100 Spiritual Films

When I was a boy I went to a summer camp that was run by the Baptist church of which my family was a part. At that camp I saw the famous/infamous Christian exploitation (christploitation?) film A Thief in the Night (1972). I say exploitation film for two reasons: (1) the film has that kind of low-budget, relentless, somewhat campy style one finds in other exploitation films, and (2) the film clearly falls into the category of the “scare them to Jesus” works of “art.” Certainly I was a scared little boy. For years I was haunted by that film. Fortunately I have grown up and only carry the scars.

When I was in college I lived in a couple of different co-op living places (20-25 students, loosely managed, trying to get along, etc.). I remember some of the the best times were watching great films and then having long discussions after. What I discovered during that time was the spiritual nature and power of films. A power, and I should say truth, significantly deeper and more profound than with films such as A Thief in the Night. In particular, I remember some great discussions around Grand Canyon (1991), Mindwalk (1990), Henry V (1989), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Drugstore Cowboy (1989).

Recently I came across the Art & Faith forum site and noticed the biggest category of discussion centers around film. They even have a Top 100 Spiritual Films list, which I have reproduced below. The link for each film will take you to the Art & Faith write-up of that film. As one would expect from a Christianity-based site called Art & Faith, there are some particularly “christian” films, like the obvious films about Jesus and saints (some of which are excellent – Pasolini’s version of the Gospel story, for example). But there are also some films one might not expect, like those by Kieslowski, or by Rossellini, or films from Japan, etc. For me, I don’t see any contradictions, but for some Christians this list might be a bit of a shock. That is one reason I list the Top 100 Spiritual Films list here:

1 Ordet (aka The Word)
2 Le Fils (aka The Son)
3 The Miracle Maker (aka The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus)
4 The Gospel According to Matthew (aka Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo)
5 The Diary of a Country Priest (aka Le Journal D’un Curé De Campagne)
6 The Passion of Joan of Arc (aka La Passion De Jeanne D’arc)
7 The Decalogue (aka Dekalog)
8 Babette’s Feast (aka Babettes Gæstebud)
9 A Man Escaped (aka Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut)
10 Andrei Rublev (aka Andrey Rublyov)
11 Balthazar (aka Au Hasard Balthazar)
12 The Seventh Seal (aka Det Sjunde Inseglet)
13 Ikiru (aka To Live)
14 Winter Light (aka Nattvardsgästerna)
15 The Mission
16 The Apostle
17 Three Colors Trilogy
18 Jesus of Nazareth
19 Jesus of Montreal (aka Jésus De Montréal)
20 The Flowers of St. Francis (aka Francesco, giullare di Dio)
21 Dead Man Walking
22 Stalker
23 Magnolia
24 La Promesse
25 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
26 Tender Mercies
27 A Man for All Seasons
28 Wings of Desire (aka Der Himmel über Berlin)
29 Day of Wrath (aka Vredens dag)
30 Yi Yi: A One and a Two (aka Yi yi)
31 The Hiding Place
32 Wild Strawberries (aka Smultronstället)
33 Rosetta
34 After Life (aka Wandafuru raifu)
35 The Sacrifice (aka Offret – Sacrificatio)
36 To End All Wars
37 Chariots of Fire
38 Shadowlands
39 The Big Kahuna
40 Not of This World (aka Fuori dal mondo)
41 Schindler’s List
42 Millions
43 The Straight Story
44 A Taste of Cherry (aka Ta’m e guilass)
45 The Passion Of The Christ
46 Becket
47 Wit
48 Open City (aka Roma, città aperta)
49 Nazarin (aka Nazarín)
50 Secrets & Lies
51 Romero
52 Places in the Heart
53 It’s A Wonderful Life
54 Ponette
55 Les Misérables
56 Luther
57 Tokyo Story (aka Tokyo Monogatari)
58 Hell House
59 Breaking The Waves
60 Crimes And Misdemeanors
61 To Kill a Mockingbird
62 The Mirror (aka Zerkalo)
63 The Last Temptation Of Christ
64 The Gospel of John
65 Hotel Rwanda
66 Fearless
67 Solaris (aka Solyaris)
68 The Night Of The Hunter
69 Cries and Whispers (aka Viskningar och rop)
70 Stromboli
71 Stevie
72 Dogville
73 My Night at Maud’s (aka Ma nuit chez Maud)
74 Black Robe
75 Close-Up (aka Nema-ye Nazdik)
76 The Apu Trilogy
77 Werckmeister Harmonies (aka Werckmeister harmóniák)
78 Waking Life
79 Koyaanisqatsi (aka Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out of Balance)
80 Peter and Paul
81 13 Conversations About One Thing
82 The Sweet Hereafter
83 Dersu Uzala
84 Trial of Joan of Arc (aka Procès de Jeanne d’Arc)
85 Summer (aka Le Rayon vert)
86 Fiddler on the Roof
87 The Bicycle Thief (aka Ladri di biciclette)
88 The Year Of Living Dangerously
89 Money (aka L’Argent)
90 The Elephant Man
91 Faust
92 Molokai: The Story of Father Damien
93 A Moment of Innocence (aka Nun va Goldoon)
94 Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring (aka Jean de Florette / Manon des Sources)
95 Sansho the Bailiff (aka Sanshô dayû)
96 Lilies of the Field
97 The Wind Will Carry Us (aka Bad ma ra khahad bord)
98 The Addiction
99 The Song of Bernadette
100 Tales of Ugetsu (aka Ugetsu monogatari)

