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Billy: The Early Years (2008) is a American biographical film, directed by Robby Benson. The film recounts the story of the world renown evangelist, Billy Graham, played by Armie Hammer, creating a portrayal of Billy’s life from the mid 1930’s to the late 1940’s when Billy Graham finds himself speaking in his famous Los Angelesmarker 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.


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 Charlottemarker, North Carolinamarker. 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 Universitymarker, but Graham goes to Florida Bible Institute after being identified as a failure by Bobby Jones. Following his time at Florida Bible Institute, Billy Graham goes to Wheaton College where he falls in love with his Wheaton classmate Ruth Bell with whom he ultimately gets married. In the 1940’s, 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.


Actor Role
Armie Hammer Billy Graham
Stefanie Butler Ruth Bell Graham
Kristoffer Polaha Charles Templeton (younger)
Lindsay Wagner Morrow Graham
Martin Landau Charles Templeton (older)
Josh Turner George Beverly Shea
Jennifer O'Neill Reporter
Rivkah Edelman Connie Templeton
Cliff Bemis Dr. Mordecai Ham



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.

In order 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.Armie Hammer convinced the film's producers to give him the role with his audition, after another actor, who had originally been given the part, left the project due to a conflict in their schedule.


The filmakers considered filming Billy: The Early Years in Billy Graham's home state of North Carolinamarker, but were persuaded by Perry Gibson, the executive director of the State of Tennesee's Film, Entertainment and Music Commission, to change the location to Tennessee. The film was shot in Nashville, Tennesseemarker and Watertown, Tennesseemarker with a 90 percent Tennessee crew and a production budget of $3.6 million dollars.



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. Advanced screenings of the Billy: The Early Years were held on sites throughout the Bible Belt, in states such as Georgiamarker, Alabamamarker, North Carolinamarker, Missourimarker, Tennesseemarker, Floridamarker, Kentuckymarker, Virginiamarker and Arkansasmarker. 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, 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 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." Mortorff also said that his team was planning a "second wave" of theatrical releases and looking forward to recover its losses through future DVD sales and TV deals.

Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), stated that the film "has not collaborated with nor does it endorse the movie, Billy: The Early Years. 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."

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."

Award Nominations

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.

See also


  1. Franklin Graham. "Billy: The Early Years: A Response from Franklin Graham". Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. 2008-12-25
  2. Elliott, Belinda. "Billy: The Early Years: Movie Review". Christian Broadcasting Network. 2008-12-25

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