The recent success of the History Channel’
s 10-part series, The Bible, along with the Easter holiday, got us thinking about other movies inspired by the Good Book. Here are 10 films that try to capture — to varying degrees of success — the spirit of the Scriptures.
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Cecil B. DeMille’
s nearly four-hour epic sets the standard by which all other movies based on the Bible are judged. The film, which tells the story of Moses (Charlton Heston) and the Exodus, was one of the top-grossing movies of all time and has been a staple of Easter weekend for decades (this year it aired on March 30 on ABC).
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Gibson’s controversial depiction of the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life drew criticism for being too violent — the length and brutality of the beatings that Jesus (Jim Caviezel) receives are not for those with weak stomachs — and anti-Semitic. But it didn’t matter; the film was a box-office smash, grossing more than $600 million internationally.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Before Mel Gibson made his Jesus movie, Martin Scorsese’s film about the life of God’s only begotten son was the most controversial mainly because of its departure from Scripture and the fictitious marriage-sexual liaison between Jesus and the prostitute Mary Magdalene. Some theaters refused to show it; one protest group even took the extreme measure of firebombing a Paris movie theater, injuring 13.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
The film version of the Broadway rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, which offers an irreverent, hippie-style take on the last weeks of Jesus’ life, features multiculti casting (a rare occurrence in biblical movies, before and since), groovy fashion and a breakout performance by African-American actor Carl Anderson (Judas Iscariot).
The Prince of Egypt (1998)
The animated musical version of Moses and the Exodus became one of the highest-grossing animated films in history. With Val Kilmer (Moses), Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Sandra Bullock providing the voices, Hollywood failed yet again to give people of color a shot in a story set in Africa. (However, Danny Glover does have a minor role, with Brian Stokes Mitchell providing his singing voice.)
Samson and Delilah (1949)
The Ten Commandments wasn’t Cecil B. DeMille’s only successful biblical tale. Taking its story from the book of Judges, the film features Hedy Lamarr as Delilah and Victor Mature as Samson, the strapping young Hebrew who loses his strength when Delilah trims his tresses. The film was the top grossing of the year, paving the way for DeMille to make his soon-to-be classic seven years later.
The Seventh Sign (1988)
There have been many movies about the End of Days, but The Seventh Sign is one of the more interesting ones. Demi Moore is a pregnant housewife who meets a mysterious stranger (Jürgen Prochnow), who in actuality is the son of God returned to Earth. He tells her that her child will be born without a soul, presaging the end of the world. The only way to save her unborn son — and the world — is to stop one of the seven signs revealed in the book of Revelation.
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
This epic film, which tells the story of Jesus’ life from the Nativity to the Resurrection, attempted to match the grandeur and scale of The Ten Commandments but ultimately failed to live up to that other greatest story ever told. Critics knocked the film mainly for its sluggish pace and its distracting cameos of stars, including Sidney Poitier, John Wayne, Shelley Winters, Angela Lansbury and Pat Boone.
Evan Almighty (2007)
While not as hilarious as its prequel, Bruce Almighty (2003), which featured Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman as God, this is still probably the funniest version of the Noah’s ark story on film. Steve Carell reprises the role of Evan Baxter, a former news anchor turned newly elected congressman who prays to God (Freeman, again) to help him save the world. Add a rainstorm, an unsafe dam and more than 170 animal species …
OK, we can’t say how good this film will be because it doesn’t come out until next year, but it does come with quite the pedigree. Academy Award-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan) has been working for five years to bring his biblical retelling of Noah’s ark to the big screen. The film is flooded with talent, including Russell Crowe (who plays Noah), Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson.