Popular Films for Holy Week
Holy Week Films
During Holy Week, many flock to their personal DVD library or local rental source, as well as to YouTube, to experience the Biblical story (a true story, mind you) of Jesus of Nazareth. Some of these films are fictional stories based around the story of Jesus in one way or another. Some are actual biblical accounts of Jesus' life; these either tell his whole life story or a specific part of it. Most of the films featured here are epic motion picture classics and Academy Award winners (or nominated). Regardless, I hope you will enjoy the menu and find one you will enjoy for years to come.
Three of the stories are based on historical novels. Featured are the epic motion pictures:
The Robe, Ben Hur, and Barabbas.
This 1953 Oscar-winning classic, directed by Henry Coster, is the powerful story of a Roman Tribune whose company is assigned to crucify Jesus. The Robe was nominated for six Oscar awards and won three. It also received a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture.
The movie opens with Roman Tribune Marcellus (Richard Burton) outbidding Emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) on the slave Demetrius (Victor Mature). Caligula is furious and humiliated in front of Diana (Jean Simmons), the former childhood sweetheart of Marcellus, whom he hopes to wed. In revenge, Caligula has Marcellus re-assigned to Jerusalem.
Marcellus sends Demetrius to his home, fully expecting him to take off on his own. But much to his surprise, he finds his loyal slave waiting for him dutifully. They make their way to Jerusalem and Demetrius has an encounter with Jesus of Nazareth, who has just made his triumphal entry into the city. Though no words are spoken, Jesus makes eye contact with him, and Demetrius feels drawn to him. Later he overhears that Jesus is going to be arrested and seeks to warn him, but he is too late. The trial is underway.
Pilate (Richard Boone) assigns Marcellus to oversee Jesus' crucifixion. He joins others to cast lots for Jesus' robe and wins it. Later on, Marcellus and Demetrius are caught in the rain and Demetrius is asked to cover his master with the robe of Jesus. Marcellus is overcome when the robe is placed over him with a haunting guilt and remorse for having crucified Jesus. He reacts physically and emotionally and tells his slave to take it off. Because of Demetrius' love for Jesus, he is angry and disgusted with Marcellus for crucifying Jesus. He snatches the robe off of Marcellus and calls a curse on him and his empire, and runs away.
Marcellus continues to be haunted and tormented in his dreams, especially when he hears the words "out there." Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger) witnesses one of his fits and sends him on a mission to find the robe and destroy it. Watch the movie and find out if he is successful.
You're afraid, but you really don't know the reason why. You think it's his robe that made you ill. But it's your own conscience, your own decent shame. Even when you crucified him you felt it. "— Demetrius to Marcellus Gallio
Crucifixion Scene from The Robe
Ben-Hur- One of the Greatest Movies of All Time
The 1959, eleven-time Oscar award-winning film directed by William Wyler, Ben-Hur is one of the most beloved classic movies of all time. Based on the 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur is an epic, historical, motion picture that takes place during the time of Christ. Ben-Hur is known for several memorable, epic scenes: The galley rowing scene; the chariot race scene; Jesus gives Judah Ben-Hur a drink scene; Judah Ben-Hur attempts to give Jesus a drink scene; and his mother and sister have leprosy scene. Here is a fly-over of these famous scenes.
Ben Hur and Messala clash - The Roman's rule Israel with cruel contempt. The Jews are vilified, oppressed, and treated with violence and savagery. Jewish prince and merchant of wealth, Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) resides in Jerusalem with his mother Miriam (Martha Scott), and sister Tirzah (Cathy O'Donnell). Judah Ben-Hur's boyhood friend Messala (Stephan Boyd), returns after several years as a hateful, bloodthirsty Roman Tribune who burns with passion for Rome and all its power. Judah and Mesala, while initially excited to reunite, find the tension in their relationship because of Judah's allegiance to the God of the Hebrews, and Masala's allegiance to Rome, the oppressors of the Hebrews. Messala asks Judah to betray his Jewish people so that Messala can destroy them. Judah refuses and they become mortal enemies.
One day as the new Governor is passing by in a parade, Judah Ben-Hur is watching atop his home, and a brick falls off the corner of the roof by accident and strikes Governor Gratus, nearly killing him. Messala condemns his former friend to be a galley slave and sends Judah's mother and sister off to prison. His vile hatred for Judah is full of determination to make Judah and his family suffer.
