It has always been said that religion is a great redeemer and rightfully so. The world of religion has often moved the masses, especially when it came to divine figures such as Lord Krishna or Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed. Sparing China, we have found that most of the countries in the world are inclined to one religion or the other or probably a bunch of them. Religion often drives our principles and has inculcated a sense of belongingness among people and has bound them for centuries altogether. The world of cinema is no alien to movies based out on religion.
In this article, we try and dissect international cinema in an effort to find out the best works dealing with Christianity, religion and their multiple progenies. While there are obvious grey areas, we are of the firm opinion that the movies listed below had the most pronounced religious depictions and the eventual impact. Our confidence stems from a comprehensive literary inspection of critical reviews, thematic analyses, their Biblical impact and artistic introspections. Without any further ado, here’s the list of best movies about religion, particularly Christianity. Controversially, many of these Christian movies have been branded as propaganda films, but we’d let you decide on that. You can also watch many of these Christian movies on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. The list includes Christian family movies, Christian movies for kids, black Christian movies and inspirational Christian movies.
25. Noah (2014)
The realization of the Biblical tale of Noah, the movie is the narrative of Noah, one of the last Pre-Flood patriarchs, who is spending an idyllic, nomadic life with his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, and wife Naameh. One fine day, as they set off to visit Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, following Noah’s dreams of the great Flood that will take everything, they find a young girl named Ila who has an abdominal wound with her family killed and they decide to adopt her. Prior to the Great Flood, Noah has to build an ark that would house all the flora and fauna of the world, while he is put up against Tubal-Cain, his arch Nemesis. ‘Noah’ wasn’t praised much by the critics and audiences but from a Biblical standpoint, it turned out to be a big hit with several Christian organizations hailing the efforts to bring ‘Noah’ to life.
24. Risen (2016)
Pontius Pilate, the prefect who oversaw the crucifixion of men in the Roman Province of Judaea during 26 AD, orders his men to find the body of Yeshua, the one who was crucified along with a few other men. The men, Clavius and Lucius, as expected, fail to find his body. They start interrogating Yeshua’s disciples and Clavius finds an alive and beaming Yeshua along with His disciples in an enclave. Clavius then has a change of heart and befriends Yeshua, his apostle Peter and becomes a part of Yeshua’s group. Lucius, who later assumes command following the departure of Clavius, later assumes Clavius’ path. Clavius’ transformation from a non-believer to a stern believer forms most of the story of ‘Risen’ in a faith-based depiction.
23. The Jesus Film (1979)
A biopic at the very outset, ‘The Jesus Film’ follows the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament, depicting his birth, his life with his disciples, his miracles, his appointing of the Apostles from among the disciples, his transfiguration, followed by the Last Supper and eventual crucifixion. Many critics have hailed it as “authentic”, while some rendered it monotonous and unwatchable. More often than not, ‘The Jesus Film’ has been known as the “most watched” motion picture of all time, with over 3 billion people of the world have watched it. While we don’t know if the claim is true or false, watching ‘The Jesus Film’ gives us many answers we’ve been seeking around the life and times of Jesus Christ.
22. Soul Surfer (2011)
‘Soul Surfer’ is a biopic based on the story of Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who lost her hand owing to a shark attack, but returned to the sport stronger than ever. The movie opens in the 2000s when a teenager Bethany while living in Hawaii with her family develops her interest in surfing. During a competition, a tiger shark bites off her left arm, after which Bethany loses copious amounts of blood and the arm itself. Bethany then starts learning her ropes with one-arm surfing and re-enters the competition. The Hamiltons’ belief in God, their perseverance and multiple Biblical references make it a religious film essentially, although later many of these references were cut to help the film appeal to non-Christian audiences as well. ‘Soul Surfer’ received a good response from critics and audiences alike.
21. To Save a Life (2009)
The endearing, heartwarming story of Jake Taylor, a has-it-all and his transformation into practising Christian forms the crux of ‘To Save a Life’. It begins with Jake’s childhood friend Roger who has committed suicide and Jake ponders as to how he could’ve saved Roger’s life, and that despite having everything at his disposal, Jake somehow failed. Without giving up any further, Jake finds his solace in God and becomes a devout Christian. Things suddenly start falling apart, including his family and Jake finds all of his friends shunning him for his withdrawn behaviour. Jake’s perseverance prevails in the end and things begin to work out in his favour eventually. ‘To Save a Life’ was praised for its realistic portrayals and authentic performances.
