2016 was a generous year for Christian movies. Whether it was large-scale productions like Ben-Hur or smaller, independent works in the vein of I Am Not Ashamed, faith-based films continued their ascent to new and unprecedented heights. Now that 2017 is just days away, it might be worthwhile to look back on which films had the greatest impact for Christians overall. Clearly, this is a pretty subjective question. For my part though, the following five films demonstrated the best craftsmanship while also showcasing dynamic stories of faith.
Here are the CMR’s Top 5 Christian films of 2016!
“This tale of faith and redemption marks a new chapter for biblical epics. While not perfect, Risen still delivers one of the best portrayals of Christ's death and resurrection to date, as we witness the events from the eyes of a pagan outsider.” – Crosswalk Risen Review
One of the first films to be released in 2016, Risen set a high bar in terms of both story and performance. Set in Jerusalem during the resurrection of Christ, Risen follows a Roman tribune (played by Joseph Fiennes) who is charged by Pontius Pilate to uncover the missing body of Jesus. As the search leads him through a vast maze of intrigue and into the path of Christ's disciples, the truth behind the missing Messiah proves more fantastic than he ever imagined. Risen makes this list because it dared to think outside the box, and the result was an engaging new look at a familiar chapter of the Bible.
Hillsong: Let Hope Rise
“Writing worship music is hard! So is serving the Lord at times. What's easy is sitting back for the experience of Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, where we're invited not only to praise Jesus, but to get an intimate view into what it looks like to be authentic, unapologetic, hopeful Christians in a world longing for God.” – Crosswalk Hillsong Review
Though many people were skeptical of the “theatrical worship experience”, Hillsong: Let Hope Rise exceeded all expectations. This well-crafted documentary followed the members of Hillsong United as they reflect on their humble roots and sudden explosion into Christian music. What makes this film particularly moving is the sincerity in which its subjects approach God. Despite massive commercial success, each member recognizes they aren’t in this for their own glory. In the end, they’re just a group of average people looking to serve God, and that makes all the difference.
“Old-fashioned in the best sense of the word—focusing on duty and patriotism—the film also feels contemporary in its post-Saving Private Ryan approach to war footage. Those who can endure it will find that Hacksaw Ridge pays off handsomely.” – Crosswalk Hacksaw Ridge Review
Straightforward, brutal, but deeply moving, Hacksaw Ridge certainly deserves its many accolades. Based on the life of Desmond Doss, the movie chronicles how Doss enlisted in the United States Army as a field medic during WWII, despite refusing to carry a gun. Throughout the film, his Christian convictions are endlessly tested, first in the crucible of training camp, and then in the fires of war. Though the bloody conflict is hard to watch at times, Hacksaw Ridge challenges its viewers by asking them what they really believe, and what their willing to sacrifice in the name of Christ.
Queen of Katwe
While not as overt as the other movies on this list, Queen of Katwe still earns a place thanks to some well-placed authenticity. The story follows Phiona (Madina Nalwanga), a Ugandan girl who discovers she has the talent to become a master chess player. Through a series of personal challenges—and with help from her family and friends—Phiona becomes a hero to her countrymen and an inspiration to anyone facing great trials in their life. Though Christianity never takes center stage in Queen of Katwe, its spirit is keenly felt. In many ways, the movie offers an honest look at humans as we struggle to find God even amidst difficult circumstances.
“No bit of Silence is an accident or an afterthought. This Martin Scorsese adaptation of a Japanese novel by Shûsaku Endô is difficult, slow and lacking in a traditionally satisfying resolution, but its strength as an adaptation and the powerful filmmaking and performances warrant (much).” – Crosswalk Silence Review
One of the year’s most difficult Christian films, both in terms of style and theology, Silence should not go unnoticed by faith-based audiences. This Martin Scorsese adaptation of a Japanese novel by Shûsaku Endô follows two Jesuit priests as they go searching for their lost mentor in the hostile territory of Japan. Silence is a movie which poses many challenging questions and offers no answers in return. Still, if viewers are brave enough to take this harrowing journey, they may discover more about the grace of Jesus than they ever imagined.
Don’t agree with our list? What Christian films do you think were the best of 2016? Be sure to leave your choices in the comments below!