The famous scene of the first encounter with Jesus - Judah is manacled with the slaves marching through the hot sun when they arrive in Nazareth. The commander will not allow Judah to have a drink, though everyone else is allowed. A compassionate man comes out in the open and gives the parched Judah a drink. Though we don't see his face, the audience knows it is Jesus. At this point, Jesus has not yet started his ministry. He is still a young carpenter, working in his hometown.
Famous galley rowing scene - Judah spends a few years working on ships as a galley slave. Enter the famous rowing scene: With the Macedonians in pursuit, Roman Consul Quintus Arrius orders Judah and his sweaty, exhausted fellow slaves to row faster and faster. They are cracked on the back with whips by ruthless taskmasters and pushed beyond human endurance by rowing a massive ship at high speed. This ship is hit and Judah, whom Arrius had decided to leave unchained, saves Arrius and the chained slaves. Through a series of circumstances, Judah Ben-Hur and Arrius are rescued and Arrius adopts him as his son.
Famous chariot scene - This is the most exciting action scene in the history of motion pictures. Judah Ben-Hur learns the fine art of charioteering from the Romans. Back in his hometown, he is told his mother and sister died in prison, while actually, they are living in a leper colony. To get even with Messala, He joined a great chariot race that Messala was racing in. Messala plays dirty, but his efforts backfire and he is killed. With his last breath, he tells Judah, the victor of the race, where to find his mother and sister - the leper colony. Judah is devastated.
Famous leprosy scene - Judah visits his mother and sister in the leper colony and barely recognizes them. He is deeply grieved and heartbroken. His mother and sister don't want him to see them like that but he does.
Esther, the daughter of his faithful slave, and the woman he loves tells him about her encounter with Jesus and his message of mercy, love, and forgiveness. He forsakes his Roman ways and attempts to take his dying sister and his mother to be healed by Jesus. They find him but He is staggering under the weight of a cross, heading for His fate on Golgotha, bloodied and weak from a cruel whipping. Moved with compassion, and remembering Jesus' kindness to him years ago, Judah now attempts to give Jesus a drink of water, as Jesus had done for him, but he is prevented cruelly by Roman guards.
Watch the movie and witness the amazing ending of this picture.
When the Romans were marching me to the galleys, thirst had almost killed me. A man gave me water to drink, and I went on living. I should have done better if I'd poured it into the sand!"— Judah Ben- Hur
Jesus Gives Ben Hur a Drink of Water
Famous chariot race scene
Based on the novel by Nobel Prize-winning author, Pär Lagerkvist, this 1961, gripping motion picture portrays the life of the criminal Barabbas, after his release by Pilate on Passover. At the direction of Richard Fleisher, the movie is three hours long and fairly filled with dark, brutality and never-ending suffering. Not known or acclaimed as highly as Ben-Hur or The Robe, Barabbas is absorbing enough to enjoy as a holy week film for those who like this genre. One interesting bit of trivia is that the crucifixion scene was filmed during an actual eclipse.
At the behest of a hostile mob of Jews, outraged at Jesus' claim to be King of the Jews, the murderer Barabbas (Anthony Quinn) is released by Pontius Pilate instead of Jesus. At Passover, it was customary to release one prisoner by the vote of the people. Although Pilate declares Jesus not guilty, he succumbs to the pressure of the mob and has Jesus whipped and crucified.
Barabbas finds his lady love, Rachel, discovering she is now a follower of Christ and no longer enamored of him. He witnesses the crucifixion and the sealing of the tomb of the man who took his place as prisoner. On Resurrection day he finds the tomb empty but blows off the notion that Jesus rose from the grave. He demands the disciples tell them where He is. They don't have the answers he's looking for.
Rachel is martyred for teaching about Christ and a dismal prediction of the end of the world. Barabbas returns to his life of crime and is arrested and convicted by Pilate for life, and is sent to the sulfur mines. Years later, still suffering through the brutal, nightmarish existence of his life sentence, a Christian enters the scene - Sahak, a good man sent to the mines for freeing slaves. A great earthquake destroys the mines but the two men, the only survivors, end up working in the fields, and eventually end up in Rome, training to be gladiators by the highest ranking gladiator, Torvald (Jack Palance).
Sahak continues to share the good news of Jesus Christ and is killed for doing so. Barabbas has him buried in the catacombs where he witnesses Christians worshiping together. He makes his way back to a raging fire spreading through Rome, which is wrongly purported to be started by Christians. He joins in lighting buildings on fire thinking he is doing good for Christ. When he is captured, he meets the disciple, Peter, who corrects him with the truth.
Throughout the movie, the dense Barabbas struggles to understand the Christian faith. Two people he cared about died as martyrs for Christ, and yet it took years for him to come to an understanding.