20. Wise Blood (1979)
Based on a novel of the same name penned by Flannery O’Connor, John Huston’s ‘Wise Blood’ is a haunting account of an ambitious young man who sets out to mark his stamp of class on the wall by establishing his own church and becoming a religious preacher. A rather dark work of art, Huston tries to unravel faith and duplicity through this unique venture. Socially troubled and thematically controversial, ‘Wise Blood’ was richly applauded by critics from across the globe for presenting a quintessentially darker perspective to religion.
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19. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Arguably one of the finest movies made on the life and times of Jesus Christ, albeit a wee bit controversial as well, this Mel Gibson’s Biblical drama shows the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, more importantly, the crucifixion and his resurrection on the third day. The movie opens in the Garden of Gethsemane, where a praying Jesus is arrested upon Judas’ betrayal, with his crucifixion the following day. The controversy surrounding the movie erupted from the violence and gore that has been depicted, but from a cinematic point of view, ‘The Passion of the Christ’ received critical acclaim and remains to be one of the highest grossing films of all time, along with being the highest grossing religious film of all time.
18. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Yet another historical drama on this list, ‘Chariots of Fire’ details the stories of Harold Abrahams, an English Jew and Eric Liddell, a Scottish Christian, who run in the 1924 Olympics, for their own different reasons. The movie opens in 1919 when Harold is facing staunch Anti-Semitism at work while participating in his usual “runs” at Trinity College, Cambridge and falls in love with Sybil, another performer at the college. Eric is from a devout Scottish missionary family and sees at running as if it were a way to glorify the God Himself. Eric and Harold end up competing against each other, with Eric beating Harold. Eventually, they team up for the Olympics representing their countries. Initially, Eric refuses to run on a Sunday, the day of the Sabbath. After the race, while Eric Liddell wins Gold, Abrahams is shown to be married to Sybil. Eric’s religious conventions earn him widespread acclaim as he heads to China with his parents on missionary work. ‘Chariots of Fire’ made news for being inspiring, morally uplifting and ethically significant. What’s your take?
17. The Miracle Maker (2000)
A narrative of the tale of Jesus, albeit in a stop-motion format, ‘The Miracle Maker’ is told from the point of view of Tamar, the daughter of a priest named Jairus of Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. The movie begins with Jesus wandering into the wilderness, establishing a ministry near Capernaum during the “Sermon on the Mount”, the bestowing of the Ring of the Fisherman upon Simon who declares Jesus as a Messiah, followed by Jesus’ moving to Jerusalem for the Passover, the Last Supper and his crucifixion. ‘The Miracle Maker’ touches upon all the significant events during the era and also highlights a third perspective (Tamar in this case) who re-tells the entire tale in its original form as we know it. ‘The Miracle Maker’ received heavy praise from critics and was hailed as a visually impactful miracle. P.S. – Ralph Fiennes has voiced Jesus’ character in the movie.
16. Silence (2016)
Seems like Scorsese had his fair share of directing Biblical films, with ‘Silence’ being yet another one on this list. ‘Silence’ revolves around two Jesuit priests – Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) who’re looking for another Jesuit Priest Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who had been subject to torture years ago in Japan. After Rodrigues and Garupe arrive in Japan, they’re tormented to see Samurai looking for Christians and torturing and eventually burning them. Rodrigues is captured and is held along with many other Japanese Christian converts and is asked to renounce their faiths or face death. When Rodrigues finally meets Ferreira, the latter tells him he had renounced his faith and that there’s no acceptance of Christianity among the Japanese. Rodrigues lives his days in silence until his death in Japan, away from Christianity as was during the Shimabara Revolt of the 1630s. ‘Silence’ is Scorsese’s third religious film and is often regarded one of his best works till date.
