In offering this list, I am not following any theological guidelines, rather I am concerned with those films that display the highest level of artistry in exploring how the birth of Jesus Christ impacted the world, its history, and all who have lived before and after.
Thus, I hope that you, the reader, put aside concerns about what constitutes an orthodox Catholic film, and discover on this list some films that will bring you enjoyment. In addition, you may find some films to be inspirational or edifying and, as a result, receive a renewed aspiration toward seeking the source of all beauty.
It’s regrettable that Catholic educators have yet to regard cinema as an important artistic tradition, one that should be studied along with literature, painting, theater, and music. The advantage of studying film is its relative youth, having been born only a little over a century ago. The other, more obvious, advantage is that students will have spent literally hundreds of hours watching films of various kinds, as opposed to their time spent with books, or much less in a museum with the masterworks of painting and sculpture.
Here’s the good news: It’s still not too late for the diligent and perhaps obsessive student, with a few years of study, to gain a satisfactory overview of film history.The “Catholic film” is actually a good place to start on such a journey, since both Catholic filmmakers and Catholic subjects have been a part of film’s history from the beginning of the “silent” era to the present. (Remember, there were very few silent films since musical soundtracks were used in films since 1920. And, to add a curious side note, the capacity for “talking” films had been available for several years prior to the 1927 Jazz Singer but was considered unnecessary to film as a rapidly developing, and primarily visual, art form.)
You will see below my list of 100 Best Catholic Films in chronological order. The only difference between this list and the book list is that I am not insisting that the author be Catholic. My choices are made on the basis of the film alone, not by any reference to the faith of the producer, director, or writer. A work of art should be experienced in itself, apart from the biography or values of its creator. We all are often visited by angels “unawares” in the course of our lives, especially in act of creating.
Thus, I ask the reader not to take me to task if the director of a particular film is a notorious this-or-that, as is definitely the case with a number of the films listed below. And, after all, how do we know under what inspiration, or whose inspiration, an “unbelieving” director brought a film into being.
I have not added links to all my recommendations. The reader can easily search them out on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, or any of the many film vendors on the Internet. If you don’t wish to buy them, you can find out the basic information on any of the films by making use of the International Movie Database at http://www.imdb.com. Those in bold are my personal top ten…..
1.Cecil B. DeMille, King of Kings, 1927.
2.Carl Theodore von Dreyer, The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928.
3.Frank Capra, Lady for a Day, 1933.
4.John Ford, The Informer, 1935.
5.Leo McCarey, Make Way for Tomorrow, 1937.
6. Frank Borzage, Strange Cargo, 1940
7.Henry King, The Song of Bernadette, 1943.
8.John M. Stahl, The Keys of the Kingdom, 1944.
9.Leo McCarey, Going My Way, 1944.
10.Leo McCarey, The Bells of St. Mary’s, 1945.
11.Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946.
12.Michael Powell, Black Narcissus, 1947.
13.John Ford, The Fugitive, 1947.
14.John Ford, Three Godfathers, 1948.
15.Vittorio De Sica, The Bicycle Thieves, 1948.
16.Roberto Rossellini, Stromboli, 1950.
17.Roberto Rossellini, The Flowers of St. Francis, 1950.
18.Gordon Douglas, Come Fill the Cup, 1951.
19.Robert Bresson, The Diary of a Country Priest, 1951.
20.Akira Kurosawa, Ikiru, 1952.
21.Vittorio De Sica, Umberto D, 1952.
22.Alfred Hitchcock, I Confess, 1953.
23.Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront, 1954.
24.Charles Laughton, Night of the Hunter, 1955.
25.Carl Theodore von Dreyer, Ordet, 1955.
26.Alfred Hitchcock, The Wrong Man, 1956.
27.Luis Bunuel, Nazarin, 1959.
28.Fred Zinnemann, The Nun’s Story, 1959.
29.William Wyler, Ben Hur, 1959.
30.Robert Bresson, Pickpocket, 1959.
31.Mervyn LeRoy, The Devil of 4 O’Clock, 1961.
32.Richard Fleischer, Barabbas, 1961.
33.Nicholas Ray, King of Kings, 1961.
34.Otto Preminger, The Cardinal, 1963.
35.Peter Glenville, Becket, 1964.
36.Pier Paolo Pasolini, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964.
37.Carol Reed, The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1965.
38.Luis Bunuel, Simon of the Desert, 1965.
39.Robert Bresson, Au Hasard Balthasar, 1966.
40.Fred Zinnemann, A Man for All Seasons, 1966.
41.Robert Bresson, Mouchette, 1967.
