Are There Good “Christian” Movies? (The Results of an Online Poll)

[D]o Christian-themed movies really have to be so bad? I won’t even pretend that “Soul Surfer” is the worst film I’ll see this month… But it’s a trite, sentimental puddle of sub-Hollywood mush, with mediocre photography, weak special effects and an utterly formulaic script…

At the risk of offending many people in many different directions, Christian cinema reminds me of gay cinema. If, that is, gay cinema were permanently stuck in 1986, with a self-ghettoizing mandate to present positive role models for youth and tell an anodyne but uplifting story that sends a message of hope.

– Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, April 13, 2011

There are plenty of folks I know for whom “Christian art” is a contradiction in terms, and I often see where they’re coming from. I’ve always had a conflicted relationship with “Christian art,” especially the modern sort, be it music, novels, comics, paintings, TV shows, or movies. 

Don’t get me wrong: I love some of it. I spent much of my childhood in Europe and was forever marked with adoration for all of those old stone churches, with their magnificent stained glass, heart-rending altarpieces, and elegant statuary. I love many of the old hymns that are still sung in them. I love Bach and Handel and Vivaldi, Rembrandt and Caravaggio and Michelangelo, Donne and Dickinson and Hopkins, Tolkien and Dostoyevsky and Flannery O’Connor, U2 and Johnny Cash and Elvis, Marilynne Robinson and Richard Rodriguez and Mary Karr. The list of great artists who were/are Christian – or Christians were/are great artists – would be very long if you wanted to make it. Expression is a need of our souls. You can find incredible devotional art made in every art form and every age and every place that Christians/people have existed.

And yet, I loathe most of what passes for “Christian art” nowadays. Objectively speaking, it’s complete crap. It’s nauseating. It makes me gag. It fills me with despair and makes me want to run screaming out of church and/or burn those records and books my grandma gave me in a trash heap. It’s just bad art.

I’m hardly the only one who feels this way. “Christian art” has long made for an easy punching bag, and not just among the more motivated secular critics. There’s a great passage from The Sign of Jonas – Thomas Merton’s journals during the first few years he spent at the monastery – where he writes about this feeling of revulsion:

Today after dinner I got Father Placid… to remove two hideous small statues of plaster saints which I found there [in the monastery vault] when I first came. I had tried to stuff them out of sight but the only place that would contain them had a glass door to it, so you could still see their faces, congealed in expressions of the most fatuous piety. Father Placid took one saint in each hand, holding them by their heads, and walked off to the guest house, convinced that the retreatants would love them. And I suppose they will. My guess is that the saints were Saint John Eudes and Saint Vincent de Paul but I never had the courage to look and see if their names were on them. Poor saints! … May God have mercy on us.

It’s hard not to chuckle reading something like that. But I think he’s got a point: maybe we do need God’s mercy for making so much bad art. I don’t pretend to possess anything remotely approaching “good taste” (whatever that is), but I share Merton’s instinctive dread of bad devotional art. And by “bad” I mean dishonest, sterile, simplistic, posturing, sentimental, moralistic, and so forth. People like to talk about how much “virtue signaling” goes on on social media, but my God, American Christians had virtue signaling down to a (bad) art form long before Facebook and Twitter existed.

So why is so much “Christian art” bad? Well, blogger Tony Woodlief wrote a great little piece for Image about the time that Salon article (quoted above) came out and he summarized a few good reasons for us, what he called “common sins of the Christian writer.” Here are three:

[1] Neat resolution: You can find it on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore: the wayward son comes to Christ, the villain is shamed, love (which deftly avoids pre-marital sex) blossoms, and the right people praise God in the end. Perhaps best of all, we learn Why This All Happened…

[2] One-dimensional characters: In many Christian novels there are only three kinds of characters: the good, the evil, and the not-so-evil ones who are about to get themselves saved…

[3] Sentimentality: Like pornography, sentimentality corrupts the sight and the soul, because it is passion unearned… The writer who gives us sentimentality is akin to the painter Thomas Kinkade, who explicitly aims to paint the world without the Fall, which is not really the world at all, but a cheap, maudlin, knock-off of the world, a world without suffering and desperate faith and Christ Himself, which is not really a world worth painting, or writing about, or redeeming.

