Name 20 recent films that portray Christianity in a positive light

I frequently receive mail from readers who argue that we should ignore “Hollywood’s output” because of the ways in which Christians are negatively portrayed.

If I dare answer by suggesting that some of these portrayals are actually fair — even deserved — I am quickly swamped by email telling me where I’ll be spending eternity. (Hint: Not heaven.)

But I know many Christians who are devoting their lives to developing meaningful art and entertainment. Yes, in Hollywood.

And I frequently participate in fruitful, enlightening discussions about movies made by Hollywood studios… movies that that explore issues of faith.

Further, I frequently see movies that present Christianity, Christians, and truths fundamental to Christian faith in a positive light — movies from Hollywood, but from also from other cultures. I see movies all the time that provide visions of beauty and reflections of truth, declaring God’s glory without any direct mention of Christianity.

So I have a hard time taking such complaints against those unflattering portrayals seriously. Of course we should be discerning moviegoers. But just boycott or condemn art and entertainment from Hollywood, simply because Christians are sometimes portrayed as liars (which we sometimes are), charlatans (which we sometimes are), and hypocrites (which we sometimes are)?

Might as well boycott grocery stores. Or public libraries. Or public schools. Grocery stores stock products owned by organizations that are unfriendly toward Christians. Public libraries are full of books that portray Christianity in a negative light. Public schools often employ teachers who are hostile toward Christianity.

I was delighted to discover a useful list to keep on hand when I receive such complaints. My friend and colleague Steven D. Greydanus, who publishes reviews at Decent Films and at Christianity Today Movies was challenged, at artsandfaith.com, to “name twenty Hollywood movies made since the turn of the millennium that present Christianity in a positive light.”

He took a stab at it, and came up with this list:

[UPDATE: PLEASE NOTE, I did not create this list. Some bloggers have reported that I wrote it. And further, PLEASE NOTE, the challenge asked for Hollywood movies made since the turn of the millennium!]

  1. Amazing Grace
  2. America’s Heart and Soul
  3. Because of Winn-Dixie
  4. Bridge to Terabithia
  5. Charlotte’s Web
  6. Cinderella Man
  7. Count of Monte Cristo, The
  8. Daredevil
  9. Exorcism of Emily Rose, The
  10. Ladder 49
  11. Lars and the Real Girl
  12. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  13. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  14. Nativity Story, The
  15. New World, The
  16. Patriot, The
  17. Return to Me
  18. Rookie, The
  19. Serenity
  20. Signs
  21. 6th Day, The
  22. Spider-Man
  23. Tears of the Sun
  24. Walk to Remember, A
  25. We Are Marshall
  26. World Trade Center
  27. X2: X-Men United

Thank you, Steven!

Now, I don’t think Greydanus is claiming that these films qualify as profound spiritual explorations. But they do stand in stark contrast to the claim that “Hollywood” (as if that was just one company, united under Satan) is operating under a mandate to slander and destroy Christianity.

Can you think of other titles that qualify? Name them! (Remember, they need to qualify as “Hollywood movies.” In other words, from a major American studio. If we were to expand this list to include independents and international film, the list would expand significantly.)

UPDATE: Ken Morefield has just posted a perspective on this, and it’s well worth reading.

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  • pilgrimscrybe

    Re the ‘Firefly’ scene with Shepherd Book and River, I actually found it to be very affirming of faith. She’s tearing up the Bible because it doesn’t’ make sense to her and she’s trying to put it togethe so it does (and she’s very frustrated). Shepherd’s response to River gets at the heart of faith: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not about making sense. It‚Äôs about believing in something and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It‚Äôs about faith. You don‚Äôt fix faith, River. It fixes you.‚Äù

    If I’m honest, there are times in my life when things don’t make sense, when the Bible seems to not make sense, or even times when I’d like to change the Bible around myself, heh. But it is it is what it is, and the point of it all (which I think Shepherd gets at very well) is trusting God (the act of faith), not just with mental assent, but with my life and heart and all I am. As I do that, I find myself transforming (being “fixed”). Then I can live with things not making sense sometimes.

    My .02 worth anyway.

    BTW, I love this list!!

    Blessings.

  • tomgoodman

    Since you added “The Waterfront” and broke your rule that the films had to be “recent,” I’ll add “A River Runs Through It” for the positive portrayal of the father of the two sons, a Presbyterian minister. Then there’s “An Affair to Remember” (the original, not the more recent). And don’t forget “The Mission.”

  • http://phillipjohnston.wordpress.com Phillip

    Although I thought it was a pretty awful film, Morgan Freeman’s character in The Bucket List seemed to be a Christian and was never looked down upon or made the object of ridicule. That was the only part of the movie that stood out as interesting to me.

  • http://lookingcloser.org Jeffrey Overstreet

    This comment was emailed to me, so I’m adding it:

    I think one of the best portrayals of a Christian in film is Father Barry as played by Karl Malden in On The Waterfront. Yes, Brando and Steiger’s scene in the car was great, but in my mind the best scene of the film was when Father Barry is in the hold of the ship preaching to the tough dockworkers and above them, looking down from the deck of the ship, are the corrupt and evil mob bosses who would as soon kill him and he shows no fear. His speech is so powerful and real and is based on Christ and I have never seen anything else like it. It is the kind of thing I’d like to have as a movie clip on my computer to watch over and over.

    If you haven’t seen it, you must.

  • http://thomwade.wordpress.com/ thomwade

    No disagreements there! :)

  • http://toegodspot.blogspot.com gaijin09

    Thomwade,

    Actually, you’re right about that and when I thought it through I realized that it is a good thing to show that Christians are people just like everyone else and it’s only natural to have ups and downs in your sense of assurance. Actually, Shepherd Book is quite a good character, someone who did a lot of shading things in the past but is trying to atone for them and to help others as well. Oh, the things that would have been revealed if Firefly had stayed on the air!

