10 Best Christian Movies, Ranked

Summary

  • These are some of the most notable religious movies that have been released over the years, each offering a unique perspective on faith and belief:
  • Ben-Hur by William Wyler told the story of a betrayed Jewish prince sent into slavery in 1st century Jerusalem
  • In The Last Temptation Of Christ, Martin Scorsese explored spiritual conflict through the story of Jesus.

Filmmaking and spirituality have gone together since the birth of cinema, and over the years, some truly awe-inspiring Christian movies have been released. From retellings of biblical stories to more modern narratives that were imbued with Christian ideology, films have long been a place where actors, directors, and writers have examined probing theological questions that got right to the heart of why faith and belief have been so instrumental in the lives of countless people. These releases acted as celebrations and investigations into theology, as the medium became a vessel for artists’ spiritual yearnings.

The greatest Christian movies ever released included some of the best movies of the silent era right up to recent releases by acclaimed auteur directors. While some were controversial for their excessive depictions of violence or for showcasing Jesus’s life in a way that audiences were not comfortable with, they all had something vital to say about the nature of belief among Christians and religious people. The best Christian movies ever made represented the essence of cinema’s enduring power to illuminate humanity’s need for meaning, purpose, and something to believe in.

10 The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Directed by Carl Th. Dreyer

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The Passion of Joan of Arc, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, is a silent historical drama depicting the trial of Joan of Arc, the 15th-century French heroine and saint. Renée Jeanne Falconetti stars in a critically acclaimed performance as Joan, portraying her emotional and spiritual journey. The film is noted for its innovative use of close-ups and minimalist set design, highlighting the intensity and poignancy of Joan’s final days.

Director Carl Theodor Dreyer Release Date April 21, 1928 Studio(s) Société générale des films Writers Carl Theodor Dreyer , Joseph Delteil Cast Maria Falconetti , Eugène Silvain , André Berley , Maurice Schutz , Antonin Artaud Runtime 82 Minutes Main Genre Drama Expand

The Passion of Joan of Arc was among the finest silent films ever produced, which tackled themes of faith and the unquestionable drive of those who believed they carried out the will of God. While not overtly biblical, this film by Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer explored Joan of Arc’s belief that she was on a mission from God to drive the English out of France. Based on the actual records of Joan’s trial, The Passion of Joan of Arc was a masterpiece of the silent era that has maintained its power almost a century after its release.

As one of the few films highlighted by the Vatican for its importance (via US Conference of Catholic Bishops,) The Passion of Joan of Arc was described by the Vatican’s film list as “the most convincing portrayal of spirituality on celluloid.” As a powerful representation of the inner struggle between human frailties and spiritual strength, Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s portrayal of Joan captured the deeply sacrificial nature of the Patron Saint of France’s story. More so than almost any other film, The Passion of Joan of Arc highlighted the enduring relevance of cinema’s silent era.

9 Ben-Hur (1959)

Directed by William Wyler

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Ben Hur is an epic historical drama directed by William Wyler, starring Charlton Heston in the titular role. Set during the time of Christ, the story follows Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who is betrayed and enslaved by his childhood friend. The film is renowned for its chariot race scene and earned eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Director William Wyler Release Date November 18, 1959 Studio(s) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Writers Karl Tunberg Cast Charlton Heston , Stephen Boyd , Hugh Griffith , Jack Hawkins , Haya Harareet Runtime 222 Minutes Budget 15000000.0 Main Genre History Expand

As a grand religious epic, Ben-Hur was among the most iconic religious films ever produced. It told the story of a betrayed Jewish prince sent into slavery in 1st century Jerusalem. As one of Charlton Heston’s best movies, Ben-Hur was an extraordinary story and a grand production full of epic battle sequences that utilized over 200 camels, 2,500 horses, and appropriately 10,000 extras, which made its chariot racing sequence among the most expensive scenes of all time.