I assume that some of that will resonate for those of you well-versed in “Christian art”. Perhaps the most fundamental problem with much “Christian art” is simply a lack of honesty – about life, about suffering, about the human condition, about God, and so on. As Woodlief continues, “The worst Christian novels seem to forget Oswald Chambers’s insightful observation, which is that God promises deliverance in suffering, not deliverance from suffering. And so they lie about the world and about God and about the quiet, enduring faith of our brethren in anguish.”

Okay, so there’s a lot of bad Christian art out there. That’s a given. But like Merton, I only care enough to express my revulsion and frustration because I so love and long for the “good” stuff. I’m always on the look-out for “good” art that deals with the key themes of Christianity and the life of faith. It quenches some deep thirst within me. All this is to say that I don’t want to stop simply at a condemnation of bad Christian art. I’d rather push on to find and share the good stuff.

As it happens, a few days ago I was making a movie watch list for myself and decided to turn to some of my social media peers for recommendations. I’m a member of two large Christian groups on Facebook, and so I posted this call for recommendations on those group pages:

Hey folks, quick question: what are your favorite movies with covert (or overt) Christian themes that are actually good?

A bit of a silly question, I know. But it got tons of responses. There were of course a few people who made cheeky comments like “Are there any?” and “I am unaware of any which meet that criterion.” Several also offered some fair feedback about the nature of the question itself:

  • “What is a Christian theme?”
  • “Is there any real difference between a Christian theme and that of a moral atheist?”
  • “I don’t think it helps… to look for Christian themes—the concept is too broad and vague.”
  • “It all depends on what you mean by Christian.”

They are right, of course. It is a vague concept and it definitely does depend on what you mean by “Christian.” What exactly is “Christian-themed” art? It’s an absurdly vague concept. I’m not about to try to provide a strict definition myself, but by way of providing at least some kind of answer, here are just a few of the diverse reasons respondents themselves gave for why they felt their film recommendations illustrated “Christian themes”:

  • It contains “themes of ‘crucifixion’ and/or ‘resurrection’.”
  • It contains a “lesson on Christ’s infinite love for us.”
  • It contains a “strong Christ figure.”
  • It develops “the concept of grace.”
  • It develops “themes of love, mercy, respect and concern for others.”
  • It has “a theme of unconditional love that’s so strong, it hurts.”
  • It has “themes of social justice and caring.”
  • It has a “beautiful example of Christ-like grace and sacrifice.”
  • It is “about God & faith.”
  • It is “about the life of Jesus.”
  • It is “all about valuing and supporting family.”
  • It is “very spiritual.”
  • It is a “mythical good vs bad” story.
  • It is about “faith in times of great unrest and adversity.”
  • It is about “forgiveness of others and forgiveness of self.”
  • It is an “indictment of using faith instead of having it.”
  • It portrays “a man who stuck to his principles.”
  • It “quotes the Bible.”
  • It satirizes “religious hypocrisy and naive credibility.”
  • It shows “people being willing to lay down their lives so that others may live.”
  • It shows “the true fruits of vice.”
  • It shows “the triumph of good over evil, and how difficult it is.”

Some of these are certainly good reasons, while others are not. You can decide for yourself how you’d like to define the category of “Christian-themed art,” if it matters to you. But this wide diversity of perspectives does help to explain the almost laughable diversity seen in their film recommendations. All told, there were 405 different movies that were recommended in 820+ responses to my posts, and the answers are truly all over the place.

Thus, without further ado, here finally are the results from this very informal and unscientific poll, ranked according to the number of times a movie (or movie franchise) was recommended:

