Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

21 Great Leadership Movies

February 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Book Club, Cardinal Virtues, Justice, Vicki Burbach

Book Club INTERNAL IMAGE (internal to post) 600x214

The Four Cardinal Virtues (Week 7 of 12)

If political life is to regain its dignity, a proper appreciation of the eminence of the ruler’s task and of the lofty human qualities required for it must be revived in the mind of the public. This means the very opposite of a totalitarian glorification of power. It implies rather that an arduous and unremitting effort of education should impart to the people an incontrovertible ideal image of the requirements a man must meet if he is to exercise authority. – The Four Cardinal Virtues (Justice: Chapter 6, Paragraph 25)

21 Great Leadership Movies

Be honest. Is there anyone else out there who’s starting to wonder whether they’ve signed up for a graduate level course on moral philosophy rather than a casual book club devoted to spiritual growth?

While certainly profound in content, I’ll be the first to admit that this book is a far cry from others we’ve read over the past three years. Take heart. If we stick it out, we’re bound to approach the next book and those that follow with a much greater depth of understanding and appreciation.

Regarding this week’s reading…

The above passage clearly calls for a commitment on the part of the public to appreciate what is required for leadership and to impart that appreciation to our children. The way I see it, we could discuss that from a philosophical level – and I’ll admit, after two hours of intense reading today I felt moved to draft a dissertation on Distributive Justice and the Deterioration of Leadership in America – OR, we could lighten things up a bit.

I have taken it upon myself to direct our discussion toward the latter.

So Let’s talk movies!

Seriously. Is there a lighter, less taxing way to inspire an appreciation and respect for great leadership qualities than a good two-hour movie?

Or a more effective (as well as quick and painless) means of educating our children?

So I thought I’d begin the discussion by sharing some of my favorite leadership movies. Or perhaps I should clarify by saying, movies that depict important leadership qualities – or that illustrate the dangers of corrupt leadership.

Before I begin the discussion, however, I should make a confession. I am not much of a movie connoisseur. It’s not that I don’t like movies. I just don’t get around to them as often as I’d like. And when I do, I’m very much a creature of habit. What can I say? When I go to Panera Bread, I order chicken noodle soup and a pumpkin muffin. At McDonalds (don’t judge), I order a hamburger (pickles, onions, and lettuce only) and a small fry. And when I want to watch a movie, I often go back to my tried and true favorites. Over and over and over again. Clearly, I'm not a big fan of experimentation. There is an exception to every rule, however – and I am quick to watch any movie suggested by a trusted friend. So please, broaden my horizons by adding your favorites to the list. My family will be ever grateful to you for offering us some new material : )

Note to families with children:  A few of the movies on this list are rather violent.  After all, strong leaders are often made during times of war or great conflict.  Please be sure to watch movie trailers before renting for family movie night.

Here goes –

21 Great Leadership Movies


1. A Man for All Seasons  (1966) – (Hands down, BEST EVER – no matter what you add to the list)

The rest, in no particular order:

2.  Pope John Paul II (John Voight, Cary Elwes) (2006)

3.  Mother Teresa (Olivia Hussey) (2006)

4.  Remember the Titans (2000)

5.  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

6.  For Greater Glory (2012)

7.  Air Force One (1997)

8.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

9.  Apollo 13 (1995)

10. Courageous (2011)

11. Clear and Present Danger (1994)

12. Lean on Me (1989)

13. Amazing Grace (2006)

14. The Patriot (2000)

15. Invictus (2009)

16. When the Game Stands Tall (2014)

17. Forever Strong (2008)

18. Ghandi (1982)

19. 12 Angry Men (1957)

20. Going My Way (1944)

21. Boystown (1938)


So what movies would you add to the list?


Reading Assignment:

Justice: Chapter 7; Fortitude: Chapter 1-2

Discussion Questions:

1. Are there any leadership movies you would like to add to the list?  Any that I've mentioned with which you disagree?  Please share what movies and why.

2. The chapter this week was specifically about distributive justice.  Please share any thoughts you have on that topic.

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

Read More:

For More Information on the Book Club:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • Andy

    As I read through this week’s section, my mind kept coming back to the massive wealth inequality going on in the United States right now. I think this is the biggest injustice in our country right now. I think this has come about because we have weak leadership on both sides of the political fence. Money comes first and people second. This is wrong. And while it’s easy to blame our leaders, we have to remember that we are to blame because we voted them into office or didn’t vote and allowed them to be elected. I also think that we are politically lazy – voting on the basis of one or two issues without considering a candidate’s stand on everything.

