Plugged In Movie Awards 2020: Best Christian Movie

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This category, the fourth in our four-day unveiling of our Plugged In Movie Awards nominations, seems to be getting tighter and more competitive all the time. It feels as though we’re seeing more explicitly Christian movies in the marketplace these days, and the quality of Christian films continues to grow stronger by the year. Still, even deciding what qualifies as a Christian film can be a little dicey. We opted to put Terence Malick’s A Hidden Life in our Best Movies for Adults category, produced as it was by a secular studio and helmed by a secular director. But the movie’s central plot hinged, largely, on the main character’s faith. You could argue that it’d be just as happily at home here.

But this year, we opted to really salute some strong films made by people in the “traditional” Christian filmmaking fold, if you will … with one notable outlier.

And as I’ve mentioned thrice before, we want to hear what you think, too. Vote for your favorite nominee (right here on the blog, or on Facebook and/or Instagram), and we’ll unveil your selections, along with our own, during our Feb. 6 podcast at thepluggedinshow.com. (We’ll follow that up with a blog as well.) And if you don’t see your favorite on our list of nominees, tell us what you would’ve chosen instead. (All movie capsules were written by Emily Clark, Adam Holz, Bob Hoose, Kristin Smith and me, Paul Asay.)

Breakthrough (PG): On Jan. 19, 2015, 14-year-old John Smith and two friends run out onto a frozen Missouri lake to play. But their amusement is cut short when the ice cracks and the boys slip into the frigid water below. As each boy frantically struggles to get out and climb ashore, John gets kicked in the face and knocked out, sending him even deeper into the dark waters … for more than 15 minutes. A man sees the boys fighting for their lives and calls the police, but it’s too late for John. However, at the hospital, John’s mother, Joyce, is not ready to let him go. So, she cries out to God to save her son. Moments later, John’s heart begins beating again. The doctors can’t believe it and the only way to explain it is to say that miracles still happen. Based on Joyce Smith’s book The Impossible, Breakthrough dramatizes the real-life story of John Smith. And although there are some perilous scenes and light profanities, this is a truly amazing story that displays the power of God and the necessity for faith.

Jesus Is King (NR): Over his two-decade musical career, Kanye West has been equal parts controversial and unpredictable. And the last year or so has seen him veer in a surprising direction: straight toward Jesus. Kanye’s occasional shout-outs for Christ in the past have morphed into a sustained chorus of praise and adoration. His latest album, Jesus Is King, expresses that adoration, as does the accompanying 31-minute short feature of the same name. Though it’s been categorized by some as a documentary, the remarkably moving footage of Kanye’s Sunday Service choir is much closer to a gospel-music concert. The performance is filmed against the starkly beautiful backdrop of James Turrell’s naked-eye observatory at the Roden Crater, in Arizona’s Painted Desert. The end result is a deeply worshipful experience, one that’s regularly punctuated by written passages of Scripture reminding us that Jesus is indeed our King.

Overcomer (PG): Overcomer tells the story of Hannah, an asthmatic cross-country runner; John, her skeptical but encouraging coach; and Thomas, the father she never knew she had who also happens to be John’s friend and a former cross-country runner himself. The three go on a spiritual journey where they learn exactly what it means to let go of who they think they’re supposed to be and embrace their identities as children of God. It feels like the Kendrick Brothers’ films get a little better every year. Yes, the dialogue can be a bit cheesy, but I can’t help but root for a movie that is blessedly free of profane language and overt sexual tones. And the positive messages these movies convey could not be stronger.These characters are flawed and real and display a wide range of emotions that people everywhere can identify with. And one of the best parts about Overcomer is that we get to witness a happy ending, not necessarily because everything worked out in the end, but because these characters choose to put their faith in Jesus and let Him be their joy.

The Pilgrim’s Progress (NR): John Bunyan’s classic allegory of spiritual pilgrimage has been retold scores of times onscreen and onstage. And 2019 saw another adaptation of his tale, this time an animated version with a certain Lord of the Rings-esque flare to it. Once again, our everyman hero Christian makes his way from the City of Destruction to the fabled Celestial City. And he must confront the many doubts, fears and temptations to turn aside from his quest that assail him along the way. A handful of Christian’s conflicts with dark demonic forces could easily feel pretty intense for very young or sensitive viewers. But for many families, the latest version of this story could be an effective springboard for conversations about the enemies of spiritual growth in our own journeys.

Unplanned (R): Christian movies rarely carry an R rating. But Unplanned does, because the story it tells is in many ways a difficult one. But it’s an important story, too, as the movie fixes an unwavering, unflinching gaze on the tragedy of abortion. Unplanned chronicles the dramatic testimony of Abby Johnson, a Christian woman who becomes the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. Abby sincerely believes she’s helping women in need—right up until the moment she witnesses her first abortion procedure up close. “My story isn’t an easy one to hear,” she tells us in a voiceover at the outset. Indeed, it isn’t. Unplanned is a searing, painful dramatization in which we’re confronted with some graphic representations of abortion. That said, Unplanned is simultaneously a movie about hope, the possibility of change and the importance of forgiveness.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Peace In Mind 2 days ago
I was not able to leave a comment on your movie review for Pursuit of Happyness, but I really wanted to thank the person who wrote it! This is a beautifully crafted review! Your summary of the movie is put together very well. It isn't too short or long and refrains from spoilers leaving the reader captivated and curious as to where the story will go.


