Thursday, April 18, 2024

Must-Watch Easter Movies about the Life of Jesus Christ

Easter is an uplifting time of the year, spring is just arriving and we celebrate the most important part of our Christian faith which is the “Resurrection of our Lord.”  Easter occurs on a different Sunday every year, but the message is always the same; come to the Lord, give your sin over to him, and receive salvation in the Risen Christ.  While there are not a lot of Christian Easter movies on the market I have compiled a list of some of the top movies that have been favorites for many families on Easter weekend.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

 The Passion of the Christ was the highest-grossing movie released at the time. It’s also credited with proving there was a market for Christian films, which led to movies like facing the Giants and God’s Not Dead.

Those movies capture Jesus’ divinity but make it hard to believe he ever worried about anything. 

Rather than moving lightly over the crucifixion to focus on the empty tomb, The Passion of the Christ emphasizes what happened on Good Friday. We get brutal scenes of the pain Jesus went through, from him sweating blood in the garden, to the Roman floggings, to the ordeal on the cross. Satan cameos in several scenes, highlighting the fact that Jesus Christ’s death defeated the powers of darkness (Colossians 3:15).

Some have questioned whether all this brutality makes the movie sadistic. It certainly makes The Passion of the Christ, but it’s as close as anyone has gotten to portraying what crucifixion looks like.

God’s Not Dead (2014)

God’s Not Dead is a 2014 American Christian drama film directed by Harold Cronk and starring Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, David A. R. White, and Dean Cain. Written by Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman from a story they co-wrote with Hunter Dennis, and based on Rice Broocks’ book God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty, the film follows a Christian college student (Harper) whose faith is challenged by a misotheistic philosophy professor (Sorbo), who declares God a pre-scientific fiction.

In the fall of 2013, Josh Wheaton, a college student and evangelical Christian, enrolls in a philosophy class taught by Professor Jeffrey Radisson, an atheist. Radisson demands his students sign a declaration that “God is dead” to pass. Josh is the only student who refuses. Radisson requires Josh to debate the topic with him but agrees to let his other students decide the winner.

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The Gospel of John (2003)

At 3 hours long, it’s perhaps best seen in pieces. While it’s not the greatest adaptation of Jesus Christ’s story, the fact it follows the Gospel of John makes it unique. Most movies about Jesus Christ follow the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Those three gospels share many events, although each has a particular focus (Matthew emphasizes how Jesus Christ fulfilled Messiah prophecies, Mark emphasizes how much Jesus Christ suffered, Luke emphasizes how Jesus Christ brought freedom). Scholars estimate that 90 percent of the Gospel of John is new material, and it seems written for a Gentile audience: John doesn’t start by talking about Jesus as Messiah but as Logos, the Word.

The Gospel of John is unique because it follows the fourth gospel closely, which makes it a nice pairing with other Easter movies. You can put together a viewing plan to watch a movie based on each of the Gospels, getting a full view of Jesus’ story from the New Testament’s different perspectives.

The Miracle Maker (2000)

There is a long history of animated movies based on Bible stories. However, they tend to be a bit dry, with a few exceptions like Prince of Egypt and the Rankin-Bass stop-motion cartoon The Little Drummer Boy. It’s generally easier to adapt a Bible story with some satirical elements than to tell the Bible story straight and risk running into all the clichés.

Produced by several independent companies alongside Icon Entertainment, The Miracle Maker goes beyond what you’d expect. It tells the story of Jesus Christ with claymation figures, cutting to hand-drawn animation for some scenes (what Jesus is describing in his parables, Mary’s flashbacks to finding Jesus in the temple. The story starts with Jairus taking his sickly daughter to a healer who can’t do anything for her. They bump into a carpenter named Jesus Christ , who is finishing his last job before going off to do his “father’s work.” From there, the movie follows Jesus’ ministry from the selecting of the disciples to Jesus’ resurrection, with Jairus and his family reacting to his teaching before and after Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter.

Risen (2016)

Risen tells the story of Jesus through a non-believer’s eyes. After having served in the Roman army for 25 years, Clavius has witnessed a lot of death and destruction. He is tasked with the job of expediting a crucifixion and thinks nothing of it when he arrives and witnesses its conclusion. However, three days later, Clavius is assigned the job of investigating rumors surrounding the mysterious resurrection of one of the men recently crucified. That task leads him on a journey to discover the truth behind the risen Yeshua, the Messiah, and his message of love and forgiveness. 

Risen features an outstanding and layered performance by Fiennes, who struggles to understand the truth while remaining loyal to his Roman beliefs. In the end, Clavius abandons his job as a Roman soldier to walk the path of peace and follow Yeshua the Messiah.

