Top ten religious movies for Lent 2


By Tom Quiner

Integrating God and faith into movies doesn’t always work.

Sometimes, directors who are ardent believers try so hard to convey their fervor that the audience feels like they’ve been clubbed over the head. Other times, a director of little or no faith is able to convey a timeless story of faith with such an exquisite, artistic touch that you’re convinced of his devoutness.

The Holy Spirit works mysteriously in the realm of cinema. The films that follow moved me, entertained me, and conveyed a message of faith that meant something to me.

My list of favorites evolves from year to year. The films that follow are artistic, nuanced with great scripts. The Gospel of John (#2) is unique because the script is based verbatim on the Gospel of John. Christopher Plummer’s voice is perfect as the narrator. Interestingly, the versatile Mr. Plummer appears in two other films on the list (“The Scarlet and the Black”) as a Nazi, the antagonist of the Vatican, and “Jesus of Nazareth” as the spineless Herod.

I have bounced a few golden oldies from my list, such as Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, simply because I’ve seen them enough times that I’m a little tired of them.

I sincerely believe you will enjoy these films. Let me know your favorites.

#10: FOR GREATER GLORY. What are you willing to die for? I just read that line in a Lenten reflection yesterday. This movie based on true events in the Cristeros War answers the question. In 1917, an atheistic Mexican government began persecuting the Catholic faithful. Priests are murdered in their churches. Bishops and foreign-born clergy are expelled from the country. The blood of the martyrs flows and saints are born. This is a beautifully filmed epic, the most expensive film ever made in Mexico. Will you stand up for your faith when it counts?

#9: THE MISSION. This film was written by Robert Bolt. It follows the lives of 18th century Jesuit missionaries in South America. Jeremy Irons and Robert Deniro turn in riveting performances as two very different priests. Their relationship is beautiful and complex. Ennio Morricone wrote one of the great musical scores of all time. The theme song all by itself is enough to make a doubter believe in God. (Mr. Morricone also wrote the film score for “The Scarlet and the Black,” #6 on my list.

#8: THE CASE FOR CHRIST. I loved the book upon which this movie is based, and I loved the premise: Lee Strobel is an awarding investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune. He and his wife are comfortable living their lives as atheists until their daughter almost dies. Strobel’s wife becomes a Christian to his considerable chagrin. He sets out to disprove the resurrection of Christ, and it’s a fascinating journey. This is a good movie for people of little or no faith, because Strobel approaches his task as an investigative journalist with shocking results. The movie is simply excellent. I encourage you to watch it this Lent.

#7: RISEN. “Risen” approaches the Jesus narrative from an entirely fresh perspective. Joseph Fiennes, who you may remember from “Young Shakespeare in Love,” portrays the powerful Roman centurion, Clavius, at the time of Christ. He returns from battle only to be immediately deployed by Pontius Pilate to the site of three crucifixions in progress. One is Jesus. Clavius looks directly into the dead eyes of Jesus (a unique twist, Jesus’ eyes are typically depicted as being shut) as He hangs on the cross. To ensure that He is dead, he commands a soldier to lance His side. When the corpse goes missing from a sealed tomb the next, day, Pilate orders Clavius to find it. What a  mystery! Clavius’ investigation takes him on a journey he never expected. The casting was outstanding with the great Peter Firth as a convincing Pontius Pilate, young Tom Felton (Malfoy in Harry Potter films) as Lucius, aide to Clavius; and Cliff Curtis as an effective, if unconventional Yeshua (Jesus). Maria Botto made a great Mary Magdalene.

#6: THE SCARLET AND THE BLACK. Get ready for a tense game of cat and mouse as a Vatican priest and a German Lieutenant Colonel clash in Nazi-occupied Rome. This film is based on true events. Gregory Peck portrays Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty who heroically saved the lives of thousands of Jews and escaped Allied POWs by hiding them from the Nazis. Christopher Plummer portrays the Nazi officer in charge of rounding them up. The battle of wits between the two antagonists makes for great cinema, especially in the hands of two pros like Messrs. Peck and Plummer. Be sure to watch the ending credits for the remarkable epilogue to this great story!

#5: THE CHRONICLES of NARNIA: THE LION, WITCH, and the WARDROBE. C.S. Lewis wrote one of the most beloved set of children stories ever with the Chronicles of Narnia. This 2005 film is simply magical with Liam Neeson’s voice as Aslan the Christlike Lion. I went to the theater to watch it with my kids who ranged from their teens to the twenties at the time. This is a film that brings families together. It reaches across age barriers.

