Jesus Christ Movies: the Good, the Bad, and the Blasphemous

by Todd Hebert

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No other character, historical or mythical, has inspired as many movies as Jesus Christ has. Some are excellent (Ben Hur), some are mediocre (Nativity Story), some are terrible (The Greatest Story Ever Told), and some are just silly (Ultrachrist!).

I have compiled a list of 30 of some of the more notable titles in the Jesus movie genre.

The Life and Passion of Jesus ChristLife and Passion of Jesus Christ (1905) This silent film tells stories of Christ not as drama, but as a uniquely visual piece of art.

From the Manger to the Cross (1912) The first Biblical epic to be filmed in the Holy Land.

King of Kings (1927) During the filming, director Cecil B. Demille required all of his actors to sign legal documents preventing them from engaging in “sinful activity.”

Golgotha (1935) This is the first direct portrayal of Christ in a sound film.

The RobeThe Robe (1953) A Roman tribune, assigned by Pilate to oversee the crucifixion, wins Jesus’ robe in a game of dice. The power of the robe turns the tribune into a true believer.

Ben Hur (1959) Stands out above the campy, awkward, Biblical-inspired epics coming out of Hollywood at the time.

King of Kings (1961) Robert Ryan is the best John the Baptist you’ll ever see.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) Italian filmmaker Pasolini’s film is widely considered the masterpiece of the genre among critics.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) But not the greatest film ever made. Honestly, how could you cast John Wayne in a Biblical epic?

GodspellGodspell (1973) One of three Jesus themed musicals released in 1973, the film is set in New York city and featured Jesus in clown makeup.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) Hippy Jesus musical with words and music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The Gospel Road (1973) Johnny Cash vehicle shot in Israel. His wife June Carter is cast as Mary Magdalene.

The Messiah (1975) Roberto Rossellini’s subtle biopic downplays miracles and dramatic effects and emphasizes the brotherhood of men.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977) At six and a half hours, this made-for-TV miniseries explores the Gospels in unprecedented depth. Some call this the best Jesus film.

The life of BrianLife of Brian (1979) The Monty Python troupe asks the question: What if the three wise men visited the wrong manger? Hilarity ensues.

The Day Christ Died (1980) Jim Bishop’s minute-by-minute account of the fateful day is the basis for this TV movie.

Hail Mary (1985) This modern-day parallel of the Jesus story was condemned by the Vatican. Reason enough to make this film a must-see.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Scorsese’s controversial adaptation of the novel, in which Jesus is very human and Judas is just following Christ’s orders.

Jesus of MontrealJesus of Montreal (1989) A satire set in modern-day Quebec, the film follows five actors as they put on a controversial passion play which finds the life of the group’s leader mirroring that of Jesus whom he plays in the film.

The Book of Life (1998) In this satire, Jesus has been sent down to end the world by breaking the Seven Seals on a computer disk in a bowling alley locker room.

Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999) Tells the Gospel story through the eyes of Jesus’ mother Mary. Christian Bale, who plays Christ, reportedly had nightmares after working on the film each day.

The Miracle Maker (2000) This claymation feature-length story of Jesus casts Ralph Fiennes in the title role.

JesusJesus (2000) CBS mini-series with Gary Oldman as a Pontius Pilot.

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001) Jesus returns for the second coming only to find the earth overrun by vampires. He teams up with a Mexican wrestler to make the world safe for judgment day. Oh, and it’s a musical!

Joshua (2002) What if Jesus returned to a small community in America? What would happen?

The Gospel of John (2003) The screenplay is a verbatim transcript of the Good News translation of this Gospel—with no words added or subtracted.

UltraChristUltrachrist! (2003) Jesus takes on the persona of a superhero in spandex; fights Jim Morrison, Dracula, Hitler, and Richard Nixon.

Passion of the Christ (2004) Mel Gibson’s gore-fest is both heralded as divine revelation and hated as anti-Semitic and historically inaccurate.

Son of Man (2005) Told as an African fable, it won Best feature at L.A. Pan-African Film Festival.

Color of the Cross (2006) Featuring a black Jesus, asks was the crucifixion racially motivated?

Nativity story (2006) Faithful depiction of the conception and subsequent journey of Mary. There’s no crucifixion scene to ruin the happy ending.

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