Top ten religious movies for Lent 2024


top 10 religious movies for Lent 2024Lent presents you with an opportunity to check out some quality films with themes that align with your faith. There are some fabulous options. Some are historical, others tell stories with subjects that tease you with Christlike motifs without hitting you over the head.

I’ve been compiling this list for over a decade. This year is remarkably different than 2014. I don’t have to spell it out. Basic ideas of right and wrong have been turned upside down. The FBI targets Catholic extremists and sends SWAT teams to the homes of pro-life advocates.

This Lent presents an opportunity to work on a particular virtue: courage. We need to be courageous in the face of a power structure that works overtime to intimidate those who dare to stand up for the unborn in the public square.

In the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis says that courage is the ultimate virtue:

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

So this year’s list of top ten religious movies for Lent 2024 includes some movies that showcase courageous heroism in particularly creative ways. For example, one of the most amazing saints in all of history is Joan of Arc. We include not one, but two remarkably different films on this most amazing young woman. We’ll even tell you which movie of Joan not to watch.

Good religious movies help us appreciate the profound meaning of our lives as it ultimately draws us nearer to Christ. It reveals the Truth, with a capital T. If you have not had the good fortune of watching any of these films yet, then you may want to see what your Cable TV package has available and where you could watch these with your entire family.

Grab the popcorn. It’s showtime!

#10 NEFARIOUS: Blaze tv show host, Steve Deace who happens to be an Iowan, conceived this subversive film as a sort of follow up to The Screwtape Letters. The plot is seemingly straightforward: A serial killer is scheduled to be executed at 11PM. The state needs to confirm that the man is of sound mind before they electrocute him. They employ a psychiatrist to conduct an evaluation. The condemned man maintains he is possessed by a demon, and tells the shrink that he (the shrink) will have committed three murders of his own before the day is done. The movie contains no sex, nudity, crudity, profanity, or serious violence, other than the depiction of an execution. For parents and pastors who wonder if their teens should see this film, the answer is a qualified yes. The film is an eye-opener for young people whose minds have been clouded by a secular religion that says right is wrong and wrong is right. The devil is scary, and some kids can’t handle it. But the devil is also real, and Jesus spoke about demons and confronted them on many occasions. Intense. Scary. Worth seeing without a doubt.

#9 PRINCE OF EGYPT. Some two decades have passed since I first viewed this 1998 film. I watched it again last year and was simply delighted from beginning to end. Maybe it’s because I was watching with my grandkids, but I loved this movie more than I did the first time. How could one not love it? It tells the story of Moses. The visuals are stunning. The songs catchy and singable, written as they were by the great Stephen Schwartz (Godspell) with a score by Hans Zimmer. The all-star cast of voices includes a Hollywood who’s who from the late 90s: Val Kilmer; Ralph Fiennes; Patrick Stewart; Helen Mirren; Steve Martin; Martin Short; Michelle Pfeiffer; Sandra Bullock. Its $70 million budget ensured that no expense was spared in retelling a classic biblical story. This is a great animated family film the adults will love at least as much as their kids and grandkids.

#8: WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND. You are in for a treat. This delightful gem of a movie is perfect for the entire family. Made in 1961, it may look a little dated, but I found this to be one of the most creative plot lines I have seen in a long time. A wife murderer (Alan Bates) is on the lam from the law. He’s been shot by the cops and hides out in a barn in rural England. The teenage girl who lives on the farm, the great Haley Mills, startles the killer and asks who he is. He blurts out, “Jesus Christ,” before passing out from blood loss. Mills’ character takes him literally, and before you know it, all of the kids in the village believe that he actually IS Jesus. But they don’t tell any of their parents. This is a tale of faith and redemption. Perfect for Lent!

#7: Gran Torino: Surprised to see a Clint Eastwood movie on the list? No one less than Bishop Robert Barron called Gran Torino “one of the great presentations of the Christ story.” Eastwood, who directed and starred, portrays grouchy Walt Kowalski, an old geezer who’s wife just died. His kids want to move him into an old folks home. His working class neighbor in Detroit is getting dangerous as gangs move in. Walt is a cantankerous, racist s.o.b. who hides his decency under the surface. He’s a heroic figure who uses violence to ward off violence directed at his Laotian neighbors … until he realizes it’s just not working. Violence begets violence. I really don’t want to say much more, because you need to see this film if you haven’t. Be warned that there’s violence and there’s no shortage of profanity. Suffice it to say, Bishop Barron said it was one of the best examples of what the church fathers called the “Christus Victor Theory.” Watch it.

