Amid the nonstop media hype of the Hollywood awards season leading up the Oscars (which aired this year on Feb. 26), one ceremony stands out from the crowd each year. The Movieguide Awards are widely described as “the Christian Oscars,” and offer those who devote their careers to making faith-based films and mainstream movies that have positive moral values the opportunity to be recognized for one special night.
Held annually at the Universal Hilton, this year’s red carpet and awards festivities were held on Feb. 10 and also celebrated the 25th anniversary of Movieguide (www.movieguide.org), the leading Christian-run movie review site on the web. Founded in 1992 by Ted Baehr, Movieguide’s advocacy approach to rewarding the movies and TV shows that spread a positive Christian or moral message has resulted in dramatic improvements in the moral content of Hollywood’s productions.
That impact is seen most strongly in the annual comprehensive study Movieguide conducts each year, which shows that movies with strong conservative moral and political values far outpace those espousing extremely liberal values at the box office. In fact, this year’s analysis of more than 275 movies released in 2016 showed that strongly conservative films have an average gross of $71.09 million per movie versus liberal ones earning just $12.45 million per movie.
By extension, the amount of foul language and gratuitous sex and nudity has vastly plummeted since Movieguide arrived on the scene with its approach to reviewing, in which movies are assessed on both an artistic level and their moral content. Speaking from the red carpet, veteran actor Kevin Sorbo — who divides his career between frequent roles in faith-based films such as “God’s Not Dead” with secular fare, including the TV series “Hercules” and “Supergirl” — said that the influence of Christians in Hollywood is starting to paying off.
“I think Hollywood’s waking up slowly, but the indie market runs the faith-based world,” said Sorbo. “Most of the top 100 movies of all time are comedies or kids’ movies, so those are the ones that make money. You can’t expect them to stop making R-rated movies, because life isn’t always G-rated and there are those kinds of stories to tell.
“But I say mix it up, and why don’t they make a movie like ‘Noah’ and hire at least an agnostic director instead of an admitted atheist director, like they did,” Sorbo continued. “Same with the recent ‘Exodus’ movie, too. I thought it was interesting that its director, Ridley Scott, said the Red Sea didn’t really part, it was a tsunami. But if I was that interviewer I would have said, ‘Pretty good timing on that tsunami!’”
The impact of Movieguide and other Christian organizations in Hollywood over the past 25 years has resulted in a slate of Best Picture Oscar nominees that have several of the nine choices either featuring Christian characters (“Hidden Figures,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Fences”), positive family and moral values (“Lion” and, to a lesser extent, “Manchester by the Sea” and “Hell or High Water”), wholesome entertainment on a grand scale (“La La Land”) or a call to understand the forgotten of society (“Moonlight”).
And during a Feb. 8 Oscars discussion at the Catholic organization Family Theater Productions in Los Angeles, featuring prominent media analyst Sister Nancy Usselman, the Movieguide Awards nominees were discussed at length after the Academy Awards. The difference at the Movieguide Awards is that, in most categories, all the nominees are honored with awards.
This year’s top award winners — which serve as a solid guide to safe movies for viewers of any age — were:
Ten best movies for families:
“Miracles from Heaven”
“The Young Messiah”
“The Jungle Book” (2016)
“The Secret Life of Pets”
Queen of Katwe
“Pete’s Dragon” (2016)
Ten best movies for mature audiences:
“God’s Not Dead 2”
“Captain America: Civil War”
“The Finest Hours”
“Eddie the Eagle”
The ceremony was hosted by veteran actor Terry Crews, who currently costar in the Fox network sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and featured musical performances by gospel singers Anthony Hamilton and Pastor Shirley Caesar in addition country singer Billy Gilman and a country-pop trio featuring Olivia Newton-John. In addition, veteran actors including Melissa Joan Hart (“Melissa and Joey,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) and Oscar nominee Robert Forster (“Jackie Brown”) were among the presenters.
After the ceremony — which took place in front of 450 attendees and will air nationwide on the cable network REELZChannel on Easter Sunday, April 16 — veteran Christian filmmakers Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon of PureFlix Entertainment (“God’s Not Dead,” “Do You Believe?”) expressed their appreciation for the event
“This is the one night of the year that the Christian part of the industry can get together in a big way,” says Konzelman. “Ted’s been doing this for 25 years, and you see the fruits of that this past year when there were more faith and values movies released last year than in the entire decade of the ‘90s and into the 21st Century.”
“Ironically Ted and the Movieguide awards were the things that inspired us to keep going in Christian films,” adds Solomon. “I always say I’d rather win this than the Oscar. The Oscars are a worldly thing, but this award is for Christians and believers and the Lord, so we get to praise the Lord and hopefully win or at least be humble and do more movies.”