The (Christian?) Movie Formula

June 24, 2011 — 4 Comments

This was all over the web a few weeks ago (I got it here). I think I even tumbl’d it myself. I find it interesting because it correlates with a sub-point of my thesis.

It may just be me, but when I see this chart, I see an analog trinity (lowercase “t”), who in the face of evil, redeems a world by making some kind of atonement enabling everyone to live happily ever after (raised into newness of life?)

I realize in some ways that might be a stretch, but if nothing else, notice how each of these films follows a creation (normalcy), fall (introduction of evil) and redemption (vanquishing of evil).

Is it all coincidental that some of the most popular movies follow the same trajectory in their story line as the Bible does?

Perhaps, but does any other worldview/religion offer an adequate explanation for why people tell stories in the first and why when they do, they seem to be stories about redemption?

Often Christians (or at least evangelicals) get caught up in trying to analyze the worldview of film successfully without really noticing that regardless of what kind of philosophical ideas might be present in the film, the concept of film itself (using creatively ability to tell a redemptive story) undermines any attempt to promote a philosophy that clashes with Christianity. It’s a classic of case of sitting in the heavenly Father’s lap to get a better angle on reaching to slap his face. You still won’t quite be able to reach, but what’s getting you closer is the very thing you’re trying to undermine.

All that to say, can you think of a film that openly deviates from this pattern? By pattern I mean the underlying redemptive arc that most all stories have. If the hero succeeds (metaphorically dies on the cross and is resurrected) the film is technically consider a comedy (whether or not its’ “funny”), if he fails (metaphorically dies on the cross and fails to redeem anyone or anything) it’s a tragedy.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you could think of a film that does deviate from that pattern, but can you think of a film that openly deviates from this formula, yet was also successful in the box office? Or better, can you find a film on’s Top 250 that deviates from this formula? (does it underscore my point that the top film on that list has the name “redemption in it?)

In other words, do you know of any successful film that doesn’t attempt to tell some kind of redemptive story?

If you can give me a good example, I’ll footnote you!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

4 responses to The (Christian?) Movie Formula

  1. Hi, Nate.

    Everything you’ve put together and mentioned above points toward a similar understanding of story as found in the book “You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens” by Scott Nehring. Scott started studying film as a young boy and is an award-winning screenwriter and professional film critic ( He was raised in liberal Madison, Wisconsin, to be devoutly atheist, but in his 20s God got hold of Scott and drug him “kicking and screaming into the kingdom.”

    One of the first things Scott noticed after he’d begun to study the Bible was how story actually reflects the Great Story God has told. In his book, Scott explains that this story pattern is imprinted within every human being so we’ll recognize and trust the Ultimate Hero, Jesus Christ (and he details in the book what makes up the Great Story and substantiates Jesus as the Ultimate Hero).

    “You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens” would be worth your time to read. You can see more information about it at There are sample chapters and a table of contents there, too, as well as an Order page.

    God bless you, Nate, and your continued work with this subject and how it impacts the world around us. It’s an important one!

    • Christine,

      Thanks for sharing, I’ll definitely look into Scott’s book. It sounds like he came to conclusions similar to what I did in the course of the research for my thesis. You’re not interested in publishing more books on the topic are you? I could send you a pdf of my thesis in couple of weeks when it is finished.


  2. P. S. In full disclosure, I published Scott’s book. If you’d like to talk to Scott you can reach him at

  3. I also meant to let you know about Scott’s twice-monthly newsletter: “Movies & Culture Report.” Here’s the link to the latest issue: . You can subscribe here: — it’s free.

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