him even deeper into the dark waters … for more than 15 minutes. A man sees the boys fighting for their lives and calls the police, but it’s too late for John. However, at the hospital, John’s mother, Joyce, is not ready to let him go. So, she cries out to God to save her son. Moments later, John’s heart begins beating again. The doctors can’t believe it and the only way to explain it is to say that miracles still happen. Based on Joyce Smith’s book The Impossible, Breakthrough dramatizes the real-life story of John Smith. And although there are some perilous scenes and light profanities, this is a truly amazing story that displays the power of God and the necessity for faith.
Jesus Is King (NR): Over his two-decade musical career, Kanye West has been equal parts controversial and unpredictable. And the last year or so has seen him veer in a surprising direction: straight toward Jesus. Kanye’s occasional shout-outs for Christ in the past have morphed into a sustained chorus of praise and adoration. His latest album, Jesus Is King, expresses that adoration, as does the accompanying 31-minute short feature of the same name. Though it’s been categorized by some as a documentary, the remarkably moving footage of Kanye’s Sunday Service choir is much closer to a gospel-music concert. The performance is filmed against the starkly beautiful backdrop of James Turrell’s naked-eye observatory at the Roden Crater, in Arizona’s Painted Desert. The end result is a deeply worshipful experience, one that’s regularly punctuated by written passages of Scripture reminding us that Jesus is indeed our King.
Overcomer (PG): Overcomer tells the story of Hannah, an asthmatic cross-country runner; John, her skeptical but encouraging coach; and Thomas, the father she never knew she had who also happens to be John’s friend and a former cross-country runner himself. The three go on a spiritual journey where they learn exactly what it means to let go of who they think they’re supposed to be and embrace their identities as children of God. It feels like the Kendrick Brothers’ films get a little better every year. Yes, the dialogue can be a bit cheesy, but I can’t help but root for a movie that is blessedly free of profane language and overt sexual tones. And the positive messages these movies convey could not be stronger.These characters are flawed and real and display a wide range of emotions that people everywhere can identify with. And one of the best parts about Overcomer is that we get to witness a happy ending, not necessarily because everything worked out in the end, but because these characters choose to put their faith in Jesus and let Him be their joy.
The Pilgrim’s Progress (NR): John Bunyan’s classic allegory of spiritual pilgrimage has been retold scores of times onscreen and onstage. And 2019 saw another adaptation of his tale, this time an animated version with a certain Lord of the Rings-esque flare to it. Once again, our everyman hero Christian makes his way from the City of Destruction to the fabled Celestial City. And he must confront the many doubts, fears and temptations to turn aside from his quest that assail him along the way. A handful of Christian’s conflicts with dark demonic forces could easily feel pretty intense for very young or sensitive viewers. But for many families, the latest version of this story could be an effective springboard for conversations about the enemies of spiritual growth in our own journeys.
Unplanned (R): Christian movies rarely carry an R rating. But Unplanned does, because the story it tells is in many ways a difficult one. But it’s an important story, too, as the movie fixes an unwavering, unflinching gaze on the tragedy of abortion. Unplanned chronicles the dramatic testimony of Abby Johnson, a Christian woman who becomes the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. Abby sincerely believes she’s helping women in need—right up until the moment she witnesses her first abortion procedure up close. “My story isn’t an easy one to hear,” she tells us in a voiceover at the outset. Indeed, it isn’t. Unplanned is a searing, painful dramatization in which we’re confronted with some graphic representations of abortion. That said, Unplanned is simultaneously a movie about hope, the possibility of change and the importance of forgiveness.