Last Updated on July 29, 2020
There are many great and thought-provoking movies for Christians. Here are 15 of them.
(Actually, there are quite a few more included in bonus lists at the end. Be sure to read the whole thing!)
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Entertainment That Shapes the Mind
Movies do more than entertain. They also show us examples of right and wrong, good and evil, truth and lies.
Beyond that, movies can steer us towards a particular way of thinking about right and wrong, good and evil, truth and lies.
So rarely do we see, on film, truly noble role models, convincingly realistic challenges overcome in faithfulness, Christ-figures who aren’t astoundingly flawed, and unflinching looks at the history of the church.
That is why it is so important to point out well-done and thought-provoking movies for Christians. It is good to engage with though-provoking movies that provide living, breathing examples of what we believe about the world, humanity, and God.
Whether it’s a tough look at abuse within the church (Spotlight), joy and honor in the midst of extreme tragedy (Life is Beautiful), or a straight-up battle of light vs darkness (Night of the Hunter), these movies don’t present a market research-based paint-by-numbers look at the Christian faith and this sin-stained world that God has made and loves.
Of course, anyone can enjoy, appreciate, and be inspired by these movies, Christian or not. And not all of these movies are even about Christians – for instance, Life is Beautiful is about a Jewish-Italian family, and 12 Angry Men is more about truth than faith.
However, as a Christian myself, I’m compiling this list of thought-provoking movies for Christians from within the faith tradition I share with Christian believers around the world, and I think that if you are a movie-watching Christian, these are some top-tier titles to consider for your next movie night.
About the List
So most of these films reflect our moral values (sex, violence, and vulgarity are generally restrained), but also challenge, affirm, question, or illustrate the truths we find in the Bible. There are some R and PG-13 titles among the newer movies.
The list is ordered by release date, most recent down to older classics. If you stick with it all the way through to the end you’ll find a few bonus listings. Also, you will probably be interested in our Massive List of Family-Friendly Movies That Grownups Love Too. If you can’t tell by the title, it’s simply a big list of non-animated clean movies that are fairly well regarded.
15 THOUGHT-PROVOKING MOVIES FOR CHRISTIANS
My list of thought-provoking movies for Christians is ordered by release date. It starts with the most recent on down to good ol’ fashioned classics.
1. Silence (2016)
Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name is a literary masterpiece, and Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film adaptation is a brutal yet faithful retelling of this heart-wrenching story.
Set in the 17th century, the story follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests as they travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor – who is rumored to have committed apostasy – and to propagate Catholicism.
Against the historical background of the Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”) persecution, Silence asks the question of what it means to hold on to your faith when the cost is not only your own life, but the lives of others.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson
Themes: Faith, persecution, ethical dilemmas, apostasy, blasphemy
Content advisory: Rated R, strong scenes of torture and instances of blasphemy, all of which are integral to the story
Suitable for: Mature teens and up
2. Spotlight (2015)
Spotlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture in 2016, follows the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.
Told with sensitivity and conviction, Spotlight shines a light on the corrupting influence of power, the trouble with placing a higher value on an institution rather than the purpose of the institution, the pain, shame, and strength of sexual abuse survivors, the value of truth, the evil of abuse, the passionate work ethic of investigative journalism, and more. An excellent film.
All Christians are affected when those in positions of trust abuse that trust. Knowing that all people are sinners and that abusers seek out those positions of trust and authority, we should be ever vigilant about this issue and aware of the impact on the local church.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams
Themes: Sin, corruption, truth, institutional power and corruption, the church, sexual abuse, journalistic integrity
Content advisory: Rated R, some swearing (about what you would hear in real life) and discussions/descriptions of sexual abuse and pedophilia
Suitable for: Mature teens and up
3. Of Gods and Men (2010)
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, this film is titled Des hommes et des dieux in the original French. Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists, a group of Trappist monks stationed with an impoverished Algerian community must decide whether to leave or stay. Based on a true story from the 1996 Algerian Civil War.
The monks within the small mountain town are sworn to serve, but in the face of an immenent threat to their lives, what is the right thing to do? Abandon those they profess to love and serve, or stay and face certain death? Is it disobedient to leave, or vainglorious to stay? How does one serve others best when threatened by outside forces? This meticulous, beautiful, and poignant film addresses these questions as the monks think, pray, and debate about what to do in their situation. Subtitled.
