Monday, May 18, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part VII - Underdog Sports Movies

In continuing the multi part series about "What Movies Do Christians Want?" in response to a recent Entertainment Weekly article (Movies, Money, and God)...I write this post with caution.

I write this post with caution because I'm not sure what to make of the relationship with Christians and their love for the underdog sports film.

There's a number of films that fit this category that I think you will find many Christians embrace as their favorite films...films like Rocky, Hoosiers, Rudy, Friday Night Lights, Chariots of Fire, Miracle, Field of Dreams, The Rookie, and to a lesser extent The Karate Kid, Seabiscuit, Remember the Titans and Mystery, Alaska.

Tell me I'm not going out on a limb here - in fact, I would guess in your mainline evangelical and protestant churches the male pastors and youth pastors cling to these films as the cinema's greatest treasures on earth.

Underdogs or Overcomers?

I don't know if it's good or not, but I think many Christians see themselves as the "underdogs." They may seem themselves as loosing before they even begin.

I know many Christians believe that "nice guys finish last" and expect that because of their values they're bound to loose out on some of lives experiences, or that their moral conscience will get in the way of opportunities that could come from moral or unethical behavior.

Maybe this okay, on the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spent a great effort in a portion of his teachings (commonly called the beatitudes) to convey that the least of these would be blessed.
But on the other hand, the bible also teaches Christians to be victorious and overcomers.

With a lot of imagery the Apostle Paul wrote: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

And somewhere in the middle of these two concepts is the power of the overcoming and often victorious underdog.

Standing Up for Your Beliefs

One of the biggest underdog films most beloved by Christians is the Best Picture winning film Chariots of Fire about Eric Liddel (Ian Charleson) who didn't run an important Olympic qualifying race because it was on the Sabbath. Liddel would later go on to be a missionary in China. Christian's love this movie, because of the true story about a Christian who stands up for his beliefs, even if they don't make sense to the world.

Other characters do this in these films that captures the hearts of audiences, particularly Christian audiences who are encouraged by those who live there lives with principles and values to great success.

A lot of times it's about a coach, that challenges the team or key players to rise above, and be disciplined. It's so formula-matic, but it has the power to pull heart strings. Even in the Karate Kid, Daniel learns from Mr. Miyagi not to fight dirty like others.

It's no wonder pastors and leaders like these movies, because they see the power of "coach-like" influence, and these stories spur them on to bring discipline, hope, and victory in the lives of their congregations.

You Don't Have to Win to Win

Donald Trump and business tycoons might despise many of these films, because often the teams and players don't actually win.

But in line with the concept that the prize of uprightness and "doing your best" is far greater than the championship trophy or medal.

Rocky didn't beat Apollo Creed. Rudy plays for Notre Dame but doesn't win the championship.

But I think the message of integrity is clear in these movies, for example, in The Legend of Bagger Vance, Rannulph Junuh has a chance to win the final hole but calls a penalty on himself and ends the game in a 3-way tie.
Christians like to see this image on the screen, because it is encouraging and reminds them that even if "Good guys finish last" they can still be the ultimate winners.

Other Post in the "What Movies Do Christians Want? Series"
* In Part I I began a response to the Entertainment Weekly article about movie studios looking for ways to market to the Christian audience
* In Part II I looked at the last 10 years and see how this sub genre is developing.
* In Part III we looked at two Christian motivations for this film genre: insulation and influence.
* In Part IV we discussed the sub-genre of Prairie-Christian film/tv, and the established tradition of this "encouraging" and "family friendly" genre, and it's lack of transferability to the theatrical screen.
* In Part V we pondered if there really is such a thing as "Christian movies" and if Christians really like those that are labeled as "Christian Movies"
* In Part VI we see why Christians might be specifically interested in Superhero films.

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