great biblical epics
of the 1920s were The Ten Commandments (1923), Ben Hur
(1926), The King of Kings (1927) and Noah's Ark (1929).
public went in droves
to see these movies. Yet when the movie industry began, the depiction
of Biblical figures caused controversy.
basis was the
Second of the Ten Commandments:
make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on
the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to
them or worship them… (Exodus 20)
centuries to when Protestants rejected images in worship. Many felt
that Christianity should be taught verbally without pictures, the way
alternative view was
that images assist teaching. In pre-modern times many illiterates got
Christian teaching by attending "Passion Plays" i.e. live-theatre.
began in the 1890s film companies produced films about Jesus. This
included special effects like angels flying and Jesus walking on water.
and some critics considered movies of biblical figures as modern idol
worship. Other disputes centred on how to depict:
By 1910 many
considered movies "a primary school for criminals". By 1920 censorship
boards sprang up across the USA and controlled what films could be
shown in their area.
and miracles with respect;
blame. (A Jewish organization, Bene Brith, got the crucifixion sequence
in Intolerance (1916) re-done to show fewer Jews and more
came the Motion
Picture Production Code or Hays Code, which film producers adopted to
forestall federal censorship. William Hays was America's guardian of
morality and head of The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of
5,000-word Code was:
"A Code To Govern The Making Of Motion Pictures, the Reasons Supporting
It, and the Resolution for Uniform Interpretation".
stipulation that films avoid irreverence and ridicule of deity. It
commenced with three "General Principles":
Then came twelve
"Particular Applications" of which the eighth stated:
- No picture
produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence
the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of
crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.
of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment,
shall be presented.
human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its
The Legion of
(1936-1971) guided which movies Catholics could see. By 1971 the Legion
had classified over 16,000 movies!
film or episode
may throw ridicule on any religious faith.
religion in their character as ministers of religion should not be used
as comic characters or as villains.
Ceremonies of any
definite religion should be carefully and respectfully handled.
their greatest popularity in the 1950s. From 1946 to 1959 there were
six years when the top grossing film was a biblical epic. The Robe (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben Hur
were grandiose spectacles on new wide screens introduced to combat the
loss of audiences to television.
changed. The Bible In The Beginning (1966) had poor box office
results. Science fantasy and the supernatural seemed the new fad.
Movie-makers therefore tried Antichrist and Satan themes based loosely
on the Pentecostal understanding of Antichrist. There were Rosemary's
Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976).
Jesus movies in
the 1970s were musicals and portrayed him in terms of youth and hippie
values. Churches organized boycotts and preachers criticized from
pulpit and radio. The Hays Code was by this time almost ignored.
1974 most biblical
movies were made for TV. Notable is the Bible Project series of
the Italian company, Lux Vide — thirteen films since 1993 including ten
based on the Old Testament. From the 1990s even more biblical movies
and documentaries were released straight-to-video or DVD.
movies became few — The Prince of Egypt (1998) and Mel Gibson's
The Passion of The Christ (2004). The latter is probably the
most highly rated Jesus movie of all and realistically portrays Roman
BIBLE MOVIES LIST
ratings, where added
to the revues below, are from Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video
Guide. Other authors such as Hirschhorn (1983) and Walker (2005)
From The Manger to The
in Palestine and
Egypt by the Kalem Film company, and showed many authentic locations.
Gene Gauntier wrote the script and played the virgin, Mary.
stories of people
trapped by intolerance. One of the four stories was about Jesus.
The Ten Commandments
by Cecil B
DeMille. The first part of this film is an epic in grand style — great
chariot and parting-of-the-Red-Sea scenes — and the rest a modern
parable about two brothers, one saintly the other evil.
Ben Hur (1926) ***
expensive of the silent movie spectaculars. The sea battle and chariot
race compare well to the 1959 remake.
The King of Kings
reverential Cecil B
DeMille silent film which holds up well. Remade in 1961.
Noah's Ark (1929)
Noah shown in
flashback and parallel to World War I. Some great special effects.
The Sign of The Cross
Superbus (Fredric March) is torn between two woman — alluring Poppaea
(Claudette Colbert) and a Christian (Elissa Landi). Slow going but
enlivened by sadism, seduction, and Roman arena scenes. Reissued in
1944 with sadism and sexy scenes cut. The 1995 video release had
deleted scenes restored.
Jesus who is not
shown, to better suggest reverence by the Hays Code. The movie's
message of pacifism conflicted with American entry in WW II and was
shown only in churches.
Samson and Delilah (1949)
B DeMille movie
with Victor Mature as Samson and Hedy Lamarr as Delilah. Entertaining
with good fight scenes.
Quo Vadis? (1951) ***
soldier tries to
figure out how to romance a Christian girl without Emperor Nero feeding
them both to lions.
David and Bathsheba
Century Fox with Gregory Peck as David and Susan Hayward as Bathsheba.
A box office success but a mainly boring script.
Androcles and the Lion
Christian and a lion
become friends and meet in the arena.
the dancer who
asked for the head of John the Baptist. Great cast, including Rita
Hayworth and Stewart Granger, but poor script.