  • 29 – The Chronicles of Narnia (franchise) (2005-2010)
  • 29 – The Shack (2017)
  • 22 – The Lord of the Rings (franchise) (2001-2003)
  • 21 – Les Misérables (1998/2012?)
  • 20 – Babette’s Feast (Danish) (1987)
  • 18 – The Mission (1986)
  • 17 – Saved! (2004)
  • 15 – Dogma (1999)
  • 12 – Silence (2016)
  • 12 – The Green Mile (1999)
  • 12 – The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
  • 11 – Star Wars (franchise) (1977–)
  • 10 – Chariots of Fire (1981)
  • 10 – Chocolat (2000)
  • 10 – Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
  • 10 – Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
  • 8 – It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  • 8 – Jesus of Montreal (1989)
  • 8 – Places in the Heart (1984)
  • 8 – The Book of Eli (2010)
  • 7 – Harry Potter (franchise) (2001-2011)
  • 7 – I Can Only Imagine (2018)
  • 7 – Signs (2002)
  • 7 – The Matrix (franchise) (1999-2003)
  • 7 – What Dreams May Come (1998)
  • 6 – Ben-Hur (1959)
  • 6 – Blue Like Jazz (2012)
  • 6 – Calvary (2014)
  • 6 – Millions (2004)
  • 6 – The Way (2010)
  • 6 – Wings of Desire (1987)
  • 5 – A Man for All Seasons (1966)
  • 5 – Amazing Grace (2006)
  • 5 – Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)
  • 5 – Bruce Almighty (2003)
  • 5 – Constantine (2005)
  • 5 – Godspell (1973)
  • 5 – Just Mercy (2019)
  • 5 – Philomena (2013)
  • 5 – Romero (1989)
  • 5 – Shadowlands (1993)
  • 5 – The Blind Side (2009)
  • 5 – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • 5 – The Spitfire Grill (1996)
  • 4 – A Hidden Life (2019)
  • 4 – Being There (1979)
  • 4 – Contact (1997)
  • 4 – Cool Hand Luke (1967)
  • 4 – Dead Man Walking (1995)
  • 4 – E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  • 4 – First Reformed (2017)
  • 4 – Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
  • 4 – Mother! (2017)
  • 4 – Of Gods and Men (French/Arabic) (2010)
  • 4 – On the Waterfront (1954)
  • 4 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  • 4 – Selma (2014)
  • 4 – The Chosen (1981/2017?)
  • 4 – The Exorcist (1973)
  • 4 – The Lion King (1994)
  • 4 – The Robe (1953)
  • 4 – The Ten Commandments (1956)
  • 3 – A Christmas Carol (1999/2009?)
  • 3 – Changing Lanes (2002)
  • 3 – Coco (2017)
  • 3 – Crash (2004)
  • 3 – Friendly Persuasion (1956)
  • 3 – Gran Torino (2008)
  • 3 – Groundhog Day (1993)
  • 3 – Heaven Is for Real (2014)
  • 3 – I Still Believe (2020)
  • 3 – Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
  • 3 – Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
  • 3 – Machine Gun Preacher (2011)
  • 3 – Michael (1996)
  • 3 – O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
  • 3 – Pay It Forward (2000)
  • 3 – Phenomenon (1996)
  • 3 – Priest (1994)
  • 3 – Ragamuffin (2014)
  • 3 – Remember the Titans (2000)
  • 3 – Risen (2016)
  • 3 – Stigmata (1999)
  • 3 – Tender Mercies (1983)
  • 3 – The Apostle (1997)
  • 3 – The Color Purple (1985)
  • 3 – The Fisher King (1991)
  • 3 – The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Italian) (1964)
  • 3 – The Passion of Joan of Arc (French) (1928)
  • 3 – The Seventh Seal (1957)
  • 3 – The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)
  • 3 – The Two Popes (2019)
  • 3 – The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
  • 3 – War Room (2015)
  • 2 – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
  • 2 – A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  • 2 – A Man Called Peter (1955)
  • 2 – A River Runs Through It (1992)
  • 2 – A Walk to Remember (2002)
  • 2 – Adam’s Apples (Danish) (2005)
  • 2 – Agnes of God (1985)
  • 2 – All Saints (2017)
  • 2 – As It Is in Heaven (Swedish) (2004)
  • 2 – Avatar (2009)
  • 2 – Bad Lieutenant (1992)
  • 2 – Becket (1964)
  • 2 – Blade Runner (1982)
  • 2 – Braveheart (1995)
  • 2 – Brideshead Revisited (1981)
  • 2 – Casablanca (1942)
  • 2 – Come Sunday (2018)
  • 2 – Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
  • 2 – Donnie Darko (2001)
  • 2 – Evan Almighty (2007)
  • 2 – Facing the Giants (2006)
  • 2 – Faith Like Potatoes (2006)
  • 2 – Fireproof (2008)
  • 2 – Footloose (1984)
  • 2 – Freedom Writers (2007)
  • 2 – Gandhi (1982)
  • 2 – God’s Not Dead (2014)
  • 2 – Hair (1979)
  • 2 – Harold and Maude (1971)
  • 2 – Harriet (2019)
  • 2 – Hoosiers (1986)
  • 2 – Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  • 2 – House of Sand and Fog (2003)
  • 2 – In This House of Brede (1975)
  • 2 – Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
  • 2 – La Dolce Vita (Italian) (1960)
  • 2 – Left Behind (franchise) (2000-2014)
  • 2 – Legion (2010)
  • 2 – Lilies of the Field (1963)
  • 2 – Luther (2003)
  • 2 – Mary Magdalene (2018)
  • 2 – Noah (2014)
  • 2 – Oh, God! (1977)
  • 2 – Pitch Black (2000)
  • 2 – Queen of Katwe (2016)
  • 2 – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  • 2 – Schindler’s List (1993)
  • 2 – Sergeant York (1941)
