Faith on Film: 11 Faith-Based Movies Worth Exploring
Inspired by Faith
2011 was a banner year for Christian movies and faith-based films. For many American moviegoers, the year looked promising right from the start.
Faith and spirituality were recurring themes at the Sundance Film Festival. Hollywood studios released several feature films with Christian themes. And two big movies were produced by churches.
John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival, described these films as a reflection of the filmmakers' consideration of the larger issues in life. "It's America looking at itself," he said.
Some of the films were well-publicized and straightforward about Christianity. Others received little fanfare but still touched on faith, religion, or spirituality in one way or another.
"Not every film about faith is worth seeing," said Shawn McEvoy, a Crosswalk blogger. But when faith appears in film, he noted, it either sparks a conversation or it stems from a conversation that is already happening. "Here's hoping we see more of it in 2012," he said.
Based on faith or inspired by it, here are eleven films that are definitely worth exploring. For your convenience, I've arranged them alphabetically by title. My family has viewed all but three of them. The others are on our list of must-see films this summer.
Question: Have you watched any of these movies? Share your thoughts in the comments.
One of the most talked about Christian films of 2011 was Courageous, a story of everyday heroes who struggle with their circumstances, faith and roles as fathers and husbands.
Courageous is the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures, a movie ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. The church also produced Fireproof, Facing the Giants and Flywheel.
Released in September 2011, Courageous stars Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Robert Amaya, Kevin Downes and Ben Davies. The move is rated PG-13 for violence and drug content.
2. The Grace Card
The Grace Card is a Christian film from Graceworks Pictures, a movie ministry of Calvary Church in Cordova, Tennessee. The movie draws inspiration from the Sherwood Pictures film Fireproof.
The story centers on two Memphis police officers: one white, one black; one angry at the world, one striving to spread God's love. Each man tests the other's values, as they are challenged to look past their differences.
Released in February 2011, The Grace Card stars Michael Joiner, Michael Higgenbottom and Oscar winner Lou Gossett, Jr. The film is rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements.
3. Higher Ground
The independent film Higher Ground chronicles a woman's lifelong struggle with her faith. The movie is Vera Farmiga's directorial debut.
Inspired by This Dark World, a Carolyn S. Brigg memoir, Higher Ground depicts a tight-knit spiritual community thrown off-kilter when one of their members starts questioning her faith.
While the film deals with the subject of Christian faith, the story could have been set in any faith or culture. "Christianity is the 'location' of the film, not the subject, concern or issue," said Farmiga.
Higher Ground premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. Farmiga stars opposite John Hawkes, Joshua Leonard and Dagmara Dominczyk. The movie is rated R for language and sexual content.
4. Machine Gun Preacher
Machine Gun Preacher is one of the most moving faith based movies of 2011. The action film is based on the true story of Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing gang biker who found an unexpected calling to rescue Sudanese orphans.
The movie was adapted from Childers' memoir Another Man's War, a true story about terrorism in Africa and the author's battle to save the children.
When Childers goes to Africa to repair homes in war-torn villages, he sees firsthand the horrors faced by the Sudanese people, especially the children. Collaborating with the Sudan People's Liberation Army, he leads armed missions deep within enemy territory to rescue the children.
Released in November 2011, Machine Gun Preacher stars Gerard Butler as Childers. Michelle Monaghan and Michael Shannon also have starring roles. The film is rated R for violence, language, drug use, sexuality and disturbing images.
5. The Mighty Macs
Based on true events, The Mighty Macs tells the story of Cathy Rush, the head basketball coach for Immaculata University. The small, all-girls Catholic college had no gym or uniforms, and the school itself was in danger of being sold. Under the guidance of Rush, they won their first national women's basketball championship in 1972.
Although the film was completed in 2007, it premiered at the John Paul II International Film Festival in 2009. "We need to be unified in tackling [the faith] hurdle in both Hollywood and the world. It’s time to put our religion out in front and be proud of who we are," director Tim Chambers told the audience.
It wasn't until 2011 that The Mighty Macs was finally released, and only after Chambers found a distributor willing to release the movie with a family-friendly G rating. (Disney wanted to add coarse language to earn a PG rating.) Carla Gugino, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton and Ellen Burstyn star in the film.
6. Of Gods and Men
Of Gods and Men is a powerful French film about a group of Trappist monks in war-torn Algeria. Facing threats from fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, the Christian monks must decide whether to stay or leave the area.
