Jesus - on the Screen
A Visual History of Jesus of Nazareth - the Son of God - on the Screen.
Covering movies, musicals, mini-series and comedies.
Jesus carrying his cross in the 1925 epic Ben-Hur - A Tale of the Christ. Directed by Fred Niblo and starring Ramon Novarro as Judah Ben-Hur, Francis X. Bushman as Messala and Claude Payton, uncredited, played the part of Jesus. By coincidence the man portraying Jesus in the 1959 remake is also named Claude.
IMDB rating 8.0
H.B. Warner as Jesus in Cecil B. DeMille's silent epic The King of Kings (1927). At 52 years of age Warner was the oldest actor to play the Christ. His last film appearance was in DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956).
The giant gate built for this film would later be used in King Kong (1933) as part of the great wall on Skull Island and would later be burnt down in Gone With the Wind (1939) during the burning of Atlanta sequence.
IMDB rating 7.5
The Robe (1953) was the first Cinemascope film release. It was directed by Henry Koster and based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons and Victor Mature. Jesus face is not seen but you do hear his voice after he is crucified saying "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Jesus was played by Donald C. Klune, his only film role he later became a 2nd unit director on TV. The voice of Jesus was provided by actor Cameron Mitchell popular on TV as Buck Cannon in The High Chaparral.
IMDB rating 6.7
Ben-Hur (1959) winner of 11 Oscars and one of the highest grossing films of all time. Directed by William Wyler and based on the novel by General Lew Wallace. Starring Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd as Messala.
Jesus gives Judah water in one of the most memorable scenes in the film, when Ben-Hur tries to give Jesus water at the climax of the film a Roman soldier kicks it out of his hand. Jesus face is never seen in the film, he was played by singer Claude Heater (picture right).
IMDB rating 8.2
Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus in the MGM epic King of Kings (1961) directed by Nicholas Ray and also starring Robert Ryan as John the Baptist.
Richard Burton was originally considered for the role of Jesus. The film was narrated by Orson Welles.
Sneery critics dubbed the film "I Was a Teenage Jesus" because of Jeffrey Hunter's youthful good looks but he was a lot closer to Jesus' age than H.B. Warner was.
IMDB rating 6.9
Barabbas (1962) starts off with the crucifixion of Jesus and than tells the story of Barabbas played by Anthony Quinn. What was unique about this crucifixion is that it was filmed during a real solar eclipse, the event gave the scene an eerie, unearthly quality.
The film was directed by Richard Fleischer and produced by Dino De Laurentiis. Also starring Jack Palance and Ernest Borgnine. Jesus was played by Roy Mangano.
IMDB rating 6.8
Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964). The life and death of Jesus, played by Enrique Irazoqui. The Italian film was critically acclaimed and considered one of the best films about Christ. But ironically Pasolini was an avowed atheist... IMDB rating 7.8
Max Von Sydow as Jesus in George Steven's star-packed epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Also starred Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate, David McCallum as Judas, Roddy McDowall as Matthew, Donald Pleasance as The Devil, Claude Rains as King Herod, Jose Ferrer as Herod Antipas, Sidney Poitier as Simon and John Wayne as The Centurion uttering the line "truly this man was the son of Gaad" as only John Wayne can.
The movie was nominated for 5 Oscars and was a bum-numbing 225 minutes in length.
IMDB rating 6.3
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) directed by Norman Jewison and based on the Rock Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Ted Neeley played Jesus, Yvonne Elliman was Mary Magdalene and Carl Anderson as Judas Iscariot.
18 year old John Travolta had auditioned for the part of Jesus but didn't get the role.
IMDB rating 6.9
Godspell (1973) directed by David Greene. A musical about Jesus set in modern day New York City.
Victor Garber played Jesus and David Haskell played Judas and John the Baptist.
Garber later became popular on TV as Jennifer Garner's father in the hit TV series Alias (2001-2006).
IMDB rating 6.3
Robert Powell as Jesus in Franco Zeffirelli's critically acclaimed mini-series for TV Jesus of Nazareth (1977). The star-packed production featured Rod Steiger as Pontius Pilate, Anthony Quinn as Caiaphus, Christopher Plummer as Herod Antipas, Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene, Ian MacShane as Judas, Peter Ustinov as Herod the Great, Laurence Olivier as Nicodemus, James Mason as Joseph of Arimathea, Ralph Richardson as Simeon, James Earl Jones as Balthazar, Donald Pleasance as Melchior, Michael York as John the Baptist, Ian Holm as Zerah, Olivia Hussey as Mary and Ernest Borgnine as the Centurion. Wow! 382 minutes..... IMDB rating 8.5
Monty Python's The Life of Brian (1979) was a hilarious and controversial spoof on religion by the Python team. Starring John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman as Brian, directed by Terry Jones. Brian is mistaken for Jesus by the Three Wise Men at the start of the film and later on tries desperately to shake off his followers who think he is the Messiah. As Brian's irate mother tells them at one point "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy!"
Kenneth Colley portrayed Jesus. Star Wars fans might remember Colley as Admiral Piett in The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
IMDB rating 8.2
Willem Dafoe as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) directed by Martin Scorsese and based on the controversial novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Also starring Harvey Keitel as Judas, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene and David Bowie as Pontius Pilate. It was Oscar nominated for Best Director.
Controversial in that it shows at the climax a dream sequence or alternate reality of Jesus with his wife Mary Magadalene making love. Movie theaters showing the film in Europe were set on fire and it was banned in many cities.
IMDB rating 7.6
Jim Caviezel as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ (2004) directed by Mel Gibson. The film covers the last 12 hours of Jesus life and ending with the Resurrection. The unflinching brutaility of the scourging of Jesus is so violent it's almost unwatchable and yet the film was a massive success grossing $611m worldwide.
Critic Roger Ebert said it was the most violent film he had ever seen and gave it 4 stars. Entertainment Weekly labeled it the most controversial film ever made. (Even more controversial than Jesus making love to Mary Magdalene?) Christ!
IMDB rating 7.1