King of Kings (1961)

King of Kings is that rare Biblical epic that has aged well. It’s long but much shorter than The Greatest Story Ever Told. Like pretty much every epic, it embellishes the story—it starts with the Romans invading Jerusalem in 63 BC. It features a Roman soldier who keeps meeting Jesus and finally says, “surely this man was the son of God” at Golgotha. In the tradition of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, King Herod Antipas’ stepdaughter is a flirt who is attracted then repulsed by John the Baptist. Barabbas is a rough freedom fighter who knows Judas Iscariot but doesn’t care for a peaceful Messiah.

These details go outside the Biblical record, but you can say the same thing about The Ten Commandments. More importantly, these changes give King of Kings a particular focus: what was Jesus’ message in a violent time? The Romans and Herod Antipas wanted Judea as a peaceful colony. The Israelites wanted to overthrow their rulers. Jesus declared he was the prophesied king, but his kingdom was not what they expected. Jeffrey Hunter captures this interesting balance: powerful but otherworldly, a king whose plans will shock the world.

BDWYJC JESUS OF NAZARETH – 1977 TV mini-series with Robert Powell

Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

While this 6-hour miniseries is a bit long for one day, it works well as a series to watch over the Easter season. Episode 1 starts with Mary receiving a message from the angel Gabriel, and episode 4 ends with the resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples. Each episode is about 90 minutes long, short enough for an evening’s viewing during Holy Week.

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli (known for his operas and his 1968 movie Romeo and Juliet), this miniseries has theatrical, artificial elements. Jesus (Robert Powell) is impossibly handsome, and his mother (Olivia Hussey) looks like a teenager no matter how much grey powder is in her hair. Christopher Plummer adds some operatic camp as King Herod Antipas. However, these artificial elements feel more like a condiment than a main ingredient. The story is theatrical, but it never becomes a campy Bible pageant.

The miniseries also uses its runtime to give some great setting details. If King of Kings highlights the Roman angle, Jesus of Nazareth highlights the Jewish angle. It starts with Mary’s mother arranging the engagement with Joseph. As the story moves into later episodes, viewers see leaders like Joseph of Arimathea contemplating how to handle this new rabbi who seems to be rewriting their religion. The fact that Jesus upset norms to fulfill the law in an unexpected way has never been clearer.

The Jesus Film (1979)

Many people claim that this is the most translated movie of all time, thanks to the Jesus Film Project’s goal to get it to as many viewers as possible. Produced by Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), it was intended more as an educational film than a theatrical feature. It follows the Gospel of Luke very closely, but its runtime is just under 2 hours. This makes it short enough to watch in an afternoon and great for viewers who have seen The Gospel of John or The Visual Bible: Matthew and want to see a Jesus movie based on a different Gospel.

While many special effects haven’t aged well, and the narration is clunky, this movie has a few surprises. Satan appears as a snake in the desert temptation scenes, a clever reference to Genesis 3. When Zacchaeus declares he will pay back any clients he has cheated, he pulls back a tapestry to show money he’s hidden behind a rock in a hole in the wall. Brian Deacon can’t deviate from Jesus’ lines in the Gospel of Luke, but he finds little nonverbal things he can do in scenes of Jesus walking between with his disciples. This may not be the earthiest Jesus, but he clearly cares for people.

Son of God (2014)

This movie, edited from The Bible miniseries aired on the History Channel, fits solidly in the middle. It doesn’t tell a Gospel text verbatim like a docudrama. It doesn’t present everything as a vast, epic adventure that requires multiple sittings to get through. It’s compact and well-packaged, suitable for everyone except small children who are too young for crucifixion gore.

Son of God starts with a few clips from The Bible, a quick view of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and some scenes of Jews fleeing Roman soldiers before Jesus walks onto the set and jumps into Peter’s fishing boat. After a few moments following Jesus’ ministry, the movie skips to Jesus entering Jerusalem on Passion Week. The images of Jesus being captured, beaten, and crucified are a bit brutal for young viewers, but not nearly as graphic as The Passion of the Christ. Unlike The Passion of the Christ, Son of God shows Jesus’ followers discovering the empty tomb and seeing Jesus before he ascends. All of these scenes are narrated by an old man who turns out to be John, thinking about his experiences while exiled on Patmos

It’s hard to escape the fact this movie is a shortened version of a TV program, skimming over many moments to provide the big emotional notes. However, that fast pacing also makes this an exciting watch for teenagers or adults who are tired of long Biblical epics or docudramas like The Gospel of John.

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