There is a deeply rooted stigma in the Church against the movie and entertainment industry. Some Christians speak of “Hollywood” as the ominous equivalent to Mordor in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Despite this hostility, statistically speaking, Christians watch movies with the same frequency as non-Christians.
When it comes to cinema, Christians generally focus more on what than on how. They ask, “What movies are appropriate?” but give less attention to how to watch the movie. Both questions are important. Today’s Christians may watch movies at the same rate as non-Christians, but they shouldn’t watch them in the same way. When Jesus sent His followers into the world, He told them to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Building upon that framework, here are five practical steps for how Christians should watch movies.
1. Enjoy Them
This might seem like an odd starting place. In fact, this aspect of the viewing experience is typically left out of Christian discussion altogether. Yet, at their base level, movies are entertainment. They can do far more than entertain—they can wrestle with deep philosophical and ethical themes and provide insightful social commentary—but these additional functions don’t mean they can’t also be enjoyed. Christians do not need to feel guilty about or ashamed of enjoying a great and exciting film.
Christians should avoid going into a film blind. The looming threat of “spoilers” means you may need to tread carefully, but a general awareness of a movie’s content is necessary.
This preliminary inquiry may save you from wasting money on a lousy movie. More importantly, it can alert you to any major causes of concern (a gratuitous sex scene, hard profanity, a militantly blasphemous tone, etc.) and allow you to take the necessary steps to protect your “dove-like” Christian innocence (for example, by waiting to watch the film at home so you can skip an unwholesome scene, watching it with an accountability partner, or avoiding it altogether).
3. Watch and Engage
People typically watch movies in order to shut their brains off and relax. But Christians should engage their mind while they watch. Finding a balance between enjoyment and engagement can be tricky. Actively engaging with the film runs the risk of reducing the experience to an intellectual exercise and stripping cinema of its prime purpose for being.
But thoughtful engagement doesn’t mean watching with a pen and paper in hand as you look for deep worldview implications in every camera pan or throwaway line of dialogue. It simply means being mentally present. When you watch a movie, you are entering into the world of the filmmaker. But you can—and should—remain in control of the experience.
4. Process and Review
Usually, our minds have already moved on to a dozen other thoughts by the time we return home from the theater, but one of the most important steps in the viewing experience comes immediately after you finish watching. Intentionally take time to process what you’ve just watched. Push beyond the surface level of the plot or “it was good/bad.” What worldview was represented? What insights about life did the movie provide? Do these insights line up with what the Bible teaches? If not, do they give you a better understanding of the opposing worldview?
5. Talk About It
Lastly, talk to other people about the movie. Watch with a friend and then go grab coffee and discuss it afterwards. Of course, you can also join the discussion digitally. Most people read movie reviews before watching a film (to decide whether or not to see it), but reading reviews and commentary after you’ve seen a film is equally beneficial. Just because you didn’t pick up on certain themes or attitudes presented by the film doesn’t mean they won’t affect you. Allow other viewers to help you process what you may have missed.
Don’t limit yourself to people who share your worldview or opinion. As a Christian, I appreciate hearing what other Christians are saying. But I also find it insightful to hear a non-believer’s perspective. If a film presents an anti-biblical worldview that turns me off, knowing why some unbelievers find that message inspiring helps me better understand the opposing worldview (even if I don’t accept or agree with it).