Dissecting the Top Grossing Faith Based Films of All Times

When you think about faith based films, what do you think of? Movies about Jesus? Movies about inspiration, miracles, true stories…well the list below represents the Top 10 Highest Grossing (domestic) Faith Based Films of our time and we’ll be dissecting some common themes, subject matter, and just an overall analysis of why we at Called Higher Studios believe they were successful. Ready…here we go. First, let’s run through the list…

  1. The Passion of The Christ (2004) $370,782,930 - Mel Gibson’s controversial depiction of Jesus’ final hours.

  2. Heaven Is for Real (2014) — $91,443,253 - Pastor Todd Burpo’s 3-year-old son, Colton, says he visited Heaven and met Jesus while undergoing surgery.

  3. I Can Only Imagine (2018) — $83,482,352 - Bart Millard, the lead singer of MercyM, overcomes personal and professional struggles, including an abusive father, to eventually produce the hit song by the same title, “I Can Only Imagine.”

  4. War Room (2015) — $67,790,117- War Room follows a troubled, African-American couple who strive to turn their lives around through faith and prayer.

  5. Miracles From Heaven (2016) — $61,705,123 - Miracles From Heaven is based on the miraculous true story of Christy Beam and her 10-year-old daughter Anna, who was diagnosed with a stomach illness, but found herself cured with no medical explanation following an accident that should have hurt her, but instead healed her.

  6. God’s Not Dead (2014) — $60,755,732 - God’s Not Dead follows an atheist Professor and an unwavering Christian student Josh Wheaton, after the freshman refuses to submit a signed statement saying “God is dead” in his philosophy class. Based on Rice Broocks’ 2013 book God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty, the film follows the duo’s series of rousing debates in which the entire class acts as jury, and their individual internal struggles that impact their personal lives.

  7. Son of God (2014) — $59,700,064 - Son of God is an adaptation of the History Channel’s 10-hour mini-series The Bible, that follows the gospel through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

  8. The Shack (2017) — $57,386,418 - An adaptation of the 2007 best-selling novel by William Young, The Shack centers on a devoted father of five, four years after the abduction and murder of his youngest daughter. He learns of her death after being summoned to a shack by a letter from “Papa” where he spends a weekend in the shack engaging in deep conversations with the physical manifestations of the Holy Trinity.

  9. Soul Surfer (2011) — $43,853,424 - Soul Surfer depicts the true story of professional surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm in a shark attack at age 13. She has to lean on her faith to fuel a full recovery and return to a promising surfing career.

  10. The Star (2017) — $40,852,824 - In Sony Pictures Animation's The Star, a small but brave donkey named Bo yearns for a life beyond his daily grind at the village mill. One day he finds the courage to break free, and finally goes on the adventure of his dreams. On his journey, Bo and his new friends follow the Star and become accidental heroes in the greatest story ever told - the first Christmas and the birth of Jesus.

When you first take a look at this list, what are the common themes you see? Of course, they all have “faith” as the core element, “Christ” is there, but it’s very important to dig deeper. When you really break down the core theme of each individual film you begin to see exactly what each is about.

  1. The Passion of The Christ - The True Depiction of Christ’s actual Sacrifice for Us

  2. Heaven Is for Real - True story Affirming our Beliefs in Heaven

  3. I Can Only Imagine - Redemption and the Changing of a Life

  4. War Room - The Power of Prayer

  5. Miracles From Heaven - Miracles of God, Healing Power

  6. God’s Not Dead - Standing up for our faith, apologetics

  7. Son of God - The Story of Christ’s Life

  8. The Shack - Reconciling difficult situations through faith

  9. Soul Surfer - True Story of Difficult Times and Leaning on God to get Through It

  10. The Star - Animated Children’s Story using comedy to tell the story of Jesus’ birth

Of course, the central themes range, but if you take a look at the top five grossing films…is it actually a surprise that the #1 film deals directly with the actual sacrifice that Jesus made to save us and restore us to a right relationship with God? It’s the very core of our faith, the very thing that we as Christians cling to for our redemption…the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I don’t think it’s any surprise that a high budget, well depicted story of our CORE BELIEF, the very thing that saved us is at the top of the list. Of course, having big stars, a big name director, and large marketing budget play a huge role…but I think it’s important to look at the type of story that attracted Mel Gibson, other actors, and that kind of budget as opposed to other films or stories that warrant that type of bet…the story of the death and resurrection of our savior resonated enough with Mel Gibson and others to take that kind of gamble at the box office and it paid off…maybe because of the big budget…but just maybe because it hits the bulls eye when you think about the very foundation of Christianity.

When you look at the next four films, the themes emerge as 2. Affirming our belief in Heaven, 3. Redemption - that the worst of us can be saved and change, 4. The Power of Prayer to save our families, and 5. That God still works Miracles and can Heal Us…Change our Situation. Why wouldn’t we, as Christians, want to be told that Heaven really does exist, that we can be redeemed through Christ, that if we Pray…God will answer our prayers and change us, and that God still, through his Miraculous power, can heal us and rescue us from desperate situations. I’m not the smartest producer in the world, but when I look at the top 5 Christian, Faith Based Grossing films on this list…they seem to tell us and teach us things that Jesus already taught us in the Bible. They seem to echo what God’s teachings, his “stories”, tell us in the Bible…that heaven is indeed real and waiting for us…”I go to prepare a place”, that we can indeed be changed…”For who so ever believes…”, that if you pray God will answer, if it is his will, “…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”, and that Jesus is still among us and works in our lives and situations this very day…”what is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Maybe picking winners in the faith based movie business isn’t rocket science, maybe having success in this industry isn’t illusive or a game of chance at all. Of course, you have to operate at a very high level, you must execute all the elements of the craft at a high level, you must assemble a great team of crew members, about the line talent, director, producers, actors, marketers, etc…but that is possible…it has and can be done with diligence and fortitude, but with all those things being equal and accomplished…maybe choosing the stories to tell isn’t that hard at all. Maybe choosing where to focus the resources, the time, the people, the capital of Called Higher Studios isn’t that hard at all…maybe, just maybe…if we dig into the Bible and we diligently learn what Jesus, what the Holy Spirit, what God has and is teaching us every day…maybe those are the principles and lessons that, if we keep them at our core, we can have success by echoing what Christ has already said….just maybe.

- Jason Brown