The 15 Best Movies About Priests and Ministers, Ranked

You'd think they'd be boring, but characters of religious authority can make for some intensely compelling drama. Check these out!
The 15 Best Movies About Priests and Ministers, Ranked

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Priests were once the backbone of feudal civilization, but such a position of authority comes with lots of responsibility. That's why so many priests and ministers have been at the center of controversy.

Corruption, ambition, and depravity have turned these emblems of morality into widely known abusers who exploit their high positions to get what they want—and even when they're exposed, they evade justice.

Of course, that's not always the case. For every dubious priest, there are also ones who live to do good and lift up those in need, even at the expense of their own happiness and safety.

Here are my picks for the best movies about priests and ministers, including those who are good, those who are evil, and in between.

15. Father Stu (2022)

Directed by Rosalind Ross

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver

Biography, Drama (2h 4m)

6.5 on IMDb42% on RT

It's not uncommon for celebrities to turn to spirituality sometime in their lives. Think Russell Brand or Shia LaBeouf (who gave an amazing performance in Padre Pio recently). Mark Wahlberg is also one of them.

Found preaching the motto "Stay prayed up" on his social media accounts, the actor turned away from his past life of drugs and violence to become a devout Catholic.

Mark Wahlberg's life story mirrors that of Stuart Long, later known as Father Stu, who's the centerpiece of this biopic.

Although a little too heavy on facts over feelings, Father Stu pays tribute to the real-life renegade-turned-priest, and there's even a cameo made by Mel Gibson (director of The Passion of the Christ).

14. The Mission (1986)

Directed by Roland Joffé

Starring Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally

Adventure, Drama, History (2h 5m)

7.4 on IMDb66% on RT

Before playing the infamous Musketeer priest Aramis in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), Jeremy Irons was decked out in his cassock and oboe to play Father Gabriel in 18th century South America.

The Paraguayan jungle isn't normally where you'd find a Christian priest, but Gabriel builds a mission station there to preach the word of God in new corners of the world. As it turns out, bad idea...

Roland Joffé's British period drama makes a good effort to be a hefty epic, but falls a little short on chemistry and emotion. Robert De Niro stars alongside Irons in this visually striking exploration of history.

13. The Scarlet and the Black (1983)

Directed by Jerry London

Starring Gregory Peck, Christopher Plummer, John Gielgud

Drama, History, War (2h 23m)

7.5 on IMDbN/A on RT

More than 500,000 copies of the script for The Scarlet and the Black were sent out across schools to discuss its historical context and narrative achievement, such was its success.

In The Scarlet and the Black, Gregory Peck stars as Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, a real-life priest who saved thousands of Jews from Italian prisoner-of-war camps during World War II.

Churches have always been one of the most common places for refugees to hide out, living between walls under the protection of God. With the help of clergymen and locals, O'Flaherty ran an underground safe haven despite the immense risk if he were to be caught.

Jerry London commemorates this lesser-known war hero with this TV film, based on J. P. Gallagher's book The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican.

12. Doubt (2008)

Directed by John Patrick Shanley

Starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

Drama, Mystery (1h 44m)

7.5 on IMDb79% on RT

John Patrick Shanley turned his Tony Award-winning play Doubt: A Parable into a movie that ended up with several Oscar nominations.

The film's accolades and prestigious cast list (Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis) speak volumes to its storytelling techniques and success.

Doubt unfolds in a Catholic parish school in The Bronx, 1964. There are concerns about one charismatic, reformist priest (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) getting a little too close to the new altar boy—the only African-American student.

Despite her lack of evidence, stiff-lipped Sister Aloysius (played by Meryl Streep) starts investigating the two of them, ignoring the cloud of "doubt" that constantly hangs over her. Paranoid, intimidating, and treacherous, Doubt is truly compelling as it treads on the controversial.

11. On the Waterfront (1954)

Directed by Elia Kazan

Starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb

Crime, Drama, Thriller (1h 48m)

8.1 on IMDb99% on RT

On the Waterfront isn't explicitly about a priest, but Father Barry (played by Karl Malden) does have a strong presence throughout this crime-drama classic. Especially in his impassioned crucifixion speech!

