Film and Theology’s Top Ten

I often get asked to list ten of the more theologically provocative films. The first three are oft-referred to as the “Mars Hill Trilogy”, frequently popping up on pastor’s lists. Not all our pastors would heartily endorse all these films, mind you… and some are definitely not for everyone. (I have also added archived reviews for a few of them, including Fight Club and Signs).

1. The Matrix
The sequels left a bad taste in most peoples’ mouths, but the conversations and imagery provide endless conversation pieces. If you can’t endure Keanu Reeves, comparable films with similar savior themes include Equilibrium, Dark City and even Disney’s Tron. (R)

2. The Devil’s Advocate
A narrative essay on the broad path to destruction, with talent, good intentions, and noble character inevitably compromised by pride, wealth, lust and ultimately the devil himself. Pacino’s portrayal of the devil is chillingly accurate. It pains me to put Keanu Reeves twice in the top three, but there you go. (R)

3. Fight Club
A scathing critique of modern culture, covering everything from materialism, to men robbed of masculinity, to the shortcomings of self-help therapy, to the ultimate “logic” of Nietzchean will-to-power apart from Christ. All this and black comedy. (R) For a full review, click here.

4. Signs
A somber look at how our faith is tested by calamity and the loss of loved ones, culminating in an examination of God’s sovereignty and the assertion in Romans that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (PG-13) For a full review, click here.

5. Amadeus
A semi-historic tale of Mozart and a contemporary who rages against God for giving talent to a man who seems godless. He is livid that Amadeus Mozart will be remembered whereas he will not. Naturally, this angry man overlooks his own pride, jealousy, and the luxurious position he’s been given. (PG; director’s cut, R)

6. Donnie Darko
A thinking man’s film that requires a lot of post-viewing discussion to sort out. The film deals with teen angst, questions about God’s existence, predestination, and sacrifice, set in the 80s with a great retro soundtrack. The director confesses uncertainty about why he was wrestling with the idea of predestination but felt “compelled” to tell the story. (R)

7. The Truman Show
A humorous yet very sobering look at a character who discovers that his life is a television show. This leads to a growing passion to escape being watched and controlled by the show’s creator. The creator in this story is flawed, his motives questionable, yet it still evokes interesting conversation about the human state and our posture toward the true Creator. (PG)

8. Frailty
A haunting tale reminiscent of The Twilight Zone that addresses skepticism and religious fanaticism, playing with our perspective and assumptions and leaving a controversial but undeniable climax. (R)

9. Citizen Kane
Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance. A masterpiece of groundbreaking cinema that draws several parallels to Ecclesiastes in this story of a man who attains everything.except satisfaction. (PG) For a full review, click here.

10. Batman Begins
Arguably the best comic book hero film, maturely grappling with the difference between vengeance and justice, the shortcomings of pacifism, the abuses of terrorism, and the tension in finding ways to transform a fallen city in desperate need of a savior. (PG-13)

  1. anon

    It pains you to put Keanu in the top 3? Well, Mf! If he is ther he must be doing something right! Time out for the comments that say Keanu cant act! Of course he can. Think Clint Eastwood, there was a time, the same was said about him. Jimmy Stewart too! Enough is enough. Bill and Teds, he was acting…Keanu is so cool about it, Tom cruise would have sued everyone by now.This isnt your typical, white boy over-reacting acting.Screaming, over the top acting! This is real life acting. He is cool like Clint. Victor Mature. (old school acting) Keanu is different in his approach.And he is pretty too! Lol… And its okay. Thanks for putting his movies in the top 2 spot, where he belongs! I am smiling.

  2. Russ

    Oh man! You’ve missed so many great theo-films.

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