It’s been no secret that 2014 has been the Year of the Bible for the entertainment industry.
From TV productions like The Bible and The Red Tent to big budget films like Noah and the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings, the Bible has found its way into more homes than ever this year. While not every telling has pleased audiences, greater focus on God and on His works proves that His Word does not return void.
In honor of the prolific influence of the Bible on Hollywood, we’re counting down the top seven Bible-based movies of all time. Why top seven? Because it’s the perfect number. Literally.
7. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
The filmmakers took the “greatest” in the title seriously; everything about this film is grand. Max von Sydow plays Jesus with great dignity and reverence against a backdrop of exaggerated symbolism and massive beauty, including the Grand Canyon. More than that, this film has more celebrity cameos than the Muppets, including Charlton Heston, José Ferrer, Angela Lansbury, Pat Boone, Roddy McDowall, Sidney Poitier, Telly Savalas, Ed Wynn, Shelley Winters, and even John Wayne. Add a four hour runtime and the bombastic Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” and you can see the huge scope of this film. While it may not be the best telling of the life of Jesus, it’s certainly among the most ambitious, and it’s a landmark among Bible films that’s definitely worth checking out.
6. Noah (2014)
Hear me out.
I won’t pretend the movie is any kind of accurate. It takes artistic license to a whole new level, possibly due to director Darren Aronofsky’s reported attempts to make the least biblical Bible movie ever. But even though it strays so far from the original narrative, Noah gets one crucial thing very right.
Throughout the film, God teaches Noah about Himself. Noah learns that all humans are evil, even him (Romans 3:23) and that they all deserve to die for their rebellion (Romans 6:23). But in the end, he realizes that God’s justice is balanced out by mercy and love. Given the chance to kill his granddaughters to end sin’s curse on the world, Noah finds he can feel nothing but love for them, the same love God feels for His children. Despite its many flaws, then, Noah manages to depict God as He truly is, making this the most biblical least biblical Bible movie ever.
5. One Night with the King (2006)
This religious romance tells the story of one of the Bible’s greatest heroines, delving into the love between Esther and Xerxes as well as the government of Persia and blending the personal with the political. While the leads do sometimes struggle, the supporting actors more than pick up the slack, with brilliant performances from John Rhys-Davies, John Noble, and Omar Sharif, and even a brief cameo from Peter O’Toole. Sweeping views of the Persian Empire, parallels of Haman with Nazism, tense emotional drama and a grand orchestral score make this often-overlooked film a must-see.
4. The Ten Commandments
One of Charlton Heston’s most famous films and possibly the best-known Bible film, The Ten Commandments is the original big screen telling of the story of Moses. Heston and his screen partner, Yul Brynner, know how to command attention and deliver memorable performances, and they’re backed by a skilled cast including Anne Baxter and Edward G. Robinson. The movie imagines what Moses’s life in Egypt might have been like before leading us through the familiar story of the Plagues and capping it off with a parting of the Red Sea that, while dated today, was a landmark of its time and is still beautiful and powerful to watch. Underscored by Elmer Bernstein’s sweeping strains, this is a classic that has stood the test of time and will continue to be one of the greatest examples of an epic in film history.
3. The Prince of Egypt (1998)
How does a cartoon top the time-honored favorite of many, you ask? By appealing to the whole family. Younger viewers who might be turned off by the slow pace and strange coloring of classic film style will be drawn to the vibrant animation of the newer film, while adult audiences can still appreciate the complexity of the characters and the intensity of the drama. Besides, who doesn’t love a good musical? These Oscar-winning songs will have you swept up in soaring vocals and epic orchestrations that will leave you with chills. And the cast couldn’t be any more star-studded, with Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, and Martin Short. What more could you ask for from the best animated Bible film?
2. The Nativity Story (2006)
With Christmas coming up, this film that brings to life the familiar scene of Jesus’ birth is doubly appropriate. The lead actors give strong and emotional performances, Ciarán Hinds delivers a perfectly paranoid performance as King Herod, and the Wise Men manage to be both wise and delightfully comedic. The film strikes a balance between the traditional and the realistic, bringing together the well-known Nativity ensemble in a setting that feels authentically ethnic. A score that combines music of the region with our favorite Christmas carols rounds out the reasons to see this instant holiday classic.
1. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
What better way to top off this list than with the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known? Mel Gibson’s masterpiece is an instant classic featuring brilliant performances by Jim Caviezel and others, all in the original Latin and Aramaic for greater authenticity. No other film has come closer to picturing the true depth of Jesus’ suffering, and no other film has left audiences so awestruck or provoked them to such deep thought. A favorite among Christians as both a reminder of God’s grace and a tool for evangelism, this Oscar-nominated film easily tops our list as the Best Bible Film Ever!
You can find many of these films in the SCH Store!
For more info on the latest Bible-based movies, check out NYT: “Willful Child” God in ‘Exodus’ is “Deal Breaker.”