Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Name 20 films that portray Christianity in a positive light.

That's the challenge that Steven Greydanus answers and that Jeffrey Overstreet tells us about. I'm delighted to share Jeffrey's post as a guest blogger at Catholic Media Review (yes, I'm a fan). I see that the movies that instantly sprang to my mind are included ... Serenity, World Trade Center, The Count of Monte Cristo, Signs, Return to Me. Enjoy, and make your own additions in the comments box. I'm mulling this one over ...

I frequently receive mail from readers who argue that we should ignore “Hollywood’s output” because of the ways in which Christians are negatively portrayed.

But I know many Christians who are devoting their lives to developing meaningful movies in Hollywood. I frequently participate in fruitful, enlightening discussions about films that explore issues of faith. And I frequently see movies that present Christianity, Christians, and truths fundamental to Christian faith in a positive light — not just from Hollywood, but from all over the world. So I have a hard time taking such complaints seriously. Of course we should be discerning. But just boycott or condemn the whole endeavor? Might as well boycott grocery stores. Or public libraries. Or public schools. Grocery stores stock products owned by organizations that are unfriendly toward Christianity. Public libraries are full of books that portray Christianity in a negative light. Public schools often employ teachers who are hostile toward Christianity.

I was delighted to discover a useful list to keep on hand when I receive such complaints. My friend and colleague Steven D. Greydanus, who publishes reviews at Decent Films and at Christianity Today Movies was challenged, at, to “name twenty Hollywood movies made since the turn of the millennium that present Christianity in a positive light.”

He took a stab at it, and came up with this list:

  1. Amazing Grace
  2. America’s Heart and Soul
  3. Because of Winn-Dixie
  4. Bridge to Terabithia
  5. Charlotte’s Web
  6. Cinderella Man
  7. Count of Monte Cristo, The
  8. Daredevil
  9. Exorcism of Emily Rose, The
  10. Ladder 49
  11. Lars and the Real Girl
  12. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  13. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  14. Nativity Story, The
  15. New World, The
  16. Patriot, The
  17. Return to Me
  18. Rookie, The
  19. Serenity
  20. Signs
  21. 6th Day, The
  22. Spider-Man
  23. Tears of the Sun
  24. Walk to Remember, A
  25. We Are Marshall
  26. World Trade Center
  27. X2: X-Men United

Thank you, Steven!

Now, I don’t think Greydanus is claiming that these films qualify as profound spiritual explorations. But they do stand in stark contrast to the claim that “Hollywood” (as if that was just one company, united under Satan) is operating under a mandate to slander and destroy Christianity.

Can you think of other titles that qualify? Name them! (Remember, they need to qualify as “Hollywood movies.” In other words, from a major American studio. If we were to expand this list to include independents and international film, the list would expand significantly.)


Christine said...

great list Julie! I saw most of those, and I agree with your choices :)

EegahInc said...

I'm still thinking about this list, but the first thing that sprung to mind was, believe it or not, The Simpson's Movie. After all those years of being the butt of the joke, ole Ned Flanders finally gets some respect.

Julie D. said...

Now, that wouldn't have sprung to mind but I've only seen it once ... though I would agree that the series definitely would belong on a pro-Christian list ... so probably the movie overall would.

Anonymous said...

7. The Count of Monte Cristo
12. Master and Commander
16. The Patriot
19. Serenity
22. Spider-Man
27. X2: X-Men United

I do not see how most of these films "portray" Christianity at all, much less in a positive light. I think there should be much care taken in what we say is and is not Christianity. Having great virtue is not necessarily being Christian.

There should also be consideration as to what is a "positive" light. There might be a follower of Christ in the film and that follower does something that garners approval from many people, in this sense the light is "positive". But the positive light might be positive from the perspective of the world and not a truly good light, that is, the light that comes from God.

How about....

The Passion of the Christ
Francis of Assissi
The Trouble with Angels
Going My Way
The Bells of St. Mary's
Lilies of the Field
The Ten Commandments
Ben Hur
A Man for All Seasons

Christine said...

oh yeah...forgot Bells of St Mary's
good one :)

Meg said...

Chariots of Fire
Sister Act I & II
Les Miserables
The Mission
Dead Man Walking

Regarding The Count of Monte Cristo- not all versions follow the book. The hero is not a particularly forgiving man, but the priest who teaches him in prison is, IIRC.

I find it quite easy to find movies set in the past that show Christianity in a positive light. It's a lot harder to find contemporary stories.

Anonymous said...

Jesus of Nazareth
Fatima: A Grace for Mankind
The Ten Commandments

Daniel Ruwe said...