Director: Xavier Beauvois
Stars: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin
Themes: Terrorism, service, martyrdom, vanity, laying down one’s life for another, honoring a commitment, ethical dilemmas
Content advisory: Rated PG-13, some wartime violence
Suitable for: Teens and up
4. The Secret of Kells (2009)
Through stunningly creative animation, The Secret of Kells follows young Brendan who lives in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids. But a new life of adventure beckons when a celebrated master illuminator arrives from the isle of Iona carrying an ancient but unfinished book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers. To help complete the magical book, Brendan has to overcome his deepest fears on a dangerous hero’s quest that takes him into the enchanted forest where mythical creatures hide.
Although this film is a fantasy (and a fantastic one, at that), there is a real “Book of Kells”: an illuminated, heavily illustrated rendering of the Four Gospels from the Christian Bible, which dates from the around early Eighth Century in Ireland.
The best historical and archaeological evidence suggests that, starting shortly after it was finished, the book was moved several times (including, as depicted in the movie, during a Viking invasion) and lost for various periods.
It has been housed at the library of Trinity College, Dublin, since the Seventeenth Century, and is considered perhaps the single most valuable cultural artifact of Irish History that has ever been discovered. Some of the design concepts for the movie echo aspects of the original Book of Kells.
The film’s interest for Christians is in the top-notch artistry and storytelling, the value it places on the wisdom of Scripture, the affirmation of Jesus’ words that “man does not live by bread alone,” and a love for beauty, inspiration, and life itself.
Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney
Themes: Scriptural wisdom and inspiration, preservation of knowledge, wonder and beauty, Celtic history & mythology
Content advisory: Not rated; probably PG due to abstract violence of Viking invasions along with some startling moments with wolves and monsters. Mixes in some Celtic spiritism.
Suitable for: 8 and up
5. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
What more could be said about this modern classic trilogy, which raked in millions in box office sales, snagged in dozens of Academy awards, and lives on in pop culture references and rewatchings of the extended cuts?
The author of the book series, J.R.R. Tolkien, was a devout Roman Catholic, and the Judeo-Christian worldview shows through in his original fantasy writings and the film series. An epic tale of good vs evil, light vs darkness, and the ordinary vs the extraordinary, the films are both wonderful adventure stories and a fairy tale-like affirmation of biblical values and a theology of redemption.
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen
Themes: Good against evil, hero quest, the temptation of power
Content advisory: PG-13 for battle scenes and scary creatures. Fight scenes include deaths by sword, arrow, beheading, etc.
Suitable for: 8 and up, depending on your views on violence
6. The Apostle (1997)
This powerful film, written and directed by Robert Duvall while playing the title character, is the story of a Texas preacher whose life spins wildly out of control. The Apostle is a fascinating character study of a passionate preacher who is also an angry, sinful man, haunted by his own demons and hunted by the law, all the while spreading the good news of forgiveness and redemption in Jesus’ name.
A complex look at the intersection between flawed humanity and the grace of God, this film raises important questions that all believers should ponder.
Director: Robert Duvall
Stars: Robert Duvall, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Bob Thornton
Themes: Charismatic preachers, sin and anger, redemption and forgiveness, hypocrisy
Content advisory: PG-13 for a scene of violence
Suitable for: 13+
7. Life is Beautiful (1997)
The perfect comedy, set right in the middle of incalculable tragedy. The first half of the movie is a fairy-tale romance, conveyed with brilliant ethos and comedic panache by director Roberto Benigni in the starring role as he schemes to win the love of a beautiful woman who is high above his social station. The second half shows the familial love of this Italian Jewish family as they live in the midst of a growing terror brought by the occupation of Italy by Nazi German forces.
The humor is delightful throughout, masterfully following in the lighthearted slapstick tradition of Chaplin, Keaton, and others. As the evil regime invades the lives of the Italian Jewish community, the comedy takes on a nobler tone as a means by which the human spirit can triumph in the midst of great darkness.
Director: Roberto Benigni
Stars: Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini
Themes: Love, romance, nazism, sacrifice, joy, humor, facing adversity, tragedy
Content advisory: PG-13 for holocaust-related thematic elements
Suitable for: 12+
8. Shadowlands (1993)
Biopic of Christian author and lecturer C.S. Lewis. The film focuses on the later years of his life in which he corresponds with and eventually develops a deep friendship with Joy Gresham. Life gets more complicated when Joy falls prey to a terminal illness.
