RELIGION IN FILM – A LIST OF FILMSby BabyJoe666 | created - 20 Nov 2013 | updated - 20 Nov 2013 | Public
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1. Andrei Rublev (1966)
R | 205 min | Biography, Drama, History
The life, times and afflictions of the fifteenth-century Russian iconographer St. Andrei Rublev.
Votes: 46,720 | Gross: $0.10M
This challenging film tracks a Russian Orthodox iconographer through the turbulent history of Russia, suggesting some complicated things about religion and history along the way. It is a virtual treasury of thoughts on iconography, politics, and religion.
2. The Apostle (1997)
PG-13 | 134 min | Drama
After his happy life spins out of control, a preacher from Texas changes his name, goes to Louisiana and starts preaching on the radio.
Votes: 13,426 | Gross: $20.73M
A frighteningly realistic portrayal of Pentecostal preaching and fellowship that embraces its ambiguous Southern Gothic take on fundamentalist Christianity.
3. Babette's Feast (1987)
G | 103 min | Drama
During the late 19th century, a strict religious community in a Danish village takes in a French refugee from the Franco-Prussian War as a servant to the late pastor's daughters.
Votes: 18,162 | Gross: $4.40M
This acclaimed meditation on grace is an entrancing look at Lutheran piety, grace, and the sacrament of generosity.
4. Black Narcissus (1947)
Not Rated | 101 min | Drama
A group of nuns struggle to establish a convent in the Himalayas, while isolation, extreme weather, altitude, and culture clashes all conspire to drive the well-intentioned missionaries mad.
This film was way ahead of its time. Its psychological probing of a missional convent of Anglican nuns in the Himalayas captures in one technicolor stretch a shelf full of books on colonialism and religion.
5. Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)
PG | 121 min | Biography, Drama, History
Dramatization of events in the life of St. Francis of Assisi from before his conversion experience through his audience with the pope, including his friendship with St. Clare.
This tricky biography of St. Francis of Assisi makes reference to American countercultural movements in the 1960s. The ideas it composes about how religion and social movements interact make for compelling conversation.
6. The Burmese Harp (1956)
Not Rated | 116 min | Drama, Music, War
In the War's closing days, when a conscience-driven Japanese soldier fails to get his countrymen to surrender to overwhelming force, he adopts the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk.
This story about the unexpected conversion of a Japanese soldier at the end of WW II to monastic Buddhism is as wonderfully composed as it is enlightening. It is a fine film about trauma, death, and the way religion offers ritual structures for hope and healing.
7. The Chosen (1981)
PG | 108 min | Drama
In 1944, in Brooklyn, two Jewish kids become friends. One is from a very conservative family, and the other is more liberal. The issues of importance of tradition, parental expectations and the formation of Israel cause constant friction.
This is one of the finest depictions of the nuances of Conservative and Orthodox Judaism during a time when Zionism threatened to redefine both. Its gentle evocation of Hasidism and Talmudic thinking in mid-century Brooklyn is timeless.
8. Close-Up (1990)
Not Rated | 98 min | Biography, Crime, Drama
Votes: 15,912 | Gross: $0.00M
This memorable glimpse of Islamic judicial practice in Iran is one of the great ethnographic documents produced by the Iranian New Wave. Its reflections on mercy and justice as navigated by this Iranian court of law provide an uncommon glimpse into the rationale of certain Muslim social polities.
9. The Cup (1999)
G | 93 min | Comedy, Sport
While the soccer World Cup is being played in France, two young Tibetan refugees arrive at a monastery/boarding school in exile in India. Its atmosphere of serene contemplation is somewhat ... See full summary »
Votes: 2,842 | Gross: $1.07M
A charming look at Tibetan Buddhism and globalism that refers in detail to the particulars of Buddhist monasticism and their relevance to a media saturated world.
10. The Goddess (1960)
93 min | Drama
A young woman is deemed a goddess when her father-in-law, a rich feudal land-lord, has a dream envisioning her as an avatar of Kali.
Votes: 1,867 | Gross: $0.09M
Ray’s acrobatic riff on Kali mythology and worship in Hinduism caused a bit of a stir, but to this day remains a classic study of the way we appropriate mythical narratives.
11. Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
Not Rated | 95 min | Drama
A young priest taking over the parish at Ambricourt tries to fulfill his duties even as he fights a mysterious stomach ailment.
It is hard to pick just one Bresson film for such a list, but this look at asceticism, Catholic doctrine, and liturgy is an essential document of Christian piety.
12. Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1993)
Not Rated | 52 min | Documentary
A documentary film about Haitian vodou.
So, here is the one quasi-documentary exception to the list. But the contribution of Maya Deren to ethnographic cinema on religion can’t be overlooked. This is also a seminal look at religious ritual in Haiti.
13. Exiles (2004)
Unrated | 104 min | Adventure, Drama, Music
Two French lovers, Zano and Naima, decided to travel to the land of their parents: Algeria. Their road trip gradually becomes a spiritual quest.
This film tracks the cultural and spiritual journey of two second generation French immigrants to Algeria. It ends with an explosion of Algerian Muslim ritual and custom that causes us to think about the role of religion in the increasingly diverse EU.
14. The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)
Not Rated | 85 min | Biography, Drama, History
A series of vignettes depicting the lives of the original Franciscan monks, including their leader and the bumbling Ginepro.
There are a few films like the grand documentary Into Great Silence that manage to translate the simplicity of Catholic monastic piety to the screen. This episodic masterpiece fits the bill.
15. Four Days in July (1984 TV Movie)
96 min | Drama
A Catholic and a Protestant couple in Northern Ireland have amazing parallels in their lives, despite being either side of the divide.
One of the great theological legacies of the Troubles in cinema is the conversation Bobby Sands has with his Priest in Hunger. But Leigh’s film tracks the differences between Protestant and Catholic life in Northern Ireland with his characteristic offhand precision.
16. Gandhi (1982)
PG | 191 min | Biography, Drama, History
The life of the lawyer who became the famed leader of the Indian revolts against the British rule through his philosophy of nonviolent protest.
Votes: 217,419 | Gross: $52.77M
There aren’t many bearable biopics of religious figures out there, but scattered about this compelling look at Gandhi’s life are rabbit trails on religion and state issues, Hindu/Islam relations, and the way religion and class co-exist.
17. The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)
Not Rated | 137 min | Biography, Drama, History
The life of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of Matthew. Pasolini shows Christ as a Marxist avant-la-lettre and therefore uses half of the text of Matthew.
It would be easy to pack this list with Jesus films, but this is among the most engaging interpretations of Jesus’ life and ministry.
18. Himalaya (1999)
108 min | Drama
An aging chief's last stand, lessons for the new, and the education of a young chief-to-be played against harsh Nature in Nepal's Dolpo. When his son dies returning from Tibet's salt lakes,... See full summary »
Votes: 5,045 | Gross: $2.48M
Tibetan Lamaism. Sky burial rites. This nicely composed film shot with non-professional Tibetans works well as a glimpse of traditional Tibetan religious practice.
19. The Joy Luck Club (1993)
R | 139 min | Drama
The life histories of four Asian women and their daughters reflect and guide each other.
Votes: 15,244 | Gross: $32.86M
This film ranges widely across immigrant narratives, forgotten rituals, and engaging historical vignettes. It is an effective meditation on the way religious identities are diffused across generations.
20. Kadosh (1999)
Not Rated | 110 min | Drama
Two sisters become victims of the patriarchal, ultra-orthodox society.
Votes: 1,702 | Gross: $0.74M
This film offers a challenging glimpse into the structure of ultra-orthodox Jewish culture. Its commentary on gender, sectarianism, and what some refer to as Haredic Judaism makes The Chosen look sanguine.
21. Kundun (1997)
PG-13 | 134 min | Biography, Drama, History
From childhood to adulthood, Tibet's fourteenth Dalai Lama deals with Chinese oppression and other problems.
Votes: 26,290 | Gross: $5.53M
This film may be bit affected by what Donald Richie came to call “orientalism,” but it is the most even handed and eloquent of the Dalai Lama biopics regardless.
22. Lilies of the Field (1963)
Unrated | 94 min | Drama
A travelling handyman becomes the answer to the prayers of nuns who wish to build a chapel in the desert.
