My upcoming book, Jesus Goes to the Movies: The Youth Ministry Film Guide, releases on August 11. You can purchase it through Amazon or The Youth Cartel. I'll be posting excerpts in the days leading up to the book. Be sure to buy your copy today!
Movies Move Us
Star Wars launched me into a lifelong love for the medium of film and its unique power to captivate our minds and hearts. The Thin Red Line was my first divine encounter with a movie. Philomena compelled me to find my birth mother (a journey I’ll share a bit more about later in this book). Each story illustrates the power of movies to … well … move us. More than other forms of media, the presence of film as entertainment and art form has become culturally normative. We live in a movie world. From YouTube to Netflix, Blu-ray to the box office, filmmakers are the theologians and bards of this generation. Billions of dollars are spent on filmmaking and movie-watching each year. In 2013, the top ten grossing movies worldwide earned 8.7 billion dollars alone. Keep in mind, that’s only ten movies for one year. Even in difficult economic times, this is a lucrative business that is here to stay. In the same year, 68% of Americans and Canadians—about 228.7 million people—went to the movies. And 11% of them go at least once per month. This statistic doesn’t include the countless movies people watched in their homes, on their laptops or tablets, or while traveling in airplanes and on road trips.
How do people decide which movies they’re going to watch? According to a study performed by Google, four out of five movie-goers watch movie trailers on YouTube before seeing a film; the official movie trailer influences their decision more than any other online research—including reviews, information about the cast, and friends’ opinions. And 70% consider more than one movie before deciding what to see. It’s fascinating to me that a significant number of people may not even know what movie they’re going to watch when they show up at the theater or turn on Netflix—they peruse the options and pick whatever seems interesting in the moment. If this is our culture’s typical posture, perhaps we need to imagine new methods in how we make decisions, especially when it comes to movies.
Movies are increasingly becoming the primary universally shared passion in Western culture, particularly with young people. One author describes film as “the central ritual of our technological civilization.” Fifty years ago, everyone listened to the same few radio stations or watched the same TV channels. Large-scale events affected literally everyone, young and old, regardless of demographic. There was a sense of a universally shared experience; we all watched The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show; we all saw the Neil Armstrong moon landing; we all remember where we were when JFK was shot. But in an information- and technology-driven culture where interests and factions are more nuanced and splintered than any previous generation, this universally-shared experience has been mostly lost in our culture. Everyone isn’t watching the same news channel or TV shows. Everyone isn’t listening to the same music or reading the same books. Yet even when they haven’t seen the film, everyone is still familiar with filmic characters and stories. Make a reference to a recent sports game or musical performance or TV special to a young person, and there’s a strong chance they aren’t even familiar with your experience. Make a reference to an upcoming Hollywood movie, and it’s very likely they’ll have knowledge of its details.