Ben-Hur was an extraordinary success that became the second highest-grossing movie ever made at the time and took home a record 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Heston. Ben-Hur was notable for its portrayal of the earliest days of Christianity as it showcased Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and eventual crucifixion. As a perfect blend of incredible spectacle and religious resonance, Ben-Hur was a smash success.

8 The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

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The life of Jesus Christ, his journey through life as he faces the struggles all humans do, and his final temptation on the cross.

Director Martin Scorsese Release Date August 12, 1988 Writers Martin Scorsese , Paul Schrader Cast Willem Dafoe , Harvey Keitel , Barbara Hershey , Paul Greco , Steve Shill , Verna Bloom , Roberts Blossom , Barry Miller Runtime 164 Minutes Budget $7 million Main Genre Drama Expand

While themes of faith and belief had always been integral to the work of Martin Scorsese, they were never more prevalent than when he released The Last Temptation of Christ. As a highly ambitious and controversial project, the depiction of Willem Dafoe as Jesus of Nazareth engaging in sexual acts led to outrage from Christian groups, who described the film as blasphemous. However, The Last Temptation of Christ was intended as a fictional exploration of spiritual conflict rather than a faithful representation of the Gospels.

It’s easy to understand why some Christian viewers were outraged by The Last Temptation of Christ, as its depiction of the human side of Jesus’s struggles was unlike anything else previously shown on film. However, at its core, the message of The Last Temptation of Christ highlighted just how difficult Jesus’s sacrifice was for him and truly showcased the emotional turmoil it took for him to rid humanity of original sin. For viewers willing to feel uncomfortable, The Last Temptation of Christ was a heartfelt reflection on the complexities of faith and the realities of Jesus’s life story.

7 Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

Directed by Norman Jewison

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Film version of the musical stage play, presenting the last few weeks of Christ’s life told in an anachronistic manner.

Director Norman Jewison Release Date August 15, 1973 Distributor(s) Universal Pictures Writers Melvyn Bragg , Norman Jewison Cast Ted Neeley , Carl Anderson , Yvonne Elliman , Barry Dennen Runtime 106 Minutes Budget $3.5 Million Main Genre Musical Expand

Jesus Christ Superstar was a unique retelling of the conflict between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ, presented as a rock opera musical complete with creative songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Originally a concept album and then a popular stage show, this 1973 adaptation explored the emotions and motivations during the week of the crucifixion of Jesus. With Ted Neeley in the title role and Carl Anderson as Judas, Jesus Christ Superstar was a fresh way to explore faith on film.

However, not everyone was impressed by this musical version of the Gospel’s stories, as some religious groups spoke out against the film and said its non-inclusion of Jesus’s resurrection made it a work of blasphemy. Despite this, Pope Paul VI reportedly loved the film and told the director of his belief that it would “bring more people around the world to Christianity” (via Cleveland Plain Dealer.) Jesus Christ Superstar has endured for more than 50 years as a work that continues to captivate and provoke viewers with the power of its incredible music.

6 First Reformed (2017)

Directed by Paul Schrader

Ethan Hawke as Father Toller looking serious in First Reformed

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A minister of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.

Director Paul Schrader Release Date May 18, 2018 Writers Paul Schrader Cast Ethan Hawke , Amanda Seyfried , Cedric the Entertainer , Victoria Hill , Philip Ettinger , Michael Gaston , Bill Hoag , Kristin Villanueva Runtime 113 Minutes Main Genre Drama Expand

The work of director Paul Schrader has never shied away from the darker sides of faith and belief, and perhaps his most spiritual directed work was the Ethan Hawke movie First Reformed. This psychological thriller explored a minister in a small upstate New York congregation grappling with despair, tragedy, a world in chaos, and a tormented past. As Reverend Ernst Toller sought solace through the comfort of his faith and religion, he found it increasingly difficult to overcome his personal crisis.

