Reel reflections on the life of Christ

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Today is Good Friday, and Christians around the world are once again confronted with the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Trying to understand the character of Jesus and His miraculous works is an endless journey, and through history, movies have also helped the faithful reflect on the Savior’s timeless message for mankind. And while no single movie on the life of Jesus Christ can ever fully explain his human and divine existence, watching them, especially on a day like this, is still a powerful way of understanding part of the bigger picture—to see, feel and reflect on the Greatest Sacrifice and the Greatest Love mankind has ever received.

Today, The Manila Times lists the most powerful retelling of the life of Christ as told in the Gospels of the Bible.

‘Son of God’ (2014)

Son of God (2014)
Director: Christopher Spencer
Screenplay: Richard Bedser, Christopher Spencer, Colin Swash and Nic Young

Starring: Diogo Morgado as Jesus Christ, Amber Rose Revah as Mary Magdalene, Sebastian Knapp as John and Roma Downey as Mary, mother of Jesus


The film retells the life of Jesus and is an adaptation of the 10-hour miniseries “The Bible.” John, the last surviving disciple of Christ, is living in exile as he tells Jesus’ story from his humble birth through his teachings, crucifixion and ultimate resurrection.

The film grossed $59.7 million in the United States and $8.1 million in foreign markets for a total of $67.8 million, against a production budget of $22 million.

‘The Passion of the Christ’ (2004)

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Director: Mel Gibson
Screenplay: Mel Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald
Starring: Jim Caviezel as Jesus Christ, Maia Morgenstern as the Virgin Mary and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene

The film depicts the Passion of Jesus largely according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It also draws on pious accounts such as the Friday of Sorrows along with other devotional writings, such as the reputed Marian apparitions attributed to Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich.

The film primarily covers the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life, beginning with the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the insomnia and grievance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the brutal scourge and crucifixion, ending with a brief depiction of his resurrection. It was shot in Italy, and the dialogue is entirely in reconstructed Aramaic, vernacular Hebrew, and Latin.

The film became controversial upon release and received largely polarized reviews, with some critics finding the extreme violence distracting and excessive, as well as claiming that the film subliminally promoted anti-Semitism.

The film grossed $612 million worldwide and was the ninth highest grossing film in the United States at the end of its theatrical run. It received three Academy Award nominations in 2005.

‘The Gospel of John’ (2003)

The Gospel of John (2003)
Director: Philip Saville
Screenplay: John Goldsmith
Starring: Henry Ian Cusick as Jesus, Stuart Bunce as John, Lynsey Baxter as Mary Magdalene and Stephen Russell as Pontius Pilate

The film has been adapted for the screen on a word-for-word basis from the American Bible Society’s Good News Bible. The three-hour epic feature film follows John’s Gospel precisely, without additions to the story from other Gospels, or omission of complex passages.

This film was created by a constituency of artists from Canada and the United Kingdom, along with academic and theological consultants from around the world.

While the film is largely a faithful depiction of the Gospel of John, some have commented that the inclusion of Mary Magdalene at the Last Supper has no Biblical citation. However, according to the Gospels, she was one of the women who accompanied Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem, was present at the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus, was the first to whom Jesus appeared at the Resurrection, and was with the disciples in the upper room after the Resurrection. Thus, like many modern movies about Jesus, the producers are faithfully attempting to help their audience see what the Gospel writers sometimes have not included.

‘The Miracle Maker’ (2000)

The Miracle Maker (2000)
Director: Derek Hayes and
Stanislav Sokolov
Screenplay: Murray Watts
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd (Welsh version), Ralph Fiennes (English version) as Jesus, Michael Bryant as God and Julie Higginson as Mary

The Miracle Maker is a British-Russian-American stop motion-animated film about the life of Jesus Christ, through the eyes of Tamar—the terminally ill daughter of a priest in Capernaum. Hand-drawn animated cartoons are used to distinguish flashbacks, parables, stories, spiritual encounters and visions from the main plot, which is all in stop motion.

The story talks about Jesus’ job as a carpenter, His ministry, miracles, journey, condemnation and resurrection. On Rotten Tomatoes, it scored 86-percent indicating generally “favorable reviews”. Renee Schonfeld wrote it was “Birth of Christianity artfully animated; biblical violence.”

‘King of Kings’ (1961)

King of Kings (1961)
Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Philip Yordan and
Ray Bradbury
Starring: Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus, Siobhán McKenna as Mary and Robert Ryan as John the Baptist

The film is a dramatization of the story of Jesus Christ from his birth and ministry to his crucifixion and resurrection, with much dramatic license. The version tells the story from the beginning and places Jesus’ life in the political context of Roman conquest. As Jesus becomes an active preacher and healer, his activities are contrasted with the political stance of Barabbas and his insurgents who battle against the Roman occupiers.

The film features scenes of Jesus’ miracles and his Sermon on the Mount—which was shot with many thousands of extras. Ray’s direction balances majestic spectacle with more mundane and small-scale drama, such as Jesus’ relationships with his mother and the apostles. The Sermon on the Mount sequence is nearly at the exact center of the film, conveying the core moral and spiritual message of Jesus, which plays a pivotal role in the subplot of Barabbas’ mixed attitude towards Jesus.

According to MGM records, the film earned $8 million in North America and $5.4 million overseas, earning a profit of $1,621,000. According to the Internet Movie Database, the film had a budget of $6 million and made $25 million worldwide as of 1989, based on total worldwide cinema showings, video rentals, and video sales.

‘Greatest Story Ever Told’ (1965)

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
Director: George Stevens
Screenplay: George Stevens and James Lee Barrett
Starring: Max von Sydow as Jesus, Dorothy McGuire as Virgin Mary, Joanna Dunham as Mary Magdalene, Claude Rains as Herod the Great and Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate

The film is a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ, from the Nativity through to the Resurrection. This film is notable for its large ensemble cast and for being the last film appearance of Tony award-winning actor Claude Rains.

Stevens shot the film in the US southwest, in Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. Pyramid Lake in Nevada represented the Sea of Galilee, Lake Moab in Utah was used to film the Sermon on the Mount, and California’s Death Valley was the setting of Jesus’ 40-day journey into the wilderness. Parts of the film were also shot at Lake Powell, Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point in Utah.

Critical reaction toward the movie was divided once it premiered on February 15, 1965, 18 months after filming wrapped. In its favor, Variety called the film “a big, powerful moving picture demonstrating vast cinematic resource.” The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, stated: “George Stevens has created a novel, reverent and important film with his view of this crucial event in the history of mankind.”

Despite the mixed critical reception and low box office receipts, The Greatest Story Ever Told was nominated for five Academy Awards.

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