Remember the Titans? Suprised no one mentioned that one.
Plus a bunch of comedies, like the Game Plan. Hollywood does put out a great deal of good stuff.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


It included Father Thomas Byles, whom you can read about here:

KaleJ said...

Althought it is an indie, Saints and Soldiers definitely fits the bill here. My short review.

The tension between the atheist and the Christian mount, but through example not words, the point is made.

Anonymous said...

What about the Charlton Heston & Sophia Loren epic, El Cid (new DVD of this is supposed to be released this month, I've heard).

Fr. J. said...

If you count the year 2000, he gives us 27 movies in an 8 year period, or about 3.5 movies per year. That is ridiculously unimpressive given the low standard he used--these are not for the most part religious movies but ones that don't offend religion. To come even close to reflecting the American experience, he should be able to come up with many times that number.

As someone recently blogged, 60 million Americans go to church every weekend--far more than go to the movies.

It is a sign of how out of step Hollywood is that this incredibly low standard is considered a positive sign.

Anonymous said...

Patton is a great movie that shows G. S. Patton as a strong man of the Faith. One of the best prayer scenes is in the movie shows Patton on his knees praying.

Also, got to love Rudy!

Anonymous said...

The nuns in the Sound of Music!

Julie D. said...

I can't believe I didn't think of adding ... wait for it ... I Am Legend. Oh man, I was stunned at the Christian symbolism all over the place, not to mention the ending denouement.

To the criticism that the movies were chosen were all fairly recent, I would think that the point is fairly obvious. Old-style Hollywood movies are much more likely to portray Christianity in a positive light than nowadays when Christianity is under attack from all front. We must remember the context of the original question.

On the question of a positive portrayal of Christianity in certain movies. We must remember that any positive portrayal of Christianity is considered unusual. For some of the movies called into question, they occurred to me for these reasons:

The Count of Monte Cristo ... if you saw the recent movie with Jim Caviezel it is quite obvious. Not only do we have the positive figure of the fellow prisoner who is a priest but we have the very old-style method of "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord" (or something very like that ... I haven't seen it for a while) which is seen at the end of the movie after revenge clearly is shown to have been a bad motive for the Count's actions.

X2 ... c'mon aren't you forgetting Nightcrawler, my favorite Catholic mutant who is constantly holding himself (and by implication all those around him) to a higher standard which is God's alone to set?

Spiderman ... Aunt May is a good Christian, right down to the point of being in prayer when she is attacked by the Green Goblin.

Serenity ... Shepherd Book's character, brief though his appearance was.

Nightingale said...

The hills are alive...

love2learnmom said...

I would also add...

Joyeux Noel

Jean Heimann said...

Great list, Julie!

I thought of a few more:

Come to the Stable
Miracle of the Bells
The Bishop's Wife
Pope John Paul II
Mother Teresa
The Scarlet and the Black
The Song of Bernadette
Entertaining Angels
In This House of Brede
Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)
The Robe
The Keys of the Kingdom
Boys Town
The Agony and the Ecstasy
The Hiding Place
The Jeweller's Shop
The Trip to Bountiful(1985)
Quo Vadis
The Greatest Story Ever Told
The Story of Ruth
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Mission
Therese: The Story of Saint Therese of Lisieux 2004)
Its a Wonderful Life
A Christmas Carol

I know there are more, but that's all I can remember right now.

Jean Heimann said...

Thought of a few more...

Au Revoir, Les Enfants
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Into Great Silence
Diary of a Country Priest
Miracle of Marcelino
Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima
Black Robe
The Silver Chalice
The Assisi Underground
The Reluctant Saint
Brother Orchid
The Gospel of John The Longest Day
King of Kings
The Fourth Wiseman
Chariots of Fire
Schindler's List

Jean Heimann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Subvet said...

One Night with the King (yes, it takes place before Christ. So shoot me.)
Stardust (De Niro's flamboyance is so over the top I couldn't take it seriously. Again, shoot me.)
Lord of the Rings
Pride & Prejudice
National Treasure
March of the penguins
Ice Age I & II
Any Harry Potter flick (Loyalty and courage are always emphasized. Has anyone else noticed Harry's life would be easier if he was more trusting of adults? As for the magic, it's as unimportant as Spider-Man's web slinging. We don't worry about kids trying the acrobatics of SM, so why don't we just disregard the whole issue of magic?)

Leticia said...

Wait a minute, Harry Potter, National Treasure, where is the Church in these films?
The Catholic Church is portrayed well in Angels with Dirty Faces, and Christianity in general gets a good rap in Places in the Heart. Subtle, yet worth mention is the Christian sacrifice in the film, Babette's Feast, it made the Vatican top 100.