Anthony Hopkins delivers a powerful performance as Lewis, and the film itself explores the development of relationships and the growth of romantic love within the Christian worldview.
Director: Richard Attenborough
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger, Julian Fellowes
Themes: Church of England, C.S. Lewis, literature, love, grief, terminal illness
Content advisory: PG for thematic elements
Suitable for: All ages; storyline will be of interest for those about 12+ and/or those who have read Lewis’ works.
9. Babette’s Feast (1987)
Entitled Babettes gæstebud in the original Danish, Babette’s Feast is a tender, subtle, and redemptive masterpiece set in a rural village in 19th century Denmark. It’s a picture of the Great Feast, unfolding in an unexpectedly earthy way that communicates the incarnational piety of Christ and his Bride.
The small-town community includes two spinster sisters who take in a French refugee from the Franco-Prussian War as a housekeeper. The sisters’ deceased father was the minister at the local church and a pillar in the community. On what would have been his 100th birthday, the sisters plan a commemorative dinner. Their refugee maid, Babette, implores the sisters to allow her to take over the arrangements, and when she does so, the guests are treated to a delightful multi-course feast that blossoms with meaning as the evening progresses.
In Danish and French with English subtitles, Babette’s Feast is appropriate for all ages but will be most enjoyed by those who can appreciate subtitled films.
One of the most surprisingly thought-provoking movies on this list. I love this film.
Director: Gabriel Axel
Stars: Stéphane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel
Themes: Community, regret, generosity, forgiveness
Content advisory: Rated G
Suitable for: All ages; with the subtitles and slow pace it is perhaps most ideal for viewers ages 10+
10. Tender Mercies (1983)
Mac Sledge, played by Robert Duvall in an Oscar-winning performance, is an alcoholic country music singer. After waking up from a night of binging in a roadside Texas motel, Mac meets the hotel’s owner, a young widow named Rosa Lee (played by Tess Harper), and offers to work in exchange for a room. The hotel owner agrees, but on the condition that Mac give up drinking while working for her. As Mac pledges to do so, he is affected by his new environment in unexpected ways.
The film examines several thought-provoking themes, including redemption, addiction recovery, conversion, the role of faith in overcoming addiction, and the importance of love and family. The church scene in which Duvall’s character sings “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” serves as a powerful metaphor for his newfound direction in life, leaning on the grace of God for strength and guidance.
This isn’t a whitewashed film by any means. Mac is a difficult character, and his spiritual and emotional journey feels authentic. His experience encompasses tragedy, grief, and setbacks along the way, but also genuine growth, change, and redemption.
Director: Bruce Beresford
Stars: Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, Betty Buckley
Themes: Conversion, reconciliation
Content advisory: Rated PG some swearing
Suitable for: Older children and teens due to subject matter
11. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Winner of the Academy Award’s Best Motion Picture trophy, Chariots of Fire boasts stellar acting, and absorbing story, wonderful acting performances, and an iconic musical theme. It’s a true classic in every sense of the word.
Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, two of Britain’s fastest sprinters, face many obstacles on their disparate ways to competing in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France.
Abrahams, a Jew, is met with anti-Semitism and prejudice upon entering Cambridge University. Liddell, a China-born son of Christian missionary parents and destined for the ministry himself, has his faith and motives questioned when his passion for running causes him to miss prayer meetings.
When the two men arrive in France to face each other and the rest of the world’s best athletes, a question of conscience arises when the signature event is scheduled to be held on a Sunday. Liddell does not compete on Sundays as a way to honor God’s command to keep the Sabbath, but with his nation’s pride and the pressure from the British Olympic Committee bearing down on him, which path will he choose?
The film causes us to consider the importance of the believer’s conscience in following Christ by presenting Liddell’s convictions in a sympathetic and even powerful way.
Director: Hugh Hudson
Stars: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell
Themes: Faith, obedience, nationalism, true story, conscience, anti-Semitism, ethnic issues, sportsmanship
Content advisory: Rated PG for male rear nudity (athletes showering)
Suitable for: Older children and teens
12. 12 Angry Men (1957)
This classic courtroom (well, jury room) drama dives right in to epistimology in a very hands-on, real-life way. It’s an exciting and tense ride, as the jurors – the titular 12 Angry Men – debate what they can truly know about a homicide case based on evidence and eyewitness testimony. Examples of bias, prejudice, social classism, logic, presuasion, and group dynamics are on full display.
