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Reel Bible: Jesus Movies  

Jesus Movies


The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ
d. Mel Gibson

Many Christians hail The Passion of the Christ as the greatest Jesus movie ever. Unfortunately, while it has much to commend it, it does not meet the hype. The movie is Gibson's homage and designed to appeal to Christians. It is reverential, iconographical, and conventional. There are some brilliant moments in this movie; I especially enjoyed Gibson's juxtaposition of stages in the Passion with flashbacks of Jesus' life and ministry. I also appreciated the use of Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin. Some story elements, however, are cheesy, incoherent, or lack purpose; the graphic depiction of the punishment is over-exaggerated; and, the movie portrays the Roman aristocracy with sympathy while placing the blame for the crucifixion on the Jewish Sanhedrin and the High Priest.

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Jesus Movies

The Jesus Film
d. John Krish, Peter Sykes
The most widely distributed and watched movie in the history of cinema! This Jesus movie has been translated into 773 languages of which 60 languages are available online for viewing with RealPlayer. The Jesus Film is the story of Jesus taken from the book of Luke. I recommend a broadband Internet connection (Cable, DSL, or higher) for online viewing.

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Jesus: The Epic Mini-Series
d. Roger Young
There are flaws in this Jesus movie, such as the typical portrayal of Jesus with flowing white robes and long sandy hair--haven't we reached the stage where Jesus can be a semite rather than a blonde-hair, blue-eyed caucasion? Also, the portrayal of Satan in a designer black suit with a horn-like hairdo was controversial as was the decision to divest Jesus of his divinity during the temptations. Despite its license, Jesus: The Epic Mini-Series stands strong among other Jesus movies. The performances are solid with Gary Oldman as Pilate standing out. The surprise is the human face Sisto gives Jesus; he is able to portray him as someone who enjoyed life to its fullest. It is a delightful yet reverent portrayal of Jesus.

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Gospel of John
d. Philip Saville
Released roughly about the same time as The Passion of the Christ, this Jesus movie received many great reviews. Unfortunately, I have yet to see it so I can't offer my own thoughts on it. When I do see it, look here for a new review.

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The Greatest Story Ever Told
d. David Lean & George Stevens
An epic visual rendering of the life of Jesus Christ. Max Von Sydow is cast in the leading role. The production values are excellent despite jarring cameos that occur throughout this Jesus movie. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best (Color) Cinematography.

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Jesus of Nazareth
d. Franco Zeffirelli
Considered by many as the definitive Jesus movie, Jesus of Nazareth is a reverential treatment of the Gospel stories. Robert Powell as Jesus turns in a remarkable performance, able to convey at once the humility with which Jesus accomplished his work and the interior power which he possessed as the Son of the Living God. Particularly notable are the scenes between Jesus and Pilate (Rod Steiger). On the whole, an excellent cast with superb production values for an outstanding Jesus movie.

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Buy A.D.: Collector's Edition from Christianbook.com
Buy A.D. DVD Set
The Acclaimed Sequel to
Jesus of Nazareth
(Christianbook.com Only)
King of Kings
d. Nicholas Ray
Nicholas Ray's adaptation of the Jesus story is sometimes viewed as a Catholic-leaning interpretation. Narrated by Orson Welles.

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The Visual Bible: Matthew
d. Regardt Van Den Bergh
The Visual Bible project renacts biblical texts according to the NIV. Bruce Marchiano brings a freshness and vividness to his role as Jesus. For a narrated version, recreating only the events as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, this is the Jesus movie for you.

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Buy The Visual Bible Bonus Pack from Christianbook.com
Buy The Visual Bible:
Matthew, John, & Acts
Bonus Pack (DVD)

King of Kings
d. Cecil B. DeMille
Remastered and delivered in two versions by Criterion Collection, King of Kings is a silent film classic. DeMille tells the story of Christ's life and Passion with great sensitivity, along the way paying homage to the religious illustrations of Da Vinci and Doré, and, in a modern flourish, restaging Christ's resurrection in Technicolor. Some say that the great Cecil B. DeMille was at his best in the Silent Screen era; this Jesus movie is perhaps one reason for that opinion. Consistent with DeMille, this movie juxtaposes fervor and decadence in grandiose spectacle (for the era). Classic DeMille!