  • 2 – Smoke Signals (1998)
  • 2 – Soul Surfer (2011)
  • 2 – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
  • 2 – The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
  • 2 – The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • 2 – The Case for Christ (2017)
  • 2 – The End of the Spear (2005)
  • 2 – The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2004)
  • 2 – The Golden Compass (2007)
  • 2 – The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
  • 2 – The Hiding Place (1975)
  • 2 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
  • 2 – The Island (Ostrov) (Russian) (2006)
  • 2 – The Name of the Rose (1986)
  • 2 – The Passion of the Christ (2004)
  • 2 – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
  • 2 – The Tree of Life (2011)
  • 2 – The Trip to Bountiful (1985/2014?)
  • 2 – The Truman Show (1998)
  • 2 – To Sir, with Love (1967)
  • 2 – Up (2009)
  • 2 – Walk the Line (2005)
  • 2 – Winter Light (Swedish) (1963)
  • 1 – 12 Angry Men (1957)
  • 1 – 12 Monkeys (1995)
  • 1 – 12 Years a Slave (2013)
  • 1 – 13th (documentary) (2016)
  • 1 – 50 First Dates (2004)
  • 1 – A Canterbury Tale (1944)
  • 1 – A Knight’s Tale (2001)
  • 1 – A Serious Man (2009)
  • 1 – Accepted (2006)
  • 1 – Alien 3 (1992)
  • 1 – Always (1989)
  • 1 – Amadeus (1984)
  • 1 – Amazing Grace (documentary) (2018)
  • 1 – An Interview with God (2018)
  • 1 – Anchoress (1993)
  • 1 – Angel and the Badman (1947)
  • 1 – Angels in the Snow (2008/2015?)
  • 1 – Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • 1 – Apollo 13 (1995)
  • 1 – Au Revoir Les Enfants (French) (1987)
  • 1 – August Rush (2007)
  • 1 – Auntie Mame (1958)
  • 1 – Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  • 1 – Beauty and the Beast (1991/2017?)
  • 1 – Bedazzled (2000)
  • 1 – Believe (2014)
  • 1 – Believe Me (2018)
  • 1 – Ben-Hur (2016)
  • 1 – Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
  • 1 – Bicycle Thieves (Italian) (1948)
  • 1 – Big Fish (2003)
  • 1 – Billy Jack (1971)
  • 1 – Black Narcissus (1947)
  • 1 – Brazil (1985)
  • 1 – Breakthrough (2019)
  • 1 – Brennan (2016)
  • 1 – Brimstone & Treacle (1982)
  • 1 – Central Station (Portuguese) (1998)
  • 1 – Cesar Chavez (2014)
  • 1 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
  • 1 – Chicken Run (2000)
  • 1 – Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
  • 1 – Cinderella Man (2005)
  • 1 – City of God (Portuguese) (2002)
  • 1 – Clare and Francis (Chiara e Francesco) (Italian) (2007)
  • 1 – Click (2006)
  • 1 – Coach Carter (2005)
  • 1 – Collateral Beauty (2016)
  • 1 – Corpus Christi (Boze Cialo) (Polish) (2019)
  • 1 – Cyrano de Bergerac (French) (1990)
  • 1 – Da 5 Bloods (2020)
  • 1 – Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
  • 1 – Dancer in the Dark (2000)
  • 1 – Delivery Man (2013)
  • 1 – Departures (2008)
  • 1 – Divine Access (2015)
  • 1 – Doctor Strange (2016)
  • 1 – Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
  • 1 – Dumbo (1941/2019?)
  • 1 – Dune (1984/2000/2020?)
  • 1 – East of Eden (1955)
  • 1 – Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  • 1 – Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
  • 1 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • 1 – Even the Rain (También la lluvia) (Spanish) (2010)
  • 1 – Fearless (1993)
  • 1 – Finding Nemo (2003)
  • 1 – For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada (2012)
  • 1 – Forrest Gump (1994)
  • 1 – Francesco (1989)
  • 1 – Free State of Jones (2016)
  • 1 – From Within (2008)
  • 1 – Frozen (2013)
  • 1 – Ghost (1990)
  • 1 – Going My Way (1944/1962?)
  • 1 – Good Will Hunting (1997)
  • 1 – Grand Canyon (1991)
  • 1 – Gravity (2013)
  • 1 – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
  • 1 – Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
  • 1 – Hardcore (1979)
  • 1 – Hell or High Water (2016)
  • 1 – Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (2015)
  • 1 – Hidden Figures (2016)
  • 1 – Higher Ground (2011)
  • 1 – Hombre (1967)
  • 1 – How Green Was My Valley (1941)
  • 1 – How to Train Your Dragon (franchise) (2010-2019)
  • 1 – Hunger (2008)
  • 1 – Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
  • 1 – I Am David (2003)
  • 1 – I Am Sam (2001)
  • 1 – I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007)
  • 1 – Imitation of Life (1959)
  • 1 – In Bruges (2008)
  • 1 – In the Bedroom (2001)
  • 1 – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
  • 1 – Inherit the Wind (1960)
  • 1 – Ink (2009)
  • 1 – Into Great Silence (documentary) (French) (2005)
  • 1 – Ironweed (1987)
  • 1 – Jacob the Liar/Jakob the Liar (1974/1999?)
  • 1 – Joshua (2002)
  • 1 – Judas’ Kiss (El Beso de Judas) (Spanish) (1954)
  • 1 – Knock Down the House (documentary) (2019)
  • 1 – Knowing (2009)
  • 1 – Lady Bird (2017)
  • 1 – Lady Jane (1986/2008?)
  • 1 – Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  • 1 – Leap of Faith (1992)
