12 Catholic movies to watch during social distancing

Our list of 10 Classic Movies that all Catholics should see:

There are a lot of good movies out there, with high production quality and deep messages, though perhaps not as many as we would like.Once in a while, a film will come along that manages to introduce us to key aspects of faith, allowing us to glimpse timeless truths through the language of cinema.  These movies become windows to the essentials; they give color, sound and voice to that which is invisible to the eye, yet is fundamental to understanding the Christian life.

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Ben-Hur (1959)

12 nominations and 11 wins including Best Picture, Best Actor (Charlton Heston), and Best Director (William Wyler)

This epic drama tells the story of a 1st century Jewish prince from Jerusalem named Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) who is betrayed by a Roman tribune, Messala, who was a childhood friend. He is forced into slavery on a galley, a Roman warship where he is subject to a brutal life of manual labor and rowing of the massive ship. As he and the other slaves are marched through the desert to the galleys, he begs for water, but the Romans deny him. He collapses, but a young man revives him, giving him water.

Three years later, he survives an attack on the ship and rescues the Roman Consul Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), who adopts him as his own son and trains him to be a champion charioteer. Judah returns to Jerusalem as a wealthy Roman and learns that Messala is now a champion charioteer as well and challenges him to a race for the new governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate.

He wins the race and searches for his surviving family members to discover that they have contracted leprosy. He attempts to bring them to a healer that has been traveling throughout Judea healing and preaching, named Jesus of Nazareth, but discovers that has been condemned to death on the cross. Judah sees Jesus being marched through the streets and immediately recognizes him as the man who gave him water years before. He hears Christ from the cross forgive his persecutors and returns home a changed man, no longer seeking vengeance for the injustices committed against him.

It is a remake of the 1925 silent film and was remade again in 2016, starring Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman.

I hadn’t seen this movie prior to writing this article. But I sat down and watched the 212-minute epic and can confidently say that it is one of the best movies I have ever seen. It has something for everybody—romance, dramatic sporting events, religion, an exploration of human survival, medical crisis, and an amazing redemption arc. The scale and the scope of the film for its time, as well as its ability to bring the audience into the 1st century time period, was jarring.

Although Jesus in the film did not show his face, nor did he have speaking lines, his mere presence was the most significant aspect of the film. Much of this epicness of sort in Jesus comes from the words of other people who heard him speak and share his words with others, portraying the incredible power of evangelization.

Ben-Hur won a record-breaking 11 awards at the 32nd Academy Awards (until Titanic equaled it in 1998 and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004).

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

8 nominations and 6 wins including Best Picture, Best Actor (Paul Scofield), and Best Director (Fred Zinnemann)

This is a biopic movie is an adaptation of the stage drama about St. Thomas More (Paul Schofield), a 16th century Lord Chancellor of England who refused to endorse the King Henry VIII of England’s (Robert Shaw) divorce from Catherine of Aragon and take an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII supreme head of the Church of England.

I had mix feelings before watching this movie. A priest friend of mine who is also a movie buff has recommended this movie multiple times, both on the pulpit and in private conversation, However, I noticed that it was directed by the same man who directed A Nun’s Story starring Audrey Hepburn, which I watched hoping to include on this list, but felt was a very inaccurate and poor portrayal of religious life.

Yet upon watching A Man for all Seasons, I was very impressed by this film. St. Thomas More is one of the most underrated saints of the church, but he is one who people are very likely to relate to. He has a successful career and is a patriot. He loves his country and his work. He’s a wonderful husband and father who makes his family a priority. But above all, he loves his faith and was unwilling to compromise on it, despite his family and friends begging him to submit. This led him to become a martyr.

This multifaceted personality of St. Thomas More was portrayed in the movie well. Schofield’s portrayal balanced both the compassionate family man and just politician. It was difficult to watch the man who had everything (honor, power, family, faith, wealth) lose everything because renouncing what he believed was not an option for him.

The film also features a very young John Hurt in one of his earliest roles as Richard Rich, and Orson Welles as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, More’s predecessor as Lord Chancellor.

A Man for All Seasons led the 39th Academy Awards, taking home 6 awards, more than any other film that year, including three of the most competitive categories, rivaling Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Director Fred Zinnemann won the Oscar for Best Director in addition to winning Best Director for his work on The Nun’s Story in 1959.

In 1995, on the 100th anniversary of cinema, the Vatican listed A Man for All Seasons among the greatest movies of all time with Ben-Hurr, Schindler’s List, It’s a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz.

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