"50 Best Catholic films of all time"

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William Park (InsideCatholic.com) lists, in his judgement, “the fifty best Catholic movies of all time”.

Some readers, myself included, were very surprised by the absence of The Mission. A magnificent cast (including Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons and Liam Neeson); a play by Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons) — it has, in my estimation, one of the most powerful illustrations of penance and forgiveness in cinema.

The Mission deservedly won seven Academy Awards, and made the top 15 films under ‘Religion’ selected by the Vatican, commemorating 100 years of cinema.

So why didn’t it make the list? — the author doesn’t offer much of an explanation, save that “Bolt’s screenplay for The Mission looks at the Church from the point of view of Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor.” Steven D. Greydanus, however, explores the complexities and ambiguities of The Mission for DecentFilms.com.

Question for our readers: do you agree with the list? — Do you agree with Warren’s list? Any notable omissions? What would you have selected?

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  1. Many of the films on the list, while excellent, don’t really seem to fit into the “Catholic film” category.

    In terms of films that aren’t on the list that do have more of a Catholic focus, I would add Catholics (duh!), The Third Miracle, and Return to Me.

  2. To be honest, it seems like a really weird list to me. A lot of the movies on there are at best made by Catholics or deal with themes that Catholics may find compelling, but it seems like a strange list when it comes to “Catholic films”. Even some of the ones on there I really like (Blue, for example) I’d be hesitant to put down as being “Catholic films”.

    If I were to go adding films, I would consider in addition to The Mission:

    The Godfather (the original movie being pretty clearly laid out as a story of damnation set against a Catholic background)

    The Addiction & The Funeral (these two indie flicks have their problems, including convoluted plot and massive amounts of “content”, but both have very interesting explicitly Catholic themes layered in as well.)

    And while it’s not a movie, how about the magnificently done BBC adaptation of Brideshead Revisited from 1980?

  3. I suppose a lot of it depends upon what they mean by “Catholic” film. I think the definition was predicated upon a film dealing with Catholic themes (salvation, sin, redemption, divine love, etc.) in a Catholic way – bringing out the Catholic view of these things. Movies that would support Catholic doctrine, although not necessarily mentioning it expressly. Surprised no LOTR mentioned. Regardless of the director’s/writers’/actors’ own subjective understanding of what they wanted the film to get across, by maintaining at least a significant adherence to Tolkien’s work, many of the Catholic themes are present.

    Another film many might find odd for this category, although I think it does an amazing job of exploring themes of sin, penance, salvation, purgatory and redemption (with some objectionable scenes) is High Plains Drifter.

    Can’t comment on The Mission since I have not seen it (will have to do that sometime).

  4. Notable omissions:
    The Passion of the Christ
    The Robe
    King of Kings (very Catholic portrayal of Mary)
    The Mission
    Black Robe
    Jesus of Nazareth

  5. The BBC production of Brideshead has to be in the top 10, if not the top 5.

    And the Passion of the Christ, after I paid attention to this, was teeming with “Catholic imagination.” Gibson’s problems aside, the film really comes across as a deeply spiritual enterprise.

  6. I happen to second DarwinCatholic’s sentiments; to me, the list strikes me as more secular than it is “Catholic”, with perhaps a very few exceptions.

  7. Just to avoid any potential confusion the ‘John Henry’ above is not me. While I agree that the linked review is well done, I am not informed enough to comment on the state of liberation theology in South America.

  8. One reason why many films did not get put on the list is that it was an old list, made over 15 years ago. Also, Park defined what he meant by Catholic, and that also should be kept in mind –“The best religious films, and therefore the best Catholic films, convey the great truths of Christianity implicitly rather than explicitly, not unlike the mystery of incarnation itself, in which the Word became flesh in the person of an obscure carpenter from a hick town in a minor province. In addition, this list consists primarily of films that deal with Catholic characters, Catholic society, and the Bible in ways that are not hostile to the Church.”

    Now, would I have a different list? Certainly. I agree with The Mission as being one. I also agree with the Lord of the Rings (I will put it as one, because it is one long epic). But I would also add movies like “Grave of the Fireflies” (based upon his explanation) and “The Matrix,” despite its flaws.

  9. …I am not informed enough to comment…

    You don’t have to be informed to make comments on the Internet. In fact, it seems informed comments are usually disregarded in favor of those that are fallacious, condescending, insulting, or emotionally provocative. Nevertheless, I find your approach more appealing.

  10. “In fact, it seems informed comments are usually disregarded…”

    If by “informed” you mean those of the Pro-aborts who claim that their opinions are remarkably corroborated by a whole corpus of substantial data and other such compelling evidence for their particular views; then, clearly, it is better to yield to the inferior & even ignorant.

  11. Actually, Matrix had more to do with Putnam’s “Brain in a Vat” than it did either directly or indirectly with Christianity; of course, what do I know?

    I’m not a well-informed Pro-abort.

  12. Ummm, e., are you for some reason under the impression that I am a pro-abort or running interference for their abominable positions like some Catholics do? If so, you’re terribly mistaken.

  13. The best religious films, and therefore the best Catholic films, convey the great truths of Christianity implicitly rather than explicitly, not unlike the mystery of incarnation itself, in which the Word became flesh in the person of an obscure carpenter from a hick town in a minor province.

