Like any good book, the Bible has been adapted for the big screen and television to mixed results over the years.
There are a number of wonderful faith-based films and biblical epics to watch, and some to avoid.
With Passover and Holy Week in mind, here are 10 religious films worth checking out.
“The Ten Commandments” (1956) — Running three and a half hours, this movie is the textbook definition of epic. It was Hollywood legend Cecil B. DeMille’s last film. Charlton Heston was cast as Moses in the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Filmed at then a whopping cost of $13 million, this blockbuster featured an all-star cast with Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo and Vincent Price. At least 14,000 extras and 15,000 animals were used during the filming. “The Ten Commandments” was shot in Egypt, Mount Sinai and the Sinai Peninsula.
“The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965) — Another epic tale from the Good Book. Director George Stevens’ reverential telling of the life of Christ stars Max Von Sydow as Jesus of Nazareth. Stevens begins with the Nativity and concludes with the Ascension. The supporting cast included Charlton Heston as John the Baptist; Claude Rains as Herod the Great and Telly Savalas as Pontious Pilate.
“Ben Hur” (1959) — Craving more Charlton Heston? This 11-time Academy Award winner stars Heston as an aristocrat living in Jerusalem who incurs the wrath of a childhood friend, now a Roman tribune. He is forced into galley slavery and witnesses the persecution of his family. A battle at sea and a thrilling chariot race are among the memorable sequences in the blockbuster.
“The Passion of the Christ” (2004) — Magnificent, but excessively bloody look at the suffering and death of Jesus on Good Friday from director Mel Gibson. The script is based on the four gospels, as well as ”The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ” — the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich as written by the poet Clemens Brentano. Shot in Italy, the dialogue is entirely in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin. With a box office haul of more than $600 million, it is the highest-grossing Christian film of all time
“The Prince of Egypt” (1998) — Dreamworks Animated telling of the story of Moses will appeal to the young and old. The star-studded voice cast includes Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart and Helen Mirren. Its theme song, “When You Believe,” won the Oscar for Best Original Song at the 71st Academy Awards.
“The Nativity Story” (2006) — Director Catherine Hardwicke’s account of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. The film received mixed reviews upon its release, but drew favorable notices from The Washington Post and New York Times. “The Nativity Story” holds the distinction of being the first film to have its world premiere at the Vatican.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” (1973) — What began as a rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice in 1970 evolved into a Broadway stage show a year later and then a motion picture in 1973. There have been numerous pairings of a rockin’ Jesus and Judas Iscariot, but few compare to the talent and chemistry demonstrated by Ted Neeley and the late great Carl Anderson. The music holds up 50 years later and the Norman Jewison film is blessed with a supporting cast that includes Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene and the late Barry Dennen as Pilate.
“The Bible: In the Beginning” (1966) — Producer Dino De Laurentiis and director John Huston’s attempt to cover the first 22 chapters of the book of Genesis in slightly under three hours is certainly ambitious. The film covers the creation of the world, the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark and the story of Abraham. The film collected favorable reviews and a few awards, but it lost money at the box office, which meant its planned sequels never materialized.
“Noah” (2014) — Russell Crowe stars in director Darren Aronofsky’s successful telling of the story of the flood chronicled in Genesis. Time magazine wrote, “Aronofsky brings out wild ambition and thrilling artistry to one of the Old Testament’s best-known, most dramatic, least plausible stories — Noah and the Ark — with Russell Crowe infusing the role of God’s first seaman and zookeeper with all his surly majesty.”
“Jesus of Nazareth” (1977) — For those willing to commit the time, there is this six-hour miniseries that director Franco Zeffirelli helmed. The project was reportedly suggested to producer Sir Lew Grade by Pope Paul VI. The miniseries covers the entire life of Jesus and was shown on network television over two nights. The supporting cast includes Anne Bancroft, Sir Laurence Olivier, Anthony Quinn, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger and Peter Ustinov.
Also, worth checking out: Several faith-based film not directly adapted from the Good Book include “A Man for All Seasons” (1966), “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima” (1952), “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (1965) and “The Song of Bernadette” (1943).