I am unashamed to say that I think movies are a far better entertainment medium than books. Movies are alive; books are stale. You can eat with two hands while you watch a movie. Ever try eating a bowl of cereal while reading a book? It is not possible…unless you want poor Frodo covered with sludgy milk or grape nuts.
I love to watch movies! But while I watch movies a lot, I don’t watch a lot of movies. What I mean is: I watch a very small set of movies multiple times. And the reason that I don’t watch many new movies is because I think most movies that Hollywood produces suck. I mean, they suck in multiple ways: They are boring, they show unnecessarily graphic content, or they are just plain uninspiring.
And yet: By accident or Providence, once in a while Hollywood produces a movie that genuinely inspires me in a thrilling and entertaining way, and doesn’t force me to work through a lot of sludge in the process. And often these movies have Christian themes, even though they aren’t made by Christians and don’t explicitly advertise Christianity.
And here I rate my favorite movies of all time that have Christian themes, but aren’t necessarily explicitly Christian. The criteria for inclusion on this list are shamelessly personal. I want to be clear that I am not attempting some kind of intellectual, doctrine-based analyses of these movies. What I am really doing in these ratings is saying that these movies inspired me to know Christ in some very real and tangible way. That they make me, personally, want to become a better Christian. That in some way I identify with something in the movie that seems to illustrate my own journey to Christ.
Thus, this list is necessarily quite egocentrically sloppy; it is like looking at the collection of items in my room and having me talk at random about them. I would also like to point out that I am certainly NOT saying that the inspiring themes claimed herein are uniquely Christian. Loving your neighbor is most certainly a Christian theme, but of course I’m not claiming that only Christians teach that theme.
Movies move up on this list to the degree that they inspire me in my walk with Christ, to be a better person. They move down on the list to the degree that they have lewdness (especially), violence (to a lesser degree), or are just plain boring.
With those qualifications, here is my list of the best non-Christian Christian movies of all time. Next week, I discuss the best Christian Christian movies of all time, and the following week the best movies of all time that I like even though they have no meaning whatsoever.
1. Beauty and the Beast
Why I like it: This movie is one of the most beautiful fairy tales ever. And it’s quite personal to me, because it is essentially the story of my life – in parable form. For I was the Beast: A spoiled, ungrateful, selfish, terrible person. And this movie shows what it is that truly changes people like me. Because Someone, against all hope, started to love me anyway, and taught me that there is something worth living for in this dark and bitter world. And that’s what happened to the Beast in the movie.
Plus, this movie is funny and entertaining, has some of the best music ever, and is just a visual treat (even in today’s CGI world, it holds its own). And that’s not to mention the obviously Christian theme of it’s what’s on the inside of a person (or talking candlestick or dish or clock) that counts.
What I don’t like about it: It’s kinda dark and scary, so despite its status as a kids’ movie, I’d be careful about letting kids watch it. But mostly my main problem is with Lumiere’s (the candlestick’s) attitudes and behaviors towards the “women” in the show. He is depicted as a major force for good in the movie, and yet he obviously lusts after women, and this is never viewed as a bad thing. So let’s be clear: I rate this movie as #1 in spite of this quality that, to me, is deeply offensive. (I’d also note that it comprises about 30 seconds total of actual movie time).
2. The Sound of Music
Why I like it: As a rule, I don’t like romances or movies with a lot of kids singing; but this movie transcends those sorts of rules. Above all else, it inspires me to be a better husband. It is the picture of pure romance and love, set against a background of political intrigue. Would that Hollywood always produced movies like this! The music is fantastic, the theology is spot on, the acting is first rate. Despite having some explicitly Christian themes (or perhaps because of them?), this movie was – by far – the highest grossing movie of the 1960s (and still one of the highest ever). There were towns where the number of people who saw the movie was double the number of people who lived in the town!
What I don’t like about it: Absolutely nothing!
3. The Iron Giant
Why I like it: This is the best movie on earth that no one has heard about. [Note: If you haven’t seen it, don’t read any further – go rent it RIGHT NOW! I’m about to talk about the plot in a way that may give it away a bit]. It is a beautiful parable of human life. A giant robot falls to earth and gets a bump on his head that makes him forget who he is and what he was made for. A child befriends him, and the robot turns out to be kind and gentle and caring. Only everyone discovers that the robot, pre-bump-on-the-head, was actually made to be a killing machine. And the movie is mostly about the robot having to decide between his old self (the killing machine) and his new self (the one who befriended the little boy). The classic choose-your-destiny film: But I think the actual choice that we all, at some level, have to make, is accurately and beautifully portrayed.
What I don’t like about it: I honestly can’t think of anything. It has a couple of half-curse words, maybe. It’s also a little slow to get started and doesn’t have a ton of action, so if you are expecting an edge-of-your-seat thriller, you’ll be disappointed. But watch it anyway! I don’t like “slow” movies, either, but this one is worth it.
4. Finding Nemo.
Why I like it: Seriously, you don’t need me to tell you why I like this movie, do you? I like it for the same reasons everyone else does. I would add that it’s a kind of Christian parable of sorts to me, about a father who traverses the ocean to find his lost son. But even as a story of a clownfish father trying to find his clownfish son, it’s an inspiring tale of love and devotion.
What I don’t like about it: There is nothing not to like about this movie! Shame on you if you put anything in this box.
5. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Why I like it: The fairy tale world of Tolkien is one of the most engaging things humanity has ever produced, and this movie captures it better than I could have ever imagined. The whole idea of the Ring is a captivating parable for the nature of evil. I think this movie shows the essence of good and evil quite clearly, and captures the nature of the moral choices we all face between love versus power, courage versus cowardice, and hope versus despair. The ring is a great metaphor for me personally for the real temptations I face in my own life.
But for all that, it is Gandalf’s character – a kind of Christ-like figure – that is the most captivating thing about the movie. He is a wonderful picture of wild, untamable goodness. And my personal favorite scene is when Gandalf fights the Balrog to save his friends – very powerful.
What I don’t like about it: A little too much wanton violence. I understand it’s about wars and such, but do I really need to see so many orcs get decapitated on screen? Also, it is possible to read too much into the movie about a kind of national myth of goodness (that is, our nation is always good, and their nation is always evil). I think that’s dangerous, though I’d add I also don’t think it was the intent of the book – or the movie.
The Best of the Rest (In Order of Preference): 6. The Incredibles. 7. Anne of Green Gables (yes, I am unashamed to include this movie, fellows). 8. Evelyn. 9. Cars. 10. Sense and Sensibility. 11. Tangled. 12. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. 13. Shadowlands. 14. Somersby. 15. Leap of Faith. 16. Secretariat. 17. Treasure Planet. 18. MegaMind. 19. Anna and the King. 20. Mulan. 21. Iron Man. 22. Les Miserables. 23. X-Men. 24. Toy Story 3. 25. Kung Fu Panda. 26. Toy Story 2. 27. Kung Fu Panda II. 28. Horton Hears a Who. 29. How to Train Your Dragon. 30. Emma. 31. Monsters, Inc. 32. Astro Boy. 33. I Am Legend. 34. Tall Tale. 35. Conspiracy Theory. 36. Tarzan. 37. The Lion King. 38. The Battle for Terra. 39. Mars Needs Moms. 40. Emma. 41. The Ultimate Gift. 42. Batman Begins. 43. Fantastic Mr. Fox. 44. The Dark Knight.