    I’m highly sympathetic to that kind of approach to what’s a Catholic film or novel, but at the same time, it strikes me as a fairly fuzzy and personal definition. Being Catholic, I think that Catholicism describes how the world is. Generally, good art is true as well, describing the world in the way it is through a fictional medium. (Some exceptions here, I suppose. I think Apocalypse Now is an incredibly good film, despite bearing little resemblance at all to the real world.) But does that mean every movie I think provides a deep reflection of reality is therefore Catholic?

    At a certain level, perhaps, since there is just one reality. But going by that kind of definition makes it very hard to come together on a film list — especially since often one person will see a film as strongly evoking some truth despite other contradictory elements, while another person will only see the problems.

  14. e., implying that Rick Lugari is a pro-abort would be as odd as someone implying that I am an Obama supporter. They don’t come more pro-life than Rick.

    As to the list of films it strikes me as more catholic than Catholic. Half the films on there have not even a tenuous connection with the Faith. Further suggestions for additions to a list of Catholic Films: The Scarlet and the Black, the Agony and the Ecstacy, the Prisoner with Alec Guinness in a Cardinal Mindszenty like role, and I Confess.

  15. I’m perplexed as to how he came to that conclusion about The Mission, too. The film is far too complex for that reading, even for an amateur like me.

    Agreed as to “Return To Me”–very underrated, old school romantic comedy and a love note to Catholic Chicago. I’m happy to say I saw it in the theatre, too.

    My adds: Barabbas, and the surprising omission: Jesus of Nazareth. I know the latter isn’t a complete success, but the best parts are brilliant and at worst it’s slow and dry.

  16. One of my personal favorite “Catholic” movies, in the sense that it portrays Catholic faith and devotion as a normal part of everyday life rather than as a surefire indicator of fanaticism or mental illness, is “The Rookie” with Dennis Quaid. The main character is encouraged to pray to St. Rita — who like St. Jude is regarded as a patron saint of hopeless causes — for the success of his impossible dream of pitching in the major leagues at his “advanced” age (late 30s).

    I also can’t believe that “The Mission” was left off the list; it was a really magnificient movie.

    One of the commenters on the original list disses “Song of Bernadette” — and I happen to agree with him about Jennifer Jones’ voice — but there is a part of the plot that made a lifelong impression on me. (I used to watch this at least once a year on WGN’s “Family Classics” Sunday afternoon movie show.)

    When Bernadette enters the convent, she encounters an extremely strict Mother Superior who boasts of all the penances she performs and openly wonders why the Virgin Mary didn’t choose to appear to her instead. She also insists that Bernadette receive no “special” treatment, and when Bernadette shows signs of illness, suspects her of pretending to be sick to get attention. However, when the doctor informs her that Bernadette is dying and that the pain of her illness — which Bernadette had never once complained about — is too horrible to describe, the Mother Superior is overwhelmed with contrition, rushes to the chapel and begs God’s forgiveness.

    To me, that storyline sums up the difference between practicing self-imposed penance in a prideful or Pharasaical sort of way (NOT to imply that all self-imposed penance is done this way, just that it CAN be) and embracing involuntary penance in a spirit of humility and submission to God’s will.

    Of course, BOTH forms of penance and devotion should be a part of our lives and complement one another. But what I took away from that movie is that being patient with others and one’s own limitations is of greater value in the eyes of God than, say, how often you fast or how late you stay up every night praying.

  17. Dale Price:

    Thank-you, dear Sir!

    Any list which would include such films in the category of “Barrabas” and “Jesus of Nazerth” would indeed be within the realm of “Catholic”.

    I would add to that same list, if it were even more comprehensive and not limited to simply movies, such series like “A.D.”, which was amazingly Catholic (at least, in its more complete version which featured St. Paul unambiguously preaching about the Eucharist and not some symbolic Protestant manifestation thereof).

  18. Although the production qualities of “AD” were not the greatest (not bad, but not what could be done with a bigger budget), I was pleasantly surprised by the very Catholic approach taken in many of the scenes. In particular, the strong leadership role portrayed in St. Peter.

  19. c matt:

    I’d have to agree with you concerning A.D.’s seemingly subpar production qualities; but, more importantly — yes! — the Peter as magnificently portrayed in the series simply seemed to scream, for me, “Catholic”.

    What’s more interesting is the fact that A.D. came from the very same who brought us “Jesus of Nazareth”.

    They don’t make mini-series like these anymore, unfortunately. Gone are the days when they made the likes of “A.D.” and “Peter & Paul”; now, it’s purely more of the Dirty Housewives & American Idol variety.

  20. If CASABLANCA (1942) made the list I think SHANE shoud be on there too. After all, Shane really straightened out the evil in the end!!!

  21. Shane, now there was a magnificent film! My father’s favorite Western. Alan Ladd and Jack Palance made wonderful archetypes for Western good and evil.

  22. Boy, it’s been a while…

    It seems like when my Dad sat me down to educate me in the The Western, the first one he showed me was Shane, followed by The Searchers. To be honest, I don’t remember either one all that well at this point. I should re-watch it.

    Currently I’d put my favorite western as The Big Country, though that’s a non-standard one in many ways.

  23. While I admit Shane was a great movie (at least, when I first saw it as a kid), if you will actually admit it into such a catalog, might as well allow entrance of such films as A Fistful of Dollars or even The Good, The Bad & The Ugly; if anything could ever merely touch on elements purportedly “Catholic”, it is these.

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