This unexpectedly nuanced interplay between boot-strapping Baptist Protestantism and German nun Catholicism is a vivid document of religion, race, and society in America.
23. The Mahabharata (1989–1990)
Not Rated | 318 min | Drama, War
Jealousy and hatred is what separates the Pandavas and Kauravas. The Kauravas fear the Pandavas are after the throne of their father. Yudhishthira of the Pandavas gets told by the deity, Krishna, that he will become king. A war is inevitable.
Votes: 1,063 | Gross: $0.33M
This lengthy presentation of a central sacred texts digs deep into the mythology and cosmology of Hinduism.
24. Malcolm X (1992)
PG-13 | 202 min | Biography, Drama, History
Biographical epic of the controversial and influential Black Nationalist leader, from his early life and career as a small-time gangster, to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam.
Votes: 85,522 | Gross: $48.17M
A controversial film, to be sure, but it is also a good introduction to the Nation of Islam and its relationship to Islam in general.
25. Mary (I) (2005)
Not Rated | 83 min | Drama, Thriller
The Virgin Mary delivers a message to an 11-year-old girl.
This film is a great introduction to non-canonical Christian gospel texts, and the increasing influence early Gnostic thought has had on Western spirituality. Its meditation on the lingering impact of the Historical Jesus is unparalleled in world cinema.
26. Monsieur Ibrahim (2003)
R | 95 min | Comedy, Drama
In Paris, a Turkish shop owner befriends a Jewish boy in his mid-teens.
Votes: 10,770 | Gross: $2.82M
An aging Muslim Turk takes an abandoned Jewish boy under his wing in an immigrant-class Paris arrondissement. Their compelling journey across the EU is peppered with little comparative religious nuggets.
27. Moolaadé (2004)
Unrated | 124 min | Drama
When a woman shelters a group of girls from suffering female genital mutilation, she starts a conflict that tears her village apart.
Votes: 3,570 | Gross: $0.21M
This acclaimed look at the rite of female circumcision in Burkina Faso as a purity ritual is both timely and articulate.
28. Nazarin (1959)
Not Rated | 94 min | Drama
A priest in a poor community lives a charitable life in accordance with his religious principles, but many others do not return the favor.
Is charity a legitimate spiritual discipline? Nazarin is one of several films in which we find Bunuel interrogating some of the fundamentals of Catholic piety. It is an excellent introduction to theological analyses of institutional Christianity that even just now have become part of academic discourse.
29. Osama (2003)
PG-13 | 83 min | Drama
After the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the restriction of women in public life, a pre-teen girl is forced to masquerade as a boy in order to find work to support her mother and grandmother.
Votes: 8,631 | Gross: $1.13M
Rifling through issues related to gender and religion and just war theory, Osama is one of few films that have been able to film Taliban-era Afghanistan on location. Its casual references to many local rituals and rites of passage compliment the film’s sympathetic appeal to realism.
30. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
R | 127 min | Drama
Depicts the final twelve hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, on the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem.
Votes: 214,777 | Gross: $370.78M
This controversial film is in its very essence a religious document. It is hard to find a better contemporary access point to discussions about the sacramental nature of Catholic art and piety.
31. Peter and Paul (1981 TV Movie)
198 min | Biography, Drama, History
Peter the Fisherman and Paul of Tarsus assume leadership of the Church as they struggle against violent opposition to the teachings of Jesus Christ and their own personal conflicts.
This account of the apostles Peter and Paul in the wake of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension is a largely accurate depiction of key moments in early Christianity.
32. Princess Mononoke (1997)
PG-13 | 134 min | Animation, Action, Adventure
On a journey to find the cure for a Tatarigami's curse, Ashitaka finds himself in the middle of a war between the forest gods and Tatara, a mining colony. In this quest he also meets San, the Mononoke Hime.
Votes: 341,981 | Gross: $2.38M
Spirited Away would work just as well here as a moving depiction of Kami and the Shinto worldview. There are few films that celebrate and respond to nature with the vividness of Shinto dualist reasoning as those of Miyazaki.