I have not seen all the films of this list, in fact there are a lot I have not seen. But I will say that the ones I have seen are all great for those late-night discussions around the core issues of living and being human. And some of the films offer great opportunities to discuss the power of art and film – as a kind of bonus. In general, I think this is a great list.

13 thoughts on “100 Spiritual Films

  1. >I remember happening upon that same site and reading that very same list not too long ago, Tuck. I think you’re right. Though there are many titles that one shouldn’t be at all shocked to see on the list, there are also a few surprises in there as well as a few titles I think should be included (such as Star Wars, The Matrix, Blade Runner, The Shawshank Redemption and Dogma).Incidentally, I always wondered if I was the only one who remembered those low-budget Christian-financed movies like Thief in the Night and The Mark of the Beast. Those particular two I had not seen, but I did watch several others because we had a whole bunch of them at my house for a while. Eventually we got rid of them all (thank God).

  2. >Damian, thanks for the comments. I’m sure many have already seen this list (I think it’s been around for a while). I figure I’m a little late to the game, but oh well. I also agree that there are some very significant films not on the list – but, then again, we all like to argue about film lists. ;)…and yes, thank God!

  3. >Tucker–Last few evenings I watched the Criterion Collection presentation of Renoir and Kurosawa’s productions of “The Lower Depths”, and if you’ve seen these films, a quick question, if you haven’t…well wait awhile until you forget this spoiler! I was really struck by the ending of Kurosawa’s version, when amidst a boiling revelry of drunken dancing, one of the lodgers bursts into the flop-house and announces that the actor has just hung himself. The dancing ceases and the camera swings to one of the principles who turns to the lens, looking straight into you, saying, “It was such a great party, and the bastard had to go and ruin it.” End scene! That really floored me, and I couldn’t and still can’t figure out exactly what was being said. I can’t help but think that by addressing the comment at the audience, the “you” somehow included in it’s indictment not only the actor but also the audience–but in what sense? I think the complaint voiced centered around the forced reminder that those characters, who were successfully losing themselves to drunkenness, etc., could not escape their own suffering and mortality. Do I somehow serve as a reminder myself by only watching with a critical eye? But how could I, they are only characters after all…. Such a convoluted, esoteric question, well, more just trying to flesh out my reaction. What do you think? -Colin

  4. >Colin, thanks for commenting, and thanks for stopping by. I have not seen either of them. I’ve been meaning to for some time, but alas, I just been too busy. Without having seen the films, I do think however, that your take on Kurosawa’s ending sound very insightful. I am always curious when a director has a character look directly at the camera and give a line, especially at such a critical moment in the story. Now I will have to see both films!

  5. >Matthew, thanks for your comments. I have not heard of tha MoMA book. Do you have the title? I looked for it but could not find it. I did see a listing for a past exhibition on film and faith here. But I don’t know if this is what you were thinking about.

  6. >Hey – I just noticed your post about the Top100 list, which I edit. Thanks for the encouraging comments. We’ll be revising the list early next year and I invite you all to mosey by and register to that you’ll get an invitation. The list has been revised most recently in 2006, and continues to be a great resource for faith and film.

  7. >Alan, thanks for stopping by. And thanks for creating that list. I have actually recieved quite a few hits on this post. I think people are just naturally curious about spiritual things.

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