What were the best films about faith released in the 2010s decade? I’m not talking about “faith-based films” as the marketing term Hollywood uses for movies like Fireproof and God’s Not Dead. I’m not talking about films made for faith audiences so much as films made to explore faith: the struggle and beauty of faith, its many ups and downs, its fragile place in our secular age.
There have been many excellent movies like this released in the last 10 years. Here are 15 of my favorites. They are movies that strengthened my faith and sometimes provoked it (in helpful ways); films that inspired devotional reflection and sometimes worship. I hope they do the same for you.
1. The Tree of Life (2011)
Terrence Malick is not only one of the most celebrated and singular of all living filmmakers; he’s also probably the most artistically significant Christian filmmaker working today (he’s currently shooting a film about the life of Christ). His 2011 magnum opus—a biblical epic about creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, at the intersection of the universe and small-town Texas—remains a singular achievement of religious art and, to my mind, the best Christian film ever made. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
2. Silence (2016)
Martin Scorsese’s harrowing adaptation of Shusako Endo’s acclaimed novel is not for the faint of heart. A haunting meditation on the struggle of faith in the face of suffering, Silence leaves you unsettled and (appropriately) hushed. The genius of the film is how open to interpretation it is: I’ve had more theological conversations about Silence than just about any other recent film. Scorsese has revealed that Malick wrote him a letter after seeing Silence, asking: “What does Christ want from us?” It’s one of many questions posed by this thoughtfully provocative film. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
3. A Hidden Life (2019)
Malick’s newest film—releasing in theaters this December (my full review will publish at TGC in upcoming weeks)—is, among other things, his answer to Scorsese’s Silence. Based on the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian Christian who refused to compromise his faith by swearing oath to Hitler and the Nazis, A Hidden Life is also about the struggle of faith in the face of persecution. A sort of cinematic rendering of the Psalms, in the gorgeous scenery of the Austrian Alps, Life is a stirring call to faithful endurance for the beleaguered bride of Christ. In theaters December 13.
4. First Reformed (2018)
It came as little surprise that Paul Schrader—celebrated filmmaker, Calvin College graduate, and film theorist who wrote Transcendental Style in Film—would make a film like First Reformed. Still, it came as a shock to the system, in a good way. The film offers what I found to be an incisive critique of various wings of American Christianity, particularly our tendency to want to resolve the knotty paradoxes of faith in one errant direction or the other. An easy film to watch? Decidedly not. But worth it for the thoughtful Christian viewer? Absolutely. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
5. Of Gods and Men (2010)
There’s an unforgettable scene near the end of Xavier Beauvois’s Of Gods and Men—a film about Cistercian monks in Algeria who try to remain faithfully present, living and serving their community, despite the threats posed by Islamic radicals. The “Last Supper” scene, wordless except for Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” captures beautifully the joy of Christian fellowship in the midst of terror and suffering. As the music swells, so do the monks’ watery eyes—expressing lament but also hope for the presence of Christ that feels ever more near. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
6. Secret Sunshine (2010)
Technically released in 2007, this Korean film from director Lee Chang-dong (Burning) wasn’t released in the United States until December 2010, so I’m going to pronounce it qualified for inclusion on this decade’s list. It’s too good not to highlight. A punishing drama about one Korean woman’s wrestle with God in the face of unspeakable tragedy, Sunshine contains one of the most effective, heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever encountered about the scandalous offense of grace. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
7. Hail, Caesar! (2016)
The Coen brothers are some of the most consistently interesting theological filmmakers working today, and this film is one of their most explicitly faith-oriented. Billed as a satire of the Hollywood studio system, Hail, Caesar! turns out to be a sort of meta biblical epic. It’s a funny, moving, irreverent (but also deeply reverent) reflection on Jewish and Christian perspectives on the character of God, as explored through the lens of a prolific Hollywood producer. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
8. Selma (2014)
Ava DuVernay’s civil-rights drama is not just about Martin Luther King Jr. (played here by Christian actor David Oyelowo). It’s about a risky and hard-won movement in the direction of justice—one that was deeply inspired and sustained by Christian faith. The film reminds us that justice is a righteous cause, but not an easy one. It’s not a hashtag or trendy fad. It’s a long journey, a steep uphill climb; but the view from the mountaintop—if God so grants it—is worth the struggle. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
9. Calvary (2014)
Set against the backdrop of church sex-abuse scandals and an overall souring reputation for the Catholic church (see also: 2013’s Philomena and 2015’s Spotlight), John Michael McDonaugh’s Calvary is a brutal but beautiful look at the costly call of persevering faith when the church is in ruins (literally in the film). Brendan Gleeson shines as a weary but tender shepherd who refuses to stop loving and seeking after the lost sheep in his parish, however costly it is for him. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
10. Arrival (2016)
The first film on this list not explicitly about Christian faith, Denis Villeneuve’s beautiful Arrival puts a decidedly philosophical spin on the sci-fi, alien-invasion thriller. God may not directly be mentioned, but the film raises all sorts of questions about free will, predestination, and the faith to keep living even when we know trouble will come. Featuring a stirring central performance from Amy Adams, Arrival also turns out to contain a beautiful pro-life undercurrent. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
11. The Overnighters (2014)
I often lament that there are not more documentaries about pastors and churches, and how they are trying to meet the complicated needs of their communities. There is so much drama there! So much inspiration. Jesse Ross tells a story like this in The Overnighters—a movie about a North Dakota pastor’s compassionate response to the influx of migrant oil workers. It’s probably the most moving and surprising documentary about faith this decade. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
12. To the Wonder (2012)
Far more modest in scope than The Tree of Life, Malick’s autobiographical To the Wonder is no less interested in faith. Indeed, the presence of a pastor character—Javier Bardem’s “Father Quintana”—makes this explicit, particularly during a stunning sequence that closes the film in a liturgical sequence that turns St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer into a cinematic tone poem set in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
13. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Mel Gibson’s most faith-oriented film since The Passion of the Christ presents the compelling true World War II story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Like A Hidden Life, this is a film about standing by unpopular faith convictions even in the face of enormous cultural pressure to cave. We need films like this more than ever before. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)
14. Ad Astra (2019)
There are various ways James Gray’s sci-fi adventure film can be interpreted theologically. Is it about the search for God? God’s absence? In my review I focused on the way the film captures man’s temptation to work his way up to God (literally building Babel-esque towers), demanding God’s point of view above rather than accepting his gifts and revelation below. However you might interpret its godward gaze, the experience of watching Ad Astra is sure to stir the soul. In theaters now.
15. The Drop Box (2014)
Brian Ivie’s documentary is a moving look at a South Korean pastor who places a “drop box” outside his Seoul church where abandoned children can be left by mothers who feel they can’t care for them. In a world where children are treated like trash every day—whether through abortion or abuse or abandonment—it’s powerful to watch them treated like treasures in this film: dignified, adopted, and beloved as beings made in the image of God. (Watch: Amazon | iTunes)