There is no shortage of Catholic/Christian movie review sites out there, but I present my own recommendations for the following reasons:
- Although I will tolerate a certain degree of unfortunate immodesty in a few scenes if the movie is edifying enough overall (and even at that, only if the movie does not attempt to incite lust in its viewers), I am categorically opposed to any sort of a sex scene in a movie. Although some nudity can be portrayed without such a depiction necessarily amounting to pornography, it is intrinsically wrong to actually portray sex acts; even if these scenes are not graphic (that is, containing no nudity), only simulated, and not glorifying sexual sin. This is clearly a teaching of the Catechism if you understand the nature of the language it uses in paragraph 2354. It is really sad to me how many good Catholics unreservedly and unabashedly promote movies with sex scenes in them. If you happen to one of them: please reconsider. You don’t realize it, but you are promoting pornography.
- I recommend, before watching any movie, to check its “content certifications” on IMDB, as well as to check it on kids-in-mind.com, commensensemedia.org, and parentpreviews.com.
- I am very insistent that a movie should be thoroughly good to be worth watching; that, after watching it, you are strengthened and aided in choosing the good (as is the purpose of all true art). I reject the notion that we should be watching movies — even if they have a good moral of the story, or a few good parts, or a good ending — if the main thrust of them merely amounts to eye candy, gratuitous violence, “interesting” or “thought provoking” but lacking substance, or any other aimlessly engaging thing. In other words, we must draw a distinction between that which is good for edification and that which is only good for evangelization. If you are already a serious Catholic, you don’t need to waste two hours on something that is merely good for evangelization. That’s milk, not solid food. You’re onto solid food.
- I strongly lament the pervasive foundational errors in the modern approach to storytelling. The anti-hero, the “who can be more gritty” competition, the purposelessness, the inordinate focus on a movie’s “realistic-ness” as an end in itself, the morose delectation, and the list goes on. I’ll never recommend a movie that I see as falling into one of those categories.
- This fourth point is only a matter of opinion and preference, I merely state it so you know where I’m coming from: I am not afraid to say that I find many “quintessential Catholic” movies boring. I am not against these movies at all! More power to you if you like them. I’m just saying that I do personally prefer stories that focus on retelling extraordinary things – not ordinary – and likewise I think there has been positive progress in a few regards (not just with technology and special effects) in modern film-making — we’ve become better at avoiding the over-acting, the melodramatic delivery of lines, the affected demeanors, the awkwardly and painfully lengthy, drawn-out scenes, and the like.
- Similarly (and this again is mere personal preference), I know there are many morally sound sports movies, but I can’t bear sports movies. Again, more power to you if you like them, but I just can’t force myself to care about who wins a game, nor can I take seriously the degree of seriousness these movies impute to them. A war, an election, an important journey, a mission, etc.: these are things I can get invested in the outcome of; not sports. I enjoy playing sports but I do not find them worthy of forming the substance of a story that is more than 1 minute long. Again, that’s just me, and I only say that so you know why there are no sports movies on this list (so you do not assume I condemn them).
(Note that I’m primarily here sticking to mainstream movies. There are a huge amount of very good low-budget films made by Catholic companies and individuals, and I heartily recommend most of them.)
This list is a work in progress; not only will I add to it as I see more movies that I wish to add here, but I also will add to it as I continue to more thoroughly consider all the movies I’ve seen and my opinions of them
- The Passion of the Christ
- Beyond the Gates
- For Greater Glory (Though I could have done without a few parts concerning the “catorce” character who is clearly vengeful and this is not sufficiently frowned upon)
- There Be Dragons
- Quo Vadis
- Ben Hur
- A Man for All Seasons
- Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (There is one unfortunate scene that casts doubt on the indissolubility of marriage. Be sure to catechize children about that if watching it with them).
- Les Miserables (Only the 1998 version starring Liam Neeson – NOT the recent 2012 musical. There is an unfortunate teen romance story nestled in the middle of the movie that drags on, achieves nothing, and is borderline sinful in at least a couple scenes. Thankfully it does not seriously detract from the movie nor are there any blatantly lustful scenes.)
