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March 31, 2001
Column #1022


     A new Hollywood is emerging, and has been little noticed nor commented upon. Truly positive films are being made with constructive heroes and heroines who actually act well while keeping their clothes on! Consider the newest winners of Academy Awards. 

     Russell Crowe earned the best actor Oscar in ''Gladiator,'' by playing Maximus, an ex-general with integrity who is sold into slavery, but becomes a Roman gladiator. Not since Charlton Heston's 1959 ''Ben Hur,'' has there been such a role.

     Julia Roberts, a star whose films usually feature her beauty in flighty if not immoral parts, won best actress in ''Erin Brockovich,'' a heart-warming film based on a true story of an unglamourous legal secretary who dug up evidence that an electric utility's pollution is killing people. 

     What a refreshing contrast with last year's big Academy Award winner, ''American Beauty'' which profiled a middle-aged burned-out ad writer who lusts after a teenage friend of his daughter a pedophile as a leading man. 

     The number of movies with a pro-Christian theme has soared from only one 11 years ago to 59 in 1997 and a whopping 118 in 2000 according to Dr. Ted Baehr, Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission. 

     I attribute much of the changed Hollywood landscape to Ted Baehr, his Commission and to MOVIEGUIDE, which reviews all 275 theatrical movie releases in the United States from a Christian perspective and examines how big an audience each reaches.

     One of Baehr's conclusions is finally penetrating the skulls of Hollywood producers: ''Year in and year out, movies with Christian content earn more money on average at the box office than movies with non-Christian or anti-Christian content,'' says Baehr. ''Thus, movies with a positive acceptability ratings from MOVIEGUIDE in 2000 earned $38.6 million but movies with a negative rating from MOVIEGUIDE averaged only $21 million..''

     Furthermore, two-thirds of the Top 25 Box Office Movies and nine out of ten of the top ten video sales and rentals in 2000 including ''Toy Story II,'' ''Tarzan'' and ''Stuart Little'' had moral or Christian redemptive elements. 

     Clearly, most Hollywood producers have had a different vision that nudity and sex scenes sell. But MOVIEGUIDE's research proves them wrong.

     Thank goodness, Hollywood is finally getting the message that Americans want to see ''family movies extolling redemptive Christian beliefs and virtues,'' said Baehr at MOVIEGUIDE's 9th annual Awards Gala.

     For example, the winner of the $25,000 Epiphany Prize for Most Inspirational Movie is ''Return to Me,'' and Carroll O'Connor's performance in that movie as the grandfather of the heroine, won the Grace Prize for Most Inspirational Movie Acting.

     I rented the film last night and was alternately amused and deeply moved. David Duchovny (of TV's ''The X-Files'') plays a man named Bob whose wife dies in a car accident. The heart of his deceased wife is given to save the life of Grace (Minnie Driver). Grateful for the gift, while realizing that someone had to die that she might live, after much personal debate, Grace writes the survivor that she is ''eternally grateful'' for the thoughtfulness of the organ donation.

     By chance, Bob meets Grace at her grandfather's restaurant and they begin dating. She puts off telling him about her surgery, embarrassed by her surgical scars. At his home, she discovers her own letter, is stunned and rushes home. She decides to tell him what she has discovered on the eve of a trip to Italy. Equally aghast to learn his wife's heart is beating in his new love, Bob also flees.

     Later Bob returns to the bar, and tells her grandfather that while he misses his wife, he aches for Grace. The grandfather replies that his prayers were that ''Grace would have a second chance at life. If God blessed us with a heart, it would have to be from a special person, if it were to be at home in Grace. When she met you, her heart truly beat for the first time, perhaps to be with you always.'' Of course there's a reconciliation.

     MOVIEGUIDE's award for the best family film went to ''The Basket,'' a film about a teacher who helps a town learn tolerance with the help of a basketball and an opera. The Best Film for Mature Audiences went to ''The Patriot,'' a skillfully told saga about the American Revolution starring Mel Gibson. 

     In each of these movies, the characters are wholesome, believable and ''Return to Me.'' has an explicit Christian element.

You can help spark this change in Hollywood by subscribing to MOVIEGUIDE for $40. Call 805 383-2000.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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