With the Easter octave coming to an end and spring trying to come, these films are perfect right now.
We’re still in the waning moments of Easter, liturgically speaking — a time to celebrate Jesus’ triumphant victory over death and, in so doing, express our gratitude for the miracle of new life that He brought us all through his sacrifice.
I could suggest — and actually have — some movies that retell that story in all its power and poignancy. But let’s face it: Most of us heard a message or homily on that self-same story this past weekend and we’re probably pretty familiar with it now. As much as we love the story, maybe we’re in the mood for a bit of entertainment that feels a little less serious.
Have no fear, my friends. You can watch plenty of movies this weekend that contain just a whiff of Easter — poignant, entertaining stories that still hint at the greatest story of all. Most are not explicitly Christian, but they do remind us that out of tragedy can come hope, out of death can come new life. Here are six of them. [Warning: Spoilers follow.]
The Miracle Season (PG)
Just released this Friday, The Miracle Season (based on true events) chronicles the story of the Iowa City West High School’s 2011 volleyball team. Fresh off a state championship, the team looked poised to repeat, led by their fun-loving setter and team captain Caroline Found. But when Found — nicknamed “Line” — is killed in a moped accident, the community, school, and team are rocked by shock and grief. Ernie Found, Line’s father, is so shaken by her loss, and the death of his wife just days later, that he turns momentarily away from his Christian faith.
But slowly, painfully, the team — led by Line’s best friend Kelly and coach Kathy Bresnahan (who’s played by Oscar winner Helen Hunt) — pulls together. Ernie returns to both his faith and to the team, becoming a galvanizing source of inspiration. And — well, the movie’s title kinda hints at what happens next. Line’s death was both needless and tragic. But after she’s gone, she still manages to inspire both her father and friends, pushing them on to new hope.
Black Panther (PG-13)
T’Challa, new king of the reclusive land of Wakanda, didn’t get to enjoy his kingship for long. Challenged by Erik Killmonger, a long-lost cousin with designs on the throne, T’Challa fights, loses and apparently dies. Killmonger takes over, T’Challa’s family is banished and Wakanda begins to slip into a state of brutal despotism.
But T’Challa’s not quite dead. Not yet. In what could be interpreted as an explicit echo of Christ Himself, T’Challa travels to the Wakandan afterlife, then seemingly rises from his own snowy tomb to take on Killmonger again and save his crown, his kingdom and the world itself. It was in his defeat that T’Challa eventually found victory, and through the grave that he found, and gave, new life.
I Can Only Imagine (PG)
Lots of us have heard MercyMe’s song, “I Can Only Imagine.” For a while, it was nearly inescapable. Lead singer Bart Millard wrote it about his beloved father after he died, imagining what he might’ve been experiencing in heaven. But I didn’t know, until this movie, what a jerk Bart’s father was.
For years, Arthur Millard beat his boy — sometimes three or four times a week. No surprise that Bart grew to hate his father, according to the movie. But after Arthur becomes a Christian and tries — seemingly unsuccessfully — to reconcile with his embittered son, Bart learns that his father has terminal cancer. And he decides to give Arthur a second chance at relationship.
“My dad was a monster, and I saw God transform him,” Bart says in the movie. It took a terminal illness to bring father and son together. But it took Jesus’ Easter-season sacrifice as well. And while Arthur’s death was a tragedy, it helped bring millions of people hope, peace and inspiration through his son’s multi-platinum song.
On Streaming Services:
Life Is Beautiful (PG-13, Netflix)
This 1997 Italian dramedy garnered its share of accolades (including three Academy Awards), but it drew controversy, too: Critics accused it of making light of the Holocaust. But if you can swallow the premise, this film — written, directed and starring Italian actor Roberto Benigni — can be a pretty beautiful (if teary) movie itself.
In the second half of the film, Italian Jew Guido and his young son, Giosuè, are taken to a concentration camp. Throughout their horrific stay, Guido tells Giosuè that the whole thing is just an elaborate game — a lie that keeps the boy’s spirits up even as they’re surrounded by death. The ruse works. While Guido doesn’t survive, his little boy does — and later, he knows he owes it all to his father. Ironically, life is not beautiful in Life Is Beautiful. But a precious life is saved thanks to a sacrificial father, and that definitely is.
The Iron Giant (PG, Netflix)
Not every nine-year-old boy gets to pal around with a gigantic robot, but that’s exactly what Hogarth gets to do when a curious metallic entity crashes to earth near his home in Rockwell, Maine. The Iron Giant is sentient, curious and surprisingly gentle, at least where Hogarth’s concerned. But naturally, not everyone’s so comfortable with the boy’s towering companion. And when a nervous government agent decides to lock and fire a nuclear weapon at the Giant, the metallic being launches himself at the oncoming missile to save Hogarth’s little section of the world.
This 1999 (and criminally underseen) animated classic is a sweet, sad and deeply affecting rumination on friendship, kindness and self-sacrifice. The Iron Giant’s “death” preserved the life of thousands — even if the movie hints at the end that the Giant may have a little life left in him, too.
Where the Red Fern Grows (G, Amazon Prime)
Keep your hankies at the ready for this one.
Billy, a 12-year-old boy living a hardscrabble life in Oklahoma’s Ozark mountains, seems to love just two things more than hunting raccoons: His pair of talented coon dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann. Together, the three of them become local legends. But when Billy runs into a mountain lion, Old Dan and Little Ann fly to the boy’s defense. And while they save Billy, they do so at a mortal cost: Old Dan is grievously wounded and dies later on the family kitchen table. Little Ann expires from grief just a few weeks later.
It’s as sad a story as you’ll likely find in a G-rated movie, but their sacrifice is as profound as it is poignant. The dogs’ sacrifice not only saved little Billy’s life, but helped him accept a new, far more urban, life in Tulsa. Turns out, there’s even new life springing up from the dogs’ graves, too — a red fern growing between them, which legend says can only be planted by an angel.
So there’s our list of six sacrificial movies, published six days after Easter Sunday. Some of them are sad. Some of them are sweet. But all just might remind us of Jesus’ own sacrifice … if we look hard enough.