No, The Sound of Music didn’t make the list. It’s really a love story. The nunnery and nuns simply provide a hideaway or backdrop. What we mean, by this post, is films where nuns and/or priests take center stage.
Top Ten Films with Clergy/Religious Center Stage
- Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) – The relationship between a priest and death-row inmate Jimmy Cagney, and the surprising request that is made. All-star cast also includes Pat O’Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft and the “dead end” kids.
- How Green Was My Valley (1941) – Another oldie, but with timeless themes, this movie features a priest in a turn-of-the-century Welsh mining town. Maureen O’Hara is stunning.
- The Song of Bernadette (1943) – This film, documenting the young woman’s discovery of the fountain at Lourdes, also offers an insight into humility and trust in God.
- Going My Way (1944) – Features Bing Crosby as Fr. O’Malley, a daring role at a time (any overtly non Protestant role was daring, before Kennedy’s transformative presidency). Here, he brings his worldly experience to bear to help wayward youth and set the church building fund aright.
- The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) – The first film was so popular, Bing Crosby appeared once more as a young Fr. O’Malley. The title song, from 1917, is sung at St. Mary’s College of California at official events.
- The Trouble with Angels (1966) – Features Mary Wickes, who also played a nun in Sister Act, another Top Ten Flick pick. Set at the St. Francis Academy.
- Mass Appeal (1984) – With Jack Lemmon as Fr. Jim Farley. In this film, a Connecticut priest and a seminary rebel interact, and a monsignor figures in the mix.
- Sister Act (1992) – In this film, technically Whoopie Goldberg isn’t a nun, she’s just dressed like one. Hilarity ensues.
- Molokai (1999) – Documenting the life-story of Fr. Damien’s self-sacrificial work with lepers on this island colony of Hawaii, and it delves into deep questions of faith and truth.
- Philomina (2013) – A recent drama based on the Martin Sixsmith book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by journalist Martin Sixsmith. Directed by Stephen Frears, and starring Judi Dench in the title role, and searching for her son…. and in this way it shines a light on a not-too-distant history.
So, what do you think? Did your favorite film make our list? We hope so. We would have loved to include Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story about the then-controversial founder of The Catholic Worker movement, except that she was a layperson, not a nun.
More adventurous? Consider: Two Mules for Sister Sara (is she really a nun?), Agnes of God (psychiatrist Jane Fonda interacts with naïve novice), and Dogma (abortion clinic worker fights renegade angels). And for you Elvis fans, there’s also Change of Habit, with Mary Tyler Moore as an incognito nun helping the king clean up a ghetto.