Our list of 10 Classic Movies that all Catholics should see:
There are a lot of good movies out there, with high production quality and deep messages, though perhaps not as many as we would like.
Once in a while, a film will come along that manages to introduce us to key aspects of faith, allowing us to glimpse timeless truths through the language of cinema. These movies become windows to the essentials; they give color, sound and voice to that which is invisible to the eye, yet is fundamental to understanding the Christian life.
1. Babette’s Feast (1987):
Babette’s Feast is a Danish drama (and is one of Pope Francis’s favorites!). The story –which takes place in a remote coastal village– seems simple but it holds deep analogies to Christianity. It is a great virtue of this film that it shows us, with subtle beauty, that which operates underneath the surface is something much deeper, and, in the end, is nothing else but the Grace of God that transforms and opens hearts to Him. Simple, sensible human experiences, like a dinner party, remind and reawaken people who’ve grown weary, that life is beautiful. In Babette’s Feast, an authentic feast of joy, each guest will discover a deeper sense of life, full of beauty and truth.
2. The Mission (1986):
A great film whose revolves around a Jesuit mission in Paraguay, this story tells a profound message of forgiveness and reconciliation, as well as painting a vivid picture of the work of missionaries in 18th Century South America. The film portrays the awesomeness of human potential, love of God and neighbor, virtue and redemption, but it does not shy away from darker facets of man’s heart. Composer Ennio Morricone’s musical score to The Misison is itself a masterpiece.
3. Of Gods and Men (2010):
This film relates the true story of a community of Trappist monks in Algeria, seven of whom were who were assassinated during the Algerian Civil War of 1996. The movie is not an over-sentimentalized tribute to the courage of seven men, nor is it a tale of resignation to unfortunate events. Rather, it is the opposite, a spark of hope that enlightens a world full of hate and violence, and it is precisely because the story of these men is also a call for decisive action, even when this means choosing, for love of God, to trust Him absolutely.
4. Ben-Hur (1959):
This classic film is a production that leads us to meet the historical figure of Jesus. We follow Ben-Hur on his epic journey from nobility to slavery in the galleys, from servant to liberty as adopted son of a wealthy Roman, from triumph and acclaim to suffering and despair of his loved ones, and we meet with another person that seems to accompany him from a distance: Jesus Christ. Ben-Hur is always a man on a quest, and his heart will be restless until it reaches what he really craves: the face of Christ.
5. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):
Another classic film set during the Christmas season. This film makes us understand the value of honest service to others, and reminds us to measure our actions not by their immediate results but instead by their permanent effects. “No man is a failure who has friends,” says Clarence. Neither can the man or woman who loves and is loved be deemed a failure. At the end of the movie, while the bells of the church ring and the birth of the Lord is celebrated, who came not to seek His own glory, but to do good and be of service to humanity, the despair of the protagonist becomes joy and closeness to all those around him, and the voices rise, no longer in pleas for help, but in song, rejoicing in the glory of God’s birth at Christmas.
6. The Flowers of War (2011):
This film tells the story of the slaughter of the city of Nanjing (China), which occurred in 1937. The Flowers of War is a tough film, but is full of beauty and an important message. It is, in a way, a song of hope for the human heart which, even when it is hurt by evil, can still find a way to overcome selfishness and opt for the good of the other. It also teaches us not to despair of the human condition, capable of so much destruction and violence, but also capable of extraordinary dedication and abnegation. At the same time, it reminds us to learn how to not judge by externals. Sometimes, the worst sinners are the ones who discover more strongly their need for love and mercy, and that way they become able to kneel and walk the humble path of all the prodigal children of humanity.
7. The Tree of Life (2011):
This production by Terrence Malick perhaps has a great defect which is, at the same time, its greatest virtue: an attempt to show – cinematically – an all-encompassing vision of the mystery of Creation, sin and the love of God in the life of man; a mystery that is impossible to depict entirely. The film’s analogous language is perhaps hard to understand, but the beauty of its execution and its thematic depth is undeniable. It is, therefore, a beautiful attempt to show with images the mystery of life, which involves the action of God, man’s response, liberty, suffering, eternal life, among many other topics for our reflection.
8. Miracle of Marcelino (1955):
A beautiful Spanish film about an orphaned boy who is taken in by a monastery. He makes us laugh with his mischief, suffer and cry to find, as the monks do, the simplicity and kindness in the heart of a child, and, above all, his ability to speak with God. A film of extraordinary tenderness that, at the same time, awakens our desire for a deep, natural and daily encounter with God and the Virgin Mary.
9. Les Misérables (2012):
One of the most important productions of recent times and a great adaption of the musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel. It is hard to summarize or highlight the film’s most important and interesting aspects. In short, it shows the best and worst of humanity, with many of its complexities, hopes, joys, failures and pains. The epic is interspersed with comedy; love goes hand-in-hand with pain, happiness with detachment; and the road that separates happiness from bitterness and despair is sometimes a fine line where the intentions and the right or wrong use of liberty decides battles on a grandiose scope.
10. I Confess (1953):
A famous production by Alfred Hitchcock that revolves around the seal of the Confessional. While on one level it highlights the mystery and suspense of the story itself – a well-crafted thriller in any era – underneath the particulars are the bigger themes of courage and sacramental vows. Father Michael Logan is spiritually bound to protect the sacramental seal and to be loyal to his priestly commitments, even when this carries dangerous implications to his own life. This is a potent lesson for our times. It is, at the same time, a story of pardon and love, especially to the one who hurts us.
(Bonus) Letters to God (2009):
And, finally, here is a bonus…! Letters to God is a beautiful allegory of the Christian life as seen through the eyes of a child with a terminal illness. It does not seek to circumvent the toughness of the disease, nor to present a rosy view of life. Teaching us what is truly valuable in life when it is illuminated by what God has revealed us, Letters to God is a film full of tenderness, compassion, and – paradoxically to human eyes – joy and peace amidst suffering. It is, in this sense, an entire catechesis on the Christian life.