Skip to main content

The Top 20 Atheist-Friendly Movies

I'm Nevets: Nerd, cinephile, TV-junkie, bookworm, gamer, and slacker extraordinaire.

Actor Ricky Gervais is an avowed atheist.

Actor Ricky Gervais is an avowed atheist.

Movies For Atheists

Whether it be by questioning, satirizing, pointing out faults, or simply making light of the whole kit and caboodle, the following atheist-friendly movies have done their own small parts in bringing religion down a peg while putting science and skepticism in the limelight.

Now don't get me wrong; there are very few atheists out there who would completely condemn (or outright refuse to watch) any film based solely on the fact that it has religious undertones or even one that's completely religious in nature. But every once in a while it is a breath of fresh air for a rationalist to see a film with the brass to stand up and call out religion for what it is, and/or give secularism, science, and reason a voice.

The pickings may be slim but, believe it or not, these movies are out there. One just needs to know where to look.

atheistmovies

20. "Salvation Boulevard" (2011)

What's it about?

During a debate between atheist Dr. Paul Blaylock (Ed Harris) and pastor Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan), Day singles out ex-deadhead Carl (Greg Kinnear) as an example of a convert who left sin behind and accepted God's grace. When the trio gathers later in his office, Pastor Dan accidentally shoots the atheist with an antique gun and covers up the mess to make it look like a suicide. Then Carl (the scared, confused, suddenly disillusioned innocent bystander) becomes drawn into a criminal web as he tries to set things right. But in the process, he must elude murder attempts, kidnapping, blackmail, and temptation of all sorts.

What does this have to do with atheism?

Salvation Boulevard is a dark comedy that pokes fun at the uber-religious evangelicals at almost every single turn. And while it only had a limited release (and was overlooked by pretty much everyone), it was actually a fairly decent movie with a star-studded cast and lots of laughs.

atheistmovies

19. "The Ledge" (2011)

What's this about?

A thriller in which a battle of philosophies—fundamentalist Christian against atheist—escalates into a lethal battle of wills. Ultimately, as a test of faith (or lack of it), the believer forces the non-believer onto the ledge of a tall building. He then has one hour to make a choice between taking his own life and someone else's. Without faith in an afterlife, will he be capable of such a sacrifice?

What does this have to do with atheism?

The Ledge was widely promoted as being the Brokeback Mountain for atheists. And while the film may have failed in delivering on this promise (mostly due to poor dialogue and a somewhat contrived storyline), it nevertheless did grace the moviegoing public with two rarities in film: an openly atheistic hero and a representation of just how dangerous the wacky delusions of fundamentalist Christians can be.

atheistmovies

18. "Creation" (2009)

What's it about?

Creation is a partly biographical, partly fictional account of the emotional and marital problems faced by Charles Darwin after the death of his eldest child, and his struggles to write the book that changed the world, On the Origin of Species.

What does this have to do with atheism?

With a film about the man who "singlehandedly killed God," you really have no other choice but to venture into atheist territory. Creation not only does this, but it goes into it headfirst as we watch Darwin (played by a real-life atheist, Paul Bettany) struggles to overcome his guilt and anxiety over the effect his discoveries may have on the world and his marriage and personal life, as well.

17. "Paul" (2011)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Reelrundown

Two science fiction nerds (Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) take a pilgrimage in an RV to America's UFO heartland, where they happen upon a wise-cracking space alien named Paul (played by Seth Rogen), who has recently escaped a 60-year imprisonment from a top-secret military base. Paul convinces the two to help him in his endeavor to evade federal agents in order to escape to his mother ship. And with this, ladies and gentlemen, let the comical hijinks commence!

What does this have to do with atheism?

  1. The two leading actors, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, are avowed atheists.
  2. The film directly ridicules the unfounded views of creationists, while repeatedly defending the scientifically supported theory of evolution.
  3. The film repeatedly pokes fun at the closed-mindedness of Christian fundamentalists. This is most notably demonstrated in the character of Ruth (played by Kristen Wiig), a Christian fundamentalist who has her faith shattered after Paul shares his vast knowledge of the universe via a telepathic link. While at first she's horrified about having lived a lie her entire life, Ruth soon feels liberated by the realization that hell doesn't await her if she curses, has sex, or sins in other ways.
  4. In BBC Radio interviews, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have alluded to the fact that they intended to delve deeper into the controversies of Darwin and evolution vs. religion and creationism, but several scenes were cut in favor of flow and timing.

16. "Agora" (2009)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Agora is biopic about Hypatia, a female mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer in late 4th century Roman Egypt, who investigates the flaws of the geocentric Ptolemaic system and the heliocentric model that challenges it. Surrounded by the religious turmoil and social unrest arising from the disputes of the pagans and the Christians, Hypatia struggles to save the knowledge of classical antiquity from destruction. The story uses historical fiction to highlight the relationship between religion and science amidst the decline of Greco-Roman polytheism and the Christianization of the Roman empire.