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The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, From the Manger to the Cross
d. Lucien Nonguet & Ferdinand Zecca, d. Sidney Olcott
These two "Sacred Classics of the Silent Screen" are important artifacts of early cinema as well as the early use of cinema for Christian evangelism. Both these Jesus movies are worth watching; viewers with an appreciation for paintings and art will particularly enjoy The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, where the directors framed scenes to resemble famous Jesus-themed paintings.

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Jesus Art-House

Special Note: The movies that follow are unconventional interpretations and analyses of the person and life of Jesus Christ. Viewers unwilling or uninterested in exploring such controversial representations of Jesus should not watch or purchase these movies. However, I recommend them precisely because they are controversial and they therefore challenge Christians to think outside the proverbial box and engage the filmmakers and audiences of these Jesus movies in dialogue. These Jesus movies are set apart from others (Lean, Zeffirelli & DeMille aside) in that they are the work of some of the movie industry's most acclaimed and esteemed directors. Also, please bear in mind that none of the directors of these movies would claim that their movie is an authentic representation of the historical Jesus. Rather, they would argue that they created an artistic interpretation of Jesus to spark dialogue.

Jesus of Montreal
d. Dennys Arcand
When an acting troupe is commissioned by the Catholic Diocese of Montreal to perform a passion play, the actors/actresses begin to assume their roles in day-to-day life. This Jesus movie challenges Christians to consider how Jesus would respond to contemporary culture.

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The Last Temptation of Christ
d. Martin Scorsese
The controversial adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's book of the same name, brilliantly scored by Peter Gabriel and shot by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Influenced by Gnostic thought, this Jesus movie was so spurned by Fundamentalists that Scorsese received death threats and theatres were literally bombed. Ironically, the controversy aroused by the Fundamentalists made this movie one of Scorsese's most successful. This Jesus movie challenges Christians to consider the nature of Christ's temptations and conflict that existed between his humanity and divinity. Notwithstanding the Bronx accents of Dafoe and Keitel (who nevertheless give great performances), this is the greatest Jesus movie ever made.

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The Gospel According to St. Matthew
d. Pier Palo Pasolini
In sharp contrast to other Jesus movies, Pasolini's Jesus is more semitic looking (though an Italian) and less assuming than the blonde, blue-eyed Jeremy Sisto and Jeffrey Hunter of other Jesus movies. The movie itself is very deliberately paced and presents Jesus as a man of the people and revolutionary. Pasolini's Marxist ideology informs some of this presentation. Particularly well-done is the temptation of Jesus in the desert, wherein an unassuming hermit, rather than a more obvious Satan figure, tempts him. Sparse production but extremely poignant.

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Hail, Mary
d. Jean-Luc Godard
Not a Jesus movie per se, the master of French nouvelle vague/avant-garde filmmaking, Jean-Luc Godard, examines the miracle of the virginal conception in a modern-day setting. The movie features dizzying and often incomprehensible jump cuts for which Godard is notorious...er...famous. The movie was banned in some countries and condemned by Pope John Paul II because of the controversial nature of the nudity among other objections. Even so, the nudity has its place as the modern-day Mary attempts to understand and come to terms with the unique changes her body is undergoing. The movie is very intimate in its explorations of Mary's unusual predicament. Overall, Hail, Mary is thought-provoking, if pretentious.

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Jesus Christ Superstar
d. Norman Jewison
An adaptation of the concept album project written by stage producers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar is the controversial rock opera movie that tells the story of Jesus' final week through the eyes of Judas. From this vantage point, Jesus does not receive sanitized treatment but instead the audience is expected to understand and sympathesize with Judas. Controversial not only in this regard but also for its 70s stylings, Jesus Christ Superstar has achieved a cult status in certain groups and therefore invites dialogue from mainstream Christianity on the reality of Jesus Christ.

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