After more than a year dealing with the fallout of a global pandemic, life is finally returning to “normal.” One of the indicators we are inching closer to a pre-pandemic normal is the reopening of movies theaters. The full-scale reopenings happen to coincide the summer blockbuster season. Summer blockbusters, after being shelved during the pandemic, will finally get their theatrical releases. Movie-loving people like me can’t wait.
Unlike the fall movie season—when studios release their “prestige” movies they hope will garner award nominations and critical acclaim—the summer season is marked by crowd-pleasing franchise installments and popcorn films that allow the audience to turn off their minds and get lost in a story.
Summer movies are typically not the kinds of movies people write “think pieces” about, and they certainly aren’t usually the kinds of movies we view through the lens of our faith. However, I believe summer movies present a unique opportunity to reflect on the grace of the goodness of God and connect with others.
1. summer movies lead us to wonder.
One of the most memorable evenings of my childhood was June 11, 1993. I was eight years old, and my uncle took me to see Jurassic Park on opening night. I remember the seat shaking as the T-Rex roared and the sense of awe as I watched what felt like real dinosaurs taking over Isla Nublar. Even though the movie was rated PG-13, it felt like Steven Spielberg had crafted the movie with 8-year-old boys in mind. Over the summer I managed to see Jurassic Park four more times in the theater. I’ve watched the movie countless times and quote it regularly, as recently as a couple of weeks ago. This isn’t a unique experience. I have many friends who have the same kind of relationship with movies they love.
What drives the joy that I (and thousands of people like me) receive watching Jurassic Park or an Avengers movie? At the most basic level, it’s a sense of wonder that comes from being absorbed into a story that feels much bigger than us. Prehistoric creatures, superpowers, and adventures in fast cars aren’t a part of our daily lives. We love them because they seem amazing to us. And we were made to be amazed.
In the Scriptures we see God create the world from nothing, split the water of the Red Sea so His people could walk through on dry land, and lead His people with a pillar of smoke and fire. David affirmed that true wonder comes from God alone (Psalm 86:10). We see Jesus repeatedly affirm His divinity through signs and wonders. God works in supernatural and miraculous ways so that people will be amazed and believe in Him.
While special effects wizardry is not comparable to the sheer power and majesty of God, the sense of awe that overcomes us watching an imaginary tale on screen can and should lead us to the genuine awe that comes from experiencing God. Summer movies provide a dim, yet discernible shadow that points back to God.
2. summer movies provide meaningful rest.
Unlike the “prestige” movies of awards seasons, summer movies require very little from their audiences. Their primary purpose is not to make us think but to help us relax. I have a good friend who has successfully climbed the rungs of a corporate ladder to a vice presidency with more than a hundred people reporting to him. His job is important and stressful. He recently remarked to me that movies are one of the only places where he can truly relax.
While being productive and working hard are good pursuits commanded in Scripture, the priority the Bible places on rest makes it clear God also expects us to be unproductive at times. The command to rest is an invitation to cease productivity. Rest is how God relieves us of our utilitarian urges and reminds us we have the freedom to put down our work and trust in His ability to provide. The biblical model of rest proves that unproductive time can still be purposeful time.
Too often, we see time watching a silly movie as time we could’ve spent doing something more productive. That’s certainty true—rest does come at the expense of work—but that’s the point. Jesus didn’t heal everyone in every village He went to. At some point He stopped and rested. He enjoyed meals with friends. Rest is a necessary part of being human, and movies provide a valuable opportunity to relax and recharge so that we can resume the work God has called us to with renewed energy and dedication.
3. summer movies help us connect with others.
Summer movies are typically the most seen and most loved movies. Because of this, they provide a unique opportunity to connect with others, whether we connect by seeing the movie together or by discussing a movie we enjoyed. Beyond being an entertaining way to relax for an evening, movies are bridge-building cultural events that provide a means for us to connect with people and form friendships.
My family loves Disney. We are annual passholders to Walt Disney World and were day-one subscribers to Disney+. When Pixar’s Luca released recently, we couldn’t wait to watch it. We planned a family movie night with dinner and popcorn. Luca provided us a way to relax together. After the movie was over, my wife and I were able to talk to our daughter about what she liked or didn’t like as well as themes like love and friendship which the film represents beautifully.
Beyond that, we’ve had further conversations with friends and neighbors about Luca because it’s something we all watched “together” in our separate homes. I don’t know where these conversations will go, but it might be that these small, seemingly insignificant conversations about movies will turn into conversations about something much more important.
While summer movies aren’t the kind of movies you’re meant to think deeply about, they remain a shared experience that help us connect to God and each other. So, as you enjoy a movie or two over the next couple of months, consider the ways this experience might point your further in the direction of the Great Commandment.