The good news is, if you're a fan of Christian movies, there are more of them being made with higher budgets, better talent, and stronger writing. In spite of those developments, however, they seem to fall within the same old stale genre guidelines and never depart. Each of these genres can almost correspond to a denomination from which the style originated, interestingly enough. Take a look at this list of Christian movie types, and feel free to chime in with your own.
The 'Say This Prayer' Movie
It has one goal. It's obvious. This film has done it's job if it presents the salvation message and a character goes through the sinners prayer. Fans of this movie tend to disown all the other types of Christian movie (much like the denomination from whence is stems, disowning all other theological persuasions of Christianity) and it's considered by some to be the most concentrated or 'true' form of Christian film. In this film, the protagonist's world gets worse and worse until he eventually breaks and prays a prayer of repentance to God. Rich Christiano has notably done these sorts of films with the most dignity. But most End Times movies like A Thief in the Night and Left Behind sit in this category, but they also have a category of their own....
The Biblical Prophecy Movie!
The end is nigh. Repent. That's the entire message and goal of this film. To incite fear and panic through teaching atrociously superstitious interpretations of the final book of the New Testament. In these films, either the Rapture has just happened, or the Tribulation is underway. There is some form of oppressive government with one goal; exterminate Christians. Of course, this is a radically simplistic storyline that believes that half a billion people can vanish from the planet, all of them conspicuously Christian, and somehow the priorities of the world will be to hunt down and kill any new converts to Christianity.... Alas. The films do have a good track record for scaring youth groups into praying the right prayer, and that's all that counts. I've met directors of these films who openly admit to not believing an ounce of the theology they preach. In this film, the protagonist must escape the one world government as long as possible.
The Christian Pigskin Movie
Blessing your food is probably a habit, unless you're an A-list star. Then you only do it in movies revolving around pigskins and high school dreams of championships. If country music had a film equivalent, it's this. This movie is a down home story of American small towns, Christian mamas, and corn on the cob. Films like The Blind Side sit square in the middle of this genre, with films as conservative as Facing the Giants on one side and movies as gritty and foul mouthed as American Sniper or Machine Gun Preacher on the far other side of the genre space. Are they made by Christians? Not necessarily. The audience is part of the mainstream, but has a bit more drawl, gumption, and likes their food fried. In this movie the protagonist must win the big game or die trying. My movie The Widow's Might plays to this story model.
The Self-help Movie
"With great power comes great responsibility" is a message. "Follow this 40 day game plan until your wife loves you again" is a set of instructions. Fireproof, The Ultimate Gift, and other modern films in the Christian genre aren't as interested in winning the lost, but guiding the found. I expect this genre to increasingly be based on popular self-help books, and it will appeal to the massive Christian middle class entrepreneur community. In this movie, the protagonist must learn all the lessons in the right order. Eventually, like George Bailey, he learns how good he really had it to begin with.
The Bible Epic
The Ten Commandments, The Prince of Egypt, the many retellings of the life of Christ. The Passion of the Christ. The Bible on HBO. Each new version of these films attempts to layer the filmmakers personal interpretation of the personalities of biblical heroes. Was Noah a madman? Was Moses angsty? Was Jesus witty? One filmmaker is rumored to be working on a film depicting the Apostle Paul as an opportunistic cult leader who undermines the work of the other disciples. The Bible epics seem to be increasingly fantastical reinterpretations, testing how far American audiences will be stretched. Interestingly, while Christians do typically watch these movies, many Christian movie-goers describe these movies as unbiblical or even as an attempt from the devil to lead believers astray. In the end, they're actually attempts by Hollywood to make money, regardless of your beliefs. Oddly enough, these movies don't really have protagonists. Just characters controlled by the fate of the story universe.
The Biblical Worldview Movie
This is almost the opposite of the 'faith-based' film, not in intentions, but in execution. In this world, every word, piece of clothing, character action, relationship, and plot arc is carefully weighed under a huge variety of theological tenets. The object is to paint a world where the entire perspective is heavily biased to a conservative Christian outlook. This can be seen in the way the characters romance one another, the particular word choices used by characters to refer to family members (mother and father will be more common than mom and dad, for instance), and the types of career choices characters take. The most defining factor of these movies is that there tends to be an 'issue' that is getting tackled from a biblical worldview. In this movie, the protagonist must discover or realize the biblical way to understand an issue. I really think October Baby did this well, but most films in this category tend to be very low budget and poorly executed so I don't have many other examples. This was what I wanted Ace Wonder to be, but it instead seemed to follow a crossover of the 'faith based' and the 'say this prayer' movie.
Last, but not least, there's a itsy bitsy growing movement trying something new.
The Life-Giving Movie
A man stood in front of a gathering of Christian media leaders and said essentially this - if the Church was tasked with providing oxygen and water to the world, we would deliver these mountainous boxes, ornately decorated with scripture verses proclaiming the hope of the gospel and the majesty of God. Or with directives like 'Repent!' We would place them in every field and on top of every mountain, and the world would come to these boxes for their life giving water and air to survive, as along the way, we used the opportunity to force them into hearing our message.
Meanwhile, God chose a different tactic. Beauty. Lovely things. Trees. Rivers. Gorgeous flowers in every color, size, scent, and style. Trees that reach to the heavens and bushes that barely reach to your waist. All completely different, and all providing us the air we need to live. They don't congratulate themselves, and for thousands of years nobody even knew these plants were providing what we needed. They just simply grew and surrounded us. We selfishly wanted their beauty and they selflessly gave us life. This seems silly in a way, but the New Testament points out that even Nature leaves us without excuse as to the knowledge of God. Why is it that subtlety and nuance are so powerful in leaving us without excuse? Because they reveal the nature of goodness, and perfection, and majesty. Because they show us who God is, instead of telling us what God demands.
I hope that one day Christian artists might choose to create as the creator did. With a focus on the beauty of the craft, a focus on mastery, diversity, splendor, and majesty.... And the oxygen it produces, the life it gives.... well, viewers won't even be able to say no. You cannot smell a flower without breathing in life.
That man's name is Andy Librizzi, and his film Beyond the Farthest Star is one of the best examples of a life giving film I've seen. It has no directive. No rapture. No stars and stripes or country song to lead the charge. No five step plan to improve a marriage or lead a friend to salvation. It does not attack lifestyles or insult people. It doesn't try to bait and switch the audience. It pulls no punches, it does not apologize. It simply tells a story with authenticity and love. Is it a cinematic masterpiece? Come on. It's an independent film. But I've watched it a few times now and I always get more from it every time. And that's something I can't say about any of the other genres.
Reading; The War of Art
Thinking; What subgenres did I forget?