10 Films with a Christian Perspective

Soul Surfer   ,  image courtesy of TriStar Pictures; MovieStillsDB.com

Soul Surfer, image courtesy of TriStar Pictures; MovieStillsDB.com

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For Christians who like movies, it can be tough to find choices that seem worthwhile, and I’m not just talking about hot-button issues like excessive violence, crude language, and sexuality.

Beyond such obvious concerns, we enjoy films that emphasize traditional values like family, forgiveness, and self-restraint: films whose storylines suggest that a benevolent higher power is overseeing events with wisdom and compassion.

And along with such biblical foundations, we also seek movies that are carefully made—well acted, nicely filmed, written with insight and nuance—engaging real-world problems without feeling preachy or simplistic.

Even in the realm of so-called “faith-based” films, such works are rare.

Here then, from a long-time movie buff, are ten recommendations from various eras and genres that hold forth the ancient ideals of truth, goodness, and beauty.

1. The Apostle (1997)

Robert Duvall wrote and directed this acclaimed film in which he also plays a disgraced Southern preacher who goes right on winning souls in spite of his many sins and failures. The Apostle co-stars Farrah Fawcett, June Carter Cash, Walt Goggins, and Billy Bob Thornton in one of his early roles. Despite its unabashed evangelical tone, the film garnered wide appeal, receiving an Oscar nomination for Duvall’s lead performance and a four-star review from Roger Ebert. Surely it’s the only movie ever to be endorsed by both Pat Robertson and Howard Stern. (PG-13)

2. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Chariots of Fire  , image courtesy of Warner Bros.; Moviestillsdb.com

Chariots of Fire, image courtesy of Warner Bros.; Moviestillsdb.com

This is the true story of British runner Eric Liddell, a devout Christian who shook up the 1924 Olympics by refusing to run on the Sabbath. While the movie alters some facts in typical Hollywood fashion, it stays true to Liddell’s spirit, especially when he makes the oft-quoted assertion, “I believe God made me for a purpose [mission work in China]—but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”  With supporting roles by John Gielgud, Ian Holm and Brad Davis—plus that unforgettable Vangelis music—the film won four Academy Awards, including best script, best score, and best picture. (PG)

3. Soul Surfer (2011)

Incredible true story of young Christian surfer Bethany Hamilton, whose arm was bitten off by a tiger shark. Hamilton found herself back on the board competing again in less than a month. It sticks to the facts and side-steps emotional manipulation, thanks partly to strong work by Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid as the parents, and by AnnaSophia Robb as Hamilton. (Robb was doubled by Hamilton herself in some of the long-distance surfing shots.) Authentic and inspiring, with solid direction from Sean McNamara. (PG)

4. Gattaca (1997)

Gattaca  , image courtesy of Columbia Pictures; Moviestillsdb.com

Gattaca, image courtesy of Columbia Pictures; Moviestillsdb.com

While this film has much stronger adult content than other movies on my list, it takes a powerfully traditional approach to genetic engineering. Gattaca is the tale of a near-future society that controls conception to produce the “best” possible offspring. Meanwhile, a few so-called throwbacks ignore the dictates of DNA testing and go with “faith children” who are then relegated to the working class due to their alleged inferiority. Yet, the overall story arc suggests how much we have to lose by picking and choosing which babies are better than others. And this idea is strongly reinforced in the film’s original coda. Still available as a DVD extra, it’s a brief but moving tribute to what’s been accomplished by a wide range of people with disabilities. Gattaca also features a terrific cast headlined by Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law, with supporting roles by Alan Arkin, Ernest Borgnine, Tony Shalhoub, and novelist Gore Vidal. (PG-13)

5. Holes (2003)

At least four storylines intersect in this carefully plotted tale of young Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf) and his tenure in juvenile prison camp after being caught with stolen sneakers. With considerable assistance from “God’s thumb,” Stanley will meet both his past and his future as the warden (Sigourney Weaver) puts the boys to work digging holes in the desert. Costarring are Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson, Dule Hill, Patricia Arquette, Henry Winkler, and Eartha Kitt. This is one of those rare times when Hollywood made a truly great film from a truly great book— Louis Sachar’s award-winning young-adult novel. Sachar also penned the screenplay (and he appears briefly as an onion-buyer in the film). (PG)

6. Moms’ Night Out (2014)

Moms' Night Out  , image courtesy of TriStar Pictures; Moviestillsdb.com

Moms' Night Out, image courtesy of TriStar Pictures; Moviestillsdb.com

Perhaps the best in the recent spate of faith-based films, this comedy about a date night gone wildly wrong is both thoughtful and clever, with several touching surprises and a middle act that is flat-out uproarious. Starring Sarah Drew, Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin, Trace Adkins, and Alex Kendrick. (PG)

7. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

This black-and-white masterpiece is about corrupt Southern preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) who marries a grieving widow and then goes after her kids because they know where some stolen cash is hidden. The bone-chilling portrait of a man using religion as a cover for greed and hatred is beautifully balanced when the kids come under care of an aging Christian woman (Lilian Gish) who is more than a match for the vicious Powell. Based on a fine novel by Davis Grubb, Hunter has now achieved classic stature after initially failing at the box office. It is the only film directed by acclaimed British actor Charles Laughton. Part thriller, part fairy tale, it features some of the most hauntingly gorgeous visuals ever put on film. (Not rated)

8. Sergeant York (1941)

Nominated for eleven Academy Awards, this beloved classic is the true story of a humble Southerner who is drafted into World War I but initially resists as a religious pacifist. Eventually persuaded otherwise, York went on to become one of that war’s most decorated heroes, almost single-handedly taking out 35 machine guns and capturing 132 enemy soldiers. Gary Cooper won one of his three Oscars as York, deftly supported by Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, Ward Bond, and a young June Lockhart. (Not rated)

9. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005)

Sophie Scholl  , image courtesy of X Verleih AG; Moviestillsdb.com

Sophie Scholl, image courtesy of X Verleih AG; Moviestillsdb.com

This award-winning foreign-language film is about a young German woman whose religious convictions led her to nonviolent resistance against the Nazis. Resting largely on a stellar performance from Julia Jentsch, this potent piece focuses on Scholl’s real-life arrest and trial; it frontlines the power of an assured, quiet, and steadfast faith standing up to raw, unvarnished evil. (Not rated)

10. Tender Mercies (1983)

Here is another masterpiece starring Robert Duvall—this time as washed-up country singer Mac Sledge, an alcoholic who works his way toward redemption after settling down with a sweet Christian widow (Tess Harper) and her son. Duvall, who won an Academy Award for his performance, also wrote a couple of Mac’s songs; he does his own singing throughout (likewise Betty Buckley, who plays Sledge’s ex). The Oscar-winning script was written by Horton Foote, best known for the virtually perfect screenplay he adapted from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Foote also scripted 1985’s Trip to Bountiful based on his own stage play. Costarring Wilford Brimley and Ellen Barkin, this is a quiet and deeply moving film that never flinches in the face of heartache and suffering. (PG)

Joseph W. Smith III is a writer, teacher, and speaker in Central Pennsylvania. You can learn more about him at his website, www.josephwsmithiii.com.