Top Ten Most Flattering Portrayals of Christians in Film

As a part two bookend to last week’s “Unflattering” list, I’ve been thinking this week about the films that contain the most flattering portrayals of Christians. This was, predictably, much more challenging a list to come up with. Thankfully, however, I could come up with about twenty worthy candidates, ten of which are listed here. Interestingly, only one of the listed films (#7) was directed by an American.

One important thing to remember is that these films by no means represent the most Christian or the most spiritual films (that list would be longer, and different)—only the ones that feature characters who are motivated or defined, in some favorable way, by their Christian faith. These are films that portray Christians as passionate, thoughtful, loving, and (in a lot of cases) sacrificial. Here’s my list. Let me know what you think.

10) Land of Plenty (2004):10m.jpg
This little-seen, 9/11-inspired film by Christian director Wim Wenders features Michelle Williams in a rare role—a progressive young Christian working among L.A.’s homeless at a skid-row mission because Jesus would’ve done it.

9) Babette’s Feast (1987):32m.jpg
Rob Bell is always saying Christians should re-discover the joy of “the long meal.” This film revels in it, as an effervescent group of aging Christians in Denmark prove that God’s grace is never more evident than in a long night of good food and fellowship.

51w21g2rsal_aa240_.jpg8) Tender Mercies (1983):
It was between this Horton Foote-penned film and The Apostle for the Robert Duvall spot on this list. Both films present imperfect people who find redemption through the loving community of the church. Yes, recovering alcoholic country music stars can (and often do) become Christians!

51j98b2tn2l_aa240_.jpg7) Dead Man Walking (1995):
I had to include a nun movie in here, and Sound of Music seemed a bit frivolous! Seriously, though, Susan Sarandon’s portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean—a deeply compassionate woman who ministers to a death row inmate (Sean Penn) is a beautiful picture of Christ-like love.

10m1.jpg6) Amazing Grace (2007):
It’s too bad this film wasn’t just called Wilberforce or something, because it’s really just a biopic about the amazing Christian abolitionist who inspires Christian activism today. And as that, it’s more than enough to relay immense and beautiful truths about God’s guidance, strength, and grace.

5) Becket (1964):51futkdrxml_aa240_.jpg
Richard Burton’s stellar portrayal of the unwaveringly pious Thomas à Becket (opposite Peter O’Toole’s Henry II in the famous church-state struggle of 12th Century England) offers one of cinema’s most principled and empathetic Christian characters.

41grzjil5rl_aa240_.jpg4) Into Great Silence (2007):
Not for the easily bored (but endlessly rewarding if you can sit through it), this nearly silent documentary probes the psyche of the uber-ascetic monks who live—and love living—lives of worship and solitude in a French Carthusian monastery.

3) Diary of a Country Priest (1951):417kvdtytql_aa240_.jpg
French director Robert Bresson’s masterpiece of transcendent cinema, Priest charts the everyday struggles of a young priest trying his best to follow God’s will in shepherding a small parish in rural France. The ending will take your breath away.

51nvtxhzgtl_aa240_.jpg2) Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005):
This Oscar-nominated German-language film portrays the quiet subversion of Sophie Scholl, leader of a student resistance group during Hitler’s reign in Nazi Germany. Her profound faith drives her brave activism and strengthens her when faced with unspeakable horrors.

4154h8kt15l_aa240_.jpg1) The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928):
One of the best films of all time, this silent masterpiece from Danish director Carl Dreyer provides an amazingly artful and moving account of one of Christianity’s most inspiring figures. Shot almost entirely in close-up, the film’s striking images—especially Joan’s face—are imbued with the Holy.

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8 responses to “Top Ten Most Flattering Portrayals of Christians in Film

  1. A fine list, Brett. (I wonder what the other ten candidates were?) I especially appreciate the inclusion of Michelle Williams’s character from Land of Plenty. Underrated film, excellent performance. And it’s telling to place Sophie Scholl, a modern Joan of Arc, next to the real one.

    If I were to attempt such a list, I wouldn’t hesitate to include Josiah Gray (Joel McCrea), the Civil War Vet-turned-minister in Jacques Tourneur’s masterpiece Stars in My Crown. Then there’s the exquisitely poised Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) in Chariots of Fire, and Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) in The Exorcist, who perishes in a face-off with Satan.

  2. Nate-
    Yeah I did consider the four you mentioned, which would all certainly be on my “second ten.” Chariots of Fire especially was a tough one not to include… And thanks for the comment noting the connection between Sophie Scholl and Joan of Arc… I didn’t consciously make that connection when putting them at the top 2. But it is interesting: female martyrs are powerful cinema.

  3. Pingback: Beside The Queue

  4. Oh, wow. Very interesting. I’m putting Diary of a Country Priest and Tender Mercies on my Netflix queue. I can’t believe I haven’t seen Tender Mercies: I loved The Apostle.

    Thanks for the list! David Kern sent me here.

  5. Not that I’m disagreeing with it’s inclusion here, but Joan of Arc would fit comfortably in your “Unflattering” list for pretty much all of its non-eponymous characters.

  6. Nice list.

    Have you seen The Third Miracle staring Ed Harris and Anne Heche? A great film about faith – how/what/why we believe.

  7. What about “Chariots of Fire” and “The Mission”?

    I really don’t like “Dead Man Walking.” I find Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon to be insufferable people, and that movie is really didactic.

  8. “Dead Man Walking” & Sr. Helen Prejean: A Critical Review
    From Dudley Sharp

    ” . . .makes you realize the Dead Man Walking truly belongs on the shelf in the library in the Fiction category.”

    “Being devout Catholics, ‘the norm’ would be to look to the church for support and healing. Again, this need for spiritual stability was stolen by Sister Prejean.”

    The Bourques, Victim Survivors, Dead Family Walking

    “Sister Helen Prejean & the death penalty: A Critical Review”
    http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/04/sister-helen-prejean–the-death-penalty-a-critical-review.aspx

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