10 Great Movies That Serve as Morality Plays


While preachiness generally isn’t a quality people want to see in the movies they watch, a film presenting a strong message without overdoing it is usually a good thing. No one should use movies to dictate all their actions and thoughts in life, but learning the odd lesson or two from a film with a moral or message doesn’t hurt. Such messages are usually found front and center in family-friendly movies, but films targeted at adults contain life lessons, too.

Drumpe VIDEO OF THE DAY

SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT

The following movies can all be counted as morality plays of sorts, with some making their messages obvious and others being a little more subtle. They provide a snapshot of how many different moral issues can be tackled within the medium of film, and, in some cases, it may even be possible to find movies that contradict the messages below. Still, the following all teach persuasive lessons in interesting ways, and function as both entertaining movies and insightful morality plays.

10 ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ (1971)

Kindness & Honesty Are Everything

Image via Paramount

Though Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is the sort of movie that may traumatize some young viewers, those who make it out of the infamous tunnel scene unscathed may well learn a good message from it. The plot sees five different children – and their adult guardians – win a competition that gives them access to Wonka’s bizarre, wonderful, and sometimes frightening chocolate factory, with the only kindhearted kid of the bunch being Charlie Bucket.

Buried under Gene Wilder’s captivating performance, the memorable musical numbers, and the imaginative set pieces is a message about how you should strive to be kind and honest, even if others around you do the opposite. The various other children find themselves punished within the chocolate factory for their various misdeeds, with Charlie winning out in the end because of his kindness and overall decent nature.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Release Date
June 29, 1971

Director
Mel Stuart

Cast
Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum, Roy Kinnear, Julie Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone

Rating
G

Runtime
100

Genres
Family, Fantasy, Musical

Watch on Max

9 ‘Scarface’ (1983)

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Al Pacino as Tony Montana sitting down and looking intently in Scarface
Image via Universal Pictures

The rise-and-fall narrative has always been a popular one within the gangster genre, but few tell this kind of story quite as dramatically and explosively as Scarface. This 1980s remake harkens back to the version from the 1930s, where very blunt « crime isn’t good » movies were exceedingly common, as demonstrated by other classics like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy.

Essentially, the 1980s version of Scarface takes the kind of gangster story popularized during the 1930s and dials everything up to 11, being the most in-your-face and uncompromising movie about the inevitability of something falling down after rising up. Al Pacino gives an incredible and bombastic performance as Tony Montana, with his scenery-devouring acting blending perfectly with the stylish visuals, blaring pop music soundtrack, and unapologetically bloody violence.

Scarface
Release Date
December 9, 1983

Director
Brian De Palma

Cast
Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon

Rating
R

Runtime
170

Main Genre
Crime

Watch on Netflix

8 ‘The Godfather: Part II’ (1974)

Money & Power Aren’t Everything

The Godfather Part II (1974) (1)-1

The ultimate tragic moral takeaway of The Godfather: Part II is similar to Scarface (and both star Al Pacino), but this 1974 crime epic takes a different route to delivering such a message. It’s darker and more tragic than the first Godfather film from 1972, with Part II being all about the moral downfall of Michael Corleone, who ends the first film having taken over the family empire from his father (memorably played in that film by Marlon Brando).

The downfall of this character is less flashy and explosive than it is in Scarface, with the slowness of it all still feeling inevitable, but perhaps harder to watch as a result. Michael’s shown to become colder and more ruthless as things go on, and by the film’s end, those who once loved or cared for him are either dead or have turned their backs on him. The kicker is how effectively director Francis Ford Coppola pairs this with the film’s flashback scenes, showing a young Vito Corleone (now played by Robert De Niro) building his empire, starting a family, and making life-long connections, all intercut with his son more or less doing the opposite.

The Godfather: Part II
Release Date
December 20, 1974

Director
Francis Ford Coppola

Cast
Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire

Rating
R

Runtime
202

Main Genre
Crime

Watch on Paramount+

7 ‘City of God’ (2002)

Crime Doesn’t Pay

A photographer peers into his camera
Image via Globo Filmes & Miramax Films

As previously mentioned, crime movies showing the downsides of crime are common, but City of God manages to have this message while also functioning as an emotional coming-of-age movie. It focuses on life in a Brazilian favela for various children, some of whom engage in a criminal lifestyle from an early age, and others who avoid it. At a certain point, the film jumps forward numerous years to show these characters as teenagers/young adults, with the choices they made as children continuing to affect them.

It’s a movie largely about young characters, but that doesn’t mean it’s family-friendly, as City of God is a tough, brutal, and very heavy film. But by juxtaposing characters who want to engage in crime and others who want to move away from it, the narrative does ultimately conclude with a strong anti-crime message. On top of that, it’s also a very thrilling and moving film, easily ranking up there as one of the best of the 2000s.

6 ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (1989)

Family Should Come First

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Sean Connery Harrison Ford
Image via Paramount Pictures

The first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, mostly feels like pure action/adventure escapism, and largely succeeds because of that. Its sequel, the somewhat divisive Temple of Doom, deals with darker themes and has some more gruesome violence, but it still functions as bold (and sometimes twisted) escapism. While The Last Crusade doesn’t get preachy by any means, it does feel like it has a little more emotional weight than the other two Indiana Jones movies, and with that comes a stronger message.

