Because top ten lists are fun, and because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how Christians are perceived in culture, I thought it would be interesting to comprise a list of the most unflattering portrayals of Christians in cinema. On a future post I will probably do the same for the most flattering portrayals. Keep in mind that I am not slamming these films; several of them are actually very well made. I’m only pointing out that, for secular audiences watching these films, Christians come across as crazy, annoying, dangerous, stupid, or some combination therein. Thankfully most of these films were not seen by very many people. But even so, I think it’s important to be mindful that they exist—that for some people, this is the only picture of Christianity they have.
10) Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music? (2004) Though less hostile than most documentaries about Christians, this incoherent exploration of a much-too-broad topic leaves the viewer as confused and cynical as the disparate talking heads that sound off in the film.
9) Night of the Hunter (1955) This classic kicked off the “fundamentalist Christian as psychopath” trend that has been a favorite in cinema ever since. “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” has never sounded as disturbing as when Robert Mitchum sings it.
8) My Summer of Love (2004) More tragic than comical, this indie film portrays a group of British evangelicals as positively bonkers and dangerous to family dynamics, as one of the church’s leaders (Paddy Considine) pays more attention to prayer meetings than he does his own struggling family.
7) The Virgin Suicides (1999) Repressive Christian parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner) in suburbia drive their innocent daughters to suicide. Because not being able to go to prom just does that to you…
6) Citizen Ruth (1996) It’s pretty gutsy to satirize abortion, but Alexander Payne did it successfully in this film, which lampoons both the firebrand evangelical pro-lifers and the equally insane pro-choice feminazis.
5) Facing the Giants (2006) Oops! I thought this was made by Christians!? Indeed, but this horrendous film (which we have Georgia’s Sherwood Baptist Church to thank for) is as embarrassing to Christians as anything Pat Robertson ever said.
4) Saved! (2004) This film relentlessly points out evangelical absurdities, featuring a command performance from Mandy Moore as the Christian school queen bee who spreads Jesus’ love by throwing bibles at people.
3) Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple (2006) To the uninitiated, People’s Temple appears to be just one more crazy sect of fundamentalist Christianity. Which makes this true story of delusion and mass suicide one of the most damaging witnesses to American Christianity in the twentieth century.
2) Hell House (2001) A truly scary documentary about a Pentecostal church in Texas that uses Halloween, buckets of fake blood, and scenes of abortion, suicide, and AIDS to scare hordes of lost kids into accepting Jesus.
1) Jesus Camp (2006) In addition to its portrayal of six year olds speaking in tongues and praying over a cardboard George W. Bush, this film boasts the honor of having grade-A ironic footage of Ted Haggard talking smack about gays just months before his own admission of having solicited a male prostitute.