Are you looking for a good Jesus movie this Easter?
Today is Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the year for Christians. Today the weather outside in Chicago is a bit unpredictable. It hailed earlier today. It's expected to rain from noon through 3 p.m., according to the Weather Channel. It might also be sunny later. It seems even the weather knows it's Good Friday.
If you're like me, Good Friday and Easter weekend mean pulling out a "Jesus movie." So I thought I would give my recommedations for the best or the most popular "Jesus movies" out there, and what each film might say to you if you watch it. Feel free to comment on this post if you have any other movie suggestions.
King of Kings, 1961
(staring Jeffery Hunter as Jesus)
This pious film is actually one of my favorites. It captures the inner workings of the religious, zealot, and political systems of first century Judea and how each of them encountered the Jesus movement. If you like politics and history, this is a decent overview of the Gospels. The best part of this movie is the inspiring Sermon on the Mount.
The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1965
(staring Max Von Sydow as Jesus)
This even-more pious film is not nearly as captivating as King of Kings, and almost twice the length. What makes this movie stand out is the multitude of guest appearances of 60s celebrities, with Sidney Poiter as Simon of Cyrene, Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, Claude Rains at King Herod, and my personal favorite, John Wayne's cameo as the Centurion. The thing that inspires me about this movie is that all celebs come together in honor of Christ, which makes quite a statement in and of itself.
Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973
(staring Ted Neely as Jesus)
The film version of the musical gives the passion story from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, who here is presented as a conflicted, thinking disciple. Slightly but enjoyably irreverent at times, this movie is most inspiring through the song "Can We Start Again Please?" sung by Peter and Magdalene and during the final trial before Pilate concluding with "Superstar," sung by Judas coming from the clouds of heaven. A unique, but fun, take on the traditional story.
Jesus of Nazareth, 1977
(staring Robert Powell as Jesus)
Probably the best version of the life of Christ. Like Greatest Story, this film is very long (over six hours) and has a lot of guest stars (Anne Bancroft, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Quinn, James Earl Jones, among others), but unlike it, it presents a realistic view of Jesus' ministry. What makes this movie stand out is its historical accuracy and realism, and better treament of the teachings, parables, and miracles than most other Jesus films before or since. The interaction of Jesus with the apostles from their calling to Gethsemane are the best parts of this movie.
The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988
(staring Willem Dafoe as Jesus)
The most controversial Jesus film ever made, due both to its positive treatment of Judas (similar to the current Gospel of Judas, it poses the betrayer as Jesus' confidant) and the relationship of Jesus with Magdalene (similar to the current Da Vinci Code, it poses Jesus had special, romantic feelings towards Mary). Despite these issues, Temptation gives an ultra-realitic look at John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus, and one of the most historical looks at the crucifixion. It is a movie that probes the human side of Jesus, even to his last breath on the cross. (special note: the temptation in this film is not Jesus dreaming of having sex with Mary, but rather his temptation to live a normal, first-century Jewish life as a married man with children; too often this is overlooked and the movie is disregarded for this misconception).
The Passion of the Christ, 2004
(staring Jim Caveziel as Jesus)
What makes this film stand out is its use of the actual Aramaic language that Jesus probably used in the first century. This Mel Gibson-directed treatment only covers the passion experience from the garden through the burial, and gives the bloodiest version of Jesus' punishment and death ever captured on film. Its historical accuracy is suspect, and much of the script comes from extra-Biblical sources, but if you are looking for a powerful punch on Good Friday, this movie might be for you.
There are many others where Jesus is regulated to a supporting character such as The Robe (1953), Ben-Hur (1959), and Barabbas (1962), and others with little recognition (therefore harder to find at your local Blockbuster) such as From the Manger to the Cross (1913), The King of Kings (1927), The Gospel According to Matthew (1966), Godspell (1973), Jesus/Jesus Film Project (1979), Jesus of Montreal (1989), Jesus (1999), and The Gospel of John (2003). Even comedies such as Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) gives a light-hearted look at this infamous story and would be an excellent choice to watch.
Regardless of what you choose, finding Jesus on film is a great way to experience the Easter story in your home this weekend or anytime. Happy Easter everyone!