- Exorcism movies I recommend: The Rite, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and The Conjuring
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
- The Ten Commandments (1956). (As is typical of movies from that era, plot developments that should take 5 minutes instead take 30. Seemingly endless melodramatic dialogues drag on. Also, the romance stories injected into it are utterly pointless and take away from the movie. Nevertheless this is overall such a solid and faithful movie about Israel’s deliverance from bondage that I couldn’t even bear to put it down below.)
Recommend with Reservations:
- Braveheart. An amazing story, and very inspiring. But you have to be very careful to use this inspiration in the right way; not in a way that inspires emotions of vengeance, love of violence for its own sake, or vanity. Furthermore, there are two scenes that should be skipped; skip about 3 minutes after Wallace and Murron are married, and likewise skip about 3 minutes after Wallace meets the princess at the hut. This latter scene is my greatest reservation about this otherwise wonderful story. What a disaster that they had to make Wallace out to be a fornicator; were it not for this one small part of the movie, it would be far better. I would also recommend fast forwarding through a couple of the battle scenes; they become over the top and gratuitous past a certain amount of time.
- Gladiator (2000). This almost went above with wholehearted recommendations. But there are a few times when the violence becomes gratuitous, and when the movie encourages the viewer the partake in the morose delectation of vengeance and unjustified killing. Other than that, this is extremely solid. Virtue is exalted and vice is condemned. Nothing sexual in it. Additionally, the whole movie is really about the afterlife (though unfortunately nothing explicitly Christian).
- The Giver. Much inspiration can be found in this for those whose consciences are already properly formed. Unfortunately, however, this inspiration could be taken in the wrong way as well by one who is mired in error; consider the line in many of the previews where the evil character says “when people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong.” You know what inspiration a pro-choicer will take from that. But in truth, the movie is very pro-life. It also does not suffer from the giddy silliness so prevalent in young-adult films.
- Lincoln (2012). Very solid and inspiring. An honorable defense of goodness and truth, and Lincoln’s God-fearing approach is evident in it. But just like the above movie, this inspiration is carefully portrayed in such a way as to be capable of being used in the completely wrong way. A pro-lifer would rightly find inspiration in Lincoln’s cause from this movie. Unfortunately a gay “marriage” advocate will also manage to find the same.
- The Mission (1986). The first hour and twenty minutes are excellent — a great story, full of edifying inspiration… in short, everything a movie should be. But I strongly advise turning it off after that point. The remaining 45 minutes are utterly pointless. Imagine if the Gospels ended after Jesus was buried in the tomb, but not only that, the entire Passion narrative was utterly devoid of any sort of edification, and to top it all off, the final verse was an idiotic quote completely undermining the reality of the afterlife. That sums up the last 45 minutes of The Mission. I must also point out that, while it’s not necessarily wrong to portray some nudity in order to be realistic, I think this movie nevertheless goes over-the-top with the nudity of the indigenous tribal people.
- Deliver us From Evil (2014). A great and inspiring exorcism movie; a great apology for Faith and Catholicism in particular, as well. Unfortunately the protagonist priest is an alcoholic and this is not particularly frowned upon in the movie. A bit too much eye candy, perhaps, as well. As with just about all exorcism movies, some of it is unrealistic and not a particularly accurate portrayal of exorcisms (oh well.)
- Prisoners (2013) Very powerful story of evil. But not enough specificity with precisely what the opposing good consists in.
- Railway Man (2013) — An inspiring story of forgiveness, but if memory serves, utterly devoid of even the least mention of God, or a higher power, or really anything transcendent. I’m not saying every movie has to be a work of Catholic apologetics, but I do have a hard time seeing it as realistic to encourage heartfelt forgiveness of the most heinous crimes without any mention of God. There is one scene in this that you might think is going to be a sex scene, but it cuts short well before it becomes a serious issue (though I would still have preferred this scene to be entirely absent).
- I Am Legend. Although this might verge on being more qualified for evangelization than edification, it is a close call. The moral of the story is a very strong — albeit subtle — defense of God and Divine Providence, along with presenting a powerful image of sacrifice. So long as there are not other issues, I often endorse Apocalyptic-type movies since the scenarios they portray can help us — if we so choose to use them correctly — to be detached from the passing vanity of this world. That being said, this might be more of a movie to keep in mind to refer to those in need of evangelization; as it isn’t exactly overall extremely edifying, though I would say the ending is.
