Charles Merritt offers you four films and a trilogy with Christian themes. Why not watch some or all of them with your children?
As we approach Easter, what films can you watch, whilst sheltering from the inevitable April showers, that could help spark conversations around the most important event in the Christian calendar?
If you’re expecting to see the Jesus Christ Superstar on this list, think again. I’m going down a less literal route, finding stories that have similar themes or threads to the Easter story rather than literal retellings.
1. Finding Nemo (U)
PIXAR is famous for hiding ‘easter eggs’ in their films. From A113 (the classroom in which many animators studied) to the Pizza Planet Truck, you’ll be able to spot these references in the majority of their films. This means that PIXAR’s Finding Nemo is the perfect film to kick off our list.
Beyond the ‘easter eggs’, Finding Nemo has a treasure trove of Easter themes to explore with the family. A father chasing down his lost child who deliberately went against him? If that doesn’t sum up the story of the Bible, I don’t know what does… There is a beautiful moment in which the story of Marlin’s rescue mission is spread from turtles to swordfish to pelicans alike which culminates in the line ‘That’s one dedicated father if you ask me’. God doesn’t give up on us, no matter how far we might have run away. The parables of the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coins are perfect companion pieces to read after you’ve watched the film.
At the end of the film, Nemo also makes a sacrifice by swimming into the net to save the fish from being taken by the fishermen. There’s something beautiful about the imagery of Jesus coming to earth, God made flesh, living and breathing among us, to save us. Although Nemo is a fish and definitely not God incarnate, there are similarities here. He dives into the mess and stress of the other fishes present and inspires them to swim against the trap that is holding them in. What are the nets that are holding us captives in our lives and how might Jesus break us free from these?
2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (PG)
Okay. I’ll admit. This suggestion isn’t particularly original. If you aren’t aware that C. S. Lewis was a deep Christian theological thinker, who also happened to write one of the most iconic series of children’s stories in history, well, now you know.
The books are filled with Christian allegories and the films thankfully don’t do these a disservice. Aslan the lion is your Jesus character, who makes a sacrifice and comes back to life (spoilers for both the film and the Easter story). He is also wise but not a very tame lion either. By depicting God as a lion, great conversations can be had about whether we should fear God or not and what that fear should look like if so.
Temptation and the lies of the enemy can be found in the form of the White Witch - fantastically played by Tilda Swinton. Edmund’s arc is also one that I’m sure many can relate to as well. There’s also a beautiful moment in which Aslan’s breath brings people back to life. Urgh. It’s pure poetry.
3. The Prince of Egypt (U)
What?! You’ve chosen a Biblical film but chosen the story of Moses and not of Jesus?
Why? Because the parallels are super useful to understanding the Easter story. The story of Passover is the precursor to the story of Easter, it’s a glimpse of what was to come, not just for the Jewish people but, for all of mankind.
The sacrificial lamb. The freedom of the people of God. The death of the eldest son. All of these themes and plot points are crucial for our children and young people to know and well worth exploring together so that the Easter story can carry even more weight.
Also, if the Biblical themes haven’t convinced you, the music is epic too and written by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) and Hans Zimmer (basically any epic film score you’ve ever heard has probably come from the brain of this genius - The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight Trilogy etc.). What’s not to love?
4. Free Guy (12A)
This action-comedy may at first seem a rogue choice but the Ryan Reynolds led film has plenty to explore when it comes to the Easter story.
Firstly, there’s something joyful about Guy’s positive, kind attitude that has an impact on not just the film, but on the audience too. Guy’s insistence that the world he lives in is a beautiful place, despite the violence and mess around him, is somehow how I imagine Jesus to have felt. I wonder whether Jesus walked around and saw things, not through rose-tinted glasses, but through an x-ray lens that saw to the heart of his Father’s creation.
Again, you’ll find the classic death and resurrection storyline played out but there’s a bigger narrative of creation and recreation. What was meant to be a beautiful game has been turned into something completely different but the original creators’ code is still there, behind it all. ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth’ springs to mind…
5. Zack Snyder’s Justice League Trilogy (15)
Wow. This is a divisive one. But I don’t care.
Zack Snyder’s time directing the DC universe split audiences and critics alike but I’m more than willing to defend it and stand up for the theological worth of these films.
The films to watch are: Man of Steel (12); Batman v Superman; Dawn of Justice - Ultimate Edition (12); Zack Snyder’s Justice League (15)
(I can’t emphasise enough how important it is that you watch the versions I’ve listed above, especially when it comes to the Justice League movies…)
Superman is the Jesus allegory in these films and his arc follows closely that of the Easter story.
I’d recommend watching Man of Steel of Maundy Thursday, Batman v Superman on Good Friday and then Zack Snyder’s Justice League on Saturday (and potentially Sunday too as it’s a four hour film… but can be easily split into two sittings!).
“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
This what Jor-El says to his son, Kal-El (or Superman to the average Joe) and I can’t help but dwell on these words of hope. I can totally imagine God saying this to Jesus at a time in Jesus’ ministry when it seemed that all his teachings and miracles were falling on deaf ears.
The way in which Snyder frames Superman is ‘what would it be like if Superman arrived to earth today?’. How would the world react to a super-powered being who only wishes to help others? I wonder, how they would the react to Jesus if he came to Earth for the first time today? How would the media react? How would the world react? How would individuals react?
In Batman v Superman, the big philosophical debate is asked ‘If God is all good, he cannot be all powerful, and if he is all powerful, then he cannot be all good.’ I dare you to drop that one into the conversation when everyone’s tucking into their roast lamb… Seriously though, for teenagers this will be one of those questions that they might not have asked before, but would be really curious to explore. Why did Jesus need to make the sacrifice he made in the first place? Why didn’t God just create a perfect world where nothing bad could ever happen?
I’m so passionate about these films that I’ve written a whole Bible study based on them - it’s free to anyone brave enough to take on the challenge of watching over 10 hours of movies. (Simply email email@example.com and I will get one to you!)