  • http://thomwade.wordpress.com/ thomwade

    “Firefly is definitely not what I would call pro-Christian. There‚Äôs an episode where River is ripping pages out of the Bible because they are ‚Äòdefective‚Äô and another part where Shepherd Book is in terror of death even though he‚Äôs a Christian and gets no comfort from the Bible.”

    Well, the list is not of films/shows that are pro-Christian. Merely ones that portray Christianity positively. The River seen is a statement on River, not the entire show’s opinion of Christianity. As for the second example, I would say that is a positive portrayal of Christianity…with the Shepherd Book aspect, I consider that a positive portrayal. Because Book is not presented as idealized. He’s human. He’s honest. He has struggles. Am I the only person on earth who has turned to the Bible for comfort at times and found none? Even in the traditional “verses of comfort”?

  • attic777

    How about the movie “Van Helsing”. In which the Frankenstein monster reads a Bible and chooses to “be good”. Then later in the film the monster is shown praying the 23 thrd Psalm.

    Or the portrayal of Peter Parkers religious Uncle and Aunt in the Spiderman films.

    Also in the movie “King Arthur”. Arthur is shown repenting to a merciful God.

  • http://toegodspot.blogspot.com gaijin09

    Well fine we can get technical about what qualifies as ‘Hollywood’ or not, but if a movie gets ‘noticed’ enough so that it’s widely distributed and lots of people hear about it then I think it qualifies as a culturally significant portrayal of Christianity.

    “Walk the Line” was disappointing on the theological side. If you read Johnny Cash’s autobiography you see that his faith ran much deeper than just a token bout of church-going after he overcame his drug addiction. He clearly and consistently pointed to God as the source of his success, and he even studied the New Testament and the apostolic fathers! The movie should have had a lot more about his faith.

    Firefly is definitely not what I would call pro-Christian. There’s an episode where River is ripping pages out of the Bible because they are ‘defective’ and another part where Shepherd Book is in terror of death even though he’s a Christian and gets no comfort from the Bible.

  • rlhw

    AMISTAD has one of the BEST presentations of the gospel (through a storybook that one of the slaves is reading.)

    I cried… I was not expecting it and thought it was so beautiful.

    I would say PASSION OF THE CHRIST, but it didn’t come from a major studio. However, the director / promoter was pretty well-know! ;-)

  • stuartblessman

    As much as I like it, I don’t know if Serenity can be counted. Yes, it’s positive “faith”, but not really pro-Christian, especially if you package Firefly and Serenity together.

    I Am Legend could make the list also, but it’s not explicitly pro-Christian.

    Walk The Line might be another good one.

  • petertchattaway

    FWIW, re: some of the films mentioned here in the comments, Black Snake Moan (co-produced by Paramount Classics, distributed by Paramount Vantage), The Apostle (produced independently, picked up for distribution at the Toronto film festival by October Films), Millions (produced by British companies, distributed in the USA by Fox Searchlight), Junebug (produced independently, picked up for distribution in the USA by Sony Pictures Classics and in Canada by Mongrel Media) and even Dead Man Walking (produced by Polygram and Working Title, distributed in the USA by Gramercy) are all “independent” to one degree or another (and Millions is “international”, too).

  • petertchattaway

    If we’re not counting “independents and international film”, then the top film on Steve’s list — Amazing Grace, written and directed by Brits, produced by a handful of independent companies, and distributed in the USA by the small-ish Samuel Goldwyn company — probably doesn’t belong. Lars and the Real Girl would probably also qualify as an “independent”, even if it was eventually picked up in the USA by MGM. And My Big Fat Greek Wedding was, of course, the top-grossing “independent” film of all time until The Passion of the Christ came along. (FWIW, I had assumed that America’s Heart and Soul was an “independent” film too, since it had only limited distribution — it played in no more than 98 theatres, none of them near where I live — but according to the IMDb it was not only distributed but also co-produced by Disney.)

    But even if we removed all four films, yeah, the list would still be safely over 20.

  • http://www.maryannjoy.wordpress.com shawm1

    I thought the end of “Junebug” with the hymn was a sort of rare positive portrayal of southern Christians.

  • aravis72

    The Apostle (or that not considered Hollywood?)
    Millions (not Hollywood?)
    Dead Man Walking

    And as for tv shows:
    The X-Files (several episodes discuss Scully’s faith)
    Millenium (in the fact that it acknowledges a real evil in the spiritual world that is out to steal, kill and destroy, specifically episode Somehow Satan Got Behind Me)

  • ryankendricksmith

    “Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” : It doesn’t literally show the church, but I think it’s widely understood that there is Christian allegory in the series.

    And I’ve also seen quite a bit of television that shows the Church in a positive light: The West Wing, LOST, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and a bit in Friday Night Lights.

  • eegahinc

    Call me nuts, but despite all of the abuse over the years, the character of the overtly Christian Ned Flanders is shown quite a bit of respect in The Simpson’s Movie.

  • http://toegodspot.blogspot.com gaijin09

    “Bless the Child”: though it was a fairly substandard thriller/horror movie, it certainly portrayed Christians and God in a positive light.

    “Black Snake Moan”: Sam the Man’s friend is a non-judgmental pastor who helps Christina Ricci’s character find redemption.

    “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” The scene where Friar Tuck gathers his ‘flock’ of children and protects them from the ravaging soldiers with a staff, saying “Come, my lambs” is sublime.


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