By Jim Daly, Focus on the Family
It’s been nearly two weeks since our dear friend and the founder of Prison Fellowship, Chuck Colson, received his eternal reward. It was announced recently that a public memorial in his honor will be held at the National Cathedral on May 16th. It will be a privilege to attend and collectively thank the Lord for the life of this good man.
As some of you may know, Chuck loved movies. He saw them as a wonderful way to communicate truth and the many characteristics of our loving and all-powerful God. By viewing and studying certain films, he believed we could be inspired to live better lives. I think he was right.
This philosophy is one of the primary reasons we launched Plugged In, a website dedicated to providing insightful reviews of movies, music, television and video games. If you’re not already familiar with the site, I’d invite you to click here to check it out.
For today, though, I’d like to share with you a list of the 50 movies that Chuck Colson believed every Christian should see. The list was compiled several years ago, so it’s not entirely up to date. Not all of these films are suitable for all ages, of course, but it’s nevertheless a very thoughtful compilation.
How many of these films have you seen? Does one rise above the rest? Is there one missing from the list?
You might want to consider hosting a family movie night. Many of these films can be borrowed through your local library. If they don’t have it, ask about the possibility of an inter-library loan. Then there’s the internet and several companies who can make renting films a snap.
Take a look at the list and Chuck’s comments, then I’d welcome your feedback.
Films with a Christian Theme
1. Chariots of Fire (1981, PG). Inspiring story of a young Scottish runner who is willing to put obedience to God before an Olympic gold medal.
2. A Man for All Seasons (1966, G). The inspiring story of Sir Thomas More, the 16th century Chancellor of England who was beheaded by Henry VIII because he would not compromise his beliefs. More is played by Paul Scofield, whose last lines in the film are: “I die his majesty’s good servant, but God’s first.”
3. Shadowlands (Both the 1985 version, no rating, and the 1993 version, rated PG.). Flawed but interesting films about C. S. Lewis and his marriage to Joy Davidman.
4. Sergeant York (1941, not rated). A young man is converted to Christ, and then must decide whether killing in the context of war is authorized by the Bible. Based on a true story.
5. The Robe (1953, not rated). A Roman centurion who carries out the crucifixion of Christ becomes one of His most fervent followers. A dramatic tale of heroism and sacrifice.
6. I Confess (1953, not rated). A Hitchcock drama about a priest who hears a murderer’s confession–and then is himself arrested and tried for the crime. One of the most inspiring portrayals of Christian faith on film, this movie depicts a priest who is willing to give up even his life before betraying his vows.
7. Ben-Hur (1959, no rating). A young Jewish man who lives at the time of Christ battles the Roman Empire and ultimately becomes a Christian.
8. Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1973, PG). A lovely film about St. Francis of Assisi.
9. The Hiding Place (1975, not rated). The true story of a Dutch woman named Corrie ten Boom whose family hid Jews from the Nazis, and were themselves sent to concentration camps when the Nazis discovered what they were doing. A tremendous example of Christian courage. NOTE: The film depicts the brutal reality of life in a concentration camp.
10. Saving Grace (1986, PG). A new pope finds himself locked out of the Vatican by mistake one day, and goes incognito to a small town run by a local thug. A sensitive and amusing film that illustrates the New Testament meaning of servanthood. Produced by Robert Wise of “The Sound of Music” fame. NOTE: Attempted seduction scene, one child is killed through an accident.
11. Les Miserables (1935, not rated). The redemptive Victor Hugo story of Jean Valjean, who is sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread, and becomes a Christian through the sacrificial love of a bishop.
12. Tender Mercies (1982, PG). A down-and-out country singer turns to Christ. An on-screen baptism is beautifully depicted.
13. Repentance (1987, PG). This film was banned in the Soviet Union. Ted Baehr’s MovieGuide says: “Repentance is the movie that destroyed Communism. This … magnificent movie exposes the evils of communism … while lifting up the suffering Church and the triumphant, eternal Church of Christ Jesus.” (In Russian with English subtitles.)
14. Cry the Beloved Country (1995, PG-13). Set in the 1940s, the film is about a black South African minister whose son has been accused of the murder of a white man. A Christian worldview is portrayed throughout. NOTE: Implied murder, implied prostitution and fornication.
15. Inherit the Wind (1960, no rating). If you want to understand why our cultural elites think Christians are poor, ignorant, and easy to command, watch this film. Based on the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial,” this film depicts Christians as ignorant, intolerant, and hypocritical.
16. The Brothers Karamazov (1958, no rating). Is it possible to be good without God? This film correctly says no.
17. Dead Man Walking (1995, R). A nun becomes the spiritual advisor to a death row inmate. Contains a very strong conversion scene. NOTE: A murder and rape are shown at a distance, two corpses (one unclothed) are depicted. Some obscenities and vulgarities.
Films with Moral Themes
The following films are worth watching for their serious and inspiring treatment of moral themes, or because characters face moral challenges and rise above them.
18. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, not rated). A Frank Capra classic about an idealistic young senator who takes on corrupt politicians.
19. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, not rated). A classic Jimmy Stewart film about a depressed man who is reminded on Christmas Eve of how much he has to be grateful for.
20. Casablanca (1942, not rated). This classic is set in Morocco during the Second World War. Unlike the characters in “The English Patient,” Rick and Ilsa sacrifice personal happiness for honor.
21. The Winslow Boy (1948, no rating). Based on a true story, the film depicts the sacrifices an entire family is forced to make when the son is wrongly accused of theft at school, and the father decides to fight for the boy’s honor.