What does this have to do with atheism?

There are these beautiful scenes where we see the camera pan out to a godlike POV which allows us to look down on the battles which ensue during the Christianization of the Roman empire and see those ancient people as if they are ants gathering into various groups (religions) and scurrying through the streets and buildings, waving their weapons toward the sky, killing each other, destroying everything, and shouting passionately about whose invisible deity is better. It's through this clever technique that the film helps us gain a large, impersonal view of the human species, one that really puts our small disputes (in relation to the universe itself) into perspective.

All of this religious turmoil is interspersed with scenes of the innocent people who are affected by it. In Alexandria, pagans and Christians live together as friends and neighbors, but when the higher-ups decide that a religious war should begin, those people are forced to fight against each other. We see the Christians' destruction of an ancient library (the greatest treasure of human knowledge in the world at that time, from which only a few scrolls were saved, including texts from Aristotle and other Greeks). We see how the protagonist, Hypatia (a female mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer) has her scientific research continuously hindered by the madness religion has caused around her.

15. "The Invention of Lying" (2009)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

The Invention of Lying takes place in a world where everyone tells the truth. Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is a screenwriter, about to be fired. He's short and chunky with a flat nose, genetic traits that mean he won't get to first base with Anna, the woman he loves. On the spur of the moment he blurts out the first ever fib, with eye-popping results.

What does this have to do with atheism?

In an imaginary world where lying is nonexistent and every word out of everyone's mouth is an absolute, unfiltered truth, it should come as no surprise that there's a complete lack of religious belief. But when Mark learns to lie, the invention of religion isn't far off. It starts out innocently enough when he lies to his mother about the afterlife as she lays on her deathbed, worried about the eternal void awaiting her. But things soon escalate when the hospital staff overhears his description of heaven, believes every word, and spreads the good news to others. Not long after, Mark is called a prophet and religion is born.

14. "Religulous" (2008)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Written by and starring television's most famous atheist/agnostic, Bill Maher, the critically-acclaimed documentary, Religulous (an amalgamation of the words "religion" and "ridiculous") gives an insightful, clever, and oftentimes humorous examination of religion and religious belief through interviews with believers of various faiths, analyses of religion's history and evolution, and pilgrimages to an assortment of religious destinations.

What does this have to do with atheism?

C'mon.... Seriously?

13. "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Beginning with the dawn of man in Africa four million years BC and spanning all the way up to the "near future" of 2001, Stanley Kubrick's epic 2001: A Space Odyssey could be called a story of man's evolution and potential and an exploration of the mysteries our universe contains. In the film, the progress of this evolution is marked by recurring appearances of several mysterious black monoliths which appear to have the strange ability to nudge man's intelligence and evolution further along. But to discover where these monoliths came from, who (or what) made them, and what their purpose is, you have to watch.

What does this have to do with atheism?

While 2001: A Space Odyssey was a collaborative effort of two well-known atheists, Stanley Kubrick (the revered director of such films as Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange) and famed science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, this film unfortunately has no overt criticisms or statements pertaining to religion. So, admittedly, I was hesitant about adding it to this list (in fact, it's probably the least atheistic movie included here) but that being said, the film does imply atheistic viewpoints.

We're shown a beautiful and thought-provoking picture of a seemingly godless universe where man evolves from early herbivorous, ape-like humans and where the closest thing to a sky-daddy isn't an omnipresent, omnipotent magical figure, but rather, a more highly evolved alien species whose mysterious goals have no apparent connection with magic or superstition, but only with science, evolution, and the exploration of the mysteries of space.

If that ain't atheist-friendly, I don't know what is.

12. "Planet of the Apes" (1968)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

After a six-month voyage through deep space (six months for them, nearly 700 years for the planet earth due to time dilation), a small group of US astronauts goes into deep hibernation to await their trip back to earth. Upon waking, they find that their spaceship has unexpectedly crash-landed on a mysterious planet 2006 years in the future (although they themselves have only aged 18 months). Upon exploring the planet (which appears to be sustainable and much like their own), the crew is astounded to find that its society is ruled by intelligent apes who speak, ride horseback, use tools, brandish firearms, and treat the planet's indigenous human population (who are mute, uncivilized, and primitive) as wild animals (they're caged, tested, hunted for sport, and enslaved for manual labor). Before long, the crew is captured by the apes and forced to fight for their freedom.

What does this have to do with atheism?

Paralleling our own world, the apes in charge in the Planet of the Apes, the political and religious leaders, base all decisions on faith, without reason. Prompted to a religious belief (that, according to the Second Article of Faith of their Sacred Scrolls, humans have no soul), they guiltlessly hunt humans for sport, run tests on them, and take them for slaves.