Marlon Brando features in several cinematic greats, including this black-and-white article adaptation by Elia Kazan. Malcolm Johnson published a series of reports—titled "Crime on the Waterfront"—in 1948, which won the Pulitzer Prize and a Hollywood adaptation.

Brando stars as Terry Malloy, a longshoreman with one foot in the mob, doing favors for the local gang leader. Rivalry, revenge, and revolt plague the dockyards where Father Barry is always trying to persuade the workers into morality as the movie's voice of reason.

10. The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Directed by Leo McCarey

Starring Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers

Drama (2h 6m)

7.2 on IMDb85% on RT

Bing Crosby was Golden Hollywood's king of musicals. He'd already bagged an Oscar for his portrayal of Father O'Malley in Going My Way (1944), directed by the same guy behind The Bells of St. Mary's.

Although Leo McCarey's sequel didn't win Crosby another Academy Award, it did receive marginally better ratings, and that's why we're picking this film over the other for this list.

Father O'Malley and the Sister Superior (played by Ingrid Bergman) put their differences aside to save the rundown St. Mary's parish and school. It's all very wholesome and sweet, with a touch of festive coziness thanks to its December release date and Christmas pageant scene.

9. First Reformed (2017)

Directed by Paul Schrader

Starring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer

Drama, Mystery, Thriller (1h 53m)

7.1 on IMDb94% on RT

First Reformed is surprisingly trippy and surreal for a film about a Protestant minister. Played by Ethan Hawke, Ernst Toller has a crisis of faith while pastor of a fading church in upstate New York.

He's got a lot on his plate, including grieving his deceased son, battling with alcoholism, trying to save his church alongside his own beliefs, surviving stomach cancer, and the suicide of one of his flock.

Paul Schrader's avant-garde drama inspects the dark side of religion and history while meditating on environmental negligence, doomscrolling, and what religion means in a messed-up world.

8. Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

Directed by Michael Curtiz

Starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart

Crime, Drama, Noir (1h 37m)

7.9 on IMDb100% on RT

In the late 1930s, Michael Curtiz (director of Casablanca) and James Cagney (star of The Public Enemy) teamed up with Humphrey Bogart to give us the fantastic film noir Angels With Dirty Faces.

James Cagney plays Rocky Sullivan, a gangster who's fresh out of prison. His childhood best friend Jerry Connolly (played by Pat O'Brien), however, went in a completely different direction while he was in prison. In fact, Jerry became a priest in adulthood.

Despite their vastly opposite lifestyles, both men came from the same humble beginnings as pickpockets. One is caught and sent to reform school, the other to a parish. The result is a superb exploration of how people change and are impacted by their environments.

7. Corpus Christi (2019)

Directed by Jan Komasa

Starring Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycembel

Drama (1h 55m)

7.7 on IMDb98% on RT

After serving a prison sentence for second-degree murder, it's a shock when Daniel (played by Bartosz Bielenia) divulges his dream: to become a priest. There's just one problem: ex-convicts are formally prohibited from studying for priesthood.

So, Daniel decides to "fake it 'til you make it" by pretending to be a priest and presiding over a little Polish village. In doing so, Daniel shows us the possibilities of rehabilitation, the importance of forgiveness, and the complexities of being human.

Daniel is a walking contradiction: devout and understanding, yet covered in prison tattoos and quick to break the rules of celibacy. Jan Komasa's award-winning drama is quiet and restrained (like a priest) with sudden outbursts of brutality (like a criminal).

6. Of Gods and Men (2010)

Directed by Xavier Beauvois

Starring Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin

Drama, History (2h 2m)

7.2 on IMDb92% on RT

Of Gods and Men (or Des hommes et des dieux) refers to a Bible passage:

I said, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince."

Psalm 82:6–7

It's shown at the beginning of the movie before a group of monks carry out their mundane daily routines. Their tranquil existence, however, is brought to a sudden halt when Islamic fundamentalists threaten Algeria.

Xavier Beauvois based the film on true events, where seven brave monks were kidnapped in 1996 and killed for their faith. Like in First Reformed, Beauvois zooms out of the film's religious subject to broader world problems like terrorism and a failing government.

