Stagecoach (1939)

Six passengers board a stage in a New Mexico town in the 1870s. Two are respectable citizens; four are not. Apaches are terrorizing the countryside. The sheriff (George Bancroft), who's riding shotgun, arrests en route a notorious outlaw (John Wayne) and puts him inside. The cramped quarters and ever-present physical danger provoke quarrels, forcing each person to reveal his true self.

Stagecoach, one of the Vatican's top 45 films, dramatizes the difference between each passenger's status in the community and his interior moral qualities. In almost every case, initial expectations are reversed. An alcoholic doctor (Thomas Mitchell) and a dance-hall girl (Claire Trevor) are revealed to be persons of virtue while the haughty banker (Berton Churchill) is shown to have a dirty secret. Director John Ford (How Green Is My Valley) uses the situation to open his viewers' eyes to the power of forgiveness and redemption. Those characters who do overcome evil achieve their victory by wrestling with their souls, not by firing a six-gun.

Selma, Lord, Selma (1999)

The American civil-rights movement was deeply Christian in both its thinking and its practices. Many of its leaders were black Protestant preachers who used the language of the Gospels and the Old Testament prophets to define the political issues and determine the appropriate tactics.

A good example is the 1965 voter-registration drive in Selma, Ala., which resulted in several deaths but shook the nation's conscience and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Selma, Lord, Selma, a cable TV docudrama, dramatizes these historic events through the eyes of an 11-year-old black girl, Sheyann Webb (Jurnee Smollett), whose parents (Ella Joyce and Afemo Omitani) oppose her involvement. The young student is inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. (Clifton Powell) and Rev. Jonathan Daniels (Mackenzie Astin), a white Protestant minister. An interesting minor character is Father Whitaker (Danny Nelson), a southern Catholic priest who initially opposes the movement but then has a change of heart.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1979)

We often forget that children are moral beings like adults, with their own set of temptations to overcome. These moments of youthful self-definition are imaginatively captured in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, adapted from the C.S. Lewis classic The Chronicles of Narnia. Four children discover a mysterious passageway through a wardrobe closet to the magical land of Narnia, which is ruled by an evil queen. The season there is always winter, but Christmas never comes.

One of the young visitors gives in to greed and sides with the queen, who turns her enemies into statues. The other children learn from the land's animal inhabitants about the good Lion King who will bring springtime upon his return. When this magical creature does reappear to do battle with the queen, he teaches the children about the importance of sacrifice and restores their faith in the eventual triumph of good. This animated fairy tale combines Christian spirituality with Germanic folklore. Both kids and adults will find it intriguing.

— John Prizer