Good films to discuss

I often lead film discussions, and equally often I'm asked to recommend films that are good for talking about. So here's a list. It's nowhere near exhaustive, merely a bunch of films that I've either used or that I'm confident would be great. I"ll add to this list as other things occur to me and as new films come out. The Culturewatch website, for which I am Managing Editor, is a great place to find discussion guides - around 500 of them, though they're not all on films. I'll try to link some of the title below to their discussion guides when I get a moment.

I often lead film discussions, and even more often I'm asked to recommend films that are good for talking about. So here's a list. It's nowhere near exhaustive, but is merely a list of films that I've either enjoyed using myself or that I'm confident would be great. The list is very roughly in order of how suitable I think a film is for discussing: things near the top are very good; things near the bottom are less so, but they may suit a particular occasion. Don't read anything into the order beyond that; it's certainly not in order of how much I like them as films.

There are a few criteria to bear in mind when choosing a film to discuss:

  • Relevance - does the film raise good issues which are worth talking about, and are they the right issues for your group?
  • Appropriateness - is the film suitable for your group in terms of language, violence, sexual content, etc.? There are films in this list which I would use with some small groups in a home, some which would be fine with students, and some which I would never use in church! Don't just look at the film certificate, look at what the BBFC give as reasons for the certificate.
  • Popularity - is your group going to prefer a mainstream film which they know about, or have already seen, or would it be better to use something unfamiliar, maybe something arty?
  • Length - a film which runs for 90 minutes or so is great - you can have time for a good discussion and the evening doesn't feel too long. I think two hours is the top limit in most circumstances. One that runs for 150 minutes may be OK for your group, but many people will be too tired to discuss it much afterwards. Check the running time on DVD, not what it was in cinemas. Cinema projection is at 24 frames per second, but films are transferred onto DVD at 25 fps, which means it will be about 4% shorter. I think the times below are all DVD running times.

If you're showing a film in your church, etc. you do need to make sure you have the appropriate licence. Either CVLI or Film Bank (if you're in the UK), depending on the distributor.

I'll add to this list as other things occur to me and as new films come out. The Culturewatch website, for which I am Managing Editor, is a great place to find discussion guides - around 500 of them (though they're not all on films). I'll try to add some links to articles and discussion guides when I get a  moment.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2009)

Directed & written by Woody Allen; starring Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz

Cert. 12 (Contains moderate sex references and implied sex); 92 mins

My article on Culturewatch | Discussion guide

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Directed by Marc Forster; starring Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman

certificate 12 (contains one use of strong language); running time 108 mins

Culturewatch article | discussion guide

13 Conversations About One Thing (2005)

Directed by Jill Sprecher; starring Alan Arkin, Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro, Amy Irving

cert. 15 (contains strong language); running time 99 mins

My article on Culturewatch | Discussion guide coming very soon

Lars and the Real Girl (2008)

Director: Craig Gillespie; Screenplay: Nancy Oliver; Starring: Ryan Gosling, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider

Cert. 12A (Contains mental illness theme and moderate sex references); 102 mins - a brilliant, quirky independent film that most people will have missed, lots about  identity, self-worth and finding acceptance in a community

Culturewatch article | No discussion guide

Juno (2008)

Directed by Jason Reitman; Oscar-winning screenplay by Diablo Cody; starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, J. K. Simmons, Alison Janney

Cert. 12A (Contains strong language and moderate sex references); 92 mins - life and love; lovely film

Culturewatch article | discussion guide

Son of Rambow (2008)

Directed and written by Garth Jennings; Starring: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Stevenson, Neil Dudgeon

Cert. 12A (Contains dangerous behaviour, smoking and moderate language); 91 mins - more religious extremism with a strong theme of freedom and expression

My Culturewatch article | No discussion guide

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (2007)

Written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; starring: Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch

Cert. 15 (Contains strong sex); 138 minutes - too long for most contexts. But this is one of my favourite films of the last few years. Bear in mind that it's in German with English subtitles.

My article on Culturewatch | No discussion guide

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; starring Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O'Connor

Cert. 12A (Contains strong violence), 158 mins - too long for most contexts

Themes: obsession, greed and religious extremism

Culturewatch article by Nicola Lee | No discussion guide

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Director: Frank Darabont; Screenplay by Darabont, based on the novella by Stephen King; starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler

Cert. 15 (Contains frequent strong language, violence and sexual assault); 136 mins - too long for most contexts but a very powerful, now classic film

Culturewatch article | Discussion guide

The Dark Knight (2008)

Director: Christopher Nolan; Screenplay: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan; Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman

Cert. 12A (Contains strong fantasy violence and sustained threat); 146 mins - powerful exploration of morality but too long for most contexts

Culturewatch article | No discussion guide

Gone Baby Gone (2008)

Director: Ben Affleck; Screenplay: Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane; Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan

Cert 15 (Contains very strong language, strong violence and hard drug use); 109 mins - a little on the long side

My Culturewatch article | No discussion guide

© Tony Watkins, 2020
The Tony and Jane Watkins Trust oversees and supports the ministries of Tony and Jane Watkins in Christian training, education, and communication. It is a charity registered in England and Wales, no. 1062254.
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