Tyler Doherty (Tanner Maguire) is an 8-year-old suffering from cancer who has a love for writing and sending letters to Jesus. His local postman, Walter Finley (Christopher Schmidt), takes them to his office after work. His boss sees them and instructs Walter to take care of them.
Later Mr. Finley goes on an extended vacation, causing an alcoholic named Brady McDaniels (Jeffrey Johnson) to replace him temporarily. Brady is a regular at the "Bar and Grill" and close to the bartender, Jack, his former commanding officer in the military. On his first day of work, Brady is chased and bit by Mrs. Baker's dog, "Rooster," and is confused by the "Letters to God" that he picks up from the Doherty house.
That same day Tyler returns to school after two months of brain tumor surgery, MRIs and radiation. The Doherty family has been through a lot; in addition to Tyler's cancer, they have also lost Patrick Doherty, Tyler's father. Tyler's first day of school starts off with Alex, who makes fun of Tyler for being bald and having little eyebrows. In response to one episode of this, Tyler's friend Samantha Perryfield (Bailey Madison), pushes Alex's face in his mashed potatoes, causing them to be sent to the principal's office. In response to kids making fun of Tyler, Samantha takes him to her grandfather, Cornelius Perryfield (Ralph Waite), who tells him that he has been picked by God for a special mission.
Tyler sends more letters to God, with Brady picking them up each day. Brady initially wants to give them to a church, but the pastor says that Brady should keep them. Brady reads some of them, and they inspire him to be a better person. Brady develops a close relationship to the Dohertys and to Mrs. Doherty, Maddie (Robyn Lively) in particular. Ben (Michael Bolten), Tyler's older brother, became upset at how life at the house revolves around Tyler, who hearing his words threatens to jump off a second-story porch roof in response. Ben then tells Tyler that he is not mad at him, but misses the fun times they had together when Tyler was healthy, and is afraid of losing him. In response Tyler has Ben write his own letter to God.
Maddie later reads Ben letter that inspires her to be a better mother and takes goes Ben to get his driver's license. Later, Tyler finishes getting chemotherapy and is released. The nurses remind Maddie that Tyler's body is not very fit yet. Brady and Tyler both plead with Maddie to let Tyler's play on his soccer team. During the game, the soccer coach, accedes to Tyler's plea to play goalkeeper. His team wins, but Tyler then faints and is taken to the hospital. Brady is angrily blamed by Mrs. Doherty for encouraging Tyler to play, but she later apologizes. It was shown later that Brady had been in jail for DUI, and that his son, Justin, was taken away from him by his wife. He turns away from his old life, and throws away his whiskey, and later thanks God for giving His Son to for giving him (Brady) his own son back. At a talent show, Ben sings and Brady and postal workers bring in bags and bags of letters to God, including those from others that Tyler inspired. Brady also shares how Tyler impacted his life, enabling him to find faith in God. Tyler later succumbs to his illness, and passes away at home. Samantha dedicates a mailbox for letters to God, saying that "His life was a letter to God."
The film closes with snippets of others of faith who battled and sometimes beat cancer,
Pat Doughtie and his dying son, Tyler, became a major story in Nashville, Tennessee when Julie Buchanan was convicted of stealing money from the boy's cancer fund. In caring for his son, Doughtie lost his job and his house, and soon his son died as well. "Once he passed, I decided to write a book," said Doughtie, who was unsure of where telling his son's story would lead. Doughtie took a screenplay class and soon wrote the original script for Letters to God. It was noticed by Christian filmmaker David Nixon, who co-produced Sherwood Pictures' successful Christian films Facing the Giants and Fireproof.
It was assumed that any story involving Tyler would include Julie Buchanan, who stole money from his cancer fund; however, Tyler's true-life cancer is instead fictionalized: an alcoholic mailman intercepts Tyler's letters to God. Doughtie wanted Letters to God to be shot in Nashville, but it was ultimately filmed in Orlando, Florida for financial reasons. David Nixon, Tom Swanson and Kim Dawson are leading a group of investors in the development of three faith-based movies through Possibility Pictures, the first being Letters to God. The film had a production budget of approximately $3 million.
Possibility Pictures is an Orlando-based Christian film production company, created by David Nixon, Kim Dawson (producer) and Tom Swanson (executive producer). Letters to God is their first production. The company is designed to be the "DreamWorks of faith-based movies."
Letters to God was released to theaters on April 9, 2010. Nixon said he hoped the film to run in theaters for three to four months, then for it to go to Blu-ray and DVD around July or August 2010. It was released on DVD August 10. The official trailer was released Christmas week, but Christianity Today was given early access to it. The filmmakers said Tim McGraw has agreed to show the movie trailer at 16 of his concerts because he lost a family member to cancer.
Letters to God released to theaters on April 9, 2010 in 897 theaters. It debuted #10 at the box office with $1,101,204.00 in its opening weekend. Similar to recent Christian film To Save a Life, Letters to God received strong box office results in smaller markets with a higher concentration of Christian moviegoers, including Charlotte, North Carolina, and Columbus, Ohio. Tracking for the film was highest among families and females. The film dropped 43% in its second weekend, $620,580, accumulating $2,020,830 in two weeks. It closed in June 2010 after grossing $2.85 million, falling just $150,000 short of its budget. Total domestic video sales have amounted to slightly over $6 million.
Letters to God received mixed reviews: generally negative from mainstream film critics and far more positive from Christian ones. It has a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on twenty reviews (however it has a 72% rating from audience reviews), and a 31% at Metacritic based on seven reviews. John Beifuss of The Commercial Appeal called the film a "sometimes moving, sometimes awkward blend of sentimental family drama, childhood cancer education and Christian proselytizing". Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel gave the film 1½ out of 4 stars, "Letters to God is certainly family-friendly, [but] the blandness robs it of whatever emotion or redemption the filmmakers were shooting for." The NYC Movie Guru gave the film a positive review, "Letters to God manages to be a bighearted, uplifting and captivating drama for all ages. It will inspire you to open your heart compassionately and to find hope, faith and comfort throughout your life’s hardships."
The film was extremely well received by Christian film critics. The Dove Foundation gave the film five stars. Phil Boatwright of the Baptist Press called the film "A triumph. One of the best films you and your family will see all year." Ted Baehr of Movieguide said, "Letters to God is an impressive movie. It is extremely well written. The dialogue is edgy and drives the story forward. The production quality is first rate. There is even great attention to the music... the type of movie you want everyone to see, one of the most encouraging and inspiring movies in a long time." Plugged In said, "Letters to God actually goes well beyond the tried-and-true tale of a sweet kid who has cancer. It does so by adding the spiritual dimension."
A CD featuring music from the movie and a song performed by Anne Marie Boskovich was released April 22, 2010. It has currently sold 3,000 copies.