  • 1 – Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
  • 1 – Life Is Beautiful (La vita è bella) (Italian) (1997)
  • 1 – Life with Father (1947)
  • 1 – Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
  • 1 – Local Hero (1983)
  • 1 – Lord of the Flies (1963/1990?)
  • 1 – Love & Mercy (2014)
  • 1 – Love Actually (2003)
  • 1 – Love Happens (2009)
  • 1 – Made in Heaven (1987)
  • 1 – Manchester by the Sea (2016)
  • 1 – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)
  • 1 – Mass Appeal (1984)
  • 1 – McFarland, USA (2015)
  • 1 – Meet John Doe (1941)
  • 1 – Milk (2008)
  • 1 – Moulin Rouge! (2001)
  • 1 – Mudbound (2017)
  • 1 – My Dinner with Andre (1981)
  • 1 – Nacho Libre (2006)
  • 1 – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
  • 1 – Nell (1994)
  • 1 – No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • 1 – One Magic Christmas (1985)
  • 1 – Onward (2020)
  • 1 – Ordet (Danish) (1955)
  • 1 – Paddington 2 (2017)
  • 1 – Passion Fish (1992)
  • 1 – Patch Adams (1998)
  • 1 – Peanuts/Charlie Brown specials (1965-2011)
  • 1 – Pistol Pete: The Life and Times of Pete Maravich (2001)
  • 1 – Pray the Devil Back to Hell (documentary) (2008)
  • 1 – Prayers for Bobby (2009)
  • 1 – Priceless (2016)
  • 1 – Pride (2014)
  • 1 – Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • 1 – Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)
  • 1 – Red Planet Mars (1952)
  • 1 – Rubble Kings (documentary) (2010)
  • 1 – Rudy (1993)
  • 1 – Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  • 1 – Seven Pounds (2008)
  • 1 – Simon Birch (1998)
  • 1 – Smallfoot (2018)
  • 1 – Smoke (1995)
  • 1 – Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (German) (2005)
  • 1 – Spartacus (2010)
  • 1 – St. Vincent (2014)
  • 1 – Stalker (1979)
  • 1 – Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
  • 1 – Still Life (2013)
  • 1 – Superman (1978)
  • 1 – Superman Returns (2006)
  • 1 – The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
  • 1 – The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
  • 1 – The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
  • 1 – The Big Kahuna (1999)
  • 1 – The Big Lebowski (1998)
  • 1 – The Boondock Saints (1999)
  • 1 – The Cardinal (1963)
  • 1 – The Conjuring (2013)
  • 1 – The Conjuring 2 (2016)
  • 1 – The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
  • 1 – The Crossing Guard (1995)
  • 1 – The Crying Game (1992)
  • 1 – The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  • 1 – The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
  • 1 – The Egyptian (1954)
  • 1 – The Elephant Man (1980)
  • 1 – The Encounter (2010)
  • 1 – The End of the Affair (1955/1999?)
  • 1 – The Four Feathers (2002)
  • 1 – The Giver (2014)
  • 1 – The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)
  • 1 – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  • 1 – The Hate U Give (2018)
  • 1 – The Honorary Consul (Beyond the Limit) (1983)
  • 1 – The Hunger Games (franchise) (2015)
  • 1 – The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)
  • 1 – The Insatiable Moon (2010)
  • 1 – The Investigator (2013)
  • 1 – The King’s Speech (2010)
  • 1 – The Last Samurai (2003)
  • 1 – The Left Hand of God (1955)
  • 1 – The Life of Pi (2012)
  • 1 – The Magdalene Sisters (2002)
  • 1 – The Maldonado Miracle (2003)
  • 1 – The Miracle Worker (1962)
  • 1 – The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
  • 1 – The Nativity Story (2006)
  • 1 – The Notebook (2004)
  • 1 – The Omega Man (1971)
  • 1 – The Other Side of Heaven (2001)
  • 1 – The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
  • 1 – The Polar Express (2004)
  • 1 – The Prince of Egypt (1998)
  • 1 – The Rainmaker (1997)
  • 1 – The Rapture (1991)
  • 1 – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
  • 1 – The Ruling Class (1972)
  • 1 – The Secret of Kells (2009)
  • 1 – The Song of Bernadette (1943)
  • 1 – The Sound of Music (1965)
  • 1 – The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
  • 1 – The Village (2004)
  • 1 – The Virgin Spring (Swedish) (1960)
  • 1 – The Vow (2012)
  • 1 – The Wicker Man (1973)
  • 1 – Thérèse (French) (1986)
  • 1 – This Is the End (2013)
  • 1 – Three Colors (franchise) (French/Polish) (1993-1994)
  • 1 – To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  • 1 – To the Wonder (2012)
  • 1 – Tommy (1975)
  • 1 – Total Recall (1990)
  • 1 – Transformers (2007)
  • 1 – True Grit (1969/2010?)
  • 1 – Unbroken (2014)
  • 1 – Waking Life (2001)
  • 1 – Wall-E (2008)
  • 1 – We Are Marshall (2006)
  • 1 – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)
  • 1 – When the Game Stands Tall (2014)
  • 1 – White Christmas (1954)
  • 1 – Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  • 1 – Wise Blood (1979)
  • 1 – Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (documentary) (2018)
  • 1 – Wonder (2017)
  • 1 – Wonder Woman (2017)
  • 1 – Zardoz (1974)

