– By Sam Hendrian –
While Hollywood has produced a good share of well-made movies that are clearly Christian through-and-through (A Man For All Seasons, The Passion of the Christ), it has also produced countless other gems that are deeply Christian at their core despite not looking so on the surface. Here are 25 excellent films that convey various Christian themes in subtle but powerful ways.
1. Schindler’s List (1993)
Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece tells the story of how an adulterous, self-centered, money-loving lapsed Catholic is mysteriously touched by Grace and moved to save Jews from the Nazi death camps. A beautiful movie that is profoundly Christian in its treatment of grace and redemption.
2. Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig’s critically-acclaimed film has one of the most poignantly Christian endings of all time. I won’t spoil it, but you should see it.
3. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Alfred Hitchcock’s masterfully-crafted thriller is quite Christian in its treatment of what cynicism/hatred does to a person’s soul and how important it is that we maintain love, hope, and innocence in our hearts. Hitchcock was a Catholic Christian himself, and this was his own personal favorite of his movies.
4. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
This superhero classic explores the immensely Christian themes of denying one’s self for the sake of the greater good, coming to terms with guilt through honesty, and the possibility of redemption for souls gone astray. It is both an entertaining and thought-provoking film that deserves to be watched again and again.
5. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
In this classic adventure flick, archaeologist Indiana Jones goes looking for his estranged father, who was kidnapped by the Nazis while searching for the Holy Grail of Christ. He finds his father and the Grail, but after he nearly falls to his death in an attempt to recover the Grail from the edge of a pit, he realizes that his loving father is all he is supposed to take home with him. This wonderful film brilliantly conveys the Christian message that our devotion to loving each other must always overcome our devotion to material things, even those that are most sacred.
6. Hell or High Water (2016)
In Christian moral teaching, good ends never justify evil means. Hell or High Water compellingly explores the tragic consequences of evil done for the sake of good, and it is one unforgettable experience. It also beautifully explores the mysteriously powerful bond of brotherly love between two blood brothers and between two men who are like brothers. Not to be missed.
7. Wonder Woman (2017)
“It’s not about what you deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.” Could there be a more Christian quote? We do not deserve Christ’s love and redemption, but He loves and redeems us anyway because that is what He believes in. Diana/Wonder Woman is a truly noble hero who tirelessly defends innocent life and stands up for the one thing she knows can truly save the world: love.
8. Groundhog Day (1993)
A cynical, selfish weatherman becomes stuck living one day of his life over and over again until he can realize the beauty of altruism and become a better man. As one of my old parish priests put it in his Ash Wednesday homily, this is what Lent (and the whole Christian life) is all about: escaping the routine patterns of sin in our daily lives by shifting our main focus from ourselves to others.
9. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
“You and Colonel Nicholson, you’re two of a kind… How to die like a gentleman, how to die by the rules, when the only important thing is how to live like a human being!” So go the impactful words of Commander Shears to Major Warden, a bold squad leader who is all but obsessed with war and death in this classic adventure film. In the Christian life, we also can sometimes become quite caught up in dying “properly” and going up to the next life in a blaze of pious glory, forgetting that God wants us to be virtuous and happy for the sake of the present life too. The Bridge on the River Kwai poignantly reminds us that life on Earth is precious and that peace is an all-too-uncommon thing in a culture of death.
10. Up (2009)
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. Not only does it beautifully capture the sacredness and profundity of marital life, but it also depicts the triumph of human love over material attachment and the mysterious possibility for two extremely different people to become connected in a special way. It is a Christian movie through-and-through that is most definitely worth watching time and time again.
11. Casino Royale (2006)
“Just because you’ve done something doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it.” So go the haunting words of the troubled but gentle Vesper Lynd to the troubled and harsh James Bond in this masterfully-crafted spy thriller. James Bond may not be a very Christian character, but he is quite clearly a tortured soul who desperately longs for love and grace in his life. As Christians, it is vital that we see the fragile humanity in every person we encounter both in real life and on the silver screen, including amoral government assassins. Casino Royale gives us a memorably haunting glimpse of James Bond’s fragile humanity and can be a catalyst for us to reach out to the tortured souls in our own lives.
12. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
As a Jewish man, Steven Spielberg may not have intended for E.T. to have overtly Christian themes, but it has them nonetheless. A lonely boy desperate for love and affection is blessed with the friendship of an alien creature who touches his soul and lets him know that he is quite loved. This celestial being comes to Earth, dies, resurrects, and then ascends back into the heavens, having touched the lives of many human beings in the process. Jesus, anyone?