#4. LES MISERABLES (The Musical). “Do you hear the people sing, singing the songs of angry men?” That line makes me think of the seething passions roiling in America as  I type. This is a movie about the human condition and the drama of human life in an unjust world. The themes are as immediately relevant today as they were in the 19th century France as depicted by Victor Hugo in his classic novel on which it is based. The protagonists, Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, each rely on God in remarkably contrasting ways, leading to a dramatic denouement. This is a remarkable musical. The actors sang their parts ‘live,’ creating such a sense of authenticity. In other words, they didn’t dub in their singing later. I love this musical and have seen it on stage some five times, including twice on Broadway. Kudos to director Tom Hooper for creating a film that lived up to the musical by presenting the complexity of our Christian faith.

#3: THE PASSION of the CHRIST. This was more than a movie, it was an event that either united or divided people, much like Christ Himself. Mel Gibson’s movie was controversial. The violence is grotesque. It is not a fun movie to watch. I have seen it twice, and I will see it again … someday. Jim Caviezel was perfect as Jesus. The movie is important because it gives modern man an inkling of what Christ did for us. I heard Fr. John Riccardo once say about Christ’s cruxifixion: “If this is the cure, can you imagine the disease?” This movie forces us to think about that question seriously. The scene of Christ’s scourging is horrendous. Do you know why He was lashed 39 times? Because 40 was considered “death” by the Romans. It was unsurvivable. I would recommend the edited version with some of the violence excised. After watching this film, fall to your knees and thank Christ for what He did for us.

#2: THE GOSPEL of JOHN: This is a unique film. It utilizes the exact text of the Gospel of John as it presents this beautiful slice of sacred scripture dramatically. Christopher Plummer’s narration is exquisite. Henry Ian Cusick makes a wonderful Jesus. I love this film and have seen it three times. In fact, I’ll watch it again in the next few weeks. This is what movie-making is all about, to take an important subject and present it beautifully, artistically, and theatrically while remaining true to the material. The Gospel of John does all of that and more. I love the way the Woman at the Well is handled. There are two versions: be sure to watch the long one, which is 3 hours. The two hour version leaves out too much.

#1: JESUS of NAZARETH. Nothing touches this film. It is the best Jesus film. It is the best Christian film. And it is the best religious film. Ever. Robert Powell is the best Jesus ever, even better than Jim Caviezel and Henry Ian Cusick. This film was a 382 minute mini series on television in 1977. Every single minute of this film is worth it. Nothing is wasted. Director Franco Zeffirelli has created an artistic masterpiece. He is true to the Gospels and creates an ancient Holy Land that seems real to modern man. His presentation of Jesus’ telling of the Prodigal Son is a work of genius, surely inspired by the Holy Spirit! Interestingly, one of the writers was Anthony Burgess, also the author of “A Clockwork Orange.” What a cast. Each star was at the top of their game. In addition to Mr. Powell, James Farantino was a Peter for the ages. Ian McShane was a complex Judas whose motivations are slowly revealed in his deft political maneuverings. Olivia Hussey as the Virgin Mary, and Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene both shine. The list is endless: Christopher Plummer fleshes out the human weakness of Herod Antipas. You can’t stand him in the end. And James Mason brings Joseph of Arimathea to life. The conversation he has with Jesus about the idea of being “born again” draws you irresistibly into the essence of the Gospels. That’s why this film is so good. You feel like you’re walking right alongside of Jesus. Everything seems so authentic.

Those are my picks. What are yours? Please let me know. I want to watch some great, new faith-filled films this Lent, starting today. So let me know your favorites right away!

Top ten religious movies for Lent 2


Integrating God and faith into movies doesn’t always work.

Sometimes, directors who are ardent believers try so hard to convey their fervor that the audience feels like they’ve been clubbed over the head. Other times, a director of little or no faith is able to convey a timeless story of faith with such an exquisite, artistic touch that you’re convinced of his devoutness.

The Holy Spirit works mysteriously in the realm of cinema. The films that follow moved me, entertained me, and conveyed a message of faith that meant something to me.

My list of favorites evolves from year to year. The films that follow are artistic, nuanced with great scripts. The Gospel of John (#2) is unique because the script is based verbatim on the Gospel of John. Christopher Plummer’s voice is perfect as the narrator. Interestingly, the versatile Mr. Plummer appears in two other films on the list (“The Scarlet and the Black”) as a Nazi, the antagonist of the Vatican, and “Jesus of Nazareth” as the spineless Herod.