  • My favorite movie ever is “The Mission” (Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro). I loved the character of Father Gabriel! “Chariots of Fire” and “Kingdom of Heaven” are also good films. Although “Chariots of Fire” is more about using your fame and talents for God’s greater glory than outright leadership.

    • Fascinating. The Passion of the Christ is the one movie for which I have the greatest gratitude. The Mission has to be second for me.

      • Ooh! Good point! Yes, “The Passion” should be first!

      • Vicki

        Dan, I have never seen The Mission, but I really hemmed and hawed over including The Passion – how do you not include a movie about the greatest leader who ever lived? Didn’t include it because there was so little focus on his ministry. In the end, you’re probably right – The Passion profoundly depicts the most important aspect of leadership – sacrifice.

      • Jeanette

        I just pulled out “The Passion of the Christ” just yesterday as a reminder to view it again this Lent. It’s very difficult to watch in parts and I have a strong desire to leave the room during the scourging but I make myself stay because I feel if Jesus suffered this I should watch it, in order to be reminded of what Jesus Christ went through for love of us and this leads me to love Him more.

    • Thomas

      “The Mission” is a masterpiece. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is also unforgettable. I wish there was more spiritually uplifting films like that one.

  • Sharon H

    The Count of Monte Cristo with Jim Caveziel, definitely an all time AWESOME movie!!

  • Suzette

    I am with all of you I loved The Mission. great lessons in leadership, forgiveness, and to find were your heart is. I love the Spit Fire Grill also. The girl is starting over after killing a man. great movie.

  • Jeanette

    In “The Passion”, Jesus assumes a leadership role by his example to His apostles/disciples (and to us) of His perfect obedience to the Will of His Father, His prayerfulness in the Garden of Gethsemane, His self-giving in His suffering, His perfect humility, His Passion and Death as a ransom for us (which inspires us to ‘die to self’ for the love of others) and the hope in His Resurrection, all of which was realized by His apostles/disciples either at the time and/or afterwards. Jesus is our consummate mentor.

    • filiusdextris

      Obviously, but none of that addresses my point. Showing humility or supreme donative love is not the same as showing leadership by use of those same traits. It is we Christians, who know the backstory, and not that particular movie that supplies the leadership context. That’s why, even though Jesus is the most perfect leader, this particular movie is not necessarily focused on that dynamic (if I remember correctly). I thought this was about a list of movies that showed good leadership, not a list of movies that showed good leadership qualities. But rereading the introduction, maybe I misunderstood.

  • miriam

    Some good movies on this list! I’d suggest “The Lord of the Rings”, as there are examples of both good and bad leadership. And it’s just such a great story on several different levels. It would also be great to see some more films on this list with women in leadership roles – The Blindside comes to mind, that’s a very good film.

    • MaryofSharon

      Yes! Aragorn and Gandalf and the sacrificial qualities of their leadership can’t be forgotten. Then there is Theoden, too.

  • Patricia

    Les Misérables – leadership in the “doing the good and right action” in spite the personal cost amid very hard personal and social circumstances. Leadership that teaches the leaders about justice for all, especially the destitute and “sinful”. Powerful – Catholic adult understanding, appreciation , and discussion needed…..not a stand alone family movie. Adult themes for mature teenagers and adults. Great portrayal of people who relay on God’s grace and mercy and a strong portrayal of living the Catholic Faith in larger- than- real life! Strong lyrics and voices contribute to this musical adaption from a Broadway Production. Very moving, valuable, and memorable!

    • Vicki

      How did I miss Les Miserables?! My absolute favorite show/now movie!!!! Great addition!!!!

      • Patricia

        In particular, this movie relates to the theme of the tension between Justice, Mercy, and Grace, since the book selection is about these virtues. Other themes are how personal integrity and the ability to lift oneself out of circumstances to do the right in response to life changing experiences of the soul in which one is helpless and completely lost, yet transformed in by the undeserved mercy of another person, underscores our interdependent humanity which binds us together in love.

  • Dom C

    I would add Twelve O’Clock High, with Gregory Peck, a 1949 WWII movie

  • CharlieB

    Romero, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Separate But Equal, The Scarlet and The Black, The Bells of Saint Mary’s, Going My Way, Come to the Stable, Lillies of the Field, The Keys of the Kingdom, The Miracle of the Bells. These are great old movies! Very inspirational. If you haven’t seen them or it’s been a while, I think you will enjoy!