Hold on to the testosterone and find out how Barabbas, known as the man who would not die, meets his end.
I was the opposite of everything he taught, wasn't I? Why did He let Himself be killed instead of me?"— Barabas to Peter
The Greatest Story Ever Told on DVD
The Greatest Story Ever Told
The Greatest Story Ever Told debuted in February 1965 and received five Academy Award nominations and won the 1966 National Board of Reviews, USA Top Ten Films. Produced by George Stevens, this epic film is known for its all-star cast, and there were several cameo appearances by stars as well. The Greatest Story Ever Told was taken from the Fulton Oursler novel by the same title. This movie chronicles the story of Jesus Christ from his birth to his resurrection. Even to this day, it is a popular Holy week film.
The Oscar nominations were for its remarkable cinematography, musical score, costume design, art direction, and visual effects.
The story chronicles the life of Jesus, beginning with Herod the Great, who has heard there was a baby boy born in Bethlehem who is being touted a King. He orders all baby boys under age two to be killed with the hopes no one would someday usurp his throne.
We see Jesus' life of ministry, healings, teaching the crowds, cleansing the temple, his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Max von Sydow plays a very ethereal Jesus. In fact, the whole movie has that ethereal feel to it. The reviews are mixed as to the casting of this film. Though not my personal favorite Jesus movie, it certainly is worth the watch.
Soldier: I have orders to bring you to Herod, Baptist.
John the Baptist: I have orders to bring you to God... heathen.
The Greatest Story Ever Told Trailer
All Star Cast of The Greatest Story Ever Told
Max von Sydow
Son of God
Mother of Jesus
John the Baptist
Forerunner of Christ
Herod the Great
Roman king of Judea
Tetrarch of Galilee and son of Herod the Great
Roman Prefect of Judea
Jewish High Priest
One of the 12 disciples and betrayer of Jesus
One of the 12 disciples, author of the Gospel of Matthew
Historical Movies About Jesus Christ From the Bible
There have been dozens of major motion pictures about the life of Christ. Some focus on his whole life, while others only focus on a specific part of his life - usually the birth of Christ or His death and resurrection. Here are a few of the most well-known biblical movies about the life of Christ.
Son of God
Son of God is a modern full length epic motion picture, released in February 2014 by Twentieth Century Fox. It is the first big screen motion picture about the life of Jesus in almost fifty years. Mel Gibson's, The Passion of Christ (which came out ten years ago), presented the last three days of Jesus life, culminating on his death on the cross. But Son of God covers much of the life of Jesus.
Son of God was produced by Roma Downey (Monica from Touched by an Angel) and her husband, Mark Burnett, and directed by Christopher Spencer. It was a labor of love for Downey and Burnett, who put a lot of time, blood, sweat, tears, and money into this major motion picture. For months they traveled the country singing it's praises, building hopes by promising an epic, "larger than life," cinematic wonder. It is a beautiful movie and very much worth having in your DVD library.
Most of the cast of Son of God were unknown to American audiences. Downey, however, played Mary, mother of Jesus and did a phemomenal job.
Son of God tells the biblical story of Jesus from His birth to His death, resurrection, and ascension. The movie begins with John 1:1 where Jesus is declared to be God - "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God." The scene of His birth is beautiful and moving; however the movie is a bit disjointed and much of His younger life is left out. Nonetheless, the audience can behold many of the major scenes from Jesus's life. The crucifixion scene is powerful and gut-wrenching, but unlike Gibson's The Passion of Christ, Son of God allows us to see the subsequent resurrection and ascencion of Jesus Christ. Downey and Burnett were wise to take the story to it's completion so that viewers might see the glorious hope of Christ's resurrection.
As a movie, it was gripping, emotionally engaging, well-performed and the cinematography was good. I’m not an emotional person, but even I found myself tearing up when Matthew was called away from his tax collecting table to follow Jesus."— Sunny Shell - Abandoned to Christ
Trailer for Son of God
The Passion of the Christ
This 2004 motion picture has become a modern classic. Easily one of the most graphic (an R-rating), powerful, and well acted, directed, and produced films on Jesus Christ in the history of film making. Mel Gibson helped write the screenplay, was one of three producers, and directed the film. There is no question as to Gibson's brilliance and excellence in his direction.
The Passion of the Christ depicts the last twelve hours of Jesus' life. The performances were par excellence. The Passion of the Christ was nominated for three Oscar's - Best Cinematography, Best make-up, and Best Original Score, and won a plethora of other awards. Many felt the film was snubbed by the Oscar Academy by not selecting it as a winner. Regardless, it took $30 million to make, and earned double that at the box office.
