The Register and Faith and Family magazine have published a list of the “Top 100 Pro-Catholic Movies,” based upon a reader poll. They’re not necessarily movies with Catholic themes (though most are) but films that present Catholics, or Catholic ideals, in a positive way. Similar concept was a list in the early 90s of “pro-Catholic” TV shows that offered such diverse entries as Who’s the Boss and Homicide: Life on the Streets (both great shows).
Obviously, The Passion of the Christ is #1, but, given the other entries on the list, Sound of Music is a rather surprising #2. I’d sooner list Phantom of the Opera before Sound of Music. No Narnia films (any of the three versions) or Tolkein films are on the list, but some other great Catholic books have made it, including at least one Chesterton: 1954’s The Detective (aka Father Brown), the film that inspired Sir Alec Guinness’s conversion is way down at #96.
The person I got the list from noted the absence of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a fantastic film which depicts not just the sensationalism of possession and exorcism but (unlike The Exorcist) the power of prayer and the more “ordinary” experiences of “extraordinary” demonic manifestation we all experience from time to time, whether we realize it or not (the various experiences of the lawyer). Another good film based on exorcism is Possessed, a Showtime TV movie based more directly upon the source material of The Exorcist. The Exorcist is based loosely on a book based loosely on a real-life case. Possessed is based more directly on the book and fairly accurate to the real life case. The advantage of Possessed is that it thoroughly depicts the process Fr. Amorth talks about, where people go to the secular “experts” first, then through various false religions, and only Catholic priests are capable of driving away the demon. The film really depics the inadequacy of the Lutheran minister.
The excellent 1988 version of Don Bosco makes the list, and contains one of my all-time favorite quotations. Breaking up a brawl at the local brothel that has attracted the attention of his students, Don Bosco cries out, “You people can drown in your own sins if you want to, but if a single one of my boys is lost due to your bad example, not one of you can be saved!”
Two versions of Therese make the list, as well as just about every Gospel-based movie. I could think of several excellent Bible based films that aren’t on the list. Prince of Egypt and One Night with the King are good examples (but I wonder how many people realized that the latter was a Biblical movie–its promotion and packaging were rather provocative, and Mary kind of reacted in shock when I rented it, but it’s a really good depiction of the story of Esther). Saint Ralph didn’t make the cut, either.
The rather lame 1984 TV movie Pope John Paul II, which we recently watched, makes the cut, even though it’s more like “The people who knew JPII,” but the 2005 film with Jon Voight (which I haven’t seen, but the film inspired Voight’s re-commitment to his Catholic faith) is not.
As much as I love VeggieTales, I’d think there are a lot more overtly Catholic films that could make #29 than Jonah.
1981 Brideshead Revisit: there; remake, not. Neither version of End of the Affair makes the cut.
2003’s The Gospel of John is fairly textually accurate but with some clear Protestant biases and a rather poor depiction of Jesus. The Miracle Maker, by contrast, is a fantastic animated depiction of the Gospel and partially produced by Catholics.
I only remember seeing 38 of the films (not counting a few that I saw when I was a kid but don’t remember well enough to comment), and strongly agree with 49 of the entries (based upon what I know about them second hand).
Disagree with a few, and 11 of the films, if they should be on the list at all, should be a lot lower, while I think 5 of them should be a lot higher. And, of course, the list is talking about positive portrayal of Catholics or Catholic ideas, so movies like The Fisher King which might make the cut for “Catholic themes” can’t apply here (as with the aforementioned Lewis or Tolkein based films).
I will say, though, that some of my selections are a lot better. I mean, the devil basically wins in The Exorcist, so that’s hardly a positive portrayal. Maria leaves the uptight convent to get married in Sound of Music, and there isn’t much explicitly Catholic about the rest of it.
It’s a Wonderful Life has a great theme (but that doesn’t count, does it?) and a good depiction of intercessory prayer (of both Christians on earth and saints in Heaven), but introduces the New Age version of angels that we see later in Highway to Heaven and Touched by an Angel. Sister Act is “positive” if “Catholics are old fuddy-duddies who need to get with the times and trash the liturgy to win converts” constitutes “positive.” The aforementioned 1984 JPII flick is actually rather pessimistic, focusing on skeptics and troubled friends.
The Rookie, One Man’s Hero and We Were Soldiers are all good, but Catholicism of the characters is mostly superficial and could be replaced with devout Islam faith or Jewish faith or Evangelical faith. And, come on, Moonstruck????? A film about fornication and vow-breaking? If “superficial depiction” is the rule here, and not themes, Moonstruck is no better than any film where the confessional is played for comic relief.
I’ve never seen Dead Man Walking but the real Sr. Helen Prejean is slightly to the right of Joan Chittister, and the real Susan Sarandon is mildly to the left. . . .