Hymns Go to The Movies

In this millennial age, there seems to be a clear line that separates the religious and secular sectors of public life. In movies, however, we can still find some examples where there is an overlap, particularly through music.

Film scores are anything but arbitrary, and sacred music can bring important gravitas and character to cinematic moments. Hymns, spirituals, and gospel music can often be utilized in filmmaking to give time and space to a specific scene, develop understanding of a particular character, or to set a mood and tone. It allows us to gain insight into the context of the story being told and allows us a deeper connection with the characters on the screen.

In this way, hymns serve the same purpose on film as they do in church. Their selection is not random but intentional; they tune in to the message of the service, so that believers can connect to their own emotional experience of worship; and they anchor the church community to the legacy of its ancestors. The difference is that movies offer a platform that readily interests the greater public.

To those who have minimal exposure to what a life of worship means or looks like, movies that feature hymns help bring matters of faith to the forefront of people’s minds. Whether it is through the morals laid out by the plot line, helping the audience relate to their own humanness through the characters portrayed, or just looking at the world through a different lens, for two hours we are able to suspend our disbelief and ponder if what moves us on screen and in song may have been within us all along. I have compiled a few notable examples of movies incorporating sacred songs and hymns.

So grab some popcorn and checkout this brief list of some of my favorite films featuring hymns and sacred songs.


  • O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) — “Down to the River to Pray”
  • Chariots of Fire (1981) — “Jerusalem”
  • Trip to Bountiful (1985) — “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling”
  • A River Runs Through It (1991) — “Be Thou My Vision”
  • Titanic (1997) — “Nearer, My God, to Thee”
  • The Apostle (1998) — “Two Coats,” “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord,” “Nearer My God to Thee,” “There Is a River,” “In the Garden,” “I Love to Tell the Story,” “Victory Is Mine,” “There Is Power in the Blood”, “I’ll Fly Away”
  • Bernie (2012) — “Love Lifted Me,” “Blessed Assurance”
  • Batman: The Movie (1966) —“Bringing in the Sheaves”
  • Sister Act (1992) — “Salve Regina”
  • Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993) — “Oh Happy Day,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”.
  • Little Women (1994) — “For the Beauty of the Earth”
  • Tender Mercies (1983) — “We Have Heard the Joyful Sound”
  • Dead Poets Society (1989) — “The Lord’s My Shepherd”
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”


Check out these hymn-based anthems:

Fanfare and Concertato on “Come Christians Join To Sing”

Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven

Use Me Lord


Jonathan Martin received a degree in Interdisciplinary studies from Naropa University with an emphasis in World Religion and Psychology. An accomplished writer his lyrics have been set to music by composers such as Brad Nix, Victor Johnson, John Purifoy, Jon Paige and his father Joseph Martin. Jonathan lives in For Collins, CO.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Kinder MORTON says:

    Hello !
    I’m trying to find out about a “hymn” sung by the Methodist congregation in the movie “Friendly Persuasion.” Gary Cooper starred in it. I would like to know if the hymn they are singing is a real hymn, possibly from an old Methodist hymnal, or the composer’s knock-off. It’s hard to understand the words because it’s just a couple of quick shots, but it goes something like ….one eternal day. It’s a rousing rhythm and a very pleasant melody. If you have any idea what it might be or can provide me with a contact, I would be very appreciative.
    Thank you.
    Mary Kinder MORTON


    1. T Dulka says:

      Hi Mary, we’ve tried finding someone who knew the answer to your question but unfortunately we couldn’t. Sorry! Good luck figuring it out.


    2. T Dulka says:

      Hi Mary, We tried finding someone who knew the answer to your question but we were unsuccessful. Sorry. Good luck in figuring out the mystery!


    3. T Dulka says:

      Hi Mary,
      We tried finding someone who knew the answer to your question but we were unsuccessful. Sorry. Good luck in figuring out the mystery!


  2. Kevin says:

    Upon looking into it further, it’s “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand” to the tune “Varina”:

    “All o’er its wide, extended plains shines one eternal day.
    There God the Son forever reigns and scatters night away.

    Filled with delight, my raptured soul would here no longer stay,
    Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
    Fearless I’d launch away.”


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