#6: JOAN OF ARC:  My wife and I listened to a riveting book on tape, Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc, on a road trip to the East Coast last summer. Before we began the book, we read that Twain considered this his greatest achievement. Early on, he said he considered Joan to be the greatest person ever born, next to Jesus. He had our attention. The book totally mesmerized us, and we finished it before we got back home. The next step? Find a good movie of Joan of Arc. Do you know her story? A French peasant girl in the early 15th century begins hearing voices from God. The voices included saints and angels (St. Michael and St. Gabriel). The voices told the 16 year old Joan that she was to lead the French army against the English to liberate France and crown the French dauphin as king. Amazingly, she pulled it off, only to be captured by the English, tried as a witch, and burned at the stake. The first Joan movie we watched was, “The Messenger”, starring Milla Jovovich. While entertaining, it presents Joan as a warrior more than a faithful servant of God. They misrepresented her childhood, setting up false motivations for her mission. By contrast, the 1948 Joan of Arc (below) remains true to the Joan story for the most part. It gets the full Hollywood treatment, including a big budget and A-list cast, beginning with Ingrid Bergman as the Maiden of Orléans, Joan of Arc. Joan models faithfulness and courage, a great saint from history to ponder this Lent.

#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 thrice, 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 crucifixion: “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: HACKSAW RIDGE. Courage and conviction are in short supply these days. So when a movie comes along about a man who stood up for his religious convictions regardless of the cost, it’s worth checking out. I finally got around to watching Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge this year (it came out in 2016). The movie marked his return to directing after a ten year hiatus. Gibson knows how to tell a story. Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss, a simple man from Lynchburg, Virginia, who enlists when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He had a catch: not only would he not use a rifle, he would not even carry one. Although the ‘cancel culture’ didn’t exist in the 1940s, Doss felt the brunt of the military establishment who attempted to ‘cancel’ him via a court martial. They failed. He went on to become an invaluable member of his unit as a medic, rescuing some 75 soldiers at the brutal battle of Okinawa. His courage was contagious. Following a particularly brutal attack, Doss was wounded and exhausted after saving countless of his fellow soldiers. It was a miracle he was still alive. The soldiers were once again called to battle (the entire campaign lasted 83 days). The soldiers wouldn’t go unless Doss was with them. The commanding officer said to Doss: “These men don’t believe the same way you do. But they believe so much in how much you believe. They want a piece of it. They’re not going up there without you.” The moral: courage is contagious.

#3: JESUS of NAZARETH. This film is an epic work of cinematic craftsmanship. Robert Powell is an extraordinarily effective Jesus. It was originally broadcast as 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.

#2: THE CHOSEN: Not a movie, but rather the first original TV series about Jesus Christ. Three seasons are completed, 24 episodes in all, plus a pilot and Christmas special. What’s interesting is this was made outside of the Hollywood system. It was financed via crowd funding. The writers let us get to know Jesus through the eyes of key players from scripture: His disciples, Mary Magdalene, even little children.  You can watch it free on The Chosen app and/or Angel Studios website. They claim over 400 million views so far! If you want to sample an episode, check out the 3rd episode of season two, titled “Matthew 4:24.” The camera work is extraordinary, as a single camera weaves in and out of a crowd without a break for the first eight minutes or so. Watch:

Season 4 is in theaters right now. The tentative streaming date is March 14th, 024.

#1: THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC: Okay, this film was made in 1928. It’s black and white. And it’s a SILENT MOVIE! Don’t dismiss it out of hand, because you have never seen a finer piece of acting in your life. The late Roger Ebert said this about it: “You cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renee Maria Falconetti. In a medium without words, where the filmmakers believed that the camera captured the essence of characters through their faces, to see Falconetti in Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (1928) is to look into eyes that will never leave you. Falconetti (as she is always called) made only this single movie. “It may be the finest performance ever recorded on film,” wrote Pauline Kael.”

Did you know that there is a transcript of every word spoken at Joan’s 1431 trial? This film focuses exclusively on the trial, using actual words from the transcript. It captures as no other film does the passion of a saint. If you want to see soldier Joan, this isn’t the film for you. But if you want to see the depth of a saint’s faith, devotion, and courage, this is a must-see.

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!

[Tom Quiner is board president of Pulse Life Advocates. If you enjoyed this essay, be sure to subscribe to our blog. Every donation helps us expand our reach!]