42.Michael Anderson, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1968.
43.Franco Zefferelli, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, 1972.
44.William Friedkin, The Exorcist, 1973.
45.Anthony Harvey, The Abdication, 1974.
46.Joseph Hardy, The Lady’s Not for Burning, 1974.
47.Franco Zefferelli, Jesus of Nazareth, 1977.
48.Robert Bresson, The Devil Probably, 1977.
49.Ermanno Olmi, Tree of the Wooden Clogs, 1978.
50.Autumn Sonata, Ingmar Bergman, 1978.
51.John Huston, Wise Blood, 1979.
52.Francesco Rosi, Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1979.
53.Hugh Hudson, Chariots of Fire, 1981.
54.Charles Sturridge & Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Brideshead Revisited, 1981.
55.Ulu Grosbard, True Confessions, 1981.
56.Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, Night of the Shooting Stars, 1982.
57.Jerry London, The Scarlet and the Black, 1983.
58.Robert Bresson, L’argent, 1983.
59.Norman Stone, Shadowlands, 1985.
60.Alain Cavalier, Therese, 1986.
61.Roland Jaffe, The Mission, 1986.
62.Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire, 1987.
63.Gabriel Axel, Babette’s Feast, 1987.
64.Rodney Bennett, Monsignor Quixote, 1987.
65.Maurice Pialat, Under the Star of Satan, 1987.
66.John Huston, The Dead, 1987.
67.Krzysztof Kieslowski, The Decalogue, 1988.
68.Krzysztof Kieslowski, A Short Film About Love, 1988.
69.Ermanno Olmi, Legend of the Holy Drinker, 1988.
70.John Duigan, Romero, 1989.
71.Denys Arcand, Jesus of Montreal, 1989.
72.Bruce Beresford, Black Robe, 1991.
73.Stijn Coninx, Daens, 1992.
74.Nancy Savoca, Household Saints, 1993.
75.Mel Gibson, Braveheart, 1995.
76.Liv Ullmann, Kristin Lavransdatter, 1995.
77.Lee David Slotoff, Spitfire Grill, 1996.
78.Marta Meszaros, The Seventh Room, 1996.
79.M. Knight Shyamalan, Wide Awake, 1998.
80.Joe Johnston, October Sky, 1999.
81.David Lynch, The Straight Story, 1999.
82.Agnieszka Holland, The Third Miracle, 1999.
83.Jim Sheridan, In America, 2002.
84.Alexander Payne, About Schmidt, 2002.
85.Bruce Beresford, Evelyn, 2002.
86.Denys Arcand, Barbarian Invasions, 2003.
87.Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ, 2004.
88.Tommy Lee Jones, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, 2005.
89.Christian Carion, Joyeux Noel, 2005.
90.Pavel Lungin, The Island, 2006
91.Alejandro Monteverde, Bella, 2006.
92.Jean-Pierre Dardenne, L’Enfant, 2006.
93.Alfonso Cuarón, The Children of Men, 2008.
94.Martin Provost, Seraphine, 2008.
95.Mark Pellington, Henry Poole is Here, 2008.
96.Klaus Haro, Letters to Father Jaakob, 2009.
97.Xavier Beauvois, Of Gods and Men, 2010.
98.Philip Groning, Into the Great Silence, 2007.
99.Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life, 2011.
100.Anne Fontaine, The Innocents, 2016.
Major films had scores from about 1915 on–performed live. The Western Electric System was being used (as “Vitaphone”) by 1926. All previous systems (1922-25), even when workable, were commercial flops. “The Jazz Singer” premiered in late 1927.
Many of the dates in the list of films are wrong. “Make Way for Tomorrow” was 1937, not 1947.
Thanks, I think all the corrections have been made. Let me know if you see any more. Deal
You left out” Assissi Underground” with Ben Cross & Charles Mason….??yr.
Excellent Christian movie.
Yes, thanks for the reminder!
There’s also “The Reluctant Saint” (1962) starring Maximillian Schell and Ricardo Montalban about the life of St. Joseph of Cupertino. Comedic at some points, but the last 10 minutes gave me shivers. It premiered on TCM this past August 15th. I watched it only because I knew Montalban was a devout Catholic.
Also “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima” (1952)…cried my eyes out watching that movie as a child. Glad to see “I Confess” on the list–the priest was portrayed very respectfully.
Also The Inn of the 6th Happiness”. ??yr.
The great Robert Donat’s last film!
What about 1951 “A Christmas Carol” with Alistar Simms?
That’s a good one!
Thanks for sharing this amazing list of christian movies.
Your welcome! Deal