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: