10 Great Movies About Religion That Anyone Can Appreciate


Movies with religious themes may be most often enjoyed by people who practice a certain religion. However, religious viewers aren’t the only audiences targeted by most religious movies. Just as people devoted to one faith can enjoy movies that don’t have any religious commentary or themes, so too can viewers who don’t practice religion find entertainment value and emotional fulfillment from movies that are about religion.

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The following movies all demonstrate this well, as each features religion as a primary theme, has a religious story, or has predominantly religious characters. Regardless of one’s faith (or lack thereof), they are all highly engaging and well-made movies that may prove inspirational to those who are religious, and simply well-told stories packed with emotional scenes for less religious (or altogether non-religious) viewers.

1 ‘The Mission’ (1986)

While Robert De Niro is widely beloved for his roles in numerous crime movies (particularly those directed by Martin Scorsese), he’s had plenty of iconic non-crime movie roles, too. The Mission is one of the best examples, as this is a historical drama/adventure movie set in the 1750s about an ex-mercenary (played by De Niro) seeking redemption at an Argentinian mission deep in the jungle.

Much of the movie also deals with the Jesuit priests who work at the mission fighting for its continued existence, which pits them against the powerful Spanish military. It’s an engaging and emotional movie, and is considerably enhanced by the spectacular Ennio Morricone score, which stands as one of his best… which is really saying something. The Mission also ranks among The Vatican’s 45 favorite movies, which were picked in 1995 to commemorate 100 years of cinema.

2 ‘First Reformed’ (2017)

Image via A24

Writer/director Paul Schrader is no secret to exploring themes around faith in the films he works on, and First Reformed might be the movie that best exemplifies that. It’s a dark psychological drama about the priest of a small church whose life begins to spiral out of control after several strange encounters with those around him.

It’s a movie that digs deep into the psyche of its main character, played excellently by Ethan Hawke in one of his very best performances. It might prove a little too intense and uncomfortably introspective for some, but anyone who enjoys a deep character study on film should check it out, regardless of their faith.

3 ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (1988)

Willem Dafoe as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ toasting with his cup

Like First Reformed, The Last Temptation of Christ was also written by Paul Schrader, and based on the controversial novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. Unlike First Reformed, however, this film was directed by Martin Scorsese, who’s like Schrader in that he’s unafraid to explore religion frequently in his movies, especially noticeable here in this 1988 film.

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Though its story bears some similarity to the last days of Jesus Christ’s life as seen in the Bible, it takes a more down-to-earth approach, painting Jesus as someone who struggled with human flaws while on Earth, despite his divinity. It’s this approach to a biblical-era story that made The Last Temptation of Christ controversial, but it’s also the thing that makes it a compelling, emotional, and personal story, and as such, it’s arguably more likely to be enjoyed by secular viewers.

4 ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959)

Ben-Hur (1959) (1)

Ranking among the longest Best Picture winners in the history of the Oscars, Ben-Hur is a truly epic biblical movie. It follows a man named Judah Ben-Hur, who finds himself and his family sold into slavery. It’s a film that builds to a legendary chariot race, which is where the protagonist has a chance to right the ways he’s been wronged, and free himself and his family.

It’s a story that takes place around the same time as the life of Jesus Christ, but focuses more on a different group of people, and contains a good deal more action and spectacle than most biblical movies. It’s a long but rewarding viewing experience, and one Hollywood epic that certainly stands the test of time.

5 ‘mother!’ (2017)


At first glance, Darren Aronofsky’s infamous mother! doesn’t feel like a particularly religious-themed movie. It takes place inside a single house, and at its most basic level, it depicts a continuing series of tense and nightmarish scenes where people keep showing up at a couple’s home, refusing to leave and being joined by more and more people as things go on.

It’s initially not entirely clear what deeper meaning this psychological horror movie contains, but a popular reading is that it’s a loose retelling of several early Bible stories. It can be appreciated for the tense, stomach-churning ride it takes viewers on, or those who watch it can dig a little deeper, and see it as a series of religious allegories, if they so desire of course.

6 ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956)

As far as relatively straightforward Bible adaptations go, 1956’s The Ten Commandments is a successful one. The story of Moses contains a great deal of cinematic potential, which is well realized across the almost four-hour-runtime that The Ten Commandments has.

The sense of scale still holds up well, with the film using plenty of extras and special effects for its big sequences that were groundbreaking for the time. It’s easy to get swept up in this story of betrayal, self-discovery, and redemption, as this story about the birth of the rules that govern both Judaism and Christianity is likely to appeal to all… even those who don’t belong to either one of those faiths.

7 ‘Noah’ (2014)

Noah standing before a massive rock creature outisde a tent in 2014's Noah.

Three years before mother!, Aronofsky made another slightly off-kilter religious movie called Noah. It was more obviously an adaptation of a biblical story than mother! (it’s in the title, after all), but nevertheless, it was a strange and unexpected take on the familiar story of the world being destroyed by a flood, with Noah and his family (plus tons of animals) surviving on his ark.

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It takes an approach to the story that almost turns it into a Lord of the Rings-style epic, as there are plenty of special effects, a couple of battle sequences, and even some rock monsters inexplicably voiced by Nick Nolte. It’s strange spectacle at its best, with its brazenness and unique style communicated clearly to audiences both religious and agnostic.

8 ‘The Tree of Life’ (2011)

Image Via Fox Searchlight Pictures

Terrence Malick explores faith in a unique, hypnotic manner in The Tree of Life, which combines an intimate family drama with an epic story about the birth of the universe. To call it all visually spectacular would be an understatement, as it would have to rank among the most beautiful-looking movies of the 2010s.

It can be a bumpy ride, because the film has an unusual rhythm, some repetition when it comes to scenes, and may prove frustrating to some with frequent sequences left up to each viewer’s personal interpretation. However, the way it explores the meaning of life and humanity’s very existence feels deeply spiritual, and it also does this in a way that doesn’t discriminate against viewers who themselves might not be particularly spiritual.

9 ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ (2005)

Kingdom of Heaven

In his nearly 50-year-long career, Ridley Scott has made plenty of great movies that have been overshadowed or underrated, and Kingdom of Heaven is undeniably one of them. It follows a blacksmith who becomes swept up in the Crusades, which were a series of dramatic religious wars waged throughout the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries.

In that way, it’s more of a historical epic/war movie than it is say a drama that explores the nuances of religion, but the religious side of the plot is undeniably important. It’s a fictionalized depiction of wars that did actually happen because those of different faiths wanted control over certain lands, reflecting a dark but important period of the world’s history, and the way it was shaped by various religious beliefs.

10 ‘Silence’ (2016)

Silence - 2016

Silence ranks among Martin Scorsese’s most underrated movies. It’s an epic film that runs for almost three hours, and follows two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in search of their mentor, given that was his last-known location.

It’s a slow and meditative movie, but a consistently engrossing one that manages to be a balanced and introspective look at what drives people who dedicate their lives to a particular faith. It’s one of the best religious-focused movies of the 21st century so far, and an altogether thoughtful and highly impactful entry in Scorsese’s vast filmography. It’s not always an easy or necessarily “fun” watch, but it feels like an essential one.

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