Based on real-life events in 1995, the film explores the possibility of the co-existence of Christianity and Islam. The Monks of Tibhirine, a book by John Kiser, provided inspiration for the movie.
The film opens with a quote from the book of Psalms: "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes." The Scripture heightens the film's sense of imminent doom.
A Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize winner, Of Gods and Men was released to American viewers in February 2011. Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale and Olivier Rabourdin star in the film. It carries a PG-13 rating for wartime violence, brief language and disturbing images.
7. Seven Days in Utopia
Seven Days in Utopia is set in rural Utopia, a real community in the Texas Hill Country. Based on David L. Cook's inspirational book Golf's Sacred Journey, the movie is built around golf and is rich in eternal life lessons.
After a disastrous debut on the pro golf circuit, a young man finds himself stranded in the middle of nowhere. He meets an eccentric cattle rancher (and former pro golfer) who welcomes him to the area.
Recognizing the young golfer and knowing his story, the rancher decides to help him out. "Spend seven days with me in Utopia, and you’ll find your game," the old man promises.
Seven Days in Utopia was released in September 2011. It stars Oscar winner Robert Duvall, Lucas Black, Deborah Ann Woll, Melissa Leo and Kathy Baker. Rated G, the movie is suitable viewing for all ages.
8. Soul Surfer
Soul Surfer was the most popular faith based film of 2011. It is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack.
Born to surfer parents, Hamilton always felt at home in the ocean. But her singular focus on competitive surfing came to an abrupt halt when a tiger shark severed her left arm.
Hamilton's quick recovery and eventual success as a world-class surfer are testimonies of her strong determination and faith in God. She is very outspoken about her Christian faith.
Released in April 2011, Soul Surfer stars AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt and Carrie Underwood. The movie is rated PG for an intense accident scene and thematic elements that are central to the story.
9. There Be Dragons
There Be Dragons is an historical epic set during the Spanish Civil War. The film is based on the life of Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest who was later canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. Escriva is the founder of Opus Dei.
As a modern journalist investigates Escriva's life, he discovers a dark connection between his own estranged father and the Roman Catholic saint. The film explores several themes: love and hatred, betrayal and forgiveness, true friendship and finding meaning in everyday life.
Released to American viewers in the summer of 2011, There Be Dragons stars Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley and Dougray Scott. The film is rated PG-13 for violence, combat sequences, language and thematic elements.
10. The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is an unusual drama with experimental impressionist elements. Viewers either love it for its emotional and visual appeal, or they criticize it as slow, boring and self-absorbed.
Set in Waco, Texas in the 1950s, The Tree of Life chronicles the origins and meaning of life through a series of childhood memories and creationist imagery. It follows the life journey of the eldest of three sons as he questions the existence of faith.
Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain star in this Oscar-nominated movie. It won numerous international awards including the Palm d'Or, the Cannes Film Festival's highest award. The Tree of Life was released in the United States in May 2011. It is rated PG-13 for thematic material.
11. The Way
The Way is a little-publicized film that honors the Camino de Santiago, a Catholic pilgrimage route also known as The Way of St. James. The movie promotes the traditional pilgrimage, a journey of great spiritual or moral significance.
The story follows an American doctor who travels to France to recover his estranged son's body. The younger man was killed in a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago. The doctor decides to walk the spiritual trail in homage to his son. Along the way, he falls in with three other pilgrims looking for meaning and purpose in life.
Emilio Estevez directed The Way which features his father, Martin Sheen. Yorick van Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger and James Nesbitt star as the other three pilgrims. Released to American viewers in October 2011, The Way is rated PG-13 for smoking, drug use and thematic elements.
Reference Sources / Further Reading
- Drake, Tim. (February 23, 2011). "Faith Based Films Coming to a Theater Near You." National Catholic Register. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
- Howze, Jane. (January 28, 2011). "Faith Based Movies are a Hit at Sundance." CultureMap Houston. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
- IMDb. (various dates) [Individual movie titles] The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- King, Susan. (October 14, 2011). "Hollywood Studios are Embracing Star-Powered, Faith Based Films." Deseret News. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
- McEvoy, Shawn. (January 18, 2012). "Faith in Film in 2011." Crosswalk. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- Wikipedia contributors. (various dates) [Individual movie titles] Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
Copyright © 2012. Annette R. Smith. All rights reserved.
Published: February 24, 2012 / Modified: March 27, 2013.
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