The Best Movie Priests

We bring you cinema’s best Men of the Cloth

CALVARY is released in Irish cinemas this week, and stars Brendan Gleeson as Father Lavelle, who is warned in the confessional, that he will be murdered in a week. Gleeson gives a career best performance in CALVARY, so we decided to take a look back at other outstanding performances as Men of God.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman in DOUBT

In DOUBT, Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a priest at a Catholic School in the Bronx, who is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a young boy. We never really learn the truth behind Flynn’s relationship with the child, but he is forced to resign from his post by the suspicions of Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep). Hoffman earned an Academy Award nomination for DOUBT and critical acclaim for his performance in the dialogue-heavy film.

Max von Sydow in THE EXORCIST

Von Sydow plays Father Lankester Merrin, an elderly priest and archaeologist who unwittingly discovers the amulet of Pazuzu in northern Iraq. When a young girl starts showing signs of possession in Washington D.C., Merrin joins Father Karras to exorcise the demon from the girl. Although his casting in the film was not necessarily surprising – the actor had been through many theological battles on screen – Von Sydow won acclaim for his performance in THE EXORCIST, with Roger Ebert saying “There’s a striking image early in the film that has the craggy von Sydow facing an ancient, evil statue; the image doesn’t so much borrow from Bergman’s famous chess game between von Sydow and Death (in THE SEVENTH SEAL) as extend the conflict and raise the odds.”

George Carlin in DOGMA

Carlin plays Cardinal Glick in DOGMA, a Man of the Cloth so obsessed with bring people back to the Catholic faith, and giving the Church a trendy new image, that he unwittingly sets the stage for the end of the world. Carlin displays his trademark wit and humour in the role, and it hard to imagine a Man of God played by anyone other than Carlin unveiling the Buddy Christ in all seriousness.

Paul Bettany in PRIEST

There have been plenty of movies made that lampoon the idea of priests and the priesthood, but it makes a great change to see a vampire slaying Man of God on the screen, even if PRIEST is more than a little clichéd and familiar. Bettany plays a Warrior Priest whose niece is kidnapped by vampires. Of course the Priest vows to track down the villainous vampires, and kicks a ton of undead butt along the way. PRIEST is based on the Korean comic of the same name and, although the film may not have been as good as it could have been, it is always fun to see our expectations turned on their heads, and an ass kicking Man of God.


On the death of the Pope, the conclave gathers in Rome to elect a successor. Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli) is elected, but after he accepts his office, the new Pope is seized by panic and refuses to greet the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square. According to the laws of the Church, conclave continues until the Pope appears before the people, but, while on a visit to a psychoanalyst, His Holiness runs away, throwing the Holy See into chaos. Michel Piccoli shows off his skill and subtlety as the troubled Man of God in WE HAVE A POPE, while injecting the role with touches of humour and sweetness, making his performance in WE HAVE A POPE a defining role from an actor with a strong career.

Honourable mentions to: Tom Wilkinson in THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, Mel Gibson in SIGNS and Martin Shakar in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

Who are your favourite movie priests? Let us know in the comments below.

CALVARY is released in Irish cinemas on April 11th

Words: Brogen Hayes