Many great movies involve a theme that is dear to the heart of all believers—that people CAN change. Biology is not destiny. We do not have to remain what we thought we were programmed to be by nature, nurture or circumstances. There is hope. We can be changed for good by a power that transcends whatever is keeping us stuck in our ruts. Below are my favorite conversion movies, in reverse order.
10. Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945 – Directed by Roy Rowland; starring Margaret O’Brian, Edward G. Robinson and Agnes Morehead). Selma, a little girl in small town Wisconsin, is given a newborn calf and names her Elizabeth. Her conversion from self-centeredness to sacrificial love transforms her community.
9. Shepherd of the Hills, The (1941 – Dir. Henry Hathaway; starring Johan Wayne). An Ozark Mountain moonshiner hates the father he never saw who deserted his mother and left her to die. His obsession contributes to the hatred rampant in the mountains. Then, a stranger begins to positively affect the mountain people, who learn to shed their hatred under his gentle influence.
8. Sergent York (1941 – Dir. Howard Hawks, with Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan and Joan Leslie). A genuine conversion to Christ changes the dynamics of Alvin York’s subsequent call into military service during World War One. Rather than making life simpler, his transformation introduces a difficult dilemma regarding to faith and war. The results are humble and heroic at the same time. Based on a true story.
7. End of the Spear (2005 – Dir. Jim Hanon). After five missionaries are speared to death in Ecuador, their wives and children move into the Wadani tribe to teach them about God. The story of Mincayani, a Waodani tribesman who took part in the killings, paints an incredible picture of the transformation through faith that transcends all cultural boundaries standing in the way.
6. Amazing Grace (2006 – Dir. Michael Apted). Based on a true story: William Wilberforce converted to evangelical Christianity over 200 years ago. Eventually he converted Great Britain’s political and economic environment from one that embraced the slave trade into one of the first nations to abolish it—leading to a global-wide devolution of slavery as a legal institution. Wilberforce fought long and hard in the political arena against public indifference and moneyed opposition to undermine the evils of slavery. And the British Parliament was not easy to convert!
5. Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1973 – Dir. Franco Zeffirelli, with Graham Faulkner, Judy Bowker and Alec Guiness). Disillusioned with war and exploitative materialism and in love with life and nature, Frances of Assissi surrenders all. Other characters follow suit, undergoing conversions from a worldly lifestyle to one that puts trusting God ahead of money, romance and power. You will never again think of poverty only in material terms.
4. Courageous (2011 – Dir. Alex Kendrick). When it became clear that “just good enough” is not good enough for fatherhood, some dads challenged each other regarding their faith and family priorities. They learn that love is not enough if it lacks the courage to tie that love to the life-changing conversion that real faith in God demands.
3. A Christmas Carol (1938 – Dir. Edwin L. Marin, starring Reginald Owen). The conversion of Scrooge (a miserly old man) is a Christmas classic. He was not one you would advise to “be who you are.” His moral conversion translates into a fresh freedom from his misery and a discovery of joy. I’ve seen many versions of tis Dickens tale so I can’t recall which one ended with a woman meeting Scrooge on a street in London and saying, “Scrooge, you’re not yourself!” He replied, “Yes! Isn’t it great!”
2. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946 – Dir. Frank Capra, with James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore). An angel is assigned to “convert” George Baily from a floundering failure, a dejected dad and a hopeless husband into a confident friend, father and spouse who finally realizes how richly blessed he is. Under stress, we lose sight of the effect of our lives on others (for good or for ill). Baily was blinded by anxiety but converted through a glimpse at the bigger picture.
1. Fireproof (2008 – Dir. Alex Kendrick, with Kirk Cameron, Erin Bethea and Ken Bevel). A marriage in crisis is restored when a self-justifying, porn-poisoned, otherwise heroic firefighter delays the separation process for forty days to follow a procedure called “The Love Dare.” God is central to the heart changes that break down the pride and anger of each aggrieved partner, but the mentoring of their friends and parents is crucial as well. Conversion is not only a miracle from God but it also involves hard-fought humility, discipline and honesty, as well as enough wisdom to discern which influences in your life are godly or not. Step aside Love Story, love actually can apologize.
Honorable Mention (don’t you just hate it when you can’t get your “top ten’ list down under a dozen?)
The Mission (1986 – Dir. Roland Joffe’, with Robert DeNero, Liam Neeson and Jeramy Irons). An 18th century Spanish Jesuit priest enters the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a Guarani’ community to Christianity. Meanwhile, a mercenary slaver finds his fiancée and his brother in bed and kills the brother in a duel. He is acquitted but spirals into depression. The priest challenges him to undertake a journey of penance, totting a heavy bundle all the way. The ex-slaver is given a Bible and he takes the Jesuit vows becoming a priest himself. However, he is soon faced with a horrific alternative that lures him back to his sword. We may convert to faith and non-violence, but the reality of evil in the world does not necessarily change with us.
Tender Mercies (1983 – Dir. Bruce Beresford, starring Robert Duvall and Tess Harper). A West Texas widow who runs a motel and gas station allows a drunken drifter to work off his debt. She lays down some rules and he makes slow changes that help him to deal with besetting demons. His eventual conversion and baptism at the widow’s church is notably unemotional but it takes hold without him fully understanding how or why. He tells the widow (now his wife), “I don’t know why I wandered out to this part of Texas drunk, and you took me in and pitied me and helped me to straighten out, marry me. Why?” Well, why not? Redemption can come to those who let love, humility and faith steadily grow inside and around them.
Feel free to pick apart my picks with comments below.
The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.