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Or. How to Buy a Film Library for Christmas

It's regrettable that Catholic educators have yet to regard cinema as an important artistic tradition, one that should be studied along with literature, painting, theater, and music.  The advantage of studying film is its relative youth, having been born only a little over a century ago.

Father Merrin, played by Max von Sydow, approaches the MacNeill home in Georgetown, from 'The Exorcist' (1973) directed by William Friedkin.

Father Merrin, played by Max von Sydow, approaches the MacNeill home in Georgetown, from 'The Exorcist' (1973) directed by William Friedkin.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - As with my list of Catholic novels, I am not following any rigid theory of the "Catholic film" in making these recommendations.  Rather than advance a thesis about what constitutes an "authentic" or "orthodox" Catholic film, I'm hoping that you, the reader, will discover on this list some films that will bring you enjoyment. Perhaps you will find some inspirational or edifying and be moved to a renewed aspiration toward the source of all beauty. 

It's regrettable that Catholic educators have yet to regard cinema as an important artistic tradition, one that should be studied along with literature, painting, theater, and music.  The advantage of studying film is its relative youth, having been born only a little over a century ago. The other, more obvious, advantage is that students will have spent literally hundreds of hours watching films of various kinds, as opposed to their time spent with books, or much less in a museum with the masterworks of painting and sculpture.

Here's the good news: It's still not too late for the diligent and perhaps obsessive student, with a few years of study, to gain a satisfactory overview of film history.The "Catholic film" is actually a good place to start on such a journey, since both Catholic filmmakers and Catholic subjects have been a part of film's history from the beginning of the "silent" era to the present.  (Remember, there were very few silent films since musical soundtracks were used in films since 1920. And, to add a curious side note, the capacity for "talking" films had been available for several years prior to the 1928 Jazz Singer but was considered unnecessary to film as a rapidly developing, and primarily visual, art form.) 

You will see below my list of 100 Best Catholic Films in chronological order.  The only difference between this list and the book list is that I am not insisting that the author be Catholic. My choices are made film qua film, not by any reference to the faith of the producer, director, or writer. Given that any object of art should be enjoyed and understood in itself, apart from its creator, I regret somewhat not using this criterion in making my list of 100 Best Catholic Novels, but then, what is done, is done. 

Thus, I ask the reader not to take me to task if the director of a particular film is a notorious this-or-that, as is definitely the case with a number of the films listed below. And, after all, how do we know under what inspiration, or whose inspiration, an "unbelieving" director brought a film into being. 

Unlike the 100 Best Catholic Novels, I have not added links to all my recommendations.  The reader can easily search them out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any of the many film vendors on the Internet.  If you don't wish to buy them, you can find out the basic information on any of the films by making use of the International Movie Database at

