Billy: The Early Years

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Billy: The Early Years
Directed by Robby Benson
Produced by Lawrence Mortorff
Martin Shiel
William Paul McKay
Written by William Paul McKay
Jana Lyn Rutledge
Starring Armie Hammer
Stefanie Butler
Kristoffer Polaha
Cliff Bemis
Music by Anastasia Brown (music supervisor)
Scott Brasher (composer: score)
Cinematography David Rudd
Edited by Ryan Folsey
Distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures
Release dates
October 10, 2008
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.6 million
Box office $347,328

Billy: The Early Years is a 2008 American biographical film, directed by Robby Benson. The film recounts the story of the world-renowned evangelist, Billy Graham, played by Armie Hammer, creating a portrayal of Billy’s life from the mid-1930s to the late 1940s when Billy Graham finds himself speaking in his famous Los Angeles crusade. World Wide Pictures, the film distribution and production company that was created by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), did not in any way help with the production of this film. After almost a year and a half of a delayed DVD release, Billy: The Early Years was released on DVD on March 16, 2010.


The story begins with a reporter (Jennifer O'Neill) interviewing Charles Templeton on his deathbed. Told in the eyes of Charles Templeton, the film proceeds in showing Billy Graham’s life as a teenager during the great depression living at the family dairy farm in Charlotte, North Carolina. During this time, Graham is seen becoming a Christian at a tent revival meeting. Later, Graham is seen going to Bob Jones College, which is now Bob Jones University, but Graham goes to Florida Bible Institute after being identified as a failure by Bob Jones, Sr. Following his time at Florida Bible Institute, Billy Graham goes to Wheaton College where he falls in love with his Wheaton classmate Ruth Bell to whom he ultimately gets married. In the 1940s, Charles Templeton, becomes a really close acquaintance of Billy Graham; however, Charles Templeton, who is a young, gifted preacher, leaves his faith when he is challenged by scientific skepticism, leading Graham and Templeton to part. Billy continues to evangelize in his crusades and believe that the word of God is infallible. The film finishes with Graham inviting his listeners to accept Christ as their personal savior in his Los Angeles crusade of 1949.




Screenwriter-producer McKay, and producer Larry Mortoff, had originally wanted Texas Televangelist and Preacher John Hagee to play the part of Mordecai Ham in the film; however, director Robby Benson replaced him with another actor. Recent to the filming of Billy: The Early Years, John Hagee had endorsed the 2008 Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain.[1]

In order to find the actor who would take the role of Billy Graham, the film's producers held a national talent search in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.[2] Armie Hammer convinced the film's producers to give him the role with his audition,[2] after another actor, who had originally been given the part, left the project due to a conflict in their schedule.[3]


The filmmakers considered filming Billy: The Early Years in Billy Graham's home state of North Carolina, but were persuaded by Perry Gibson, the executive director of the State of Tennessee's Film, Entertainment and Music Commission, to change the location to Tennessee.[4] The film was shot in Nashville, Tennessee and Watertown, Tennessee[5] with a 90 percent Tennessee crew[6] and a production budget of $3.6 million.[1]



In the months pre-dating Billy: Early Years’ release in October 2008, a film trailer of the film was posted in numerous Christian websites, including, which tallied nearly 30,000 viewers after about a month of exposure.[7] Advance screenings were held on sites throughout the Bible Belt, in states such as Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Virginia and Arkansas.[8] Thomas Nelson published a novelization, Billy: The Untold Story of a Young Billy Graham and the Test of Faith that Almost Changed Everything, written by William Paul McKay and Ken Abraham.


Billy: The Early Years opened on October 10, 2008, less than a month before Billy Graham's 90th birthday, grossing $192,042 in 282 theaters during its opening weekend. The film would eventually gross a total of $347,328,[9] earning far less than the film's production budget. In response to the film's reception at the box office, Larry Mortorff, the film's producer, said that Fireproof, which had been released around the same time as Billy: The Early Years, might have unintentionally hurt the film, stating that "maybe the Christian world can only take one Christian film at a time, and Fireproof may have taken that spot."[10] Mortorff also said that his team was planning a "second wave" of theatrical releases and looking forward to recovering its losses through future DVD sales and TV deals.[10]

Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), stated that the association "has not collaborated with nor does it endorse the movie, Billy: The Early Years.[11] Gigi, eldest daughter of Billy Graham, upheld the film, saying that the film has the "Gospel of Jesus in there" and "[is] positive toward [her] parents and their ministry."[12]

Overlooking the film's "few minor flaws", a CBN review has described the film as "[having] a simple and unassuming charm about it, much like the man it honors."[13]

Award nominations[edit]

The film received one "Faith and Values Award" nomination in the Grace Award category, which is awarded for the Most Inspiring Performance in Movie or Television, for actor Armie Hammer.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roston, Tom (October 12, 2008). "An Odd Career Twist for a Former Screen Heartthrob". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 11, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "Billy: The Early Years Opens Nationwide Today". October 13, 2008. Retrieved 2009-08-18. 
  3. ^ Malcom, Shawna. "10 Actors to Watch: Armie Hammer". Variety. Retrieved July 22, 2009. 
  4. ^ Emery, Theo (June 15, 2008). "Tennessee Went Extra Mile to Land 'Hannah Montana' Movie". The Tennessean. Retrieved August 28, 2009. 
  5. ^ Riley, Jennifer (May 7, 2008). "Film on Billy Graham's Life in Production". The Christian Post. Retrieved July 31, 2009. 
  6. ^ Kimball, Josh (July 29, 2008). "Billy Graham Movie Prepares for Oct. 10 Release". The Christian Post. Retrieved August 1, 2009. 
  7. ^ Kimball, Josh (29 July 2008). "Billy Graham Movie Prepares for Oct 10 Release". The Christian Post. Retrieved August 8, 2009. 
  8. ^ Kimball, Josh (August 12, 2008). "Billy Graham Taps Bible Belt for Grassroots Support". The Christian Post. Retrieved August 8, 2009. 
  9. ^ "Billy: The Early Years of Billy Graham". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-08-04. 
  10. ^ a b Chattaway, Peter T.; Moring, Mark (November 11, 2008). "'Fireproof' Is Hot". Christianity Today. Retrieved September 17, 2009. 
  11. ^ Franklin Graham. "Billy: The Early Years: A Response from Franklin Graham". Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. 2008-12-25
  12. ^ Moring, Mark (August 21, 2008). "Franklin Graham Criticizes Film About His Dad". Christianity Today. Retrieved December 25, 2008. 
  13. ^ Elliott, Belinda. "Billy: The Early Years: Movie Review". Christian Broadcasting Network. 2008-12-25
  14. ^ Kimball, Josh (February 6, 2009). "'Epiphany Prize' Nominees for Most Inspiring Movie, TV Program Announced". The Christian Post. Retrieved December 3, 2010. 

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