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Jesus Christ, Movie Star: The 5 Top Faith-Based Hits of 2023

Films and TV shows for the faithful were big business this year


spinner image Kelsey Grammer stars in the film "Jesus Revolution."
Kelsey Grammer stars in "Jesus Revolution."
Dan Anderson/Lionsgate/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Why should the devil have all the good music?” sang the terrific Christian rock star Larry Norman, who in a 1978 concert converted the teenaged future vice president Mike Pence (now 64). In 2023, millions of film fans of faith felt the devil shouldn’t get all the good movies, either.

The Chosen, the TV hit about Jesus seen by 108 million people, spawned December’s spinoff movie Christmas With the Chosen: Holy Night. And faith audiences made the controversial anti-sex-trafficking hit Sound of Freedom (on Amazon’s Prime Video Dec. 26) the ninth top-grossing 2023 movie in America, at $248 million, ahead of Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour and the latest Indiana Jones movie.

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Here are the five most popular faith-based films of 2023, according to author and Christianity Today contributor Peter T. Chattaway, 53. They all cracked the $10 million mark in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo:

Jesus Revolution ($54.2 million)

This film stars Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer, 68, as Greg Laurie, 71, pastor of California’s huge Harvest Christian Fellowship. Fighting back tears, Grammer said on Live With Kelly and Ryan, “He’s a man looking for his own faith. He’s starting to think he’s going to get fired from his job as a pastor. This hippie comes into his life, and he finds a new purpose and started a movement that is still going.” Chattaway says this film could be particularly appealing to AARP readers: “It’s a depiction of the ‘Jesus People’ movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s, so it was rather appealing to Christians of a certain generation.”

The Blind ($17.3 million)

It’s a biopic that shows how Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson (77) grew from a dead-broke Louisiana child who hunted for food to a chronic alcoholic, until the wife he miserably mistreated got him to see the light. Fans were thrilled to watch how Robertson (played by Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’s Aron von Adrian) overcame what he called a “sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle” for a life of piety and sobriety (plus reality-TV fame). “Our little movie helped thousands run up on Jesus, and that’s what I’m most thankful for this year,” Robertson said on Instagram. “That and getting to cook duck and dressing for my family.” Says Chattaway, “It takes place in the ’60s, with a framing narrative in the early ’80s, so it’s got the generational appeal too."

His Only Son ($13.8 million)

Made by first-time filmmaker David Helling for $250,000, this movie about Isaac, the son God told Abraham to murder to test his faith, earned an ecstatic 96 percent rating from viewers on Rotten Tomatoes, despite low production values and no stars more famous than Young Wallender cast member Sara Seyed as Issac’s mom, Sarah. A serious film about one of the deepest, most mysterious stories in the Bible, its $13.8 million gross is an amazing return on a $250,000 investment. “It’s the first film released by Angel Studios’ new distribution unit,” says Chattaway. “It came out a few months before Sound of Freedom, which was an infinitely bigger hit.” True, but His Only Son did outgross the Oscar-nominated critical-hit docs Super Size Me ($11.5 million) and Winged Migration ($10.7 million) and Bill Maher’s anti-Christian documentary Religulous ($13 million).

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After Death ($11.5 million)

Featuring people like pastor Don Piper (90 Minutes in Heaven) and surgeon Mary Neal (To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story) recounting their alleged near-death experiences, plus cardiologist Michael Sabom, who wrote Recollections of Death: A Medical Investigation, this film left critics unimpressed, and many called it a religious tract pretending to be a proper documentary. Its 50 percent Rotten Tomatoes score was mediocre — but viewers gave it a high 87 percent score. If you deem it a documentary, Chattaway notes, “It’s the biggest-grossing documentary since Peter Jackson’s Critics Choice Award-winning 2018 World War I documentary They Shall Not Grow Old.

The Shift ($10.6 million)

This multiverse thriller inspired by the Book of Job stars the brilliant Neal McDonough, 59 (Yellowstone, Justified), as the diabolical Benefactor, who transports the Job-like hero Kevin (Hallmark movie star Kristoffer Polaha) from our world, where he’s got a dream job and dream wife, to a nightmare parallel universe ruled by a godless police state, where he loses all. Like a much meaner version of Dean Stockwell in Quantum Leap, the Benefactor offers Kevin the chance to “shift” back home — if he will deny his creator. Sean Astin, 52 (Sam in the Christian-friendly Lord of the Rings films), plays Kevin’s friend in the nightmare world, where believers are persecuted. Christianity Today critic Rebecca Cusey describes The Shift as “The Matrix meets It’s a Wonderful Life.” “It hasn’t gotten the same buzz as the other Angel Studio movies,” says Chattaway, “but the clip posted on my YouTube channel has been getting quite a few comments from fans of the film.”

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