During the current malaise of box-office bombs, failed reboots, and bad sequels, it’s time to take stock in the excellent films that we already have. Specifically, here are some of the greatest conservative movies to take in, or watch again with fresh appreciation, during the next two months.
These films portray fundamental conservative values that make America great. They promote liberty, objective truth, family, patriotism, and the recognition that evil exists and must be fought. To maximize family involvement, all the films below have a rating of PG-13 or friendlier.
Winston Churchill was the consummate statesman of the 20th century. In 90 years, what he accomplished could fill the lives of multiple Great Men. “Darkest Hour” is a faithful, historically accurate look at the time period of May to June 1940, when it looked likely that Britain would surrender to Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The film traces Churchill’s efforts to persuade his cabinet and the British people that England could withstand Adolf Hitler’s onslaught and win.
“Darkest Hour” reminds the viewer that appeasement only emboldens evil men like Hitler. Churchill’s inspirational rhetoric was not empty posturing. We know from his public and private remarks that he was prepared to fight to the bitter end, with street-by-street fighting in downtown London if it came to it. Indeed, Churchill warned his fellow politicians they should be ready to personally take up arms in defense of their island home—anything to avoid becoming a vassal of the Nazi Empire and an accomplice of a truly sinister regime.
Gary Oldman’s transformative performance as the greatest Briton won him the Best Actor Oscar and anchors the film. For further reading on Churchill, one of conservatism’s greatest champions, there are more than 1,000 biographies to choose from. The works of Larry Arnn, Martin Gilbert, and Andrew Roberts stand above the rest.
2017 | 125 minutes | PG-13
Whether director Brad Bird set out to make a conservative animated film or not, “The Incredibles” contains one of the best condemnations against the modern left’s disdain for excellence. Instead of inspiring the culture to exceptionalism, the left has become obsessed with attacking it at every turn. Bob Barr takes this head-on during a great scene where he laments a 4th-grade graduation ceremony and the left’s proclivity for “creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.”
Government ineptitude is exposed and on full display, complete with the dangerous byproducts that always accompany it. Crime has, of course, skyrocketed since the government banned superheroes—all in the name of keeping people safe. Postmodernism’s hatred of hero archetypes is wholly embraced by the left today (see: “The Last Jedi”) and “The Incredibles” pushes back against that marvelously.
10-year-old Dash Parr demolishes the prevalent self-esteem culture found in most schools in one of the best exchanges of the film, replying to his mother that saying “everyone is special” is “another way of saying no one is.”
2004 | 115 minutes | PG
One of Ron Howard’s most underrated films, “Cinderella Man” tells the real-life story of American boxer Jim Braddock. Set during the worst period of the Great Depression, the film extols the value of hard work, family life, and making sacrifices for your children. “Cinderella Man’s” most moving scene involves Braddock returning his dole money to the relief office as soon as boxing earns him enough to restore his self-sufficiency.
The nation would be far better off today if there were more strong family men like Jim Braddock, that’s for certain. Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti are particularly excellent, as are the cinematography, the production design, and the fight scenes.
2005 | 144 minutes | PG-13
‘The Dark Knight’
Unlike the fascist, authoritarian evil that Churchill faces in “Darkest Hour,” the villain of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is a different sort of malevolence. In an Academy Award-winning turn, Heath Ledger’s Joker is evil in its most chaotic, nihilistic form. It’s an examination of how people respond to such a force of nature and the sacrifices that are necessary to save those we love.
The moral compass of the film is arguably Michael Caine’s Albert Pennyworth, who lays out the nature of the man Bruce Wayne must face:
…some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
“The Dark Knight” was released during the summer of 2008, during the height of “Bush fatigue” and when Barack Obama’s star never seemed brighter. However, the film is an unflinching testament to the age-old American government policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists. Some enemies cannot be redeemed, they can only be defeated.
To protect the innocent and maintain order in Gotham, Bruce is pushed to the brink, but both Batman and the audience learn important lessons about the nature of evil and the lengths that we must sometimes go to defeat it.