15. The Ultimate Gift (2006)
The movie revolves around Jason, who is a spoilt brat with fancy cars and spendthrift girlfriend, who lives on the mercy of his parental wealth. After his affluent grandfather, Richard dies, Jason is set to inherit his multi-billion dollar wealth on the precondition of completing a set of 12 tasks within the year. Once he does so, he’d be eligible to receive the secret ultimate gift his grandfather had left for him. After all his riches are taken from him, his girlfriend leaves him thus rendering him lonely and homeless. Jason meets with Alexia and her daughter Emily and befriends them. While on a trip to know the truth about his father in Ecuador, Jason is abducted and upon his release, he discovers that Emily has terminal cancer. Jason utilizes the remaining of his fortune and what he receives from his grandfather’s wealth upon the completion of his task to build Emily’s Home, a hospital for the terminal illness patients. Although there are no direct references to faith, God or religion, these references are still very implied in all the scenes fo this emotional flick.
14. The Mission (1986)
‘The Mission’ begins in the 1740s when a Spanish Jesuit Priest Father Gabriel enters into the North Argentinian wilderness in an attempt to convert the local tribals into Christianity. While his initial attempts fail miserably, the locals are intrigued with his penchant for music and let him live. Rodrigo Mendoza is a mercenary who lives off kidnapping the natives and seeking a ransom from plantation owners by selling them. By the time Father Gabriel has a well-established mission in the wilderness, an intrigued Mendoza acquiesces to join Father’s mission. Together, along with the tribal forces, they need to defend the mission against the Portuguese and Spanish invasions looming in the country. ‘The Mission’ received critical praise, yet it was a commercial failure. It also managed to bag several nominations at the Academy Awards. From a religious point of view, Church Times held it in the top 50 religious films of all time.
13. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Highly controversial yet richly applauded, Martin Scorsese’s epic biblical film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ is an epic tale of the lives and temptations of the Jesus of Nazareth. The film was attacked by the church for showcasing the sexual imaginations of Jesus Christ. It called the movie an artistic failure. Also, Christ was shown to be a human with all the humane virtues and vices like everyone else. Critics praised the movie for its obvious realism and humanization of religion.
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12. The Hiding Place (1975)
In a horrifying depiction of the ordeals faced by Corrie and her family during the Nazi invasion of The Netherlands during the ’40s, ‘The Hiding Place’ is a story of true grit, perseverance, and faith. Corrie’s family is hiding Jews at their remodelled house which is discovered by the Nazis. As their Dutch collaborator falters, the family is arrested and is subject to torture in a concentration camp for hiding Jews and collaborating with enemies. It is only Corrie’s faith in God that gets her out of the camp owing to a clerical error while her family members die due to gassing. While the Jews they were purportedly hiding were never found, Corrie dedicates her life to Jesus and the strength and love bestowed upon her by Him that made her survive the ordeal. ‘The Hiding Place’ is based on an autobiography penned by real-life Corrie herself.
11. Sergeant York (1941)
‘Sergeant York’ is one of those movies which has subliminal references to faith and God but no direct references, still it stands out as one of the most revered World War I movies till date. The movie opens with Alvin York, a Tennessee farmer whose life is in shambles. While on a revenge spree, he survives a lightning strike and undergoes a spiritual awakening, something which has been likened with the Biblical Conversion of Paul. York becomes more forgiving, gives up drinking and enlists in the army. He emerges victorious as a World War I soldier and is awarded the Medal of Honour upon his return to New York City after the conclusion of the war. ‘Sergeant York’ won many awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor among others.
10. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
Considered to be one of the greatest cinematic works of the twentieth century, Robert Bresson’s French film ‘Au Hasard Balthazar’ (1966) is a peculiar work of art, to say the least. It narrates the story of a donkey and the people around it. The religious imageries shown in the film are so stark that people start questioning humanity in itself. Although it primarily shows the life of a donkey, it in many ways talks about life and its fallout. Some critics described the movie as a representation of this world in a nutshell.
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9. The Ten Commandments (1956)
Known for being the last work of the acclaimed American auteur Cecil B. DeMille, ‘The Ten Commandment’ also happens to be his most successful venture. The film narrates the biblical story of the Egyptian prince Moses and his reconciliation with his divine mission. Nominated for seven (7) Academy Awards, Charlton Heston donned the role of Moses in the movie. Deemed to be one of the monumental works of American cinema and one of the finest in the epic genre, ‘The Ten Commandments’ enjoys considerable popularity even today.
