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2012: A Good Year for God at the Movies

12/27/2012 05:07 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2013

Well, it's December, time for the requisite warring on Christmas, shopping like it's the end of the world -- although, this year it could have been -- and making lists. Oh, the lists! There are Christmas lists and shopping lists and good lists and naughty lists and of course, my favorite kind of lists, year end "Best of" lists.

It's an unspoken rule: every publication has to make a "Best of" list. Rolling Stone offers the "50 Best Albums of 2012" alongside their "50 Best Songs" and "Best TV Moments." Paste Magazine, whose lists I prefer to Rolling Stone's, offers better versions of the same. Even NPR is getting in on the fun, dedicating an entire section of their NPR Music site to the "Best Music of 2012."

I'm obsessed with "Best of" lists, and after all the reading and new music, movie, and television show discovering, I want in on the fun. As a religion writer, though, my options seem limited. Best sermons of the year? Nah. Greatest hymns of 2012? No one cares. Best Contemporary Christian Music record? Bah, you couldn't pay me enough to write that.

But then it occurred to me, when I think back to the biggest blockbusters of the year, the movies that opened to either critical or box office acclaim (and, in some rare cases, both), I realize that this was a big year for God at the movies. In fact, as I argue in my forthcoming book Not Your Mother's Morals: How the New Sincerity is Changing Pop Culture for the Better, it's been a good time for God in pop culture in general. But let's think back on this year's biggest hits; many of them prominently featured some kind of supernatural force, to mixed results. So, in the spirit of all those year-end lists, I want to offer my own:

Top 5 appearances by God, gods, or godlike forces in the blockbuster movies of 2012.

5. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

I hate to have to admit it, but for the last four years the Twilight films have shown us that stories about supernatural beings, albeit young and beautiful ones that pout and pose and shimmer in the sun, are every bit as popular today as they've ever been. We can't get enough of imagining what it would be like if god-like creatures walked among us, went to our high schools, saved us from natural and supernatural dangers, and had sex with us. Go ahead and laugh, but we have a long history of telling these kinds of stories. From Greek mythology to, oh I don't know, the immanent "Christ's Mass." Of course, as a Christian, I'd rather believe in Jesus, but if you're supernatural offspring of choice is Renesmee, hey, whatever floats your boat.

4. Prometheus

Billed as a kind of prequel to the Alien movies, "Prometheus" is an origin story that attempts to explain not just the hit-or-miss science fiction thrillers that have been with us since the 1980s, but it offers a unique take on the creation of our world. The details are murky, but apparently some weird, white, hairless guy was left here by his fellow god-like aliens in order to sacrifice his own DNA to get the whole evolution show on the road. That's right folks, Ridley Scott swapped the familiar "Let there be light" scenario with a marble-looking alien whose blown-apart body becomes the seeds of everything around us. Thanks for giraffes, weird alien man.

3. The Hunger Games

I know what you're thinking, there's no God in "The Hunger Games." Oh really, what do you call a person who can create a lush and beautiful world, fill it with any number of horrors (and occasional gifts) with the purpose of tormenting a group of innocent humans, and who ultimately holds their fragile lives in his hand? The Gamemakers are most certainly god-like beings. In fact, all of the citizens of the Capital appear god-like compared to the ordinary humans who occupy the other districts of Panem. Also, what kind of person sacrifices herself for the one she loves, for the innocent, and then, despite all odds, survives to return triumphant to her people? "The Hunger Games" is a story about, among other things, the relationship between people and their gods.

2. The Avengers

Super heroes have always been stand-ins for our hopes and dreams about God. And endless comic book inspired movie machine reminds us of this several times a year, from Superman and his god-like origins to the actual gods of Norse mythology that appear in "The Avengers," step-brothers Loki and Thor. There's nothing like a battle between good god and bad god. It's so entertaining, in fact, that this duo's battle spilled over from Thor's movie into the Avengers confab. Turns out, it takes four people with god-like powers (and two others who seem to be really good at being sexy and shooting arrows) to take down the bad-god Loki. But "The Avengers," like just about every super hero story, reinforces what many of us believe, that humanity is so riddled with problems, that we're in so much trouble, that we need some kind of supernatural intervention to save us from ourselves.

1. Life of Pi

This just may also be the best movie of the year -- divine intervention or otherwise. "Life of Pi" begins with a promise: a story that will make you believe in God. And then, over the course of the next 127 beautiful, eye-candy-filled minutes, it happens. Well, I'm not sure if it happens for everybody, and I already believed in God when I went in, but by offering two version of the same story (I don't think I'm giving anything away here) and then giving the audience the opportunity to choose which to believe -- the beautiful and unbelievable or the ugly and mundane -- we are provided a glimpse of what it means to have faith. "Life of Pi" reminds us of the choice we make in choosing to believe: favoring the miraculous over the mundane in an effort to understand what our lives mean.

And there you have it, the top 5 appearances by God, gods, or godlike forces in the blockbuster movies of 2012. Like I said, it was a good year for God at the movies and with the slew of super-hero inspired movies slated to be released in the next couple of years, it looks like there's no end in sight.

Perhaps there's an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in God's future?