1.Carl Theodore von Dreyer, The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928.
2.Cecil B. DeMille, King of Kings, 1927.
3.Frank Capra, Lady for a Day, 1933.
4.John Ford, The Informer, 1935.
5.Frank Borzage, Strange Cargo, 1940
6.Henry King, The Song of Bernadette, 1943.
7.John M. Stahl, The Keys of the Kingdom, 1944.
8.Leo McCarey, Going My Way, 1944.
9.Leo McCarey, The Bells of St. Mary's, 1945.
10.Frank Capra, It's a Wonderful Life, 1946.
11.Robert Bresson, Au Hasard Balthasar, 1966.
12.Michael Powell, Black Narcissus, 1947.
13.John Ford, The Fugitive, 1947.
14.John Ford, Three Godfathers, 1948.
15.Leo McCarey, Make Way for Tomorrow, 1947.
16.Vittorio De Sica, The Bicycle Thieves, 1948.
17.Roberto Rossellini, Stromboli, 1950.
18.Roberto Rossellini, The Flowers of St. Francis, 1950.
19.Gordon Douglas, Come Fill the Cup, 1951.
20.Robert Bresson, The Dairy of a Country Priest, 1951.
21.Akira Kurosawa, Ikiru, 1952.
22.Vittorio De Sica, Umberto D, 1952.
23.Alfred Hitchcock, I Confess, 1953.
24.Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront, 1954.
25.Raffaello Matarazzo, The White Angel, 1955.
26.Carl Theodore von Dreyer, Ordet, 1955.
27.Alfred Hitchcock, The Wrong Man, 1956.
28.Luis Bunuel, Nazarin, 1959.
29.Fred Zinnemann, The Nun's Story, 1959.
30.William Wyler, Ben Hur, 1959.
31.Robert Bresson, Pickpocket, 1959.
32.Mervyn LeRoy, The Devil of 4 O'Clock, 1961.
33.Richard Fleischer, Barabbas, 1961.
34.Nicholas Ray, King of Kings, 1961.
35.Otto Preminger, The Cardinal, 1963.
36.Peter Glenville, Becket, 1964.
37.Pier Paolo Pasolini, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964.
38.Carol Reed, The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1965.
39.Luis Bunuel, Simon of the Desert, 1965.
40.Fred Zinnemann, A Man for All Seasons, 1966.
41.Robert Bresson, Mouchette, 1967.
42.Michael Anderson, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1968.
43.Franco Zefferelli, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, 1972.
44.William Friedkin, The Exorcist, 1973.
45.Anthony Harvey, The Abdication, 1974.
46.Joseph Hardy, The Lady's Not for Burning, 1974.
47.Franco Zefferelli, Jesus of Nazareth, 1977.
48.Robert Bresson, The Devil Probably, 1977.
49.Ermanno Olmi, Tree of the Wooden Clogs, 1978.
50.John Huston, Wise Blood, 1979.
51.Francesco Rosi, Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1979.
52.Hugh Hudson, Chariots of Fire, 1981.
53.Charles Sturridge & Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Brideshead Revisited, 1981.
54.Ulu Grosbard, True Confessions, 1981.
55.Martin Scorcese, The Age of Innocence, 1982.
56.Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, Night of the Shooting Stars, 1982.
57.Jerry London, The Scarlet and the Black, 1983.
58.Robert Bresson, L'argent, 1983.
59.Norman Stone, Shadowlands, 1885.
60.Alain Cavalier, Therese, 1986.
61.Roland Jaffe, The Mission, 1986.
62.Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire, 1987.
63.Gabriel Axel, Babette's Feast, 1987.
64.Rodney Bennett, Monsignor Quixote, 1987.
65.Maurice Pialat, Under the Star of Satan, 1987.
66.John Huston, The Dead, 1987.
67.Krzysztof Kieslowski, The Decalogue, 1988.
68.Krzysztof Kieslowski, A Short Film About Love, 1988.
69.Ermanno Olmi, Legend of the Holy Drinker, 1988.
70.John Duigan, Romero, 1989.
71.Denys Arcand, Jesus of Montreal, 1989.
72.Bruce Beresford, Black Robe, 1991.
73.Stijn Coninx, Daens, 1992.
74.Nancy Savoca, Household Saints, 1993.
75.Mel Gibson, Braveheart, 1995.
76.Liv Ullmann, Kristin Lavransdatter, 1995.
77.Lee David Slotoff, Spitfire Grill, 1996.
78.Marta Meszaros, The Seventh Room, 1996.
79.M. Knight Shyamalan, Wide Awake, 1998.
80.Joe Johnston, October Sky, 1999.
81.David Lynch, The Straight Story, 1999.
82.Agnieszka Holland, The Third Miracle, 1999.
83.Patrice Leconte, The Widow of Saint-Pierre, 2000.
84.Jim Sheridan, In America, 2002.
85.Alexander Payne, About Schmidt, 2002.
86.Bruce Beresford, Evelyn, 2002.
87.Denys Arcand, Barbarian Invasions, 2003.
88.Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ, 2004.
89.Tommy Lee Jones, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, 2005.
90.Christian Carion, Joyeux Noel, 2005.
91.Pavel Lungin, The Island, 2006
92.Alejandro Monteverde, Bella, 2006.
93.Jean-Pierre Dardenne, L'enfant, 2006.
94.Martin Provost, Seraphine, 2008.
95.Mark Pellington, Henry Poole is Here, 2008.
96.John Patrick Shanley, Doubt, 2008.
97.Klaus Haro, Letters to Father Jaakob, 2009.
98.Xavier Beauvois, Of Gods and Men, 2010.
99.Philip Groning, Into the Great Silence, 2007.
100.100. Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life, 2011.

Deal W. Hudson is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher/editor of Crisis Magazine. Dr. Hudson also a partner in the film/TV production company, Good Country Pictures.


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Keywords: movies, Catholic, best, 100, films, cinema, Christian,


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1 - 10 of 10 Comments

  1. Jim Morlino
    1 year ago

    I know this is a very old strain, but I thought this Catholic Online audience would be interested in the award-winning Catholic Children's Cinema of Navis Pictures (
    God bless,
    Jim Morlino (director Navis Pictures)

  2. Rodrigo
    1 year ago

    The best two movies (to me) are missing in the list: "The Mission" and "Saint John Bosco: Mission To Love".

  3. Brian
    2 years ago

    I'm sorry I must need new glasses but I don't believe I saw The Lord of the Rings on this list...I am positive it is my eye-sight of course, no list of top Catholic films could possibly exclude one of the greatest, if not the greatest work of Catholic symbolism and theological depth ever written...

  4. Lynn Stephens
    2 years ago

    Lise - thanks for your comment. I agree strongly with you. We don't need to see some of what is shown in movies to supposedly understand better, it has always annoyed me when that is said.
    There are many movies in the world now that shouldn't be seen by anyone. (Well, I guess we know whose 'turn' it is right now in our world to turn Christians away from God)

  5. steve
    2 years ago

    There is a new movie released about a year ago called "The Way " the main actor is martin sheen. I am not a professional critic but thought it told a very good story.

  6. mominme
    2 years ago

    Lisa, My husband and I found your comment weird. We are parents of 8 children, grandchildren to 5, so far. We saw the movie Black Robe years ago when it first came out and found the movie to be powerful. While I wouldn't have a minor see the movie it was appropriate for adults. Were you just as disturbed when the Indians chewed off Isaac Jogues' fingers? The sex scene was quite minor compared to that.

    Over the years we have highly recommended to the movie to family and friends, yes, I warn them about the sex scene in case they are as hyper sensitive as you are.

  7. Valerie
    2 years ago

    The presence of this listing raises some very good and timely points! We can also use much more video on all areas of the Catholic Arts, such as the Catholic ballet at This would be so exciting to also bring together DVDs on past and present and future Catholic Arts!

  8. "G.G." a Pro-Life Catholic
    2 years ago

    Lise Godin, Good reply...I am in total agreement...

  9. Lise Godin
    2 years ago

    I have to wonder if the person who put the movie, "|The Black Robe" on this list has seen the movie. The person may be appalled to read what I will say because he did not see all the movies on the list but took other persons' views on them. I cannot doubt that the author was well-intentioned. I would like to give him a word of advice if I may. In The movie, "The Black Robe," there is a scene that really took me by surprise when I was watching it, So much so, that I shut off the TV and did not watch the rest of the movie. The scene in question is that of the young man having sexual relations with a young Indian woman in the same position assumed by animals. Obviously, it is not the position they took that bothered me but rather that we see and hear them while they are having relations. I would not even want to see this film with my adult children. What does a scene like this bring to the story? Absolutely nothing. Like so many others, the producer of this film adopted the premise that if you want your film to be viewed, it must have sex scenes. Does the author of this list believe that educators should be using this film to educate our young? I know of some Catholic high schools that have a which they study films. There is no justification for the garbage that is viewed by anyone, never mind our impressionable youth. As a parent, grandparent, and educator myself, I believe that we should send film producers a strong message by refusing to view any movie that have overt scenes in them. It is not necessary to see such scenes in order to know what went on between the two. Do you remember the movies in which we knew what had gone on between a young man and a young woman merely by being implied? For example, if the young woman told the young man that she thought she was pregnant? Even then, if this fact does not support a good storyline, we shouldn't be watching it.
    I remember when I was young and we got our first television. You would never see a movie in which a woman would remove her slip. Then, gradually, very gradually, a few years later, the slip came off, after all, for many, being in one's underwear was "not worse than being in a bikini." (Thankfully, in my parents' home, the TV was shut off if my parents knew what it was leading to.) A few more years down the line, the bra came off but it was "only the top," And so on.... It was the same for the kind of language used in movies. At first even vulgar language was not used. Then, it was ":just" vulgar, then swearing, and now blasphemy. If more had been shutting off their TVs, we would not be at the point we are today.
    There is no need to view movies that are garbage and use them as "teaching moments." Teach what is good and pure. Surround yourself with what is good and pure. The young will learn what they live, what they see, what they hear.
    One word to the author of this list of movies. Do not take just anyone's word about how good a movie is. Please view it yourself. Thank you. ..

  10. Gloria
    2 years ago

    Lord of the Rings Trilogy, There Be Dragons, The Chronicles of Naria Trilogy, The Left Hand of God, Heaven Knows Mr Alison, An Affair to Remember, AND For Greater Glory are not on this list? even the lovely movies made from John Grisham's novels ie The Client, and A Time to Kill weren't good enough? Although I am glad it lists Stone's version of Shadowlands (see the long version not the chopped up one) and not Attenborough's.

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