Discovering good movies, one bad movie at a time


Alternate Ending is about to celebrate its first Easter, and what better occasion for pick our Top 5 Religious movies? That covers a lot of territory, of course: from the devastatingly European solemnity of Ordet to the shrill preachifying of Left Behind. The “religious movie” genre includes multi-hour Bollywood epics, animated children’s musicals, upbeat middlebrow crowd-pleasers, and more extravagantly chintzy Italian and American epics of Life During Bible Times than you could shake a fiberglass sword at.

In addition, Rob share his thoughts on the 2016 blockbuster Suicide Squad, Carrie catches her book club book on the big screen with A Man Called Ove and Tim brings a Wisconsin Film Festival pick to the table with The Gold of Naples.

For those who have been asking, here is a short video sharing what Carrie ended up with when she went shopping for Rob’s hair product:

Rob

The Book of Eli
1
Dogma (1999)
0
Sister Act (1992)
0
The Passion of the Christ
15
What Dreams May Come (1998)
0

Carrie

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
0
Field of Dreams (1989)
0
Spotlight (2015)
8
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
4
Sister Act (1992)
0

Tim

Ordet (1955)
6
Andrei Rublev (1966)
11
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)
3
The Tree of Life (2011)
7
Au hasard Balthazar (1966)
2

22 Responses so far.

  1. Paul says:

    The Prince of Egypt!

  2. Not Fenimore says:

    I’ll see your Jeff Goldblum and raise you a Yul Brenner: The Ten Commandments! Ok, maybe it’s not my real pick because it’s kinda not actually any good at all, but I still use the phrase “so let it be written; so let it be done” in daily conversation. So there. 😉

    Best religious soundtrack: The Mission
    Best religious use of Alan Rickman’s junk: Dogma
    Second best songs, second most quoted, would almost certainly be second best use of Alan Rickman’s junk if he wasn’t off in the RSC at the time: Life of Brian

    Actual best religious movie:
    Passion of Joan of Arc haven’t seen it 🙁
    Ordet haven’t seen it 🙁
    Andrei Rublev haven’t seen it 🙁
    Jesus of Montreal haven’t seen it 🙁
    The Emperor’s New Goove

    I think I will win the “most obviously bullshit answer” prize this week, but I first watched it in church youth group, and it was the first thing I thought of when I heard the category. (FYI, Paco was an exemplar of Christian charity, which is an oblique reading but I still don’t think an indefensible one.)

    Also also, if Bible Code 2: Megiddo doesn’t make at least number four on Tim’s list, I will be very disappointed.

  3. Hunter Allen says:

    The Truman Show.

    But, since that’s (if only sort of) a glib answer, I’ll go with my usual response to this question, the epic to beat all epics, the greatest spectacle of its era, and one of the more baffling sources for Tim’s hard-on of hate, the one and only Ben-Hur ’59. (What’s that? Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ? It’s pretty good, I guess.)

  4. Stevie says:

    Having to concede that I have not watched Ordet, or The Gospel According to St. Matthew, or any of Tarkovsky’s work, or any religious cinema made outside the USA and Europe, my list is a damnably stupid one. I am deeply ashamed of this.

    1. The Passion of Joan of Arc – Incredibly obvious, but I think one will have to have the sheer gonads to have watched this and not put it at the top.

    2. Winter Light – Do films about the ABSENCE of God count? It’s also damn depressing but I feel weird not having Ingmar Bergman in a list of great religious movies. (Also, tempted to put Ida here instead, which is probably a more re-affirming version of this.)

    3. The Tree of Life – Look, it’s not about any religion, but it’s about the nature of God and it has an afterlife sequence, so that has to count right?

    4. A Serious Man – This is me admitting I have not seen many films about Judaism. Hell, I have not even seen Fiddler on the Roof.

    5. The Prince of Egypt – Hey ho, it’s probably the best adaptation of a Biblical passage in all of cinematic history (again, not seen Pasolini.)