I have bounced a few golden oldies from my list this year, such as Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, simply because I’ve seen them enough times that I’m a little tired of them.

I sincerely believe you will enjoy these films. Let me know your favorites. More…

Top ten religious movies for Lent 8


This is the season to experience quality movies.

I love a good religious film. Sadly, there aren’t enough of them. Religious filmmakers often lack a deft touch and club you over the head to get their faith-based message across.

Although I’m receptive to the message of faith, I still appreciate and expect artistry, nuance, and good writing in films that address these subjects.

My list of favorites evolves from year to year. The films that follow are artistic, nuanced with great scripts. The Gospel of John (#2) is unique because the script is based verbatim on the Gospel of John. Christopher Plummer’s voice is perfect as the narrator. Interestingly, the versatile Mr. Plummer appears in another film on the list (“The Scarlet and the Black”) as a Nazi, the antagonist of the Vatican.

I sincerely believe you will enjoy these films… More…

Top 15 religious movies for Lent 6


Lent is a good time to revisit some of the great religious movies made down through the years.

I have a number of favorites, which I’ve listed below. My list this year has been expanded to fifteen movies (from 13 last year) to accommodate a couple of new entries: “Son of God,” which is in the theaters right now, and “Faustina.” More…

Top 13 religious movies for Lent 11


By Tom Quiner

I’m just back from a beautiful Ash Wednesday service.

I am always overwhelmed by the realization that I came from dust and will return to dust.

I am overwhelmed that God can breathe life into that dust to make me and you.

And I am overwhelmed that even after I die, I will enjoy eternal life made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Lent has begun. I particularly enjoy watching faith-based movies over the next six weeks. There are some I come back to time and time again. There are others I don’t come back to, and yet they had such a profound impact on me that I still recommend them.

Here are my top 13 religious movies to watch this Lent. Why thirteen? Because 13 is a lucky number for Christians, since it represents the Holy Trinity, one God in three forms.

#13: SHOES of the FISHERMAN. A great story by Morris West of an unlikely Pope. Great performance by Anthony Quinn as the new Pope faced with a world in crisis. Also stars Sir Lawrence Olivier. (For a great read, Morris West wrote a little know book called “The Clowns of God” about another fictional Pope who has an apocalyptic vision of the coming end of the world. This is the most creative pro life story I have ever read.)

#12: A MAN for ALL SEASONS. The story of Sir Thomas More who refuses to compromise his faith by sanctioning King Henry VIII’s divorce, even though it will cost him his life. Very relevant in light of the Obama Mandate that demands that modern day Catholics compromise their faith or be fined, bankrupted, or jailed. Very relevant in light of Catholic bishops saying they will go to jail rather than honor this presidential edict. This 1966 film won six Academy Awards including best actor for Paul Scofield who played More. This film also featured Robert Shaw, Orson Wells, and Susannah York. It was based on a play by Robert Bolt.

#11: THE MISSION. This film was also written by Robert Bolt. It follows the lives of 18th century Jesuit missionaries in South America. Jeremy Irons and Robert Deniro turn in riveting performances as two very different priests. Their relationship is beautiful and complex. Ennio Morricone wrote one of the great musical scores of all time. The theme song all by itself is enough to make a doubter believe in God.

# 10: BARABBAS: What an epic story! This 1961 film stars Anthony Quinn as Barabbus, the criminal whom the Jewish mob spares and has Jesus crucified in his place. Based on the Gospels, the film traces the story of what might have happened to Barabbus after he was spared. Very dramatic crucifixion scene and riveting gladiator battles in an era before special effects. You’ll love the star-studded cast.

#9: SAVING GRACE. This is a little-known 1986 film that I found to be very entertaining. It stars Tom Conti as the newly-elected Pope Leo XIV. A strange thing happens to the fictional Pope: he accidentally gets locked out of the Vatican while he is out walking. He takes advantage of his “freedom” to embark on a heart-warming adventure in a small Italian village.

# 8: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION. Here’s the deal: this Broadway-based production by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is great theater and lousy theology. I didn’t like JCS until I saw the Des Moines Community Playhouse perform it in the late 90s, and then I was hooked. I later saw it at the Civic Center (which wasn’t as good as the Playhouse’s version.) I didn’t like the 1973 movie starring Ted Neely, but I loved the 2001 version that was broadcast on public television. I thought Jerome Pradon made a particularly compelling Judas. The Christian faith is a dramatic one. This version of JCS dramatizes Holy Week in a very entertaining and thought-provoking way. It is a performance I watched with my kids on many occasions, and that counts for a lot.