The application for Christians is immediately evident in our approach to Biblical epistimology and the doctrine of Scripture. More introspectively, a thoughtful viewing will have you questioning your own inclination towards bias, superficial reasoning, and trolling for selective evidence and outcomes in everyday life.
The film boasts superb direction by Sidney Lumet at the top of his game, stellar acting from an A-list ensemble led by Henry Fonda, and tight filmography with 95% of the movie taking place in the jury room. And to top it all off, it’s pure entertainment at its best. Rated as one of the top films of all time in a wide variety of polls and lists, this is a true classic.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam
Themes: Epistimology, prejudice, reasoning and persuasion, group dynamics
Content advisory: Not rated; probably would be rated PG
Suitable for: 10+
13. Night of the Hunter (1955)
Tense, chilling, creepy, and murderous; nonetheless, one of the most starkly Christian movies I have ever seen. On the surface, it’s a film about an itinerant charletan preacher – who also happens to be a serial killer – as he stumbles across information about a stash of cash from a bank robbery. The plot follows his mad scheme to marry the widow of the bank robber and take the money for his own.
But there are deeper currents of meaning woven throughout. The heart of the film pits good versus evil, childlike faith against heartless greed, the cobbling together of a family through love versus the tearing apart of a family through hate.
Directed by the incredible Charles Laughton, the film was so critically ravaged upon its release that he never sat in the director’s chair again. However, throughout the years it has come to be recognized as one of the greatest films of all time.
One of my go-to films when suggesting thought-provoking movies.
Director: Charles Laughton
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish
Themes: False teachers, greed, family, faith, standing up against evil, love
Content advisory: The movie is 1950’s era clean, but the plot centers around a serial killer and his rage. There are some chilling and terrifying scenes that make it a little too scary for younger kids.
Suitable for: Ages 12+
14. Sergeant York (1941)
A biopic about the life of Alvin York (played by Gary Cooper), who started World War I as a conscientious objector but ended it as one of the most decorated soldiers of the entire war.
York was a poor young Tennesseean, prone to drinking, fighting, and general tomfoolery. He also happened to be an expert marksman, renowned for winning local shooting contests. The film follows his ups and downs, struggle with farming, and love interest in a good ol’ fashioned style. Things take a turn when he has a dramatic conversion experience in a storm, reminiscent of Martin Luther’s famous vow to become a monk.
York’s conversion is immediate and genuine. He swears off drinking, makes amends with those he has hurt, and vows to live a life free from anger and violence. A few years later, after the US entry into the Great War, Alvin is drafted into the army. He tries to avoid it as a consientious objector, but his local church has no official standing and his application is denied. Through boot camp and training York is mocked for his beliefs, yet respected for his skill with a rifle.
The film examines the role of the individual and his conscience within the larger national conflict of war. It also weighs the value of pacifism through a lens of “what is the greater good?” when facing an enemy out to destroy you. And it does all this within the context of Christian belief and practice.
Of course (spoiler alert), the climax of the film leads to a pro-military, non-pacifist conclusion, but there is plenty of fuel for a quality conversation about the role of the military, nationalism, violence, and guns within the Christian life.
Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: Gary Cooper, Joan Leslie, Ward Bond
Themes: War, pacifism, conversion, war violence
Content advisory: Not rated; would probably be PG for some old-fashioned war violence
Suitable for: All ages; 10+ would probably enjoy it most but would pehaps be suitable for younger ages who are learning about the first World War.
15. Les Miserables (1935)
Still the greatest film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. The 1935 version stars Fredric March as the reformed convict Jean Valjean and Charles Laughton at his best in the role of the indefatigable Inspector Javert.
The highlight of the film, for me, comes in the opening act. Jean Valjean is convicted of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family and spends the next 19 years in prison. Upon his release, no one will take him in or provide him food as a convicted felon. That is, except for one person – one of the most Christ-like characters in all of literature and film, in my opinion.
Much of the story is devoted to the cat-and-mouse chase between the relentless Inspector Javert and Valjean after he has violated his parole. It’s a fable about grace and redemption, the rigors of the Law and the leniency of Mercy, all completely devoted to another as a father loves his child.
The other major film adaptations of Les Miserables (1952, 1998, 2012 musical version) are all excellent, but the 1935 version is the best of the lot and most clearly portrays the work’s Christian themes. Highly, highly recommended.
