The more complicated – and more totally accurate – answer has to do with everything from the quality of the story and who is involved with a project to the complexity and cleverness of a film’s marketing plan.  Had any filmmaker other than Mel Gibson attempted a project like "The Passion of The Christ," it is unlikely the film would have garnered such an onslaught of media coverage and wide-spread praise – and angst – or enjoyed such amazing box office success.  Why?  Because Mel Gibson is Mel Gibson after all.  He is a great filmmaker, and, most of all, he had a genius marketing plan.

Was it successful because it had a big budget?

Doubtful.

Without a good story, budget will mean little.
 
A film’s lack of success has less to do with the availability of a BIG budget than it does with a lack of creativity and a sold-out commitment to quality in writing, acting and production.  It also has much to do with the agenda-based approach to storytelling that has come to plague the Christian filmmaking industry. 

A friend came to see me a few weeks ago, and in the natural course of our lengthy, very pleasant conversation, our talk shifted from one subject to the next until we found ourselves talking about, of all things, vacuum cleaners.  He immediately set off into a wildly descriptive monologue extolling the virtues of the most amazing vacuum cleaner of which I had ever heard.  By the time he was finished telling me about all the really great things it could do, I could hardly wait to buy one for myself.  I was really grateful he had shared with me information that I might not have been able to get from someone else who hadn’t experienced what that machine could really do and how it could change my life.

Then I got a kick in the stomach I wasn’t expecting. 

He offered to sell me one of those amazing vacuum cleaners at a one-time-only, today-only, low, low price of $69.95.

At the end of our conversation, I realized, sadly, that maybe he really wasn’t my friend at all.  Everything that led up to his final sales pitch had simply been a manipulation designed to prepare me for a successful conclusion to his carefully constructed presentation.   

Filmmakers producing movies with a Christian message have fallen prey to this same kind of hidden-agenda storytelling, and viewers are rejecting the sales pitch – and the movies.  Many times, the Christian filmmaking industry is so intent with what they want to happen after a film is viewed – namely the viewer falling to their knees to accept the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior as the credits slowly roll – that the story they use to present the message becomes secondary.  To them, the message of the story, not the story itself, has become the most important element.  Now, in itself, a story slanted to a particular viewpoint isn’t altogether uncommon.  However, to be successful, it must be told with a no-holes-barred commitment to honesty in its presentation, or the audience can simply feel used and manipulated.

Quality writing, acting and production have taken a back seat to an all-out, get-them-in-the-end sales pitch.  Unfortunately, the result is that audiences who feel manipulated and pressured are likely to reject the message altogether.

Something has to be done – and quickly – before our ability to use this format to further the Kingdom of God is lost forever.

It is time to issue a call-to-arms for all filmmakers who aspire to produce quality films that advance the cause of Christ by drawing lost souls home to the One who created them.  We need films that encourage and edify believers everywhere and yet still have the ability to impact the lives of non-believers in a positive way.