    Honorary mention goes to Silence, a film too young to be in any list, but it has to be the best movie about being Catholic in a long while, and being religious myself, it’s a punch in the gut.

    Outside of cinema talk, I have my fingers crossed for the upcoming TV adaptation of American Gods.

  5. Nathaniel Winer says:

    Depending on my mood, I might answer one of two ways:

    Either:

    1. Life of Brian
    or
    2. The Painting

  6. Tyler "Bio" Rodriguez says:

    Hard choice, grew up on Ten Commandments and I do really enjoy Prince of Egypt, but I suppose I would choose Last Temptation of Christ. I think its a really interesting take and its a shame it wasn’t very positively received by certain Christian groups when it first came out.

  7. Billy the Kid says:

    Noah. This film offers a level of moral complexity that films about morality should have but are usually afraid to offer. Most religious films are made by people terrified of offending anyone in the audience, so they keep the moral issues in the films non-controversial and therefore simple and boring. Slaves? Free them. Poor people? Help them. God? Follow him. End of story.

    In Noah, Darren Aronofsky showed the courage to engage complex moral issues without easy answers and in the process, he gave us a protagonist who is edgy and interesting, while also leaving the audience to wrestle with moral and spiritual issues. This is what religious movies should do.

  8. M.C. says:

    Stevie, looks like you and I have similar taste:

    1. Andrei Rublev
    2. The Tree of Life – which I’d argue is absolutely about a family trying to reconcile their Protestant faith with an unknowable God and the problem of evil as much as it is about the nature of God and the universe generally.
    3. Winter Light – Again, I’d argue it’s a “religious” movie in that it’s a thorough critique of the shortcomings as well as the power of faith as well as a drama about coping with disbelief.
    4. A Serious Man
    5. Amadeus – I feel embarrassed including a such a straightforward costume drama here, but damn if Salieri’s “From now on, we are enemies, You and I…” doesn’t give me chills every time.

    The Passion of Joan of Arc is a movie I deeply respect but haven’t yet fallen in love with; and I’ve not yet seen Ordet or any Bresson. And I have to give a special shot-out to OMG: Oh My God!, an incredible Bollywood movie about a man who sues God after an earthquake destroys his shop, which everyone should see.

  9. JB says:

    My first knee-jerk thoughts were Mass Appeal (Jack Lemmon) or Jesus Christ Superstar (Ted Neely)- strong childhood ties to those films. As an adult, I have to get on the Malick train (or handcar) and say, To The Wonder- for its beautiful, balletic portrayal of imperfect-perfect humans being in the midst of God.

  10. Diane Wolfe says:

    My top films would be:

    Life of Brian
    Last Temptation of Christ
    or The Flowers of St. Francis (Francesco, giullare di Dio)

    And after those perhaps:

    Ben Hur (up to the chariot race. Once that’s over I stop watching.)
    Spartacus (if that counts.)
    Prince of Egypt
    Jesus of Montreal
    Oh God!

  11. Mine favourite would be Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Sparse, simple and excellent.

  12. Yourself says:

    I watched this movie Hadewijch back during a phase where I would put on anything Netflix suggested. I remember enjoying it a lot but none of the details have stuck, except that it felt pretty foreign and serious. It is also the only “religious” movie I can call to mind. Unless you’re counting, like, Deadly Blessing.

    Okay so if we just roll with religious horror it still mostly sucks (The Omen, Dracula, bleh), but The Exorcist has its moments. Children of the Corn 3 though, that’s good stuff. And Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is fantastic, despite its reputation (which these days might not be bad, since I only hear it mentioned as “isn’t Prince of Darkness so underrated?”)

  13. vilsal says:

    My Neighbor Totoro is surely the greatest Shintoist film.

  14. Grant Hagey says:

    I’m not spiritual, so I don’t watch many religious movies. But even more mundane movies might get me thinking. For instance, in Transformers the robots seem to be either wholly good or evil. But then Leonard Nimoy robot reveals he was good but then became evil, and I’m thinking, if even soulless automatons can’t escape duality, why should we think God does? Was the greatest trick God ever pulled convincing the world there is a devil? Was the Great Flood his “Purge Day”? Heady stuff.