Director: Richard Boleslawski
Stars: Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Cedric Hardwicke
Themes: Redemption, forgiveness, repentance, justice, mercy
Content advisory: None
Suitable for: All ages
Bonus (Documentary): Gates of Heaven (1978)
Perhaps the finest overall film on this list, and the perfect documentary. Famed documentarian Errol Morris studies the eccentricities of pet owners and how they respond to the relocation of the local pet cemetery. But it does so in such a way as to cause self-reflection: as we, the viewers, react to the hopes and beliefs of these animal lovers regarding their departed pets, we begin to question our own assumptions about life, death, and the afterlife.
Highly recommended viewing for believers. One of the most thought-provoking movies for Christians – or, really, for anyone – ever made. This one will stick with you long after the credits roll. Not rated, but would probably be G or maybe PG due to content (owners talking about the death of their pets).
Director: Errol Morris
Themes: Pets, pet loss, pet/owner relationships, death & burial, the afterlife, heaven
Content advisory: Grieving pet owners talk about losing beloved pets
Suitable for: 12+
MORE THOUGHT-PROVOKING MOVIES FOR CHRISTIANS
Honorable Mentions (Family-Friendly)
These honorable mentions include many films that could easily have made the list. Some are newer “Christian” films, others are classics of which pretty much everyone is already aware (looking at you, It’s A Wonderful Life, and you, A Christmas Carol).
Several have great messages for Christians but aren’t quite as challenging; others examine moral issues but may or may not have any overtly Biblical content. All are recommended for quality family-friendly viewing in the G-PG range unless otherwise noted.
- October Baby (2011) PG-13; mature themes but pretty clean
- Amazing Grace (2006)
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)
- The End of the Spear (2005) Older children and teens
- Luther (2003) PG-13; some historical violence
- Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002)
- A Walk to Remember (2002)
- Taliesin Jones (aka Small Miracles) (2000)
- A Christmas Carol (1999, starring Patrick Stewart)
- The Iron Giant (1999)
- The Straight Story (1999)
- The Winslow Boy (1999)
- The Truman Show (1998)
- The Secret Garden (1993)
- Sarah, Plain and Tall (1991)
- Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
- Lady Jane (1986)
- Eleni (1985)
- Places in the Heart (1984)
- The Elephant Man (1980) Older children and teens
- Wise Blood (1979)
- The Hiding Place (1975)
- Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
- Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)
- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
- A Man for All Seasons (1966)
- Follow Me, Boys! (1966)
- The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964) Subtitled
- Lilies of the Field (1963)
- The Cardinal (1963)
- The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963)
- To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
- Inherit the Wind (1960)
- Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)
- The Seventh Seal (1957) Subtitled; older children and teens
- A Man Called Peter (1955)
- Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
- On the Waterfront (1954) Older children and teens
- I Confess (1953)
- The Robe (1953)
- High Noon (1952)
- Quo Vadis (1951)
- A Christmas Carol (1951, starring Alastair Sim)
- Bicycle Thieves (1948) Subtitled, but suitable for all ages
- It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
- Going My Way (1944)
- Mrs. Miniver (1942)
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
- You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
- Captains Courageous (1937)
Further Honorable Mentions (Discretion Advised)
Here are a few further suggestions for though-provoking movies. These films all present compelling stories and fascinating moral dilemmas, but may have content some find objectionable.
I’ve personally seen many but by no means all of these movies. So take each recommendation with a bit of caution. Some heavier PGs, mostly PG-13 and R.
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)
- Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
- Unbroken (2014)
- The Harry Potter Series (2001-2011)
- The Book of Eli (2010)
- Gran Torino (2008)
- Children of Men (2006)
- Bella (2006)
- Sweet Land (2005)
- Hotel Rwanda (2004)
- Saints and Soldiers (2003)
- Le Fils “The Son” (2002)
- To End All Wars (2001)
- The Big Kahuna (1999)
- Gattaca (1997)
- Amistad (1997)
- Dead Man Walking (1995)
- Schindler’s List (1993)
- Groundhog Day (1993)
- Fearless (1993)
- Alien 3 (1992)
- Stand and Deliver (1988)
- The Decalogue (1987)
- The Mosquito Coast (1986)
- The Mission (1986)
- Amadeus (1984)
- The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
- My Dinner with Andre (1981)
- Superman: The Movie (1978)
- Man in the Wilderness (1977)
- Cool Hand Luke (1967)
- Beckett (1964)
- Advise & Consent (1962)
Well, what do you think? Do you agree, or are there some great, thought-provoking movies for Christians that we missed?