Every year, I go through a list of films and miniseries about the life of Christ that I want to watch, or avoid, to prepare for Holy Week and Easter. There are many options.
After all, cinematic depictions of the life of Christ are as old as film itself. Some of the earliest were the silent films Jesus Christ (1905) and From the Manger to the Cross (1912). Later, big technicolor spectacles like King of Kings (1961) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) were one expression of the life of Christ, with Pasolini’s stark, Marxism-infused The Gospel According to Matthew (1964) representing another. A few years later, hippie Jesus stories became the norm, with Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell—both from 1973, and both lacking Jesus’s bodily Resurrection at the end—as the best-known examples. In subsequent years, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) captured the conspiratorial spirit of post-orthodoxy, while Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) pushed back hard in the opposite direction, striving for a total authenticity designed to cut viewers to the heart with the Gospel.
And then there is television, with the very best depiction of the life of Christ remaining Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1977), which I have watched every year during Lent since I was a child. Joining this tradition in recent years have been several offerings from producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, including The Bible (2013) for the History Channel, along with the subsequent film Son of God (2014), compiled with footage from the series.