The Robe (1953)
this movie Twentieth
Century Fox introduced a wide-screen format called CinemaScope. Richard
Burton stars as a Roman centurion who presided at Christ's crucifixion
and whose life is changed by Christ's robe. Victor Mature is Burton's
slave Demetrius. A slow-moving costume drama, but a box office success.
Production cost $5million, intake $17million.
Demetrius and the
Gladiators (1954) **½
sequel to The
Robe with Emperor Caligula searching for Jesus' magic robe. Victor
Mature plays Demetrius, a slave drafted as a gladiator, and Susan
Hayward his royal dalliance.
The Silver Chalice
slave fashions a
chalice to hold the Last Supper cup, and Simon the Magician (Jack
Palance) plans to replace Jesus.
The Ten Commandments
and greatest epic and the highest grossing Bible film to that time. The
film is about Moses' life from birth to death. Charlton Heston plays
Moses and Yul Brynner Pharoah. Lots of spectacle and highlights with
few low points.
Ben Hur (1959)
Heston as Ben
Hur. This movie replaced The Ten
Commandments as the highest grossing
Solomon and Sheba
visiting Queen gets
virtuous Solomon (Yul Brynner) steamed up enough to betray his
A Story of David (1960)
Chandler as David.
Bible believers might enjoy this movie — otherwise a possible remedy
Esther and the King
girl, Esther, becomes Queen of Persia and saves Jews of the Persian
Empire from extermination.
The Story of Ruth
leaves her gods
to follow the faith of Israel.
Barabbas (1961) **
Quinn stars as
the criminal released instead of Jesus.
King of Kings (1961)
with blue eyes and
blond hair but movingly filmed with dialogue and events faithful to the
Joseph and His
Brethren (1962) **
biblical tale, lavishly produced but empty-headed."(Maltin 1998)
Sodom and Gomorrah
movie with a
strong cast and vivid scenes of depravity and torture.
Gospel According to
Saint Matthew (1964)
of Christ's life,
The Greatest Story
Ever Told (1965)
actor Max Von
Sydow played another blue-eyed Jesus. Extravagant and cameo-filled, but
a box office failure.
The Bible In The
cover the whole Bible but plans changed when Genesis resulted in 20
hours of footage. Finally released as a four-hour movie. Eve is shown
naked but discretely shaded. Impressive special effects include the
Tower of Babel and Noah's Ark and the Flood. Did poorly at the box
Saul and David (1968)
The Joys of Jezebel
Jesus Christ Superstar
presented as a
symbol for the youth and hippie movement, as "hip" and "relevant".
musical version of
Jesus' life set in New York where young disciples follow him around and
Moses and Aaron (1974
Story of Jacob and
Joseph (1974 TV)
Moses (1975 TV)
Lancaster as Moses.
Dull compared to DeMille's epics.
film, 370 minutes.
Story of David
The Omen (1976)
movie. The Antichrist apparent is born to two Americans (Gregory Peck,
Lee Remick) living in England. He survives every attempt to kill him
and everyone who makes the attempt meets a shocking or sudden demise.
The Nativity (1978 TV)
Greatest Heroes of the
series about Old
Jesus (1979) **½
of Jesus' life. Shot on location in Israel.
of Brian (1979)
pauses over the wrong stable and Brian thereafter gets mistaken for the
Mary and Joseph: A
Story of Faith (1979 TV)
as a struggling newly-married couple: "The leads play it as a pair of
American youngsters plunked down in Biblical Nazareth." (Maltin 1998)
Peter and Paul (1981
Anthony Hopkins and
closely follows the Bible text.
Samson and Delilah
Mature, who played
Samson in the 1949 movie, here plays Samson's father.
King David (1985)
Gere as David. A
box office failure.
The Last Temptation of
Scorsese. Jesus presented as a human savior who struggles to accept his
divinity. Protesters organized a nationwide boycott. The "last
temptation" occurs on the cross where Jesus is tempted in a fantasy
sequence by Mary Magdalene.
The Story of Christmas
of the story of
Jesus' birth, for children.
Solomon & Sheba
The Prince of Egypt
of the story of
Moses. Some 575 Christian and Jewish scholars were consulted and viewed
early drafts of the film to reduce controversy.
Esther (1999 TV)
Lombard as Esther;
Thomas Kretschmann as King Ahasuerus; F. Murray Abraham as Mordecai.
Easy-to-follow retelling of Esther and Mordecai saving the Jews from
annihilation. This was tenth in the series of Lux Vide TV movies made
1993-2002 based on Bible stories.
series included Abraham
(1993), Jacob (1994), Joseph (1995), Moses
(1996), Samson and Delilah (1996), David (1997), Solomon
(1997), Genesis (1998), Jeremiah (1998), Jesus
Noah's Ark (1999 TV)
The Passion of The
crucifixion. Confronting, violent, bloody. Dialogue in Aramaic with
English subtitles. James Caviezel as Jesus.
The Ten Commandments
J 1983 Rating
The Movie Stars, Publications International, USA
Savior: Jesus in the Movies, Journal of Religion and Film Volume 6,
No. 1, April, 2003
L 1998 1999
& Video Guide, Signet, USA
J 2005 Halliwell's
Film, Video & DVD Guide 2006, Harper Collins, London
1996 Sin and
Censorship, Yale University Press, USA.