13. The Graduate (1967)
Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. How can a movie about a confused college graduate having an affair with a middle-aged married woman be remotely Christian? It may seem a little extreme, but The Graduate is actually one of the most Christian coming-of-age films to come out of Hollywood. If E.T. is a Christ figure, the seductive Mrs. Robinson is a Satanic one. The way she smoothly convinces young Benjamin that life is meaningless and sex is without consequence strongly emanates the tactics of the serpent in the garden, and Benjamin’s desire to be a good person but confusion-filled struggle to do so is quite relatable. Sin is not without consequence in this film; in different ways, Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin both get what they deserve. The scene where Benjamin takes Mrs. Robinson’s daughter to a strip club on their first date is also one of the most poignant pleas for chivalry and true female dignity in film history. A must-see film for anyone who loves cinematic food for thought.
14. Cabaret (1972)
While it is another film that some may find morally problematic on the surface, Cabaret is actually a powerful, extremely relevant fable about what decadence and hedonism does to the human soul. It tells the story of a showgirl in 1930s Berlin named Sally whose hedonism blinds her from seeing and taking a stand against the evils that are occurring with the rise of the Nazi party. The Master of Ceremonies at the nightclub, played with disturbing brilliance by Broadway star Joel Grey, is a memorably demonic character. He smiles with faux charm as he “playfully” molests showgirls on stage and proclaims that the only beauty to be found in life lies in unhindered pleasure. It’s a seductive message, one that Sally and all those who attend the club are all-too-willing to let blind them from the plight of their fellow human beings. As our world today continues to be obsessed with pleasure and endless satisfaction, Cabaret reminds us of the terrible things that can happen when our love of pleasure triumphs our love of, well, love.
15. Sicario (2015)
From talented screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water), Sicario is a brilliant thriller that powerfully depicts the moral ambiguity of the “good guys” in the war on drugs. There have been several extremely violent movies over the years that filmmakers have defended as fables against brutality (Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven comes to mind); this is one such film that absolutely lives up to its moral purpose. The last shot of the film, which juxtaposes the innocence of children playing soccer with the sound of distant violence, will stick with you long after the credits roll.
16. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
This delightfully goofy buddy comedy from director John Hughes does have its moments of vulgarity and puerile humor, but it is ultimately a touching fable about loving one’s neighbor. If we watch this film closely, especially the heartwarming ending, we can learn a lot about how to become more loving and caring people.
17. Gran Torino (2008)
Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, this moving drama tells the story of a racist old widower who is ultimately touched by Grace and moved to sacrifice himself for his Korean neighbors. The message that God can work even in the grumpiest of hearts is one that we can all be inspired by.
18. Dead Man Walking (1995)
This gripping drama is sometimes hard to watch, but it is worth at least one viewing. Inspired by true events, it tells the story of an unrepentant rapist/murderer who is counseled and ultimately moved to repentance by an incredibly compassionate nun. The transcendental topics of love and mercy are at its core, and it will very likely move you to tears.
19. Marty (1955)
This beautiful drama tells the story of a discouraged middle-aged bachelor named Marty who falls in love with a woman decried as “plain” by his friends and even his mother. Marty does not care what they think; he knows that his heart is the one thing God wants him to listen to at this moment. As the old Gershwin song goes, “Although she may not be the girl/Some guys think of as pretty/To my heart she carries the key.”
20. The Godfather (1972)
This memorable classic tells the story of a loving (and nominally Catholic) family of men whose business happens to be organized crime. The Baptism/assassinations scene towards the end of the movie is one of the most chilling portrayals of hypocrisy ever to be filmed, and the whole movie does a beautiful job of depicting what can happen to good people when they allow anger and hatred into their souls.
21. The Elephant Man (1980)
This beautiful, tear-jerking film tells the story of an extremely deformed man who has never experienced love in his life until he is taken in by a compassionate doctor and his family. It offers one of the most poignant cinematic pleas for the sacred dignity of every human life.
22. Gravity (2013)
This well-crafted outer space thriller from director Alfonso Cuaron has an incredibly Christian core. As Sandra Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone, finds herself frightfully alone in the cosmos, she strongly desires divine help but laments that she has never been taught how to pray. Fortunately, God hears the prayer that she is clearly uttering in the depths of her heart, and as the film comes to its conclusion, she looks heavenward with a smile and says, “Thank you.”
23. The Martian (2015)
This popular sci-fi drama from director Ridley Scott offers a wonderful affirmation that every single human life matters. It tells the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars and all his fellow Earthlings who do not rest until they bring him home. A wonderfully pro-life and heartwarming film.
24. It Happened One Night (1934)
This delightful romantic comedy from Catholic director Frank Capra honors premarital chastity in perhaps the most hilarious way ever seen on film or anywhere for that matter (“Behold the walls of Jericho!”). A must-see classic.
25. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
This delightfully Hitchcockian film is a terrific thriller, but it also works as an effective advertisement for courage, altruism, and the truth that we are each here for a reason. It is quite underrated and deserves to be watched by the multitudes.
Well, that’s all, folks! I know there are plenty more films that could fit on this list. What would you add?
About the Author
Sam Hendrian is a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University (Class of 2019) pursuing a double emphasis in Screenwriting and Directing.