This film is not for the faint of heart in the area of graphic content. The scene in which Jesus is whipped is sickening and unbearable. Personally I thought the scene was overdone, but probably a more authentic account than any other films. Most films that include the whipping and crucifixion can be somewhat sterile, or mild at best. Parental discretion is advised because of the graphic, violent content.
The Story of the Passion of the Christ
The Passion of the Christ depicts the last twelve hours of Jesus' life. The purpose of the movie is stated in the very first scene where on the screen we read Isaiah's prophecy about the crucifixion of Christ and it's purpose - "He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by His wounds, we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). At the same time, we see Christ agonizing in the garden of Gethsemane. The film takes the audience through the arrest and trial of Jesus, his flogging and crucifixion, and flashback scenes from the past, filling in some history and adding context as the story unfolds. They lend to understanding more fully the story and relationships Jesus had with certain people - Mary, His mother, the disciples, and Mary Magdalene, to name a few.
One of the most endearing scenes is a flashback to when Jesus was still a carpenter. We see Jesus hard at work making a table and Mary comes out of the house to see if he's hungry. It is a playful, tender scene and so captures the affection they have for one another. It is one of the few light moments in the film (see video directly above). It helps us to understand in more depth the agony Mary went through while watching her son go to the cross.
As he stands at the foot of the cross watching his best friend, Lord and Savior being crucified for his sin, and the sin of the world, the disciple John flashes back to the last supper, connecting the dots from what he heard at the table with what he was seeing before his very eyes.
Mary Magdalene flashes back to the time she was caught in the act of adultery and the religious leaders sought to stone her; Jesus delivered her with tenderness and grace. There are many more flashback scenes that paint the picture of the passion story.
This film leaves no doubt of the evil that drives the story of The Passion of Christ. The presence and essence of evil are intensely palpable, which is so often lacking in other motion pictures about Christ from the past. Hopefully, viewers also find the essence of Christ' love for humanity, and for them as individuals, as they come to understand the sacrifice He made on their behalf.
Without question this is the most authentic film of Jesus Christ in the history of filmmaking; it is also the most powerful. The entire movie is in Aramaic, the language of the day for Jewish people in first century Israel. It adds profoundly to the realism of the movie. There are subtitles in English. The movie is honest and faithful to the time - from the costumes, the landscape, the city, the depiction of the political and religious climate, the props, the portrayals of characters, the script - everything. Viewers are there, in the moment, in the scene. You can hear, see, feel, and taste the story of Jesus Christ from the garden to the cross. You can feel the emotions, and the emotional connection the characters have.
The arrest and trial of Jesus and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and Peter (with different outcomes) are powerful. Gibson takes some liberties here and there throughout the movie, especially scenes where he includes Satan. In the gospel accounts we do not hear of the appearance of Satan in Gethsemane, which is shown in the movie, but certainly, those familiar with the gospels know that Satan played his part.
The most graphic and horrifying scene in the movie is the flogging scene. The sadistic brutality has made many turn away. It is a lengthy, gory scene. Although the Bible doesn't describe the flogging in such detail, perhaps Gibson researched what floggings were like in that time and location of the world. There was much controversy about whether the extreme graphic depiction and length of the scene were necessary and even authentic. In an interview by Scott Ross of the 700 Club, actor Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus, got to the heart of the matter: "People turn their eyes away when they see it, and what they're seeing is their own sin, and it is not wanting to deal with they're own sin."
When the flogging is over, we see Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary Magdalen in shock, cleaning up the blood - a heart-wrenching scene.
The crucifixion scene, which included the two thieves on either side of Jesus, was also very graphic and gut-wrenching; nothing like the sanitary trickles of blood in Jesus movies of old.
All in all, one will not leave the movie feeling inspired and uplifted. That is not the intent of the movie. The suffering of Christ is the point. Personally, I was deeply moved at the message of what Christ did for me. However, I really felt traumatized by the violence and clobbered with despair. I was deeply disappointed that there was no resurrection emphasis whatsoever; without it, the story is incomplete and omits the hope. Nonetheless, I think it deserves to be a modern classic and worthy of many Oscar awards.
No one who views this film's compelling imagery will ever be the same. Every time I preach or speak about the Cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind."— Billy Graham on The Passion of the Christ
Cast and Characters
I am adding this section on the cast and characters because their performances are unmatched in any other movie about Jesus.