First Reformed was a work of deep religious searching that highlighted spiritual themes with the level of depth and seriousness these ideas deserved. Hawke delivered one of his very best performances as existential woe pervaded every scene. As Reverend Toller quoted the work of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton throughout First Reformed, he channeled the deep spiritual longing of those looking to find meaning in a world full of pain and, in the process, showcased why the faithful can gain contentment through Christianity even in the most trying of times.

5 The Prince Of Egypt (1998)

Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, & Simon Wells

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Egyptian Prince Moses learns of his identity as a Hebrew and his destiny to become the chosen deliverer of his people.

Director Brenda Chapman , Steve Hickner , Simon Wells Release Date December 18, 1998 Studio(s) DreamWorks Pictures , DreamWorks Animation Distributor(s) DreamWorks Pictures Writers Philip LaZebnik , Nicholas Meyer Cast Val Kilmer , Ralph Fiennes , Michelle Pfeiffer , Sandra Bullock , Jeff Goldblum , Danny Glover , Patrick Stewart , Helen Mirren , Steve Martin , Martin Short Runtime 99 Minutes Budget $70 Million Main Genre Adventure Expand

The highly ambitious Dreamworks animated film The Prince of Egypt adapted the Old Testament’s Book of Exodus to tell the story of Moses’ life from being the prince of Egypt to one of God’s chosen prophets. With a style that could appeal to kids and deeply impressive animation, music, and voice work, the film grossed $218 million worldwide and became the most successful non-Disney animated movie ever (via Box Office Mojo.) By retelling Moses’ story in a way that could be enjoyed by all audiences, The Prince of Egypt stood out as among the best movies in Dreamswork’s entire catalog.

The Prince of Egypt has continued to receive praise in the years since its release and was described by Syfy as the greatest animated movie of all time in a retrospective review for its 20th anniversary. From its portrayal of Moses speaking with God’s voice through the burning bush to incredible songs like “When You Believe,” The Prince of Egypt succeeded in presenting its biblical tale through animation. Full of symbolism and rife with means, Dreamworks knocked it out of the park with The Prince of Egypt.

4 The Ten Commandments (1956)

Directed by Cecil B. DeMille

Charlton Heston as Moses holding the ten commandments in The Ten Commandments

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Moses, raised as a prince of Egypt in the Pharaoh’s household, learns of his true heritage as a Hebrew and his divine mission as the deliverer of his people from slavery.

Director Cecil B. DeMille Release Date October 5, 1956 Writers Jeanie Macpherson , Dorothy Clarke Wilson , A.E. Southon , Æneas MacKenzie , Jesse Lasky Jr. , Jack Gariss Cast Charlton Heston , Yul Brynner , Anne Baxter , Edward G. Robinson , Yvonne De Carlo , Debra Paget Runtime 136 minutes Main Genre Adventure Expand

The Ten Commandments was an extraordinary retelling of the biblical life of Moses as he led the Exodus to Mount Sinai and received God’s holy message. With Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as the Egyptian Pharoah Rameses, this big-budget religious epic featured one of the largest exterior sets ever created for a film (via Life), and its grand scope pushed the boundaries of contemporary cinema. At the time of its release, The Ten Commandments was the most expensive film ever made and acted as the culmination of the life’s work of director Cecil B. DeMille.

Through groundbreaking special effects rendered in impressive Technicolor, The Ten Commandments looked spectacular as it told its religious tale. With a powerful story that walked the fine line between enthralling entertainment and religious resonance, Heston excelled in his role as he portrayed both human and mythical dimensions of Moses’ character. From the parting of the Red Sea to God speaking through the burning bush, The Ten Commandments was a cinematic marvel to behold.