Sure, it’s great to see Sean Connery and Harrison Ford at their respective peaks interacting, but with the former introduced as the latter’s son, The Last Crusade ends up feeling surprisingly heartwarming. Father and son go on a great journey and connect like never before, with Henry Jones eventually telling his son to quite literally « let go » of the Holy Grail he’s been spending the whole movie trying to get, which saves his life. It might sound corny, but family ends up being the real treasure all along, which is a wholesome moral to come away with at the end of what was originally intended to be the final Indiana Jones film.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Release Date
May 24, 1989

Director
Steven Spielberg

Cast
Harrison Ford, Alison Doody, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, River Phoenix

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
127 minutes

Genres
Action, Adventure

Watch on Disney+

5 ‘Macbeth’ (1971)

Evildoers Can’t Escape Fate

Macbeth - 1971
Image via Columbia Pictures

The plays of William Shakespeare are filled with explorations of morality, particularly his tragedies, which deliver their messages in effectively blunt ways. As such, the various movie adaptations of his plays reliably deliver such things on the big screen, as seen again and again with all the adaptations of Hamlet that have been made. But Shakespeare’s most direct and powerful tragedy is arguably Macbeth, and few film adaptations of it are quite as visceral as 1971’s.

Macbeth’s a tale all about one man’s relentless pursuit to gain all the power in the world through any means necessary, misunderstanding the disastrous implications of a prophecy he receives. Everything the titular character in Macbeth does leads to his dramatic downfall near the play’s end, and with the dark atmosphere and graphic violence present in the 1971 film, arguably no other adaptation has driven home the idea that no one can escape their fate quite so powerfully.

4 ‘Uncut Gems’ (2019)

The House Always Wins

Uncut Gems

« This is how I win, » Howard Ratner memorably states at one point in Uncut Gems, an anxiety-filled and stomach-churning movie about how Howard Ratner cannot win. Uncut Gems drives home the idea that when it comes to gambling, no one wins but the house, be it literal or figurative. Sure, someone who gambles can score one win, maybe several… but the nature of gambling will ultimately push that person back to score again, and the cycle repeats.

Uncut Gems is an exciting and sometimes darkly funny movie, but it’s arguably a tragic one, and is particularly uncompromising when it comes to exploring gambling addiction. The film’s paced in a way where it feels like it never slows down, and neither does Howard, who keeps desperately pushing his luck further and further, until the movie has to end, and his constant schemes backfire in the most dramatic way possible. Howard’s not the house; he can never win.

Uncut Gems
Release Date
August 30, 2019

Director
Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie

Cast
Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, The Weeknd, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Aranbayev

Rating
R

Runtime
130

Main Genre
Drama

3 ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994)

It’s Never Too Late to Seek Redemption

Pulp Fiction - 1994 (2)
Image via Miramax Films

Fans of Pulp Fiction tend to love it because of how surprisingly funny it is, how many lines of quotable dialogue it has, how stylish the entire thing is, and how intricately plotted/assembled it ends up being. It cleverly interweaves three different crime-related plots, but it does more than just entertain. What sometimes goes overlooked in Pulp Fiction is the ultimate message of the film, which is a redemptive – and arguably even anti-violence – one.

The film ends with Samuel L. Jackson’s character having an epiphany and renouncing his life as a hitman. Thanks to the non-chronological order, we see what happens to his partner (John Travolta) as a result of his not renouncing his violent ways at the same time. Both did bad things, but one sought a change in his life, and it ended up being for the best, perhaps optimistically suggesting that even hitmen aren’t too far gone. One can always try to better themselves, and potentially gain the benefits that come with doing so.

Pulp Fiction
Release Date
September 10, 1994

Director
Quentin Tarantino

Cast
John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz, Bruce Willis

Rating
R

Runtime
154

Genres
Crime, Drama, Thriller

Watch on Max

2 ‘Oldboy’ (2003)

Revenge is a Vicious Cycle

The hallway fight scene in Oldboy
Image via Show East

Like with Pulp Fiction, the more arresting and extreme moments of Oldboy are what help make it initially stand out. It blends arthouse sensibilities with compelling action/thrills to expert effect, and the mystery-heavy narrative is constantly engrossing. The protagonist of Oldboy is imprisoned for 15 years without knowing why, or who’s kept him confined, and when he’s suddenly released, the audience might find themselves just as determined to get answers as he is.

Part of the protagonist’s quest is also revenge-oriented, given having that many years taken away would naturally make anyone vengeful. But his journey for revenge has him realize that he may have wronged someone else previously in his life, and himself have become a target for another’s revenge. The cycle goes on and on, with no one coming out of things by the movie’s end unscathed.

Oldboy (2003)
Release Date
November 21, 2003

Director
Park Chan-wook

Cast
Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung

Rating
R

Runtime
120

1 ‘The Irishman’ (2019)

A Violent Life Will Eternally Haunt You

The Irishman
Image via Netflix 

Throughout the varied and compelling filmography of Martin Scorsese, there have been plenty of films that grapple with morality while presenting persuasive and powerful messages. His gangster movies sometimes follow a rise-and-fall narrative, but with more nuance and realism than was seen in the 1930s classics and 1983’s Scarface. But there are also movies like Raging Bull and The Departed, where those who commit wrongs generally get what’s coming to them eventually.

Still, it might be The Irishman that provides Scorsese’s most impactful moral statement to date. It feels appropriately like a movie from an older filmmaker, and one that he likely couldn’t have made until he was in his 70s. The film sees an elderly man named Frank Sheeran looking back at his life as a hitman, seemingly filled with regret and remorse for many of his violent actions. His memories seem to haunt him, and as he’s one of the few characters whose death isn’t shown or described to the audience through text, there’s a sense that Sheeran never finds peace. Eerily, the viewer leaves him hanging in some sort of emotional or spiritual limbo right before the end credits roll. Sheeran can do nothing; he’s damned to his fate.

The Irishman
Release Date
November 27, 2019

Director
Martin Scorsese

Cast
Jesse Plemons, Robert De Niro, Anna Paquin, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel

Rating
R

Runtime
209 minutes

Main Genre
Crime

Watch on Netflix

NEXT: Every Martin Scorsese Crime Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *

*