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These 5 Fall Film Releases Show Inspirational Dramas Are Leveling Up

After this year’s runaway success of ‘Jesus Revolution’ and ‘Sound of Freedom,’ a handful of dramas are hoping to find a wide audience.


As moviegoers have come out in force this year to support cause-driven movies, the box-office success of two films has upended conventional Hollywood predictions. Now a handful of inspiring dramas geared to heartland audiences hope to make a splash this fall. 

It turned heads when religious biopic “Jesus Revolution” raked in over $50 million this spring, then climbed Netflix streaming rankings in recent weeks. And in a run Variety called “unlikely,” anti-trafficking thriller “Sound of Freedom ” currently stands as the year’s No. 10 box-office earner. That means an indie film produced for $14.5 million has bested studio pics made for about $300 million each: Disney’s “Indiana Jones 5” and Paramount’s “Mission Impossible 7.”

The rise of faith-conscious entertainment has been decades in the making. Sony Pictures launched faith-based shingle Affirm Films in 2007, finding a wide audience with “Miracles from Heaven” ($74 million) and “Soul Surfer” ($47 million). Similarly, MGM Studios’ faith brand Lightworkers Media recently generated buzz with biopic “On A Wing And A Prayer” starring faith-and-family hitmaker Dennis Quaid (“The Hill”), which Prime Video smartly premiered worldwide during Easter weekend.

But the lion’s share of attention has come from two rising players: Utah-based Angel Studios, distributor of “Sound of Freedom” and hit streaming series “The Chosen,” with an estimated 110 million viewers since its debut; and Kingdom Story Company, a Christian-founded production house partnered with Lionsgate to release two faith-based films per year. 

Still, Hollywood’s current fall release slate looks typical of recent years, leaning on franchises (such as a 33rd Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero flick titled “The Marvels”), a Taylor Swift concert film, and a dozen horror movies including new “Saw” and “Exorcist” entries. Will another indie drama with an edge become a breakout hit? Support from faith-and-family audiences will be critical. 

1. ‘Ordinary Angels’ (PG, in theaters this fall) 

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby”) stars as small-town hairdresser Sharon Stevens, whose difficulties including an estranged family led to bouts with alcoholism. But Stevens comes to know a hardscrabble local family hit by even greater losses than her own — and gets to work, giving what she can to save a little girl facing a dire health crisis. 

With an emotional depth that’s earned through character development, “Ordinary Angels” draws viewers into the trials and joys of flawed characters like Stevens, single father Ed Schmitt (Alan Ritchson of “Fast X” fame), and Swank’s salon coworker Rose (Tamala Jones from ABC’s “Castle”). Sticking to the true story, which is set against a historic 1994 Kentucky snowstorm, it sidesteps Hallmark cliches and ponders themes of brokenness, relapse, and hero syndrome. 

From a team that has honed their craft on memorable biopics including “I Can Only Imagine” and “American Underdog” about NFL star Kurt Warner, “Ordinary Angels” inspires with confident storytelling in service of a life-affirming narrative of overcoming the odds. 

2. ‘The Shift’ (not yet rated, in theaters December)

After stunning the world with “Sound of Freedom,” Angel Studios’ follow-up film is a science-fiction action flick that stars Kristoffer Polaha (“Where Hope Grows”), Neal McDonough (“Yellowstone”), and Sean Astin (“The Lord of the Rings”). 

This dystopian spin on the multiverse concept turns on everyman Kevin (Polaha) encountering a mysterious stranger with otherworldly powers (McDonough), who banishes Kevin to a tyrannical, parallel Earth where he fights to get back to the woman he loves. Writer-director Brock Heasley has called “The Shift” equal parts love story and science-fiction thriller which “takes cues from the book of Job.” 

In a recent interview, Polaha noted the film deals with the dark side of human nature. “If I gave you a hall pass to do anything that you wanted to do, would you do it? It’s a very simple question,” he said. “There are no repercussions, legally you’re fine, morally you’re fine, here’s a hall pass, do whatever you want to do. So that’s what my character is given.” 

3. ‘Sight’ (not yet rated, in theaters Oct. 27)

He escaped China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, arrived in the United States with $50, and became a pioneering eye surgeon. The life story of Dr. Ming Wang comes to the screen in “Sight,” starring Terry Chen (“Almost Famous”) as Wang and Greg Kinnear (“Flash of Genius”) in a biopic that grapples with questions of science and faith, as Wang is known for his Christian beliefs.

4. ‘Journey to Bethlehem’ (not yet rated, in theaters Nov. 10)

Movie musicals are on the upswing, with eccentric chocolate-factory prequel “Wonka” and blockbuster stage adaptation “Wicked” coming over the next year. The team behind “A Week Away,” a tongue-in-cheek camp romp featuring Christian music hits, has partnered with Sony’s Affirm Films for “Journey to Bethlehem,” a big-budget musical filmed in Spain.

It starts as Mary (Fiona Palomo of “Outer Banks”) and Joseph (Milo Manheim of “Zombies”) learn of their special purpose from the angel Gabriel (rap artist Lecrae). The trailer soars with pathos and celebration, while hinting at the murderous intent of King Herod (Antonio Banderas of “The Mask of Zorro”) and his son (Joel Smallbone from For King and Country). Strong buzz could help “Journey” reach beyond the church audience.

5. ‘A Million Miles Away’ (PG, streaming Sept. 14 on Prime Video) 

Following last year’s inspiring NASA docudrama “Goodnight Oppy,” about the heroic efforts of a Mars rover crew, Amazon returns to space with biopic “A Million Miles Away.” Raised in a rural, farm-working family in Michoacán, Mexico, Jose Hernández dreamed of traveling to outer space, an aspiration his teachers in California’s San Joaquin Valley fostered once the family moved.

In a breakout lead role for Michael Peña — known for “Ant-Man,” “World Trade Center,” and countless TV series — the film shows him building a family and acquiring the engineering skills required for the elite NASA role. Famously rejected 11 times by NASA, it didn’t deter Hernández. “The letters always ended with ‘You are welcome to reapply.’ So, I did, and eventually, I got accepted,” he said at an event last year. 

Lovingly produced with rich cultural details, viewers of “A Million Miles Away” will be moved by the trials and triumphs of this extended Latino family.

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