Meg said...

I'm not sure which version of Pride & Prejudice you mean, Subvet, but I would have thought that the clergyman, Mr. Collins, was a rather negative portrayal of Christianity.

kRad said...

Stranger Then Fiction - Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Anonymous said...

Shoes of the Fisherman
Pope saves the world!

Rob Roy
very pro life strong Catholic symbolism

Anonymous said...

Amistad! the scene where the slaves look at the story of Jesus through pictures while the (catholic) supreme court justice prays for guidance on what to do with their situation is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Pasolini's Gospel According To Matthew -- in fact, it is both the greatest Christian film ever made (even though the director was no Christian) and, perhaps, the greatest single film ever made of any description. Amazingly faithful to "the book" and without one word of invented dialog.

Anonymous said...

There was a movie made in the late thirties called "Song of Bernadette". It actually co-starred Vincent Price in a non hooror movie role.

Anonymous said...

"Tender Mercies" is one of my favorite films.

Anonymous said...

Would it be fair to include Braveheart in this list? Great wedding scene with the priest, also, references to Christ through the movie.

The Ironic Catholic said...

*Cry The Beloved Country* (1996? James Earl Jones and Richard Harris--it's outstanding and explicitly Christian)

*A Pure Formality* (French film with Roman Polanski, G. Depardeau. Great but hard to find)

*The Apostle* (Robert DuVall) is kind of a mixed message, to be sure, but it doesn't dismiss the power of Christianity. It does point to the weakness of human beings and God working through them anyway.

Anonymous said...

The Green Mile
Blast from the Past
End of the Spear
The Village

Shieldmaiden96 said...

I'm surprised no one mentioned
'The Spitfire Grill'. To here some tell it you'd think it was the only Catholic movie ever made. It is good, though.

I loved 'The Apostle'. Granted, the character is deeply flawed, but his faith is genuine. The scene with the guy on the bulldozer? I cry every time.

Anonymous said...

No one mentioned the lesser known Alfred Hitchcock movie "I Confess". It's about a Catholic Priest, if you can't guess by the title and was filmed in Quebec (sp?).


Leticia said...

Thanks for reminding me, Hannah, I just rented "I Confess", and it's marvellous! Wasn't Alfred Hitchcock a Catholic?
The priest is a real hero, ready to lay his life on the line for the seal of the confessional. Tense drama, superb acting, one of those films you could only make in black and white.
I highly recommend it.

Adoro said...

The other day I watched "The Black Robe", about a priest and another guy who go to Ontario as missionaries.

The movie just left me was a story without an ending, and I'm STILL trying to figure out if it was positive or negative towards Christianity. It seemed completely ambiguous towards both cultures.

Any thoughts...although this movie would be one for its own post.

Anonymous said...

Most everyone here started listing pre-2000 movies... and a number of you started adding any film that is relatively clean and nice even if there's no religion in it. (Ice Age? I love it, but... ICE AGE?)

"Master and Commander" is Christian not just because it's set in the old days but because of the Jonah subplot which culminates in a memorial service where the Captain asks God to forgive them... and then the winds pick up.

I'd include "The Last Sin-Eater", which did get a nationwide release and had bankable stars (Henry Thomas of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial", plus Nurse Ratchet).

Anonymous said...

Anything by Leo McCarey. Especially his underrated last movie in 1962 Satan Never Sleeps.

It's about conflict between Godless Communist revolutionaries in China and brave Catholic missionaries.

Anonymous said...

Facing the Giants

Anonymous said...

I would like to add "The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio". While the only priest who appears in the movie is less than helpful and has alcohol on his breath, the mother, Evelyn Ryan, is true to her faith and her family. She has ten children, and to make up for her alcoholic husband's drinking up his paycheck, she supports her children by entering contests, and using her writing talents to win. Note especially the conversations she has with one of her daughters about always finding joy in life, no matter what the situation is.

Anonymous said...

I would argue against X-Men 2. Nightcrawler was indeed depicted as a good guy, and as a Catholic, but the faith he practiced was decidedly un-Catholic in the one most significant way. The movie depicts him heavily scarred with intricate designs. When asked about these scars/decorations, he calls them "angelic symbols, passed on to mankind by the archangel Gabriel." He then states that he has one such scar/symbol for every sin. So yes, Nightcrawler is depicted as a devout Catholic and that is a good thing, but he is also depicted as practicing a faith that has practices that no Catholic I know would recognize as orthodox, or even as healthy. Frankly, it just served to make me think that the filmmakers were simply trying to make it seem as though Catholics are weirder than mutants.