Tag Archives: resurrection

Jesus in Hollywood

6 Apr

According to Wikipedia, there are 38 film adaptations about the life of Christ alone.  In honor of Easter Sunday which commemorates his death and resurrection, I wanted to showcase 10 of those films that depict Jesus and the New Testament.

The King of Kings (1927) Director: Cecil B. DeMille 

Starring: W.B. Warner, Jacqueline Logan, Joseph Schildkraut

This was the first film ever to premiere at Graumen’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.  I bet audiences back in 1927 were astounded to see a film with two color sequences.  It starts off having absolutely nothing to do with the New Testament.  In fact, Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a Cleopatra wannabe who is involved with Judas.  When she finds out he is a follower of Christ, she is angry but later on repents after meeting our Savior.  After that, we watch the familiar events take place and being a silent film, it’s actually pretty good.  The actor who portrays Judas did a terrific job showing his guilt over betraying Christ.


King of Kings (1961) Director: Nicholas Ray

Starring: Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Ryan, Hurd Hatfield

Before this picture, Hollywood only had a silent version on the life of Jesus.  It was also one of the first films at the time to show Jesus’ face.  Initially, it received bad reviews from critics but it was extremely popular at the box office.  Jeffrey Hunter’s acting is not that great.  He’s very stiff and playing more of a caricature of Christ rather than just being Him.  I did like the beginning explanation on how the Romans conquered their land and the back story on King Herod.  Not the best but not bad.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) Director: George Stevens 

Starring: Max von Sydow, Charlton Heston, Telly Savalas

I’d heard bad opinions from others about this one.  After finally watching it, I see why.  Critically panned when it was released, TGSET comes off more as a who’s who of Hollywood than a serious tale on Christ’s life.  John Wayne making a cameo?  Why?!  And then Shelley Winters with a bad Brooklyn accent in the middle of the desert.  Let’s not mention Sidney Poitier coming out of nowhere to willingly help Jesus with the cross when we all know that’s not how it really happened.  The acting is pretty bad and Swedish actor Max Von Sydow playing Jesus was the worst.  Sorry but Jesus was NOT even remotely Swedish.  He was a JEW from the Middle East.  Enough said.


Godspell (1973) Director: David Greene

Starring: Victor Garber, David Haskell, Lynne Thigpen

This film is definitely for those who love comedic musicals and schtick.  It is silly, goofy and very hippy which made it somewhat controversial when the Off Broadway show first appeared in 1971.  I’m very picky when it comes to musicals, so it wasn’t my taste at all.  It features the popular hit, “Day By Day” which is probably the biggest highlight.  I think it might be better to be seen on the stage since that is what it was made for.  The actors came across as hyper and overly ridiculous for me.  The entire film is shot on major landmarks in New York City.  Too over the top in my opinion, but as I said before it depends on your taste in musicals…And if you want to see Jesus in a Superman t-shirt with weird makeup.  I was shocked to see Victor Garber and I have only seen him playing straight-laced, shrewd businessman types in his later years.  Loved the Jew fro!


Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) Director: Norman Jewison 

Starring: Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman

Hippy, trippy and a little wacky describes this rock opera with songs written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  I’m not a big fan because everyone sings the entire time (rock OPERA) and I wasn’t aware of that fact until I started watching it.  I thought it was just going to be a musical.  Anyway, this story deals more with Judas’ point of view and his suicide scene was pretty cool.  The actor who played him had the best voice in the entire cast.  But what was up with the pharisees’ big black cones on their heads?  And that King Herod dance number was a bit much.  The last shot at the end is beautiful, though. To sum it up, it’s Tommy meets King of Kings.


Jesus of Nazareth (1977) Director: Franco Zeffirelli 

Starring: Robert Powell, James Earl Jones, Laurence Olivier

Probably one of the most popular depictions of the New Testament.  Many people love this version because it was a miniseries so it had time to give a detailed account of his life.  I like it too, except for one major irk: the actor who plays Jesus.  I mean, Robert Powell looks emaciated!  He’s boney with dark circles under his eyes.  He looks like a heroin addict!  It was so distracting for me the entire film.  Jesus is the epitome of humility, but come on, He had strength in God the Father.  He was a carpenter, for goodness sakes.  I really loved Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene.  She was very touching and made Mary Magdalene real.


Jesus (1979) Director: Peter Sykes, John Krish, John Heyman 

Starring: Brian Deacon, Yosef Shiloach, Rivka Neumann

Probably my favorite out of all the films that depict Jesus.  My family viewed this film religiously and I can remember being as young as three years old watching it.  I think this film helped me as a small child understand what all He did.  It just sticks to the facts.  Yeah, the effects and the acting aren’t all that great, but it doesn’t have the over the top Hollywood hoopla that some of the others do. (Ahem, Greatest Story Ever Told.)  It follows the book of Luke to the hilt and doesn’t make changes or leave anything out.  I would recommend it especially to new Christians or people needing to refresh their memories on specifics of the story.


The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Barbara Hershey, Harvey Keitel

So after watching this I can see why this film is so controversial.  Jesus thinks more like a man than as God.  That baffled Christians.  That’s what made it so unrealistic for me in my humble opinion.  My biggest complaint is Jesus being deceived by Satan who appears to him as an innocent little girl.  The girl/Satan tells him God doesn’t want him to be the Messiah but to live his life as a normal man with a wife and kids.  At the end of the film, Judas of all people tells Him the girl is really Satan and it was all a lie.  He is to be the Son of God.  Well, if that’s the case then wouldn’t he have known all along because he is God, so God wouldn’t be dumb enough to be fooled by Satan? Since when is Judas and Satan smarter than Jesus?!   Um, never.

Jesus (1999) Director: Roger Young 

Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Debra Messing, Jacqueline Bisset

During the first half hour of watching this telefilm, I didn’t think I was going to like it.  First of all, Lazarus and Martha’s sister Mary wants to marry Jesus but he refuses her.  Um, not in the Bible.  Then Joseph dies.  Um, also not in the Bible.  Next, flashbacks of Jesus as a child that were not in the Bible either.  I was beginning to think this was waaay off and the filmmakers were just doing their on thing.  But as the film went on, I actually started to like it.  They were just showing what could have happened in parts of the Bible that were left out.  I was hesitant about Jeremy Sisto playing Jesus, because he will always be bad boy Elton from Clueless to me, but he proved me wrong!  He plays Jesus in a more natural, human way unlike the serious and solemn portrayals in other films.  I had a hard time accepting Debra Messing (Will and Grace) as Mary Magdalene, but she surprised me too.  Not too bad.



The Passion of the Christ (2004)  Director: Mel Gibson 

Starring: Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Belluci

The most violent, barbaric and gory film I have ever seen in my life.  But in many ways, probably the most realistic portrayal of how He was crucified.  Let’s face it, the Romans were barbarians back in the day.  They were gruesome and still Pagan so they had no qualms about torturing Him in every way possible.  (Ever watch Spartacus?)  As a Catholic, I have a deep appreciation for this film, because it graphically shows what all He went through for us.  It’s not one I can watch regularly, but I try to watch it this time of year in remembrance of Him and for penance.  Look out for the depiction of Satan, it’s very creepy!