Prometheus (2012) - Engineer (Daniel James) dissolving

Religion is a controversial issue. One of the things science fiction excels at is tackling tough issues. That's why religion has been the subtext of many sci-fi movies. While many believe science and religion contradict each other that hasn't stopped films from using spiritual themes to give them a deeper meaning.

From sacrificial deaths, to Jewish symbols, see how filmmakers have subtly introduced religious themes into eight of your favorite films.

1. Truman Show (1998)

Peter Weir's film about a man living in a TV studio touches on themes of predestination and existentialism. Andrew Niccol's was inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Special Service" about a man who's life is broadcast on television and wrote a spec script that was sold for almost a million dollars. Jim Carrey stars as Truman Burbank who unknowingly grows up living in an huge television studio. The entire thing is broadcast as the ultimate reality show by Christof, played by Ed Harris. Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich and Natascha McElhone round out the cast.

Christof runs Truman's world with almost god-like control and seems to enjoy inflicting pain on Truman to make good television. The conversations between Truman and Christof about his escape to freedom have been compared to those between Moses and the Pharaoh of Egypt. To really sell it, in one scene Truman walks on water and falls on a boat in the position of the cross. Carrey was always known for his subtlety.

2. Man of Steel (2014)

Superman has always had many Christian themes and Zach Snyder's pushes the envelope. When planning to reboot the films Warner Bros. Pictures took pitches from comic book writers, screenwriters and directors. Henry Cavill stars as Superman and follows his life from his birth on the planet Krypton to his arrival at the city of Metropolis where he fights evil Kryptonians led by General Zod.

The film follows the familiar theme of a father sending his only son from heaven to Earth to save Mankind. There's even a scene where Clark disappears for several years similar to Jesus' sabbatical in the wilderness. The studio used religious themes in its marketing and created a Superman-themed sermon for pastors called "Jesus: The Original Superhero."

3. The Matrix (1999)

The Wachowski's action film touches on themes of Buddhism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Hinduism, and Judaism. The idea of a prophesied  savior and a reincarnated hero are examples of this classic of cinema. He has to clear his mind to perform many of the death defying feats and knows Kung-Fu. Plus, it has bullet time which is beyond cool.

4. Battlefield Earth (2000)

Roger Christian's film is based on the Scientology novel by L. Ron Hubbard. Famed Scientologist John Travolta thought the film would be a huge hit and even planned a sequel. While the film reportedly has no connection to the teachings of the church there are some connections.

The villains are named "Psychlos" which is a play on psychologists which Hubbard hated. The movie was released three days after the 50th anniversary of the publication of Hubbard's book Dianetics. That day is a holiday for Scientologists. The Church of Scientology got a cut of the toy sales which were as popular as the film. Namely, they sucked.

5. Equilibrium (2002)

Director Kurt Wimmer made this film about an order of "clerics" that help to maintain a society devoid of emotions. In this future dystopia everyone takes a carefully regulated regimen of drugs to surpress feelings. Christian Bale stars as John Preston who's a policeman in this future world who accidentally misses a dose and starts having feelings. Wimmer compared the Clerics to the Knights Templar who had taken an aesthetic religious vow and are "Warriors of God." He also compared them to the Japanese samurai and their Bushido code.

6. Prometheus

Ridley Scott's
film was originally named Paradise, after John Milton's poem Paradise Lost. The crew is on a search for God and the origin of life. The symbolism continues as the Engineer sacrifices himself for humanity similar to Jesus' death. Scott referred to the Greek statue-like beings as "Dark Angels." One of the characters has an immaculate conception of an alien. The movie also has references to the Greek mythology of Prometheus who fought the gods to bring fire to mankind.

7. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess' 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange has many religious messages. Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a juvenile delinquent, is subjected to aversion therapy in a prison with many religious symbols, the prisoners sing hymns and read from "The Big Book." A cleric presides over the group and eventually denounces the removal of free-will.

8. The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Directed by Robert Fuest, this horror film starring Vincent Price as a disfigured genius seeking revenge for the death of his wife. He kills the doctors and nurses he holds responsible using methods based on the Ten Plagues against Egypt in the Bible. He even wears amulets with the ten Jewish Hebrew letters that relate to the plagues.

What do you think of these films? Can you think of any other films with subtle religious meanings?

Please use the buttons below to tell your friends about this post. Click on the links to follow us for free by Email, RSS and follow us on Twitter @thegeektwins and like us on Facebook


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The Matrix and Man of Steel did it well.
Battlefield Earth and Prometheus - not so much...

Pat Dilloway said...

The Abominable Dr. Phibes? Who knew? Well you guys obviously.


Funny that the creators of Superman were jewish.

jeremy [retro] said...

i want to say, i didn't notice the references... now that you mention it, we all going to hell. lol

Clarissa Draper said...

I really never pay attention to the religious meaning in films but you made them so obvious. I was thinking that Star Wars has a strong GOOD vs EVIL and also the new epic NOAH is obvious religious.

Maurice Mitchell said...


-------- Original message --------

Maurice Mitchell said...

That is ironic! Of course Jews still believe in the Messiah, so it's not far off David.

Maurice Mitchell said...

That one kind of surprised me Pat. Especially because they made up plagues for the movie.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Yeah Battlefield Earth isn't inspiring any sermons.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Good ones Clarissa. Do you think Lucas meant it?

msmariah said...

I never thought of the Truman Show as a religious movie, but I guess it does have religious overtones.

Tony Laplume said...

I'm surprised you chose Man of Steel over Superman Returns. About the only thing anyone has to say about the latter is exactly this topic.

Lady Lilith Bloodcrave said...

It is amazing what is hidden in movies.

Maurice Mitchell said...

It really is Lilith! Some movies are like onions.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Superman definitely had those themes as well Tony. Especially with his “death” and return but I thought this one was a lot more obvious.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I love Gun Kata Ms. Mariah! If they taught a class I’d be all over it.

J.L. Campbell said...

Good analysis of each. I'm not much of a movie fan, so the only one I've seen is The Matrix, and that only in bits and pieces.

Toinette Thomas said...

Most of these I was already aware of, but I though the
connections in Man of Steel were more based on Judaism than Christianity, but
both could work. There have been so many movies with religious undertones to
them. Star Was also seems a bit obvious
to me, but maybe I'm just open to those kinds of things. I was surprised Life
of Pi and Cloud Atlas didn't make the list, but I guess it's because they are
not strictly sci-fi. I must pay more attention to my titles.

Maurice Mitchell said...

There are way more than 8 movies that have these themes Toinette, but I decided to scale back to some of the more subtle ones. As you said there are some movies that are overtly spiritual like “Cloud Atlas” that would definitely fit this list. Great suggestions!


Subscribe to RSS Feed Follow me on Twitter!