  15. sting606 says:

    Rob’s hair is exactly WHY you should have made this video. For shame!

  16. Patrick Thatcher says:

    You all FAIL. Not a single person has mentioned The Blues Brothers? For shame. It’s the most spiritual movie based on an SNL sketch!

  17. sting606 says:

    After sitting and musing on this awhile after work, my list would go:
    1. The Tree of Life – This is the single most convincing argument I’ve witnessed on film that God can still be within us during all the pain and sorrow in the world.
    2. Amadeus – the angry atheist in me loves how straight up God is kind of a villain in this story (with Mozart as his anti-Jesus offending Salieri and pushing him further and further away from his devout faith). I thought I outgrew that edginess but I rewatched it a couple of years ago since middle school and I just still dig it, its anger is so fiery and passionate.
    3. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring – this is shaky because it may be a misrepresentation of Buddhism (the director Kim Ki-duk is Christian), but I find it absolutely serene and cyclical and able to turn a wretched act into a stepping stone in growth that it makes me want to be Buddhist simply on how forgiving it feels.
    4. A Serious Man – The Coen brothers doing an adaptation of the Book of Job was a dream movie for me back when I first saw the Coen brothers and then suddenly… in the middle of my high school life… God answered my prayers and gave it to me with the most Jewish lens you could give a movie. I love it, it’s human and hilarious.
    5. The Lion of the Desert – Being born and raised Muslim originally, part of what really alienated me early to it was how some of my mentors and teachers was how God is always on our side so that means we will always win and Moustapha Akkad somehow tempered that with this film as a portrayal that “Yes, God can be on your side sometimes and you can definitely be on the right, but sometimes you’re going to lose your life” like Omar Al-Mukhtar was and yet still we witness him bravely fending off the fascists because he has to fight for his home. It’s also quite a sobering and complex look at where is religion in war, especially in Islam where war just seems to follow it frequently unfortunately yet proclaims itself a religion of peace. It doesn’t play with kid gloves about that and I appreciated that a lot. That it’s funded by Gaddafi leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    I haven’t seen Sister Act since I was kid but y’alls waxing about it makes me want to truly re-watch it. And I’ve always always always wanted to watch The Gospel According to St. Matthew and simply haven’t found the time.

    By the way, Tim, since Dreyer comes up often in the podcast on your end, have you seen Day of Wrath? It wrassled in my college years as my favorite Dreyer film with The Passion of Joan of Arc.

    • Tim Brayton Tim Brayton says:

      I love it! Day of Wrath, that is. It’s not even in my top 3 Dreyers (Joan of Arc, Ordet, Vampyr), but given that he’s among my all-time favorite directors, that’s not much of a shortcoming.

  18. Alex Frith says:

    This show was amazing! I love the topic but it was also a perfectly vehicle for a combo that can in all genuineness discuss Au Hazard Balthazar, The Da Vinci Code and What Dreams May Come as if they are equals. Which, of course they are. Right?

    My five has a couple of overlaps, which is neat, too:
    1. Dogma
    2. Ordet
    3. Leon Morin, Pretre
    4. Saved!
    5. Time Bandits

    I happen to be a practicing Christian (of the ultra-liberal Anglican kind), and these five films have at various times been hugely inspiring to me, theologically speaking, as well as good clean fun.

    Hats off to Sting606 for finding so many cross-faith examples, too.

    I’m probably being lazy/dumb, but where do I go to find out what themes are upcoming?

    • Carrie Jarosinski Carrie Jarosinski says:

      Super, super kind, thanks for tuning in! I share in your ultra-liberal Anglican-ness, which always makes discussing religion with Tim….educational….

      I’m really looking forward to your #1…make sure to leave your thoughts on it for the free movie giveaway thing.

      Re: upcoming themes, we don’t have those posted anywhere, but should and will!

Leave a Reply