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8. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Adapted from a novel of the same name by Davis Grubb, Charles Laughton’s ‘The Night of the Hunter’ is as much about human frailties as it is about misplaced faith. The movie follows a serial killer’s attempt to steal a fortune hidden by an executed person from his naïve widow. Distinctly different in style, it was successful in receiving almost universal acclaim for its dark portrayal of humanity. ‘The Night of the Hunter’ is particularly remarkable for having been able to influence many future filmmakers including Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers.
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7. Black Narcissus (1947)
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and starring an ensemble cast, ‘Black Narcissus’ follows the lives and aspirations of a group of nuns living in the Himalayas. Known for its ambient cinematography, it was universally acclaimed for its unique technical feats. It managed to win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Jack Cardiff and the Academy Award for Best Art Direction for Alfred Junge. It stirred up a hornet’s nest as it showcased the sexual fantasies of nuns, a subject considered to be a taboo at that point in time. All said and done though, the film was monumental in exerting a strong influence on future cinematic works.
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6. The Virgin Spring (1960)
One of the most controversial movies from the stables of the legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, ‘The Virgin Spring’ is a spiteful story of rape and revenge. With themes ranging from the power of faith to existential nihilism, the movie had its tryst with controversy with a lot of viewers unable to digest the inherent violence portrayed through the movie. A film that essentially harps on vengeance, it was successful in splitting critical opinion of the times although it was universally lauded later. It managed to bag the prestigious Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1961.
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5. Ben-Hur (1959)
Based on a novel of the same name, penned by Lew Wallace in 1880, William Wyler’s historical epic film ‘Ben-Hur’ can’t be considered to be just a movie. It actually represents a generation. When released, it was not only critically appreciated but also became a box office sensation. It chronicles the story of a Jewish nobleman who comes back to seek revenge against a betraying Roman friend during the time of Jesus Christ. With eleven (11) Academy Awards in the kitty including the one for the Best Director for Wyler, it has a simple narrative structure with an intricately complex theme. ‘Ben-Hur’ is considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time.
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4. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
A documentary-based biographical drama, ‘Hacksaw Ridge‘ is my favourite on this list. The movie tells the tale of a pacifist medical officer Desmond Doss who is a devout Adventist Christian and a conscientious objector, i.e. a person who refuses to perform any acts of violence on religious grounds. As odd as it may seem, Doss also received Medal of Honour for his service beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Okinawa, without firing a single bullet. Directed by Mel Gibson, among one of his many faith-based movie directorial, ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ won numerous accolades for Andrew Garfield’s performance in a leading role. The movie was also the recipient of the prestigious Academy Awards for Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing.
3. Andrei Rublev (1966)
Rated by critics worldwide as one of the finest films of all time, Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Andrei Rublev’ features the life of Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev. The movie is a brilliant representation of 15th-century Russia. Subject to its ambiguous political and religious orientation, the film had to face severe censorship problems in the communist Soviet Union. With Christianity acting as the backdrop of the movie, the atheistic Soviet administration didn’t allow it to be released officially. A typical Tarkovsky piece, it was universally applauded for his rich thematic content. Anatoly Solonitsyn played the role of Andrei Rublev and garnered global acclaim for his unique acting performance.
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2. The Seventh Seal (1957)
Having been ranked as the eighth-greatest film of world cinema by the revered Empire magazine in 2010, renowned European auteur Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’ could be described as the metaphorical meeting with death. A dark fantasy film that portrays a game of chess between a medieval knight and the human incarnation of death during the Black Death in Europe, it tries to uncover the answers to a lot of existential and philosophical questions pertaining to life, death and the presence of God. The film, which has become a cult classic over the past six decades, strongly established Bergman as one of the pillars of world cinema.
1. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
And now to perhaps the most respected, highly acclaimed and critically successful faith-based movie around Jesus, the Advent of Christianity and an account that combines all the four New Testaments. All the major events surrounding the life and times of Jesus are depicted in a more or less chronological manner, beginning with the Betrothal and Marriage of the Virgin, Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, circumcision of Jesus, Parable of the Two Sons, Betrayal of Jesus by Judas, and the Last Supper to name a few prominent ones. The crucifixion and the appearance of the Risen Christ conclude the movie. ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ received critical and commercial acclaim and was often described as one of the best-made movies around the life and times of Jesus Christ in the most comprehensive way. Well, we recommend you watch it right away.
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