The parallels don't end there, though. The film also gives examples of how religious faith flies in the face of science. There are several scenes when scientists present evidence (ancient artifacts and fossils) that their evolutionary ancestors may have been human-like. This idea is immediately rejected because it runs contrary to their faith and the writings in their Sacred Scrolls, where the First Article of Faith states that "the Almighty created the ape in his own image." When scientists present further evidence of evolution at a court hearing (giving us a kind of reverse version of the Scopes Monkey Trial), the court refuses to listen and indicts the scientists on the charge of scientific heresy.

All in all, The Planet of the Apes does what good science fiction should do: it gives us a fun and interesting story that not only entertains, but makes us reevaluate ourselves in the process.

11. "Jesus Camp" (2006)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Jesus Camp follows several young children as they prepare to attend a summer camp called "Kids on Fire" where they will get thrown in the deep end of evangelical Christianity. Through interviews with camp employee Becky Fischer, the children, and others, Jesus Camp illustrates the unswerving belief of the faithful religious right. A housewife and homeschooling mother tells her son that creationism has all the answers. Footage from inside the camp shows young children weeping and wailing as they promise to stop their sinning. Child after child is driven to tears.

What does this have to do with atheism?

We see parents homeschooling their children to shield them from the teaching of evolution and the influence of sin, pastors telling kids to stretch their hands out in prayer to a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, and children who have their mouths covered with red tape with "LIFE" printed across it as they're shown a series of plastic models of developing fetuses and are urged to fight to end abortion. There's even a brief scene where the children are brought to see Ted Haggard (prior to his homosexual sex scandal) where he delivers a sermon over the evils of homosexuality.

This film is an infuriating, sad, frightening, and disgusting look at how the extreme religious right are indoctrinating their children to be fanatical "soldiers of god."

10. "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Crimes and Misdemeanors consists of two connecting stories. The first is that of Judah (Martin Landau), a wealthy, highly respected ophthalmologist whose mistress, Dolores, wants him to leave his wife. Dolores tells Judah that if he doesn't, she will tell his wife about their affair and also about some of Judah's shady business dealings. Not wanting to leave his wife and incapable of convincing Dolores not to talk, Judah turns to his mobster brother who has Dolores killed. Overcome with grief, Judah contemplates his life, god, and the meaning of right and wrong.

The second story is that of Cliff (Woody Allen), a documentary filmmaker who is struggling to make a film about a philosopher whose worldview he admires. To help finance this project, Cliff reluctantly agrees to direct a complimentary documentary about his brother-in-law, whom he hates. While filming the documentary about his brother-in-law, Cliff falls in love with a woman who is producing the film.

What does this have to do with atheism?

Crimes and Misdemeanors can be seen as an examination of the meaning of life and a search for morality in the absence of god (a subject addressed throughout the film). It's difficult to go too into depth in this examination without spoiling the film, but I believe the following quote from the final scene (taken from the philosopher Allen's character admires) finely sums up the ambiance of the entire movie:

"It is only we, with our capacity to love, that give meaning to an indifferent universe. And yet most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and find joy from simple things; from their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more."

9. "Letting Go of God" (2008)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Letting Go of God is a humorous autobiographical monologue by Julia Sweeney which chronicles her search for god. She begins in the Catholic church, the religion her family raised her in, and takes a Bible study class. What she learns there leads her to new questions, and in search for answers she explores meditation, Buddhism, and New Age gurus, then describes what she learned from the sciences and from sharpening her critical thinking skills. She discovers that to accept the truth leads to surprising revelations. She concludes by sharing how these affected her relationship with her family.

What does this have to do with atheism?

Julia Sweeney's account of her own search for god which led to her conversion to atheism is an honest, sweet, funny, and moving story of how reason and rationality can overcome even the strictest religious upbringing. It's not overly hostile or condescending toward religion or the religious and it gets its message through loud and clear. If nothing else, this film is a great inspiration for any atheists who are in the closet and terrified of what will happen if they ever come out.

On a side not, this monologue impressed and inspired world-renowned atheist biologist Richard Dawkins so much that he referenced it several times in his bestselling book, The God Delusion.

8. "Inherit the Wind" (1960)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Inherit the Wind is a dramatization of the famous Scopes Monkey trial of 1925. A biology teacher was arrested and brought to court, where he challenged a law passed by the Tennessee State legislature which made it a crime to teach anything other than the account of creation as set down in the Book of Genesis.

What does this have to do with atheism?

While on its surface, Inherit the Wind may appear merely as a battle between creationism vs. evolution, but the real battle is between knowledge vs. repression of knowledge (in this case, due to contradicting religious belief). The film's protagonist, defense attorney Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy), is an avowed agnostic with a vendetta against the closed-minded ignorance which religion has the tendency to spread. When he is asked if he finds anything holy, Drummond replies, "The individual human mind. In a child's ability to master the multiplication table there is more holiness than all your shouted hosannas and holy of holies."

