Christian films are as varied in terms of themes and subject matter as any other niche in Hollywood – but what would a comprehensive and detailed movie version of the Bible be rated? One prominent Christian filmmaker, Phil Cooke, believes it would be given a strong "R" rating – maybe even an "X" (NC-17).
When it comes to big-budget Bible-based movies, there does not seem to be a clear formula for success – movies from various content-level ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have done well, each for their own reasons. A good example of that is looking at a list provided by BoxOfficeMojo.com of the top 10 Christian-themed movies that have ranked in the highest numbers at the Box Office.
The MPAA provides on its website a detailed description of what all of its ratings signify, but the main descriptions include: G - General Audiences. All Ages Admitted; PG - Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children; PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13; R - Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian; NC-17 - No One 17 and Under Admitted (also known as X rating).
The highest grossing Christian movie of all time is Mel Gibson's 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ," which is based on the last days and the last hours of Jesus Christ. The movie received a strong "R" rating for the excessively graphic nature of the beatings and torture Jesus (played by Jim Caviezel) went through leading up to the crucifixion. The movie may have been too violent for younger viewers, but in general it still received a high level of praise from Christians and earned $370,782,930 at the Box Office in the U.S. – making it currently the 17th highest-performing film of all time.
Another big hitter was the 2005 fantasy film "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," based on the stories by Christian author C.S. Lewis. The movie also scored an impressive $291,710,957 at the Box Office, but was only rated "PG". The 8th highest Christian movie on the list was the 2002 animated story "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie," based on the Biblical story of Jonah – and that received the lowest possible rating, "G."
Still, not all serious, reality-based Christian movies need a high rating to be successful – "The Mission," the 1986 film about 18th century Spanish Jesuits protecting a remote South American Indian tribe in danger of falling under the rule of pro-slavery Portugal, starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons, also received a low rating of "PG" despite its mature themes of death, slavery, and repentance, and won a great deal of critical praise, such as being awarded the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Recently, Movieguide.org, a website of critical reviews of movies serving as a family guide to entertainment based on a Christian perspective, published a report that claimed that seven out of 2011's top 10 films had a "strong or very strong Christian, biblical, moral and redemptive content" message, and the 91 movies that it reviewed that scored high in conservative/moral categories scored on average a $59 million box office profit apiece. The 105 movies liberal movies Movieguide noted, however, earned an average of just $11 million per film, suggesting that conservative Christian films perform better.
But what would a movie that does not shy away from even the most mature and provocative material in the Bible be rated?
Phil Cooke, President and CEO of Cooke Pictures, a media production and consulting company based in Los Angeles, who also advises many of the largest Christian and nonprofit organizations in the world on media issues, suggested in an email to The Christian Post that a Bible movie would quite possibly be given the most restrictive rating of all.
"If you filmed 'The Bible,' much of it would be R-rated and some of it possibly 'X.' That's the remarkable thing about the Bible – it tells honest, authentic and true stories. So why do we spend so much time trying to convince Hollywood that serious films about real life that push the edge aren't welcomed by the faith community? I think the culture would respect our message much more if we stopped producing just cheesy, G-rated films and started telling gritty stories about real life," Cooke wrote.
Cooke's most recent book, Jolt! Get the Jump on a World That's Constantly Changing, deals with strategies to overcome the changing technology, culture, business, trends, and values of the world today and regain the confidence that can give people a real advantage. His blog, at philcooke.com, deals with issues of faith, media and culture.