Christians in the Movies:
A Century of Saints and Sinners

by Peter E. Dans
Rowman & Littlefield, 409 pages, $49.95

Dans, a professor at Johns Hopkins Medical School, wrote a well-received volume about Hollywood’s portrayal of doctors from 1931 to 2000. As a serious Catholic and longtime film aficionado, he decided to do the same for Christians.

Dans selected over 200 Christian-themed films produced from 1905 to 2005 and organized them by decade, with a brief historical overview for each section. Although he likes most of the films, he also includes films that attack Christians. In this way he is able to trace the steady decline, with some notable exceptions, of the generally positive film portrayals of Christians until, as he puts it, “all orthodox clergy and believers were either vicious predators or narrow-minded, mean spirited Pharisees.”

Dans includes plenty of photos along with the plots and his analyses. Happily, virtually all of the films are available on DVD. Doing his part to inspire a counterrevolution, Dans writes, “I also hope it will encourage orthodox Christian believers who have stopped going to movies to get more involved in helping to reshape this important industry, which all agree has badly lost its way.”

Joseph Bottum sets the stage in a Chestertonian turn in the foreword: “Film is a divided art. It wants to be spiritual even while it ties itself to be earthly. It wants to make the divine comedy even while filming the human comedy.” A worthy participant in the ongoing battle for the culture, Dans’ book should find a prominent place in every family’s home theater.