Looking back at it now, the most astounding thing about this film wasn't its willingness to take on these issues, but the fact that these issues, over fifty years later, are still relevant. In 1960, when the film was made, director Stanley Kramer knew that the fight against evolution was an archaic one; yet, even now, that fight continues to persist, regardless of the fact that courts have consistently ruled against the teaching of creationism in schools. One can't help but wonder what the backlash would be if a film like this were to come out in America today, where over half of the population have been shown to believe that creationism is definitely or probably true (an amazing statistic, considering well over 90% of the world's scientists accept evolution as fact). Suffice it to say, Inherit the Wind's relevancy has never been more important than it is right now.

7. "The Sunset Limited" (2011)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

A nameless intellectual white atheist attempts to commit suicide by diving in front of the Sunset Limited, only to be rescued by a nameless, devoutly religious, black ex-con who takes the atheist to his apartment where they discuss religion, philosophy, and whether or not life has meaning. This room, and the discussions within it, are the sole setting and action for the entirety of the film.

What does this have to do with atheism?

While in the end The Sunset Limited gives no answers (neither character, the atheist nor the theist, wins the "debate"), the topics they hit on are still extremely relevant and thought-provoking to those interested in the subject of religion and life's meaning. Other than the stereotype of the depressed, intellectual, and suicidal atheist, the film handles the strain between atheism and theism in a fair way while making no major generalizations in either direction and never taking sides; you simply watch and listen as two men have a verbal boxing match, and in the end you come to your own conclusions about what you just witnessed.

6. "Whatever Works" (2009)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Whatever Works is the story of the cantankerous New York intellectual, cynic, and atheist ex-professor of quantum mechanics, Boris (played by Larry David), who reluctantly finds himself allowing a beautiful, young, naive southern runaway named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood) to move into his apartment. After a surprising series of events, Boris and Melody find themselves in an unlikely relationship. Eventually, Melody's repressed Christian parents come looking for her to bring her home, but they, just like Melody, begin to find themselves wrapped up in the cultured environment.

What does this have to do with atheism?

Through his characters, director Woody Allen has always managed to bring a keen sense of wit and rationality into his movies, and he's never once hesitated to openly address and question the absurdities associated with religion and the religious. But it was with 2009's Whatever Works that he really went all out.

The film is a humorous (albeit exaggerated) example of what may occur if individuals of the conservative, religious right were to step outside of the constraints of their own environments, religious background, and upbringing, and open themselves up to a world outside of their familiar comfort zones. In Melody's repressed, right wing, Christian fundamentalist family, we see the epitome of closed-minded irrationalists who, when removed from their small town ways and exposed to an environment of culture and intellectualism, not only open their minds and unchain themselves from their religious beliefs but also learn to better understand themselves. In the end, they grow to be all the more happier and fulfilled because of it.

5. "Marjoe" (1972)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

The 1972 Academy Award-winning documentary Marjoe is one of the most fascinating, eye-opening documentaries to ever come along. The story follows Marjoe Gortner who, as a small boy, was pushed into being a child evangelist preacher by his parents, who trained him to be a manipulative showman to perform in the church tent revivalist circuit, earning them large sums of money. Despite his lack of religious belief, Marjoe rejoined the ministry as a young adult to support himself by using his fame and status to defraud money from devout religious followers through tent revivals and televangelism. This documentary came along after Marjoe had an attack of conscience and decided to quit being an evangelist. During his final revival tour, he gave a documentary film crew complete access to him, his process, and the tricks of his trade.

What does this have to do with atheism?

Along with actual interviews where Gortner admits his non-belief and explains how he uses manipulation to swindle people out of their money, the film is also interspersed with scenes from actual revival meetings where we see Gortner preach and pray for people who genuinely believe what he says.

4. "Contact" (1997)

atheistmovies

What's it about?

Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) is a radio astronomer who has dedicated her life to the cosmological field of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) where she points huge telescopes to the sky in an ongoing attempt to make contact with alien radio signals of some kind. One day, when she's on the verge of losing her job due to budget cuts, a radio signal is finally found.

From there, the film becomes a story about the road science and the government takes to making closer contact with this alien civilization. But more than that it's about Ellie's struggles with her own past, her colleagues, and her clashes against a religious public that doesn't want an atheist to be the first ambassador from earth.

Why is it good for atheists?

Many atheists have complained about how much leeway religion gets in the film and how certain portions of it seem to present atheism as a sort of faith-based religion similar to that of any religion. While these assertions may not be completely without merit, they do ignore the more positive aspects of how atheism is presented in this fun and fascinating film.