Of Gods and Men won the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival in 2010, commended for its minimalist yet powerful mode of storytelling.

5. Silence (2016)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

Drama, History (2h 41m)

7.2 on IMDb83% on RT

Silence isn't Martin Scorsese's most well-known movie, nor does it star his usual cast of heavy-hitters, but it's still amazing nonetheless.

Based on Shūsaku Endō's 1966 novel, this epic historical drama unfolds in 17th century Japan where Jesuit priests are held prisoner unless they renounce their God.

Of course, Sebastião Rodrigues (based on the real-life missionary Giuseppe Chiara, played here by Andrew Garfield) has absolutely no doubts about his beliefs and refuses to give in.

Although his performance isn't exactly a Christian Bale-level of physical commitment to a role, Andrew Garfield and co-star Adam Driver went through a lot to embody their tortured characters, including significant weight loss and a vow of silence.

You can tell from the mere scale of Silence that it took a long time to make—over 25 years, in fact. It's a grueling watch but a treat for the senses.

4. Calvary (2014)

Directed by John Michael McDonagh

Starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly

Crime, Drama, Mystery (1h 42m)

7.4 on IMDb89% on RT

Calvary stars Brendan Gleeson as a Catholic priest who's caught in a common moral trap: Should priests break their confessional vows to report crimes to the police? What if they themself are the target?

Father James is told he'll be killed next Sunday. Not for any personal reason against him, but because this unseen man wants revenge against the religion that sexually abused him.

The killer's reasoning for targeting Father James? The community will feel the most pain if they lose a kind and beloved priest like him.

Calvary is a rich drama that's anchored in the complex character of Father James, brought to life by Brendan Gleeson's incredible performance. Weighty and sensitive, Calvary delves into the heart of a true shepherd.

3. There Will Be Blood (2007)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds

Drama (2h 38m)

8.2 on IMDb91% on RT

Technically, Eli Sunday is a preacher, not a priest. But hey, it's all in the same ballpark, so we're counting him for this list!

Paul Dano gives his all in his rendition of a lunatic cleric. He rides alongside Daniel Day-Lewis who plays oil prospector Daniel Plainview, who spends the whole movie battling the town preacher in dusty California during the early 20th century.

Quentin Tarantino has spoken in length about his love for There Will Be Blood and considers it one of the best movies to study to learn the art of filmmaking. No surprise when you consider Paul Thomas Anderson's masterful execution of everything in the film!

2. Spotlight (2015)

Directed by Tom McCarthy

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams

Biography, Crime, Drama (2h 9m)

8.1 on IMDb97% on RT

In recent years, sexual abuse claims have skyrocketed in the Church. The scandals have inspired all kinds of movies, including Spotlight, which is (sadly) based on a heartbreakingly true story.

The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team really did lead an investigation into child abuse claims in the surrounding area, uncovering a mountain of trauma that went buried and unpunished.

The exquisite ensemble cast of Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci embody the people who brought these crimes under the "spotlight."

Tom McCarthy's biopic is as factually accurate as Hollywood movies go, and it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. There are no clichés, no spectacle, no sensationalism, no obvious tear-jerking manipulations. It's all real, grounded, and unfortunate.

1. The Exorcist (1973)

Directed by William Friedkin

Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair

Horror (2h 2m)

8.1 on IMDb84% on RT

What would you say if someone asked, "What is The Exorcist about?" If you said it's about a demon-possessed little girl, you wouldn't be wrong. But it would be more correct to say that it's about the priest.

Father Damien Karras (played by Jason Miller) is the one who goes through the hero's journey, at first feeling unfit to counsel other priests, then later fighting off the demon-entity Pazuzu.

Damien goes through hell during the film's 122 minutes, with his mother dying, him having a crisis of faith, and a helpless mother asking him to perform an exorcism that involves getting beaten up, vomited on, thrown out a window, and sacrificing himself to be the demon's new host.

Yes, it's dark, it's gross, and director William Friedkin successfully terrified audiences of the time. But over time, The Exorcist went on to become recognized as one of the greatest horror films in history.