Facing the Hollywood Giants — and Winning

With films like ‘Courageous’ and ‘Fireproof,’ Stephen and Alex Kendrick’s Sherwood Pictures has defied the odds and made quality movies with redemptive messages that audiences are willing to support. PLUS: Win a free ‘Courageous’ DVD.

There was a girl named Alicia who said her dad had abandoned her and her siblings years ago, but he showed up for her brother’s wedding. When there was a break in the festivities, she and her sister took him to see Courageous. They were sitting in the theater watching the film and her dad began to cry. During the film’s climatic church scene, where men are urged to declare their commitment to become better husbands, fathers, and leaders, Alicia’s dad stood up alone in front of the whole theater in response to the film’s virtual altar call. Soon, other men stood up in front of their seats. Alicia and her sister began to cry. That moment, she said, was the beginning of a needed healing process for her entire family.

In Panama, 700 police officers gathered from across their nation to watch Courageous because they had heard so much about it. When they left the theater, they couldn’t stop talking about how they could follow the film’s call to action and sign a resolution to be men of honor. They said they could change Panama if government servants like them would operate in integrity.

There was a soldier who had served in Afghanistan. He’d gotten hooked on a pain medication that caused him and his family to fall quickly into a downward spiral. He watched Courageous then called his wife and said, “I have to do the courageous thing to save my family, so I’m checking myself into rehab. I now have hope.”

A man had blocked out of his mind that he had fathered a child out of wedlock when he was in college. Now decades later, after seeing Courageous, he realized he needed to reconnect with that child. “God wants to turn the hearts of children back to their fathers and fathers back to their children,” he said.

These are four of the over 320,000 Facebook posts written as a result of people, especially fathers, seeing the film Courageous and sharing their life-changing stories. After a successful four-month run in theaters last fall, Courageous was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc last week.

SENDING HOLLYWOOD A MESSAGE: 'Courageous' producer and Sherwood Pictures co-founder Stephen Kendrick.

Stephen Kendrick and his brother Alex, both ministers at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, are the filmmakers behind Courageous; the brothers co-wrote the script, Stephen produced, and Alex directed and starred in the film as police officer Adam Mitchell. The Kendricks, whose film company Sherwood Pictures previously produced such features as Facing the Giants and Fireproof, have become the Tyler Perrys of evangelical Christian movies, creating immensely popular films on a relatively small budget.

Courageous, in fact, was more successful than Fireproof in its first weekend, grossing $9 million ($2.2 million more than Fireproof), making it the No. 4 movie the week of its debut, and No. 1 if you take into account that the film opened against movies with three times as many screens as Courageous and budgets 20 times more than its $2 million production cost. The film went on to gross $34.5 million at the box office.

God Opening Doors

Stephen Kendrick can’t help but be pleased with the success of Courageous, but contrary to what some might think, he did not go on a wild spending frenzy or flaunt his success as a sign of his arrival in the big time. Instead, with each success he’s become more humble. Kendrick is quick to assign the credit for Sherwood Pictures’ good fortune to God’s answer to fervent prayer. From their first movie, Flywheel (2003), which was produced with $20,000 and ran successfully for six weeks at a single location in Albany; to 2006’s Facing the Giants, which was made for $100,000 and grossed $10 million; to 2008’s Fireproof — $500,000 budget, $33 million gross; and now Courageous, Stephen says it has been God who has opened doors.

Starting with the backing of their church of the movie ministry, and later the backing of Provident Films and TriStar Pictures, success still means giving back to God through supporting their church, their families, and others, with the aim of bringing attention to God’s message of hope.

Kendrick says their goal is to keep improving, and to a large degree they have made much headway in their efforts to do so. However, the stinging reviews of critics such as Rotten Tomatoes, the L.A. Times, and New York’s Village Voice hangs in the air. Stephen, in his customary humility, addresses the critics of Courageous this way: “People don’t need to be afraid of critics and criticism, because sometimes they are your best friends to help you realize how you can grow and how you can do better. When we have read reviews, whether on Rotten Tomatoes or Christian websites, and have seen consistent trends where different people are noticing the same things, then we know that we have to address those issues.”

At the same time, says Kendrick, some of the reviews were clearly anti-Christian anything, good or bad, or so far in leftfield that they did not bear much thought. However, one of the recurring criticisms of the film, from both secular and Christian reviewers, was that it was overly preachy. Kendrick doesn’t back away from that critique.

AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE: In 'Courageous,' Ken Bevel portrays Nathan Hayes, a dedicated police officer trying to avoid the mistakes his absentee father made.

“Every movie preaches,” he says. “The religion of the world is externalized in their art, you look at James Cameron’s movie Avatar; he’s preaching a message about environmentalism and saving the earth. In our situation, when people know that we are Christians, they automatically are super hypersensitive for any kind of [religious] messages to be in the movie, especially when we have been didactic or use dialogue more than imagery to convey the message.”

The charge that the movie “unabashedly preaches to the choir” is right on target, Kendrick says.

“We do want to preach first to the choir, because the church doesn’t need to tell the world to get their marriages together if we don’t have our marriages together. We don’t apologize for it because we believe that God has led us in that direction. Our number one audience is the church. If you look at the way Jesus taught, he taught parables to the masses and the messages were embedded or hidden in the storyline, and then he taught by preaching, like the Sermon on the Mount, up front and overt to his audience. Our movies have been more like the latter. We’re not against doing the symbolic parable type movies, and if the Lord leads us that way, we’ll do it.”

Aiming for Eternal Fruit

Criticisms notwithstanding, overall audiences viewed Courageous as a life-changing film — not simply one that will prompt an emotional buzz and a superficial tear, but one that truly gives viewers, and especially men, something to think about in their personal lives.

And although Kendrick would love to see Hollywood take note of Sherwood Pictures’ success and begin producing more positive fare, his primary aim is to transform souls.

“Eternal fruit is our ultimate goal,” he says. “We pray for fruit that remains. Movies will come and go. Sending a message to Hollywood, or seeing Hollywood make more redemptive movies, those are nice secondary benefits. But our hope is that people will find a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

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Follow Us on Twitter to Win a FREE Copy of Courageous

Entering the contest is easy, just …

1) Follow us on Twitter: @UrbanFaith.

2) Copy and paste the following tweet to your followers:

I entered to win a Free Copy of the Courageous DVD. Follow @UrbanFaith and RT! http://bit.ly/xlku5U

(Make sure to include @UrbanFaith and http://bit.ly/xlku5U in your tweet.)

Tweet your entries until Monday, January 30, 2012. We’ll randomly select THREE names from among our qualifying Twitter followers and notify the winners the next day. The odds of winning depend on the number of entries we receive. Though you’re welcome to retweet as many times as you’d like, there’s a limit of one contest entry per Twitter follower for the giveaway. Comments must be received by January 30, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Central Time in order to qualify. The retail value of the DVD is $24.99. No purchase is necessary to enter or win, and the giveaway is void where prohibited.

About the author, Wanda Thomas Littles

Wanda Thomas Littles is an author, speaker, and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in A Time of Singing magazine and Clubhouse Jr. She has just completed her latest books of poetry, Like a Thief in the Night and A New Fire, as well as a novel called Preacha! Wanda and her husband reside in San Antonio, where she's also a radio announcer on KDRY. Find out more at WandaLittles.com.
  1. I like the way Littles points out Courageous as a “Quality movie”, one that captures the very soul of a person. This movie makes us think of the value of what’s being represented, restoration of family and our belief in making right, what we do wrong. Christian-faith movies are thought changing and hopefully we will see more quality movies like these. Thank you, for an awesome wriiten article.

  2. I watched this movie tonight with my wife and absolutely loved it. I want to find a copy of the paper those men signed to be better fathers so I can share it with all the other fathers and fathers to be I know. The movie touched my heart and want to share it with everyone I know. We need more movies like this made to help pass the word about being better parents and teaching our children more about God and how he can help each and every one of us.

  3. The movie Courageous is very ‘courageous’ indeed; challenging the hearts of men and their familes to introspective integrity . Kudos to Wanda Thomas Littles on a thoughtful article.

  4. Great article. It seems more and more Christians are getting into Independent films. It is also important to remind Christians of affluence to invest in these films as well. Its profitable for the kingdom and profitable for you. Great Job using the stories about the movie courageous.

  5. I have listened, read a lot of good comments,but I feel we can let go of the title of a christian movie, this movie is a plan and a call to action for all fathers no matter what their faith is.I never knew my real dad to much of a coward to help raise me, Dad number two was around to stick me with his name then he left, Daddy three strike three when the drink is as important or more important than you and the beatings come. I say that to say this we need role models
    and human Hercules not ashamed to put the family back in First. All movies have had message I love it our young men follow anything cause they, we wanted needed something to be apart of. these day.