Name Your Top Five Favorite Jesus Films

As per the title, I’m wondering what everyone’s top five Jesus films are. If possible please give a mention of why you like it, why you think that that film is a good one. There is no set order here - order them as you wish. Also, I’m not limiting everyone to their top fives: if you want, you can add a list of honorable mentions afterward. :slight_smile:

Without further ado:

1.) Il Vangelo secondo Matteo, aka The Gospel according to St. Matthew (1964): Widely considered to be one of the best films in the genre, poet-turned-film director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film about Jesus is all the more remarkable considering that Pasolini was a nonbeliever, indeed a homosexual and a Marxist. Its cast of non-actors (all in the tradition of Italian neorealism), its black-and-white photography, and somewhat deliberate minimalistic, low-budget, dare I even say anachronistic, feel - worlds away from the grandiose epics - ironically gives out a sense of realism more than Hollywood could ever produce. Pasolini’s Jesus is far removed from the ‘meek and mild’ Christ of holy cards: here, He is on fire, always on the move while delivering His words in the strongest terms possible with revolutionary zeal and urgency. Take for example the film’s version of the the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39).

2.) The Miracle Maker (1999-2000): Despite the fact that the film is actually claymation with bits of animation, it is also, IMHO, one of the best of breed. Despite being a simple, modest and quite short (running about an hour and a half) retelling of the life of Christ, it does little more than present the bare events of the gospel narratives, without major adornments or inventions or editorial spins to make the story more ‘amusing’. As Steven Greydanus said in his review: “It’s so straightforward, it’s practically revolutionary.” Ralph Fiennes manages to portray a convincing, human Jesus.

3.) The Passion (2008): I kind of feel it a shame that this BBC/HBO miniseries about Jesus’ last week which did not have much of a public presence (aside from the minor controversy which raged over its portrayal of crucifixions), and which might admittedly even make a few folks feel queasy with a few elements, is not so widely known. It’s one of those films which often tries to break away with popular, conventional ideas to present a new way of looking at a time-honored story, which is a plus point in my opinion. I really liked how the traditional villains of the Passion story, such as Caiaphas and Pilate, are given more depth of character here instead of rendering them like stock two-dimensional baddies with no apparent hope of redemption. The same holds true for other characters as well - for instance, the apostle John is given a sharper personality, more befitting the name Boanerges than the emotional, almost teary-eyed wet blanket of traditional portrayals. Credits go to the late Frank Deasy for writing such a strong, historically-literate script. For the record, need I mention that as of now, this is the only Jesus film I know of where Pilate speaks in an Irish accent? :smiley:

4.) From the Manger to the Cross: (1912) One of the earliest films about Jesus Christ, filmed in the silent era on location in Palestine and Egypt. Despite its age, the film, with its calm, simple spirituality, actually holds up pretty well, and Robert Henderson-Bland (Jesus)’ performance captures both the humanity and the divinity of Christ well. It is also one of the most controversial films when it came out: some at the time objected to the idea of portraying Jesus in film at all, while others picked bones with the fact that the film literally just ends with Jesus’ death, omitting the Resurrection entirely. But reception has been mostly positive that it achieved a number of subsequent re-releases in the silent era.

5.) The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965): This one’s actually a guilty pleasure of mine. The film was a victim of misfortune since its inception: critics throughout the years have reviled it for its nigh-endless distracting cameos of Hollywood stars, the most infamous one being by John Wayne (ironic how they chose Max von Sydow, then an unknown who had never yet appeared in an English-language film, to play Jesus but chose well-known actors and actresses in the minor roles! ;)) Not to mention that it was released at a time when the public have already grown tired of the longwinded, grand epics of the last decades - in fact, the divided reception the film had received among critics had successfully killed off the Biblical film genre for years. However, in seeing the flaws it is quite easy to neglect the high points of the film. Despite the fact that Sydow’s Jesus was the quintessential Hollywood Jesus: an austere, almost-emotionless Son of God, in my opinion he manages to take the template and fashion it into a credible one. The Jesus of this film is quite reminiscent of the one in John’s Gospel: an overtly divine and authoritative figure. In fact, the film as a whole is evocative of John.

My honorable mentions, without further explication (perhaps I will do them in a later time):

1.) Il Messia, aka The Messiah (Roberto Rossellini, 1975)
2.) The Gospel of John (Philip Saville, 2003)
3.) La Vie et la Passion de Jésus-Christ, aka The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ (Ferdinand Zecca & Lucien Nonguet, 1903-05)
4.) Jesus (Roger Young, 1999)
5.) The Visual Bible: Matthew (Regart van den Bergh, 1993)
6.) Godspell (David Greene, 1973)
7.) Jesus Christ Superstar (Norman Jewison, 1973)
8.) Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli, 1977)
9.) The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927)
10.) Karunamayudu, aka Daya Sagar, Ocean of Mercy (A. Bhimsingh & Christopher Coelho, 1978)
11.) Jesus, aka The Jesus Film (Peter Sykes, John Krisch & John Heyman, 1979)
12.) The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004)


Most of them were on view sometime during the Easter Season, and personally none of them are satisfying. The one that comes closest is Jesus of Nazareth, which when you remember it was originally a mini-series, signifies the ultimate best of what TV can deliver, esp. when paired with its companion A.D.

And the disappointment is not only the portrayal of Christ which must be colored of course by the actor’s appearance, demeanor and personal beliefs, and can never come close to the original. It is also in some of the supporting roles, particularly Peter, Mary, Magdalene. I look for a version that has good production values, is authentic in historical details as well as faithful to the original “script” the gospels-to which of course the mini-series added a lot of extra-biblical historical scenes. Anachronistic clothing, sets and dialog throw me off completely.

Miracle Maker
King of Kings (1927)
Gospel of John
Jesus of Nazareth (when will they remaster this one?)
Gospel according to Matthew
Passion of the Christ
Visual Bible:Acts (because most Jesus movies do not focus on the time after Jesus Ascension, and early Christians, movies about St. Peter and St. Paul often contains too much stuffs not rooted in the bible, and based on secular sources or Director’s embellishments to make the story flow better.)

I never knew that there would be someone else who actually knows about Visual Bible: Acts! :smiley:

I like Ben Hur.

I take it you mean the 1959 version? I’d also recommend watching the silent 1925 version, if you could get it, especially since the 1959 chariot race is actually a virtual shot for shot (if I remember right) recreation of the 1925. It sure helped that William Wyler, the director of the 1959 version, was one of the assistant directors for this sequence in 1925. :wink:

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