2008 | 152 minutes | PG-13
No fewer than six of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time come from “Casablanca,” and it was named AFI’s greatest love story. In addition to it typically being a part of any discussion considering the greatest movies ever made, “Casablanca” is also a deeply conservative film.
Set during the middle of World War II in Vichy-controlled French Morocco, “Casablanca” extols American values at every turn. Freedom, patriotism, service, liberty, and self-sacrifice are all held as virtues in the oppressive Nazi-occupied territory. In the end, in the name of a higher good, “Casablanca” exhorts us to choose duty to country over our passions, no matter how hard we may be pulled in the other direction.
1942 | 102 minutes | PG
There are many exceptional John Ford or John Wayne films that could have filled the Western slot on this list. “Shane” is here because in many ways it’s all of the best elements of the classic American Western rolled into one. It has the mysterious stranger in a white hat riding into town. It’s an ode to the rugged, quintessentially American individualism of the open West. It’s got a climactic final showdown where the bad guys get their due. “Shane” has it all.
It’s also one of the most pro-Second Amendment films ever made. When the title character is told by a homesteader’s wife that she doesn’t want her son learning how to shoot, Shane tells her:
A gun is a tool, Marion, no better or no worse than any other tool, an ax, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.
George Stevens’s western masterpiece, “Shane” is a beautiful articulation of the fact that one of the best defenses against a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun who knows how to use it. “Shane” explores the importance of fathers looking out for their families as well as the integral role strong men play in the shaping of young boys. It’s a classic that the family can watch together and enjoy again and again.
1953 | 118 minutes | G
‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’
Like “The Dark Knight”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the second, and best film in its own superhero trilogy. “Winter Soldier” pits Captain Steve Rogers against an insidious government force that seeks to destroy everything America stands for. The film’s message is staunchly against the National Security Agency data collection, warrantless wiretapping, and questionable drone strikes that were hallmarks of the final years of the Obama administration.
Throughout the film, Rogers stands up for freedom, civil liberties, and privacy from government intrusion. “Winter Soldier” remains one of the best Marvel films to date, and reminds us that even when we’re afraid, we cannot relinquish fundamental American liberties in the name of promised security.
2014 | 136 minutes | PG-13
‘The Lord of the Rings’ (film series)
For films that highlight the never-ending battle between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil, there are few that match Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The weakness of the third installments of the “Star Wars” and “Godfather” sagas make Jackson’s adaption of J. R. R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy masterpiece the greatest trilogy of all time.
For that reason, it is impossible to isolate any one film for inclusion on this list. The trilogy should really be treated as a complete 11-hour film experience (watching it in one sitting is a rite-of-passage into true fandom). The film series provides inspirational heroes for young men and women to aspire to and there are numerous speeches that reinforce conservative messages. While deep within the mines of Moria, Gandalf’s speech to Frodo in “The Fellowship of the Ring” is a beautiful articulation of faith, grace, and Providence. When Frodo laments that he wishes the One Ring had never come to him, Gandalf tells him:
So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.
Aragorn’s “Men of the West” speech near the end of “The Return of the King” has obvious parallels to the stakes of our own world and its future trajectory. However, it is Samwise Gamgee’s speech at the conclusion of “The Two Towers” that articulates why we must hold fast in the face of evil.
…in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back. Only they didn’t, because they were holding on to something—that there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.
The Hobbits, the Elves, and the Rohirrim all, at first, attempt to stay out of the fight and isolate themselves from the fray, hoping to be left alone if they simply ignore the growing evil on their borders. When Theoden tells Aragorn he doesn’t want to risk open war, Aragorn delivers the harsh reality: “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.”
The heroes of Jackson’s films, especially the smallest among them, do not shrink from trials or difficult choices. Time and time again, Frodo picks up his metaphorical cross and struggles with all his might towards the finish line. It’s a tale of enduring friendship and courage. Ultimately, even if it means a loss of innocence or wounds that won’t ever completely heal, evil must—and can—be defeated.
2001-2003 | 208, 223, 251 minutes (extended editions) | PG-13