During Pope John Paul's papacy, the Vatican released a list of 45 "important films" in 1995, and you can now watch some of them online.
Considering that Pope John Paul II was an actor and a playwright in his younger years, it came as no shock that the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications would release a list of 45 “important films” smack dab in the middle of his papacy. While that list, produced in 1995, is perhaps missing some more recent noteworthy fare, it is still a good resource for those interested in films that make a positive contribution in the areas of religion, values, and art. The trouble is, since most of the movies on the list are somewhat artsy in nature, they’re not the kind of films that regularly appear on the most popular streaming services. There are a handful though, and here’s where you can find them.
Schindler’s List (1993)
The most recent film on the list is also likely the most devastating. Watching German businessman Oscar Schindler struggle to spare what Jewish lives he can from the Holocaust is heart-wrenching enough, but his crushing despair over the belief that he could have done just a little bit more echoes the timeless cry of anyone whose conscience has been awakened to evil. It’s a must-see movie, even if you can only handle watching it once in your life. Schindler’s List is currently streaming on Netflix.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1966)
If someone were to tell you that a film directed by a Marxist atheist and shot in the Italian Nonrealistic style was actually one of the most accurate representations of the Gospels put to film, no one could blame you for being skeptical. However, that’s exactly the case with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s take on the first book of the New Testament, due in no small part to his decision to stick to the text and nothing but the text. Yes, it’s subtitled, but so was The Passion of the Christ. The Gospel According to St. Matthew is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Let’s face it, the works of D.W. Griffith will always be stigmatized thanks to his ill-conceived ode to the Ku Klux Klan, Birth of a Nation. Sadly, that means many will bypass his other masterpiece of early filmmaking, Intolerance. Spanning various eras, the film follows the stories of the fall of Babylon, the Crucifixion, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, and a modern-day man sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. Many believe Griffith made the movie partly as an act of penance for Birth of a Nation. If so, that makes it even more fascinating. Intolerance is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Nosferatu is the only straight up horror film on the Vatican’s list, but if you have to choose just one, you may as well go with something iconic. Though nearly a hundred years old, the imagery from F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula can still be seen influencing modern directors in the genre. You could do a lot worse this All Hallow’s Eve than sitting down for this silent classic. Nosferatu is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
This is the movie that made a legend out of self-proclaimed Cardiac Catholic John Wayne, with one of the best entrances in film history. In fact, it could be argued that John Ford’s tale of a disparate group of people struggling to survive a cross-country trip is the film that elevated the Western genre itself to the classic it is today. With the occupants inside the coach representing a microcosm of society, the film’s message of setting aside differences for the good of all is as timely now as it was when the film was released. Stagecoach is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Sadly, that’s about all of the films from the Vatican’s list which are currently available on the most popular streaming services. Don’t fret, though. If this small sampling has whetted your appetite for more, then you might want to consider subscribing to the Filmstruck/Criterion Channel streaming service. Focusing primarily on rare classics and notable arthouse cinema, it’s a bit pricier than other services, but its catalog runs deep. A whopping 21 of the Vatican’s 45 important films can currently be found streaming on Filmstruck. With a free trial period, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if, like the Vatican, you have an interest in important films. Happy viewing.