Jim Caviezel's portrayal of Jesus is stunning. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas agrees, "Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, with tender understatement may be the best Jesus ever (not counting the original)" (Tribune Media, 5 August 2003). Caviezel went through devastating, intense emotions, life-threatening physical injury - a separated shoulder, hypothermia, struck by lightning, extreme fatigue, two accidental lashings, and heart surgery after filming as a result of some of these - and profound spiritual experiences making this film. It was life changing to suffer in some way as Jesus suffered. You will not see an effeminate, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, British Jesus in Caviezel, which has been the case in biblical movies throughout film history. Caviezel is rugged, masculine, and very much looks like a middle eastern man.
The suffering Caviezel experienced in the crucifixion scene - hypothermia and separated shoulder - was excruciating. He was not acting. It made for one of the most realistic and powerful crucifixion scenes in the history of films on Jesus.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was played by Maia Morgenstern. Like Caviezel, she is not Hollywood gorgeous, British, nor saintly looking; rather her beauty is in her mother's heart. To look into her eyes we see the depth of a mother in agony as she watches the horrible suffering of her son. They are haunting eyes, desperate eyes, sorrowful eyes. There has never been a more realistic Mary like Maia Morgenstern. Her performance is unforgettable.
Peter and Judas were also portrayed with excellence unseen in any other Jesus film, as were Pontus Pilate, Mary Magdalene, Caiphas, and Nicodemus.
Satan (played by Rosalinda Celentano) is an androgynous, almost beautiful being, hooded and cloaked in black. You wonder, is Satan a male or female? Satan is always shown moving in slow motion (as many of the films most powerful scenes are), always lurking, following on the sidelines, which adds to his sinister qualities. In one scene, Satan is shown holding a horrifyingly ugly, bald baby, with the face of a hideous man. It is so creepy and evil it sends chills up the spine. Viewers were so shocked by this bizarre scene that it became a common focus in conversations after the movie. In an article by Mark Moring in Christianity Today, titled "What's Up With the Ugly Baby?" an answer is sought to this question. Gibson's publicist was contacted and replied, "It's evil distorting what's good. What is more tender and beautiful than a mother and a child? So the Devil takes that and distorts it just a little bit. Instead of a normal mother and child, you have an androgynous figure holding a 40-year-old 'baby' with hair on his back. It is weird, it is shocking, it's almost too much—just like turning Jesus over to continue scourging him on his chest is shocking and almost too much, which is the exact moment when this appearance of the Devil and the baby takes place."
The actors playing the brutes who whipped Jesus so savagely are grotesque and monstrous looking. They did their job well.
What I saw throughout this film, character after character, is how the eyes of so many of the characters told their story. The haunting, sorrowful eyes of Mary most notably. We see tenderness, gentle authority, and anguish in the eyes of Jesus. The brutes who whipped Jesus certainly had eyes and facial expressions that revealed the evil of their souls. Peter and Mary Magdalene also had eyes that were windows to their souls. I think it reflects not only on the actors themselves but to Gibson as director. If there were no subtitles or even voices, they eyes of the characters were able to tell much of the story effectively.
Cast of The Passion of the Christ
Son of God and Savior
Mother of Jesus
One of the 12 disciples
Francesco De Vito
One of the 12 Disciples
Woman forgiven for adultery
One of the 12 disciples, betrayer of Jesus
Enemy of God and mankind
Roman Prefect in the district of Judea
Wife of Pontius Pilate
Pharisee, member of the Sanhedrin, seeker of Jesus
Luca De Dominicis
Tetrarch of Galilee
Learn More About the Movie, The Passion of the Christ
- The Passion of the Christ (2004) - Trivia - IMDb
The Passion of the Christ (2004) Trivia on IMDb: Cameos, Mistakes, Spoilers and more...
Importance of Holy Week and the Person of Jesus Christ
Holy week is the time when we remember the story of Jesus' death and resurrection, the most important event in the history of mankind. It is through these events that we learn of His amazing love - laying down His life on our behalf, and rising from the dead so that we have the hope and promise of eternal life with Him when we receive Him as Lord and Savior.
God bless you richly this Holy Week.
© March 2015 Lori Colbo. All rights reserved.
More of my holy week articles
- Washing the Disciples Feet: Jesus' Example of Humility
Humility was an example Christ set for us. On His last evening with His disciples, He demonstrated and taught them about humility. It took them a long time to understand and practice it.
- Peter and Judas - Betrayers with a Different End
All the disciples abandoned Jesus in His last hours. The Bible spotlights Peter and Judas. Both betrayed Him. Their fate was determined by their choices when faced with their sin.