22. High Noon (1952, not rated). A good man stands alone against the forces of chaos and evil. A landmark Western.
23. Shadow of a Doubt (1942, not rated). In this Hitchcock thriller, an ordinary young woman realizes her uncle is a murderer and must decide what to do with that knowledge.
24. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955, no rating). A Hitchcock film in which an ordinary man on vacation is thrust into a crisis and forced to make difficult moral choices.
25. North by Northwest (1959, no rating). In this classic Hitchcock film, an advertising executive is the victim of mistaken identity, and must ultimately choose between his own safety and helping his country.
26. War of the Worlds (1953, no rating). The antidote to 1996’s Independence Day. When aliens attack, who you gonna call? This film says you call God, and he will answer.
27. War and Peace (1956, no rating). Hollywood’s version of the Tolstoy novel about three families caught up in Russia’s Napoleonic Wars.
28. Twelve Angry Men (1957 version, not rated). A jury explores issues of justice and race.
29. The Sound of Music (1965, G). A family is willing to sacrifice everything rather than join the Nazis.
30. In the Heat of the Night (1967, no rating). A classic film about a black New York detective who travels to the South to help solve a murder and becomes a victim of racial bigotry. NOTE: Adult themes.
31. Rudy (1993, PG-13). The true story of a young boy who dreams of playing football for Notre Dame. A film that celebrates having a dream and working at it. Ted Baehr’s MovieGuide says: “The film presents a moral view of character, the need for prayer, the sovereignty of God, and a positive view of the human spirit.” NOTE: Some foul language and a skewed depiction of Catholicism.
32. Sense and Sensibility (1995, PG). The story of a couple willing to give up private happiness for honor. Based on the Jane Austin novel. Beautifully filmed.
33. Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995, PG). A film that celebrates the glory of teaching, and of how one person can make a difference in the lives of others. NOTE: Some mild obscenities. No sex, nudity, or violence.
34. Spitfire Grill (1996, PG-13). The characters and their stories serve as springboards to lessons about forgiveness and the possibility of healing and restoration. The film was financed by Gregory Productions, the film-making arm of the Sacred Heart League. NOTE: Mild violence and mild foul language, references to rape and child abuse.
35. Stand and Deliver (1988, PG-13). Based on a true story, a new teacher in a rough urban school refuses to believe his students cannot learn and excel. NOTE: Rough language, violence.
36. Braveheart (1995, R). Set between 1280 and 1314, the film is about the Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace who leads his people to freedom from England. Christian film critic Ted Baehr writes: “The movie is a rallying cry for the supremacy of God’s law and [His] judgment of those who unjustly govern their fellow man.” NOTE: The violence of war is graphically depicted, brief nudity, two discreet sex scenes.
37. Schindler’s List (1993, R). A Holocaust drama about a German businessman who helps Jews escape the death camps. The film shows what one individual can accomplish in the face of great evil. NOTE: Contains profanity, graphic violence, and nudity, as well as some anti-Christian references.
Other Worldviews and Philosophies
The following films provide insight into other philosophies that help us understand ideas that shape the world in which we live:
38. Star Wars (1977, PG). Ted Baehr’s MovieGuide says: “Pagan worldview of impersonal, monistic force empowering man and controlling circumstances.” An introduction to New Age monism.
39. Annie Hall (1977, PG). Woody Allen’s magnum opus anticipates the self-centeredness and therapeutic culture more than a decade before anyone else. NOTE: Contains scenes of sensuality, some crude language.
40. Days of Heaven (1978, PG). A brother and sister end up on a farm in Texas in a world with no meaning or purpose. Terrence Malick, a philosophy instructor turned filmmaker, made this film to be a window of insight into existentialism. This movie shows what is wrong with a world that excludes God.
41. The Dark Crystal (1982, PG). Two muppet-like creatures attempt to return a crystal shard to the castle containing the Dark Crystal. If you want to see how Hollywood sneaks New Age spirituality into children’s films, here’s a perfect example. Use the film to teach your kids how to be discerning.
42. Gandhi (1982, PG). A carefully Westernized introduction to this famous Indian, who used passive resistance against India’s British rulers.
43. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, PG-13). A man kills his mistress, and then remembers the lessons of his childhood in a Jewish home. The film illustrates the true struggle of conscience: that without God, man has to “kill” his conscience or go mad. NOTE: Adult themes.
44. Jurassic Park (1993, PG-13). Rampaging dinosaurs are used to promote evolutionary arguments. NOTE: Violence may be too intense for many children. Some profanity.
45. Contact (1997, PG-13). Based on a novel by the late Carl Sagan, this film about SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) raises all the Big Questions of life. Portrays worldview of evolutionary scientific materialism. Ted Baehr writes: “A beautifully produced, sophomoric film which will give pseudo-intellectuals much food for thought while . . .offending the Christian moviegoer.” Excellent for discussion. NOTE: Rough language, some nudity, implied fornication.
Children’s films with a strong Biblical worldview
46. The Chronicles of Narnia (1989, not rated). Based on the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis (3 volume set).
47. The Lion King (1994, G). This animated film is a reminder that we cannot flee either our responsibilities or our troubles; we must face them head on. We also see a father willing to sacrifice his life for his son.
48. The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963, PG). An example of what the Disney Studios were capable of before the forces of political correctness took over. A heartwarming, turn-of-the-century tale of a Scottish veterinarian who loses–and then regains–his faith in God.
49. Beauty and the Beast (1991, G). This animated film echos the Biblical teaching that what’s inside the heart is more important than outside appearances.
50. The Secret Garden (1993, G). Ted Baehr’s MovieGuide says: “this profound story has been treated by many as a Christian allegory of death and new life through the power of love.” NOTE: In one scene, the children are depicted chanting a magical spell around a bonfire.
What would be your top five films of all time?
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