#7: SHADOWLANDS: C.S. Lewis was one of the most influential men of the 20th century. His writings converted, and continue to convert, people to Christianity by the thousands, maybe even by the millions. What was he really like? Shadowlands tells the true story of his touching romance with American poet, Joy Gresham, who becomes his wife. The film deals with a difficult issue, terminal illness, a theme I usually avoid like the plague. Not this time. This is a beautiful film. Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and Debra Winger as Gresham are convincing as a couple. It was nominated for two Academy Awards including Ms. Winger for Best Actress.

#6: THE CHRONICLES of NARNIA: THE LION, WITCH, and the WARDROBE. C.S. Lewis wrote one of the most beloved set of children stories ever with the Chronicles of Narnia. This 2005 film is simply magical with Liam Neeson’s voice as Aslan the Christlike Lion. I went to the theater to watch it with my kids who ranged from their teens to the twenties at the time. This is a film that brings families together. It reaches across age barriers.

#5: THE PASSION of the CHRIST. This was more than a movie, it was an event that either united or divided people, much like Christ Himself. Mel Gibson’s movie was controversial. The violence is grotesque. It is not a fun movie to watch. I have seen it twice, and I will see it again … someday. Jim Caviezel was perfect as Jesus. The movie is important because it gives modern man an inkling of what Christ did for us. I heard Fr. John Riccardo once say about Christ’s cruxifixion: “If this is the cure, can you imagine the disease?” This movie forces us to think about that question seriously. The scene of Christ’s scourging is horrendous. Do you know why He was lashed 39 times? Because 40 was considered “death” by the Romans. It was unsurvivable. I would recommend the edited version with some of the violence excised. After watching this film, fall to your knees and thank Christ for what He did for us.

#4: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: I never tire of seeing Charleston Heston playing Moses. This epic movie won four Oscars and dramatizes the life of one of the most important characters of the Old Testament. And what a cast!

#3: BEN-HUR: Mr. Heston returns in another epic story. This 1959 film won 11 Oscars. It tells the story of a Jewish prince sold into slavery by his Roman friend. His “comeback” leads him into the most famous chariot race scene ever made in the movies. Jesus’ appearance is brief and beautiful. Just writing this makes me want to run out and rent it!

#2: THE GOSPEL of JOHN: This is a unique film. It utilizes the exact text of the Gospel of John as it presents this beautiful slice of sacred scripture dramatically. Christopher Plummer’s narration is exquisite. Henry Ian Cusick makes a wonderful Jesus. I love this film and have seen it three times. In fact, I’ll watch it again in the next few weeks. This is what movie-making is all about, to take an important subject and present it beautifully, artistically, and theatrically while remaining true to the material. The Gospel of John does all of that and more. I love the way the Woman at the Well is handled. There are two versions: be sure to watch the long one, which is 3 hours. The two hour version leaves out too much.

#1: JESUS of NAZARETH. Nothing touches this film. It is the best Jesus film. It is the best Christian film. And it is the best religious film. Ever. Robert Powell is the best Jesus ever, even better than Jim Caviezel and Henry Ian Cusick. This film was a 382 minute mini series on television in 1977. Every single minute of this film is worth it. Nothing is wasted. Director Franco Zeffirelli has created an artistic masterpiece. He is true to the Gospels and creates an ancient Holy Land that seems real to modern man. His presentation of Jesus’ telling of the Prodigal Son is a work of genius, surely inspired by the Holy Spirit! Interestingly, one of the writers was Anthony Burgess, also the author of “A Clockwork Orange.” What a cast. Each star was at the top of their game. In addition to Mr. Powell, James Farantino was a Peter for the ages. Ian McShane was a complex Judas whose motivations are slowly revealed in his deft political maneuverings. Olivia Hussey as the Virgin Mary, and Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene both shine. The list is endless: Christopher Plummer fleshes out the human weakness of Herod Antipas. You can’t stand him in the end. And James Mason brings Joseph of Arimathea to life. The conversation he has with Jesus about the idea of being “born again” draws you irresistibly into the essence of the Gospels. That’s why this film is so good. You feel like you’re walking right alongside of Jesus. Everything seems so authentic.

Those are my picks. What are yours? Please let me know. I want to watch some great, new faith-filled films this Lent, starting this weekend. So let know your favorites right away!