Amid a welter of publicity for its supposedly anti-Christian message, The Golden Compass finally arrives in theaters today. We’ve seen it, and despite our high hopes, this neutered adaptation of the first entry in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy will probably not kill God or turn America’s children into atheists like the Catholic League promised. But given half a chance, any of the films on our list of the Ten Most Anti-Christian Movies of All Time just might.
10. Carrie (1976)
After the titular protagonist gets her first period at school, her crazy, devoutly Christian mother locks her in a closet and tells her to pray, explaining that only sinners menstruate (Wikipedia says this is false). Luckily, Carrie has telekinetic powers, which she uses to toss her mom across a room, electrocute her principal, and burn down her high school’s gymnasium, killing hundreds of students. Parents, take note.
9. Priest (1995)
Antonia Bird’s film — which caused a flash of protest when Miramax released it — follows Linus Roache’s gay priest as he struggles against his vow of celibacy, and his inability to help a young girl who confesses that her father is abusing her. Perhaps better described as anti-celibacy than anti-Christian, the film ends with a moment of grace that casts the film’s view of faith in a somewhat gentler light, but it’s hard to overstate how violently some religious viewers responded to the image of a Catholic priest doing it with Trainspotting’s Robert Carlyle.
8. Footloose (1984)
Despite its canonical status as an eighties classic, we’re willing to bet that if an original script like Footloose — in which fun-loving teen Kevin Bacon arrives in a small town where preacher John Lithgow has banned rock music and dancing — landed on a Hollywood exec’s desk today, they’d be too afraid to produce it, lest it offend some key demographic. It’s Lithgow’s villain who really makes the movie: Soft-spoken and patronizing when he’s not spitting out the fire and brimstone (“He’s testing us!!”), his performance is a bone-chilling portrait of smug self-righteousness and could easily blend in among any number of Sunday-morning-TV preachers. The only thing missing is a bad hairpiece.
7. Dogma (1999)
Sure, not all of the jokes were funny. Also, its plot is almost as incomprehensible as the Bible’s. Even so, you’ve got to admire Kevin Smith for having the nerve to cast George Carlin as a cardinal (who tries to make Catholicism more accessible by replacing the crucifix with a statue of Jesus giving a thumbs-up), Chris Rock as the thirteenth apostle (who was omitted from the Bible for being black), and Alanis Morrisette as God (this really pissed off Christians, since her second album had just come out and it was a total stinker). Plus, he got Disney to pay for it!
6. Jesus Camp (2006)
Documentary filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing probably never set out to make Evangelical Christians look crazy, but when they showed up at the Kids on Fire School of Ministry, a children’s Bible camp in Devils Lake, North Dakota, and set up their cameras, that’s exactly what happened. The home-schooled little rascals roll around on the floor speaking in tongues, take strategic pointers from radical Islam, and bless a cardboard cutout of President Bush (see above). Disgraced pastor Ted Haggard even shows up to decry the horrors of homosexuality, presumably in between visits to his gay, meth-dealing masseur.
5. The Name of the Rose (1986)
True, the heroes of Umberto Eco’s religio-literary mystery are themselves monks — played by Sean Connery and Christian Slater in the movie version — but that doesn’t stop this thriller, set in a medieval abbey where the faithful are dying in pursuit of a long-lost and forbidden copy of Aristotle’s Poetics, from being one of cinema’s most damning looks at religious superstition. Not the least because,besides the two leads, practically every monk in this film (1) is hideous-looking and (2) dies a horrible, excruciating death. It’s as if H.R. Giger and Dario Argento collaborated on the film version of God Is Not Great. Don’t miss the scene where Ron Perlman eats a rat.
4. The Magdalene Sisters (2002)
There have been plenty of movies in recent years about priestly abuse — God only knows why — but few are more single-minded in their condemnation than Peter Mullan’s harrowing look at three unfortunate young Irish Catholic women who wind up under the custody of a Magdalene convent for wayward girls in the sixties. Between the beatings and rapes they’re subjected to at the hands of sadistic nuns and lewd priests, and the brutality of the ostensibly God-fearing society outside the convent walls, Mullan’s film plays at times like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS remade in monastic disguise.
3. The Boys of St. Vincent (1993)
This four-hour Canadian telefilm is a difficult, complex portrait of a Catholic orphanage ruled over by a pedophilic priest (Henry Czerny, in a role that launched him into a career of playing creepy bastards). But the film isn’t anti-Christian because it’s yet another movie about a priest who can’t keep his hands off the flock; it’s anti-Christian because its primary theme is the creeping danger of Catholicism’s emphasis on submission of the self to those above you on the pecking order, whether that’s a priest, a Church administrator, or God Himself.
2. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
The blasphemous Life of Brian would have been the obvious choice here, but that one just gently chides the Jesus myth, whereas the Pythons’ final film actually eviscerates the pettiness of religion in everyday life, never more effectively than in the hilarious musical number “Every Sperm Is Sacred,” sung by a miserably poor and overpopulated Catholic household while their preening, repressed Protestant neighbors look on in pity. (“When Martin Luther nailed his protest up to the church door in 1517, he may not have realized the full significance of what he was doing, but 400 years later, thanks to him, my dear … I can go down the road any time I want and walk into Harry’s and hold my head up high and say in a loud, steady voice, ‘Harry, I think I’ll have a French Tickler, for I am a Protestant!’”)
1. The Canterbury Tales (1972)
Although he made what many still consider to be the quintessential Jesus movie (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964), Italian Marxist homosexual poet Pier Paolo Pasolini was no fan of religious dogma, and his sex-drenched, free-form adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem constantly thumbs its nose at the falsely pious. But Pasolini saves the big one for the end: The film ends with a shocking and hilarious vision of Hell in which Satan cracks open his butt cheeks and shits out streams of screaming friars. In close-up. Repeatedly. Sadly, we were unable to find this clip on YouTube, but then we realized we could put it up ourselves.
Uh, NSFW, unless you work in Hell.