I especially appreciate the paragraphs detailing the positive themes presented in the movie. You really captured the obvious and discrete lessons that are brought up throughout the movie. When I watched this movie, I could see that Chris was a loving father that wants the best for his son. Although he isn't always a "perfect" father, he tries his best to give his son everything. This movie really provides a good example of how a parent should care for their children no matter what their circumstances are.


I also appreciate when a summary of a review is given because I know that there are some that do not take the time to read large reviews yet still want to know the gist of someone's opinion. Your review was well organized, written, and detailed and it provided a great amount of information that helped me decide to watch the movie and discern the messages conveyed in it.


Anonymous 18 days ago
unplanned
Sydney Haas 19 days ago
I would love to see Break Through but I'm not quite sure yet. Anyone seen Break Through?
Anonymous 19 days ago
I saw it and thought it was a decent movie about the power of prayer able to literally bring someone back from the dead. I wish the movie itself was a bit better and not so slow at times, but all in all it was a good movie, just not a particularly great one.
Anonymous 20 days ago
I saw overcomer and thought it was good. I also saw breakthrough and it was pretty good too. But my vote has to go to unplanned because of the strong pro-life message and the unfair treatment of giving them an R rating. 

-LesMis24601
Julienne Dy 20 days ago
The only one that I saw in this list is Unplanned.
Anonymous 21 days ago
I personally would choose between Overcomer and Unplanned.  However, I know a lot of people that loved Breakthrough (I never saw it). I also know some teens that wouldn't have seen anything listed here other than Jesus is King, so it has it's place (even if I'm not a Kanye fan).  For me the Pilgrim's Progress book was too overtly obvious, so I didn't see the movie.  However, I know many people who have been impacted by the book.  So it's great to know that while all of these may not be for everyone, there's at least one here that is for you.  But having a variety of quality options available, it's great to know that there is great impact for the kingdom happening.  Because even though some aren't that impactful for me, I'm glad they are for others.  May Christ be praised through all of it.

Personally, I'll choose Unplanned as the winner - for me at least.
E Hayes 22 days ago
The only one of these I've seen is Overcomer.  I think it is the second best Kendrick brothers' movie (with Fireproof being my favorite).  It has the best movie-making quality of their movies.  It made me cry, though, so I haven't been able to rewatch it.   
Anonymous 24 days ago
For me the kid and teen choices were no-brainers, but the adult and Christian categories left a lot to be desired. That's why I somewhat reluctantly chose Breakthrough for this category, though it was definitely no Silence, God's Not Dead, Do You Believe, Hacksaw Ridge, or even The Shack in my opinion, and shockingly I didn't chose a single film in the adult category, though at least one Neighborhood sort of interests me. My tastes tend to lean towards kiddie fare anyway, but honestly the Shakespeare movie should have been a shoo-in in the nominations, and maybe even The Art of Racing in the Rain, but sadly those weren't even thought of.
Rob Martin 24 days ago
A little unfair - Jesus is King is not available for viewing - it was only out a couple of weeks on IMAX
charitysplace 25 days ago
It's a tie between Overcomer and Breakthrough for me -- both are excellent.
Anonymous 25 days ago
The only film I saw on this list is Breakthrough and it was pretty good as far as Christian movies go, but honestly 2018's Unbroken: Path to Redemption and especially God's Not Dead 3 blow it out of the water. I'm sort of interested in Kanye's film, since the only song I've ever liked by him is Jesus Walks, and considering I just bought myself the original adult version of The Pilgrim's Progress from my local library for just a buck and have gotten about 60 pages of it read already, I'm sort of intrigued by the movie adaptation of it, but the one film that I know I wouldn't see in a million years is Overcomer. Not only did the previews of it made it seem stupid (a black runner becoming a Christian, ho hum), but since the only Kendrick Brothers movie I've ever loved was Fireproof with Courageous getting a marginal thumbs up from me too, I have absolutely zero interest in seeing this latest movie by them. I can't see it being any worse than Facing the Giants or War Room honestly, but you never know.
Anonymous 19 days ago
By the way as someone who has just finished reading Part 1 of The Pilgrim's Progress and has already started Part 2 I have to say that even though it's one of the best books I've ever read (right up there with Shakespeare and Stephen King's The Dark Tower series) I sincerely doubt any film version of it could ever hope to do the book justice. Sure there are exciting moments in it like at Vanity Fair and The Doubting Castle and Christian fighting Apollyon, but there's so much deep theological discussions throughout that I doubt any filmmaker would be brave enough to put those discussions in it. I haven't seen last year's version of Pilgrim's Progress, or any version of it for that matter, but after reading it I doubt any filmed version could have quite the same impact as reading this glorious book would.
Phoebe Chartowich 25 days ago
Unplanned had such a powerful message. I vote for it.
Anonymous 25 days ago
Overcomer, all the way. It is fantastic.
Anonymous 25 days ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Overcomer; a very inspirational film. As a big fan of the Kendrick brothers, it's another winner in their library of films!