Cinematic portrayals of Biblical stories can be a helpful means to encourage our Christian walk. Especially is this the case for me when I watch a movie about the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Of course, not everything in a film will be theologically accurate—but no film can accomplish that task. A movie is the director’s and actors’ interpretation of the Gospel events. I have appreciated the following six movies about Jesus. There are sections in each film that touch me deeply and nurture deeper appreciation and love for our Lord. Perhaps one or more of these films will benefit you in the same way.
The Jesus Film (G-1977, 117 min.)
Director: Peter Sykes & John Krisch, and Brian Deacon as Jesus. Narrator: Alexander Scourby. The film generally follows the events and words from the Gospel of Luke. Campus Crusade for Christ continues to use the film for evangelistic purposes around the world, having translated it into 1,000 languages to date, thus making it the most translated film in history. (www.jesusfilm.org)
Matthew: The Visual Bible (1997, 265 min.)
Director: Regardt Van den Bergh, and Bruce Marchiano as Jesus. The film follows exclusively the order and words [New International Version] of the Gospel of Matthew, scene by scene (with verse references). This approach makes the film convenient for use with Bible studies of Matthew. The portrayal of Jesus by Marchiano is primarily one of joyfulness—much smiling and laughter.
The Gospel of John: The Visual Bible (PG-13, 2003, 125 min.)
Director: Philip Saville, with Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus, and narrated by Christopher Plummer. The film follows the events recorded in John’s Gospel and presents a moving portrayal of Jesus’ life. A unique feature is the emphasis given to the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.
The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus (1999, 87 min.)
For children. done in claymation, 3D animation. Director: Stanislov Sokolov and Derek Hayes, and Ralph Fiennes as the voice of Jesus. The story is tied together by introducing a twelve-year old Tamar and her father Jairus, who is seeking a cure for her daughter’s illness, and then her healing by Jesus later in the film (“Tamar” is Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead by Jesus, Lk 8: 40-56). This film won two awards in 2000: Best Children’s Film at the Bradford Animation Festival and the John Templeton Foundation Epiphany Prize.
Jesus (1999, CBS mini-series, 174 min.).
Director: Roger Young, and Jeremy Sitso as Jesus. Initially, I was put off by the “humanness” of Jesus in the film. Yet I have since come to appreciate this as a distinctive contribution of the film. The wilderness temptation scene, with special effects, is outstanding—it offers a credible portrayal of each of the three temptations (I have used that particular scene in class). Of course, not everything in this film is theologically accurate, as mentioned above. In this film, as in the next, Mary, the mother of Jesus, plays a key role. The Roman political context is given much place in the film.
The Passion of the Christ (R-2004, 126 min.)
Director: Mel Gibson, Jim Caviezel as Jesus. Rated “R” for the scenes of Jesus’ brutal scourging by the Roman soldiers. The film focuses on the final week of Jesus’ life—the week of his passion (i.e., suffering) and death and resurrection—with several flashbacks to earlier times of his life and ministry. Viewers must read subtitles in English since the languages spoken are Aramaic and Latin. The portrayal of the brutal scourging of Jesus is difficult to view, yet it’s been my practice to watch this film each year, just prior to Easter Sunday.
For further study of Jesus’ life and teachings, see my book, Living Into the Life of Jesus: The Formation of Christian Character (InterVarsity Press, 2012).