Top Ten Most Flattering Portrayals of Christians in Film

As a part two bookend to last week’s “Unflattering” list, I’ve been thinking this week about the films that contain the most flattering portrayals of Christians. This was, predictably, much more challenging a list to come up with. Thankfully, however, I could come up with about twenty worthy candidates, ten of which are listed here. Interestingly, only one of the listed films (#7) was directed by an American. One important thing to remember is that these films by no means represent the most Christian or the most spiritual films (that list would be longer, and different)—only the ones that feature characters who are motivated or defined, in some favorable way, by their Christian faith. These are films that portray Christians as passionate, thoughtful, loving, and (in a lot of cases) sacrificial. Here’s my list. Let me know what you think.

10) Land of Plenty (2004): This little-seen, 9/11-inspired film by Christian director Wim Wenders features Michelle Williams in a rare role—a progressive young Christian working among L.A.’s homeless at a skid-row mission because Jesus would’ve done it.

9) Babette’s Feast (1987): Rob Bell is always saying Christians should re-discover the joy of “the long meal.” This film revels in it, as an effervescent group of aging Christians in Denmark prove that God’s grace is never more evident than in a long night of good food and fellowship.

8) Tender Mercies (1983): It was between this Horton Foote-penned film and The Apostle for the Robert Duvall spot on this list. Both films present imperfect people who find redemption through the loving community of the church. Yes, recovering alcoholic country music stars can (and often do) become Christians!

7) Dead Man Walking (1995): I had to include a nun movie in here, and Sound of Music seemed a bit frivolous! Seriously, though, Susan Sarandon’s portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean—a deeply compassionate woman who ministers to a death row inmate (Sean Penn) is a beautiful picture of Christ-like love.

6) Amazing Grace (2007): It’s too bad this film wasn’t just called Wilberforce or something, because it’s really just a biopic about the amazing Christian abolitionist who inspires Christian activism today. And as that, it’s more than enough to relay immense and beautiful truths about God’s guidance, strength, and grace.

5) Becket (1964): Richard Burton’s stellar portrayal of the unwaveringly pious Thomas à Becket (opposite Peter O’Toole’s Henry II in the famous church-state struggle of 12th Century England) offers one of cinema’s most principled and empathetic Christian characters.

4) Into Great Silence (2007): Not for the easily bored (but endlessly rewarding if you can sit through it), this nearly silent documentary probes the psyche of the uber-ascetic monks who live—and love living—lives of worship and solitude in a French Carthusian monastery.

3) Diary of a Country Priest (1951): French director Robert Bresson’s masterpiece of transcendent cinema, Priest charts the everyday struggles of a young priest trying his best to follow God’s will in shepherding a small parish in rural France. The ending will take your breath away.

2) Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005): This Oscar-nominated German-language film portrays the quiet subversion of Sophie Scholl, leader of a student resistance group during Hitler’s reign in Nazi Germany. Her profound faith drives her brave activism and strengthens her when faced with unspeakable horrors.

1) The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928): One of the best films of all time, this silent masterpiece from Danish director Carl Dreyer provides an amazingly artful and moving account of one of Christianity’s most inspiring figures. Shot almost entirely in close-up, the film’s striking images—especially Joan’s face—are imbued with the Holy.