33. A Serious Man (2009)
R | 106 min | Comedy, Drama
Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern physics teacher, watches his life unravel over multiple sudden incidents. Though seeking meaning and answers amidst his turmoils, he seems to keep sinking.
Votes: 133,707 | Gross: $9.19M
This period film about mid-western, mid-century Judaism deftly navigates Jewish language, literature, and myth. It is further confounded by the mysterium tremendum of hierophany.
34. The Seventh Seal (1957)
Not Rated | 96 min | Drama, Fantasy, History
A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague.
Though this film tends toward that class of films that aren’t quite as helpful in the religious studies classroom because they are a bit too general, it is representative of Bergman’s post-Lutheran take on theodicy, hierophany, and the boundaries of Christian art and language.
35. Silent Light (2007)
Not Rated | 136 min | Drama, Romance
In a Mennonite community in Mexico, a father's faith is tested when he falls in love with a new woman.
Votes: 6,047 | Gross: $0.05M
This film tracks a crisis of faith in an obscure Russian Mennonite community in Mexico. While a seamlessly biblical meditation on sin, desire, and tragedy, it is filled with the ritual details of this sect’s daily routine.
36. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003)
R | 103 min | Drama, Romance
A boy is raised by a Buddhist monk in an isolated floating temple where the years pass like the seasons.
Votes: 77,356 | Gross: $2.38M
This South Korean film about a Buddhist monk and his protégé cycles provocatively through life, sacred space, and the essence of Zen Buddhist thought.
37. The Sun (2005)
Not Rated | 110 min | Drama, History
Third part in Aleksandr Sokurov's quadrilogy of Power, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001), focuses on Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Japan's defeat in World War II when he is finally confronted by General Douglas MacArthur who offers him to accept a diplomatic defeat for survival.
Votes: 2,632 | Gross: $0.08M
This biopic of Hirohito before the surrender of Japan to American forces in WW II is rife with rare glimpses into Shinto naturalism and the waning logic of emperor worship.
38. Taste of Cherry (1997)
Not Rated | 95 min | Drama
An Iranian man drives his truck in search of someone who will quietly bury him under a cherry tree after he commits suicide.
Votes: 23,369 | Gross: $0.31M
A man driving a taxi through Tehran argues with Kurdish, Afghani, and Persian passengers about whether he should commit suicide or not. In the meantime, we become privy to the nuances of modern Islamic thinking about life and death.
39. Walkabout (1971)
GP | 100 min | Adventure, Drama
Two city-bred siblings are stranded in the Australian Outback, where they learn to survive with the aid of an Aboriginal boy on his "walkabout": a ritual separation from his tribe.
Votes: 22,880 | Gross: $0.02M
At first glimpse, this is not necessarily a film about religion. But it is actually intensely and academically religious in the way it juxtaposes various rites of Western and Aboriginal passage.
40. Where Is the Friend's House? (1987)
Not Rated | 83 min | Drama, Family
An 8 year old boy must return his friend's notebook he took by mistake, lest his friend be punished by expulsion from school.
This is one in a series of several Kiarostami films that show us some of the basic religious beliefs of rural Iran in guileless vignettes of duty and kindness.
41. Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? (1989)
Not Rated | 137 min | Drama
About three monks in a remote monastery; an aging master, a small orphan and a young man who left his city life to seek Enlightenment.
This Korean Buddhist film follows the lives of three Buddhist monks at different stages of their life. After passing through points of Seon Buddhist theology and ritual, it closes with a package of visual koans.
42. Brightness (1987)
Not Rated | 105 min | Drama, Fantasy
A young man with magical powers journeys to his uncle to request help in fighting his sorcerer father.
This classic look at native Malian myth and legend is challenging and obscure, but is a wonderful exercise in the true rigors of myth.
43. Yellow Earth (1984)
TV-PG | 89 min | Drama, History, Music
'Yellow Earth' focuses on the story of a communist soldier who is sent to the countryside to collect folk songs for the Communist Revolution. There he stays with a peasant family and learns... See full summary »
It is hard to track down Chinese cinema that deals specifically with religion and ritual, but this story about a communist soldier scouring rural China for morale boosting folk songs turns towards nature and the sacred.