    • Romero! Yes! I thought of that after posting my comment last night. He is officially a martyr now! 🙂

  • Donna Sullivan

    The chapter on distributive justice is so relevant to the situation in our country today that it’s hard to believe that it generated no comment. Pieper says, “A ruler is installed for the purpose of guarding justice. The purpose of power is to realize justice. What if the guardian of justice nevertheless does not guard it? Well, then, alas, there is the reign of injustice. And no appeal to any abstract arbiter such as ‘the conscience of mankind’, ‘the eye of the world’, and ‘the judgment of history’ can in any way change it.” WOW! No comment?

    • Vicki

      Donna, I’ll bite briefly:). I find it very difficult to discuss this topic in a forum because it’s complex and is being sorely disregarded today. Or, perhaps not disregarded – it strikes me that the means by which a guardian of justice distributes justice is subjective, and therefore fraught with room for great error. Simple intention is not sufficient, and world-view obviously comes into play. Andy (below) mentioned wealth inequality. And certainly that is an issue. But a different issue came to my mind with this chapter – I was thinking about the tragedy of American compassion (also the title of a book by Marvin Olasky). The redistribution of wealth and entitlements with the intention of distributing justice has had the opposite effect on a large portion of the population. Of course, we could also discuss justice from a universal perspective, and address the horrific situation in the Middle East. The discussion could go on and on – and you can perhaps see why I took a different route in my post. Unfortunately, this topic would be more applicable on a political blog rather than one on spiritual direction. The more I dabbled with it for my post, the more I felt it best to “lighten things up”:). Nevertheless, I would love to hear your thoughts on the quote. God bless!

      • Donna Sullivan

        Distributive justice is essentially political because we live our communal life in a political environment. Your comment that simple intention is not sufficient is certainly true and reinforces that prudence is the basis and the foundation for all the other virtues.
        I do think of all this from a universal perspective. I am travelling on a train far ahead of you. I also have six children, but in addition I have 20 grandchildren and I’m expecting great-grandchildren 18, 19 and 20. I am very concerned. The injustice we see in the Middle East is creeping so rapidly into our own country and I often feel we are like Nero fiddling while Rome burns. My only real consolation is that I am confident that God is able to bring good out of evil. I pray that He will give us the fortitude we are going to need.

    • Patricia

      Reading about leadership and justice is to enlighten our minds and hearts and provide some grounding for our conscience which we bring to our world, most especially to include politics. Our Catholic Faith is the basis for all our actions. The separation of Church and state was intended to prevent the goverment from telling people what to believe, not to prevent people from operating from a God centered perspective. This is the very principle upon which our county was founded. We can all see the need for leadership with the virtue of justice in today’s world when it is so lacking. When God is out of the equation we have killing, slavery, confiscation of goods, burning etc. All these actions certainly lack justice, and this needs to be adressed by finding and electing leaders with moral leadership beliefs and practices.

  • I have to agree with the Les Miserable nomination. I find Jean Valjean to be one of the most compelling leadership characters I have ever encountered. So, thus far, here’s my top three:
    – Passion of the Christ
    – Les Miserable
    – The Mission

  • Joann

    On the movie thread: Agree with all the films mentioned! We usually watch Ben Hur and The Robe around Lent and Easter and the Fourth Wiseman around Christmas. Ben Hur really speaks to me, and has characteristics of Jean Valjean – My favorite part- at the end – when the Savior’s Blood runs down from the cross, mixing with the rain (water), and his family is caught in
    the storm, in a cave, hiding -(I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it- and then the camera pans …
    Having had several boys in a military – Navy town we found
    these very illustrative of leadership roles but void of the expression
    of religion and faith: Master and Commander, Mutiny on the Bounty, Hunt
    for Red October, Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai . We have
    watched some films that are not monumental, but still show leadership
    qualities such as Mission to Glory: Fr. Kino story:; Seven Cities of Gold about Fr. Junipero Serra , gets a little sticky in the boy-girl area, but is redemptive. We tried to find films on the lives of the Saints for our daughter, such a EWTN, Therese: and Terese of Avila, Joan of Arc, etc.. because the Austen, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women etc., even Feast of Babette these all leave out any outright portrayal of faith… although with older kids you can discuss those aspects.

    Since distributive justice was brought up… there’s a little group trying something along that line, calling it Apostolic Farming – our neighbors to the north, the Madonna House in Combermere Ontario, Canada, founded by Catherine Doherty They are essentially living Christ filled lives through primitive farming practices as a community. (Not commune!) It is not a blanket answer to all the issues our world faces, but it is one small community trying to live out a simple natural, healing lifestyle which extends into the spiritual reaching out to any who come.

Skip to toolbar