3 The Gospel According To St. Matthew (1964)

Pier Paolo Pasolini

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

From the Nativity to the Resurrection, The Gospel According to St. Matthew depicted the life of Jesus Christ with a level of poetic artistry never previously seen on screen. From Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, this was an effective rendition of Jesus’ story based on the Gospel of Matthew, which Pasolini said he chose because “John was too mystical, Mark too vulgar, and Luke too sentimental” (via IFI.) Through the neorealist tradition, The Gospel According to St. Matthew featured non-professional actors and felt all the more real because of it.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew was praised by Christian groups, and the legendary Russian director even spoke about his admiration for the film (via Nostalghia.) With dialogue taken directly from the Gospel, Pasolini’s imagery helped bring this religious story to life in a way that highlighted the profound religious potential of filmmaking. While so many religious epics utilized grand set pieces to highlight the impact of their stories, The Gospel According to St. Matthew let its words and imagery speak for themselves as a simple yet profound meditation on the life of Jesus.

2 The Passion Of The Christ (2004)

Directed by Mel Gibson

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Directed by Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ is a biblical drama that follows Jesus Christ in his final 12 hours before and during the crucifixion. Starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus of Nazareth, the 2004 film was highly controversial for its graphic violence, but it was a box office success.

Director Mel Gibson Release Date March 15, 2004 Studio(s) 20th Century Distributor(s) 20th Century , Warner Bros. Pictures Writers Mel Gibson Cast Jim Caviezel , Monica Bellucci , Maia Morgenstern Runtime 127minutes Budget $30million Expand

The Passion of the Christ was an intense and controversial depiction of the final 12 hours of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. From director Mel Gibson and with Jim Caviezel in the titular role, the brutality with which Jesus’s crucifixion and death were shown led the film to be rated R due to its extreme violence and emotionally draining content. However, the brutal nature was praised by some Christian groups for showcasing the heartbreaking reality of Jesus’s sacrifice in a way most viewers had never encountered before.

Although The Passion of the Christ received criticism for historical and biblical accuracy, allegations of antisemitism, and excessive violence, the film also stood as the highest-grossing Christian film of all time. With a worldwide gross of $611 million (via Box Office Mojo,) viewers turned out in droves to witness this challenging film. After many years of speculation surrounding the possibility of a sequel focused on the resurrection, Gibson confirmed that a follow-up titled The Passion of the Christ: Resurrection was in the works.

1 Silence (2016)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

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Silence is a historical drama movie based on Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and tells the story of two seventeenth-century missionaries who travel to Japan to track down their missing mentor. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play the leads, with Liam Neeson starring as Jesuit missionary Cristóvão Ferreira.

Director Martin Scorsese Release Date December 23, 2016 Studio(s) StudioCanal Distributor(s) Paramount Pictures Writers Jay Cocks Cast Adam Driver , Yasushi Takada , Liam Neeson , Andrew Garfield , Yôsuke Kubozuka , Yoshi Oida , Tadanobu Asano , Shin’ya Tsukamoto , Issei Ogata , Ciarán Hinds Runtime 161minutes Budget $40–50 million Expand

With a filmography full of deep ruminations on the nature of faith, director Martin Scorsese truly outdid himself with the release of Silence. Based on the novel by Shūsaku Endō, Silence told the story of 17th-century Jesuit priests spreading Catholic Christianity in Edo period Japan. As a long-time passion project for Scorsese that was 25 years in the making, Silence was a far cry from the gangster movies he became known for as it grappled with themes of faith, doubt, and God’s willingness to allow for a world full of suffering.

Although Silence bombed at the box office, it was an artistic success for Scorsese and stood as one of the most interesting films in the latter part of his career. With incredible performances from Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson, this was an insightful look at spirituality, humanity, and the profound influence of Catholicism across the globe. It remains to be seen if Scorsese’s upcoming Jesus movie can live up to these lofty standards, but if Silence was anything to go by it will surely be a triumph.

Sources: Cleveland Plain Dealer, Box Office Mojo (The Prince of Egypt), Syfy, Life, IFI, Nostalghia, Box Office Mojo (The Passion of the Christ)

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