- 2012. Don’t worry, I really do have major reservations with this one. But for one whose head is already on straight, edification can be found from it. There’s lots of idiotic parts, but there’s actually a good deal of credence given to faith and prayer, as well. The whole thing is overshadowed of course by this secular version of hope that won’t be there when this world does come to an end. If nothing else, it can give you some visuals to help you meditate on Apocalyptic scenarios, which can be very beneficial to prayer. It may seem weird, but sometimes the only thing I can do to get rid of distractions is try to convince myself that the world is going to end after Mass, or after whatever prayer I’m saying; in that case, all of my distractions would be pointless, since I won’t have time to deal with them anyway!
- Les Miserables (2012) – See my post on this. It may be a great movie if it weren’t for a few scenes, but I do not plan on watching it (I don’t like musicals), so I do not know. I put this under “rejections” instead of “recommend with reservations” because of how very disappointed I am in how many Catholics have explicitly supported the filthy and perverse scenes in it.
- Calvary (2014) – See my post on this.
- Noah (2014) – Although some parts of this movie are commendable — they at least take Genesis seriously (it’s difficult to find even devout Catholics today who do that much!), and it is certainly visually enjoyable — it is really fundamentally blasphemous. Consider what our Faith teaches us about the real Noah — that he was so incredibly righteous, that because of his righteousness alone, God chose to save the world instead of completely destroy it. This movie portrays him to be a psychopathic murderer. There are plenty of other ridiculous aspects of this movie; elements of Manichaeism, Fallen Angels being “good guys” and repenting, the only “sin” of the ante-deluvian days being “industralization,” etc. But the worst of all is the blasphemous attitude towards Noah.
- Harry Potter Series – Whether it’s the films or the books, many good Catholics defend these. I think that such defenses usually stem from a lack of belief in the reality of sorcery and its intrinsically, gravely, evil nature. See CCC 2117 (and consider that the Catechism does not condemn non existent things). Lord of the Rings and Narnia, on the other hand, also deal with magic to an extent, but by and large they depict it as it is: an evil. Sure, they call Gandalf a “wizard,” but it is not words I condemn, it is substance: virtually all of his efforts have natural explanations, when he fights, he fights physically, when his companions ask him to use magic, he rebukes them, etc. It is not a perfect work, but it is absolutely worlds apart from Harry Potter. Such an attitude toward magic has always been the case in good Christian literature, but it is not at all the case with Harry Potter, which depicts magic and sorcery as something as benign and indifferent as technology; good if used for good, bad if used for bad. Incidentally, that is perhaps the foremost modern moral error that undergirds our apostate age: the notion that evil can legitimately be used for good.
- The majority of comic book movies (e.g. The Avengers, Iron Man, Transformers, etc.). Sorry, but a movie consisting in a “good vs. evil” plot in some way does not mean it is necessarily worth watching. These movies almost without fail exist solely to provide eye-candy and that “let’s rock and roll and kick butt” feeling that is in no way healthy to feed on, not to mention numerous foundational errors mentioned in point #3 on the top of this page. They also tend to be full of a sarcastic, rude type of humor that I believe to be spiritually damaging.
- The majority of modern Disney movies and modern kid’s movies in general. Such movies, even when they do not advocate for blatantly sinful things, nevertheless seem to never fail to condone and encourage disrespectful, bratty, sarcastic attitudes, as well as a giddy and over-the-top form of humor that is not healthy for anyone’s soul, much less children’s. The fruits of these elements are abundantly obvious in the behavior of children whose lives are saturated with such films.
- I haven’t seen all (or even most) of them, but the so-called “Vatican Film List” contains some utterly terrible movies, for example The Sacrifice (1986). (No, I’m not being a dissenter here. This list is not in the least intended as some sort of Magisterial list of “good movies that Catholics should endorse.”)
*Obviously this is not an exhaustive list of movies I reject. I’m only trying to list here those movies I reject but have nevertheless often come across being recommended on Catholic movie review sites