So, after all that, are there good “Christian” movies? Well, it obviously depends on what you mean by “Christian”, “Christian-themed”, or “good”. There are undoubtedly some very good movies on this list, Christian or not, and there are some very bad ones as well. Painfully, painfully, bad ones. It hurts my soul that Soul Surfer got more votes than Lady Bird, but what can you do?

Despite the monumental fuzziness of the category, I am grateful for all of the responses and I’m definitely looking forward to watching some that I haven’t seen. I’m confident there are also some good ones missing from this list for me yet discover (feel free to share!).

Ultimately, after collecting and collating all of these responses, I must nevertheless admit that I do now feel a little uneasy about this idea of “Christian-themed” movies as a category. Is it right to seek out Christian-themed movies? I suppose it’s not wrong. But I do think it’s worth remembering that God calls us to live in the world, and hence probably to try and resist any urge to engage in some sort of cultural apartheid, or what Andrew O’Hehir called “self-ghettoizing.” Pope Francis said something interesting back in 2013 that I think is relevant:

The priest who seldom goes out of himself… misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart… This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep.” This is what I am asking you – be shepherds with the smell of sheep.

My favorite art is often, though not always, the sort that contains powerful Christian themes without being explicitly “Christian” – without being overly didactic or evangelical, without needing any doctrinal or ecclesial stamp of approval. I think that the Holy Spirit will always shine through in art and in life – and that’s true in secular as much as religious contexts. One of life’s great joys is to have your eyes attuned to what C. S. Lewis called “‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of experience,” whenever and wherever they may arise. As one commenter on Facebook put it, “God is always speaking. He will show you something in almost any movie.”

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