Welcome to Emmanuel’s Lenten Film Festival, Jesus at the Movies! Since Jesus first stepped foot on Mother Earth more than two thousand years ago, humanity has wrangled over the nature of his identity.
The early church hashed it out in synods over several centuries. Is he human? Is he divine? Paradoxically, he is both. And being both, how do we put that into words? What does that look like? And bottom line, who is Jesus to us in the here and now?
Rather than a dry theological discussion of doctrine, Jesus at the Movies invites you to explore the nature of our savior through the lens of a hundred plus years of filmmaking.
This do-it-yourself film festival includes 27 screenings of early silent films, Hollywood biblical epics, TV series, documentaries, drama, comedy, commentary, animated features, and more. Produced by the faithful and not so faithful, the films inform and challenge our culture’s ever evolving attempts to put flesh and blood on Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus at the Movies is not a day-by-day devotional but alternatively an artistic and imaginative movie-of-the-week approach to our Lenten practice.
The list below is in ascending order of each film’s premier. Pick and choose titles in any way you care to watch. Some older films are available on YouTube; more recent films and those still under copyright are available on streaming services. Click on the film title for production notes and cast.
Consider a “watching party” with family or friends (in-person or online) and follow it up with some engaging conversation or takeaways from the film to share.
Adult Spiritual Formation will be hosting a Jesus at the Movies Wrap Up Review on Sunday, April 3 at 7:00 p.m. on Zoom. Please join us if you can!
From the Manger to the Cross, 1912, 1 hr. 11 min.
A 1912 silent motion picture that was filmed on location in Egypt and Palestine. Actress and screenwriter Gene Gauntier wrote the script and portrayed the Virgin Mary.
King of Kings, 1927, 2 hr. 40 min.
An American silent epic film produced and directed by Cecile B. DeMille. It depicts the last three weeks of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion.
The Robe, 1953, 2 hr. 15 min.
A 1953 American Biblical epic that tells the mythical story of a Roman military tribune who commands the unit that is responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.
King of Kings, 1961, 2 hr. 40 min.
A 1961 American Biblical epic film. Adapted from the New Testament the film is a dramatization of the story of Jesus of Nazareth from his birth and ministry to his crucifixion and resurrection.
The Gospel according to Matthew, 1964, 2 hr. 17 min.
“San Matteo” is a 1964 Italian biblical drama in the surrealist style. The dialogue is taken directly from the scriptures , as the director felt that “images could never reach the poetic heights of the text.” Nominated for three academy awards, the Vatican City newspaper called it the best film on Christ ever made.
The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1965, 4 hr. 20 min.
A 1965 American epic film that recounts the biblical story of Christ from his birth through his ascension. Along with the ensemble case, it is Claude Rains’ final film and received five Academy Award nominations.
Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus, 1973, 1 hr. 33 min.
An American film written by Johnny Cash, who along with June Carter Cash stars in the film made in the Holy Land. The husband & wife team also wrote and performed the soundtrack.
Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973, 1 hr. 46 min.
A 1973 American musical based on the 1970 rock opera of the same name, libretto written by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Weber.
Godspell, 1973, 1 hr. 43 min.
The musical is built around parables, primarily drawn from the Gospel of Matthew interspersed with music and traditional hymns, climaxing with the Passion of Christ at the end of the show.
Jesus of Narareth, 1977, 6 hr.
A 1977 British-Italian epic film and television drama serial co-written and directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It features an all-star cast including Robert Powell as Jesus, Anne Bancroft, Laurence Oliver, Christopher Plummer, James Earl Jones, and others.
The Jesus Film, 1979, 1 hr. 57 min.
Shot on location in Israel, the film was financed primarily by Campus Crusade for Christ, with a budget of $6 million, and was released without production or cast credits, as the producer declared that the creators of this picture were “simply being translators” of the New Testament’s Gospel of Luke.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979, 1 hr. 34 min.
1979 British satire written by and starring the comedy troupe Monty Python. Directed by Terry Jones, it tells the story of Brian Cohen, a young Jewish-Roman man born on the same day and next door to Jesus and is mistakenly confused for the Messiah.
The carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, tormented by the temptations of demons, the guilt of making crosses for the Romans, sets out to find what God wills for him. But as his mission nears fulfillment, he must face the greatest temptation; the normal life of a good man. Based, not on the Gospels, but on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel of the same name.
Jesus of Montreal, 1989, 2 hr.
A group of actors put on an unorthodox, but acclaimed Passion Play which incites the opposition of the Catholic Church while the actors’ lives themselves begin to mirror the Passion itself.
This Frontline documentary pieces together the life of Jesus during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius, highlighting the different interpretations of Jesus’ teachings.
The Miracle Maker, 2000, 1 hr. 30 min.
A British-Russian-American stop-action-animated film depicts the life of Christ, through the eyes of Tamar; the terminally ill daughter of Jairus, a priest in Capernaum. Hand-drawn animated cartoons are used to distinguish flashbacks, parables, stories, spiritual encounters and visions.
The Gospel of John: The Life of Jesus, 2003, 3 hr.
The story of Jesus’ life as told by the apostle John, narrated by Christopher Plummer.
Son of Man, 2006, 1 hr. 26 min.
One man’s journey of love, deception and betrayal in contemporary South Africa. Based on the New Testament.
Color of the Cross, 2006, 1 hr. 48 min.
A retelling of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, based on the idea that he was a black man whose death was a racially motivated hate crime.
Who Was Jesus? 2009, 2 hr. 30 min.
This documentary series is the story of what it was like to be Jesus, to be born into tyranny, executed for preaching harmony and forgiveness. Historians, archaeologists and theologians dig deep into Jesus’ life and the times in which he lived.
The Jesus Movie, 2010, 1 hr. 20 min.
The animated film transports children to Nazareth for the story of Jesus’ birth, follows His life and miracles along the shores of Galilee and ends in Jerusalem with His arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.
The Gospel of Us, 2012, 1 hr. 55 min.
This project is the film version of a Passion play that was performed throughout Port Talbot, Wales during Easter season of 2011.
Black Jesus, 2014-2019, TV series
The hi-jinks of a street-smart savior living in modern-day Compton, on a mission to spread love and kindness throughout the crime-ridden L.A. neighborhood with his small group of followers.
Last Days in the Desert, 2015, 1 hr. 38 min.
An imagined chapter from Jesus’ forty days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis.
Risen, 2016, 1 hr. 47 min.
In 33 AD, a Roman Tribune in Judea is tasked to find the missing body of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead.
The Chosen, 2017, TV Series
A charismatic fisherman struggling with debt. A troubled woman wrestling with demons. A gifted accountant ostracised from his family and people. In this ground-breaking first season of The Chosen, see Jesus through the eyes of those who knew him.
Mary Magdalene, 2018, 2 hrs.
Twelve men heard and spread the message of Jesus. Only one woman understood it.
Jesus: His Life, 2019, History Channel Documentary Series
Jesus’ life story from a historically and scripturally accurate perspective. Live-action storytelling interspersed with brief commentary brings to life the early Christian era.
Mysteries of Jesus, 2019, Discovery Channel Documentary, 42 min.
Josh Gates journeys to the Holy Land to find out where Jesus was born; his investigation leads to discoveries that that may change people’s understanding of Jesus’ origin story.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog