I spent roughly the first seventeen and a half years of my life in the same city. I only ever attended my home church, I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school, and my circle of friends consisted almost solely of kids I’d grown up with at church and a handful of students I’d met through state youth choirs and events. My parents and extended family are largely Christian, and the friends I made in my neighborhood growing up were from much the same background as I. All in all, I lived a somewhat sheltered life.
On top of this, I had a strong aversion to blood in movies, meaning that I didn’t venture too far beyond the intensity level of The Lord of the Rings for most of high school. Superhero movies and epic adventures were my jam, and I was content to feast on them alone. But after watching The Patriot for a dual enrollment history class, I realized that I could handle a bit more intensity than I’d thought. So, when I got to college and suddenly found myself with hours upon hours of free time, I decided to do a bit of catching up via Walmart’s dvd aisle. Starting that freshman year, I worked through the Rambo movies and tracked down the Die Hard series. I learned to cry “Freedom!” with Braveheart, and I listened to the echoes in eternity from Gladiator. I saw Leonidas and his men hold the line against Persia in 300, and I watched a small group of men fight through the horrors of war for their brother in Saving Private Ryan. Though I can’t vouch for every movie I’ve seen, and though each of these films differs in many ways, I found myself being stirred and inspired with every sacrifice, every defeat, and every victory I witnessed on the screen.
These stories have the power to move people in mighty ways. If you don’t believe me, consider the box office at your local cinema. Action movies continue to draw crowds in large numbers. And this got me thinking: Why do we love action movies so much? I know there are many answers to that question, and I don’t claim that this post is an exhaustive answer to that question. But I’d like to submit one possible answer for consideration.
If you break down the structure of a few action movies, you’ll find a similar format at play in each. There’s a hero (or antihero) who is confronted with some form of opposition, be it an enemy that must be faced or a goal that must be achieved. The protagonist then must decide whether he or she will stand by passively or take active steps to push back against the opposition. The majority of the story chronicles the hero’s struggle to defeat the enemy or to reach the goal in spite of the seemingly insurmountable odds, showing victories and defeats along the way. The story then climaxes with a final attack against the enemy, the ultimate attempt to fight back. This is usually when the stakes are highest, when both sides have everything to gain and/or everything to lose.
In many ways, I think this structure appeals to us because it is so relatable. I think we all know that there is a fight going on between good and evil, a struggle against a brutal foe. Though this thought is by no means original to me, I think it bears repeating. We love to see good prevail over evil, and we love to see justice done to the enemies of the good.
If you give it some thought, this is exactly what Jesus came to do. As you read through the Bible, you see multiple passages talking about the spiritual war going on. We read that Christ, from the beginning, came to invade enemy territory. John writes,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
In the short letter of 1 John, John writes specifically that,
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
1 John 3:8b
And Jesus himself seemed to refer to his binding of the devil on the devil’s own turf when he said,
“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then he may plunder his house.”
I think I love action movies because they remind me of the very real spiritual war we’re in as followers of Jesus. In Ephesians 6, Paul writes,
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
The reality is that if we truly follow Christ, we’re following him into war. The road to eternity is no easy path. We will face opposition. But, as Jesus lovingly reminded us,
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
I really like action movies. I love to see the good guys take beating after beating only to rise back up and to ultimately take down the enemy. I love to see the light’s inability to be extinguished. And I love to see good triumph over evil, especially when the evil doesn’t know that it has already been defeated. And that’s the case in the Gospel message. The light has shone into the darkness, and the darkness has not, cannot, and will not overcome it. Light prevails every time.