21 Best Jesus Movies
Jeff, TV analyst for WatchTVAbroad hails from Pennsylvania, United States and after growing up disinterested in sport found his sport calling in his late teenage years. Now he loves nothing more than streaming boxing, MMA and other combat sports.
Jesus Christ is one of the most influential and important figures in human history. This is a fact that remains true regardless of whether you are religious or not.
So, with that said, Jesus Christ and his life have been explored in all forms of media, from books, starting obviously with the Bible, to modern-day films.
With so many people around the world seeking comfort in their faith, it occurred to me to create a list of some of the best movies that revolve around Jesus Christ, his life, and, of course the single most significant event in Christianity (as well as many of the Jesus movies), the crucifixion.
Think of it as a list of films for spiritual viewing, with 21 movies about Jesus to help you find faith when you need it most. And, even if you are not watching these films from religious reasons, these are still great movies to watch.
With that said, here is the list.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
The first Jesus movie on the list is Jesus Christ Superstar, which originally started as a rock opera concert, penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. By 1971, the piece hit Broadway, and only two years later, it became a film for the first time, but not for the last.
Still, its 1973 version is the one that I chose to include, and recommend watching.
This is the original film, with striking desert scenes, a sympathetic Jesus, and a brilliant Judas performance by Carl Anderson.
Jesus Christ Superstar ends after the crucifixion, but even though the ending was supposed to be ambiguous, after viewing the footage, the film director saw a brief appearance of a shepherd passing by an empty cross.
This is the take that ended up being used for the closing shot.
The film stars Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman, Barry Dennen, and others.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Every Jesus movie focuses on a different part of Jesus’ life, but when it comes to The Passion of the Christ, its focus is strongly on Jesus’ suffering.
Directed by Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ has scarce moments of light and hope, while for the most part, it is entirely about the physical suffering, and even mental torture caused by the visions of Satan.
At the time of its creation, nobody believed in the idea that Mel Gibson had for The Passion of the Christ. People even ridiculed the idea of creating a biopic of Jesus using the original Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin.
However, this particular Jesus film became such a massive hit that even now, nearly 20 years later, it still holds the title of the highest-grossing R-rated movie in the United States.
With that said, it is safe to conclude that The Passion of the Christ is the favorite Jesus movie on this list.
The film stars Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Rosalinda Calentano, Maia Morgenstern, Christo Jivkov, and others.
Moving on, we have one of the more recent Jesus movies, Risen, by director Kevin Reynolds. This is a film that focuses on the crucifixion and the resurrection that followed. However, the film was done through the eyes of a Roman soldier called Clavius.
This particular Roman soldier was ordered to guard Jesus’ body in order to prevent people from stealing it and claiming that he had risen. Of course, the body disappears, and the Roman soldiers go on a hunt for Jesus’ disciples and the body that had disappeared from Nazarene’s tomb.
Apart from the interesting concept, this Jesus film stands out for a number of other reasons, such as the Roman sets, the insight into what life was like in 33 AD, and more.
The Guardian called it the “biblical CSI,” noting that it is “a scene from a thousand different cop movies, only this time the detective is a Roman tribune, his angry boss is Pontius Pilate, the ticking clock is a visit from Emperor Tiberius and the missing person is Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ.”
The film stars Cliff Curtis, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Firth, Maria Botto, Stephen Hagan, Tom Felton, and others.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Up next, we have a film that is not something that most people would expect from a movie about Jesus Christ. Monty Python’s Life of Brian is actually a comedy, and while it caused quite the stir when it first came out, even having some religious groups calling it blasphemous, it is not mocking actual Jesus.
The mockery is directed at organized religion, which, according to the creators, is an entirely different thing.
The film does not focus on the life of Jesus, but instead, on the life of Brian Cohen, a regular man who just happened to be born on the same day as Jesus Christ himself.
This led to many mistaking him for the Messiah, and these days, it is considered one of the greatest movies involving the New Testament.
The film stars Terry Jones, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and others.
Mary Magdalene (2018)
Then, we have Mary Magdalene, which is the youngest film on this list. It is also the first film that doesn’t portray Mary Magdalene as a prostitute or adulteress. Instead, she is simply another one of Jesus’ followers, no different from the rest.
The movie shows her as kind and strong, but she also suffers from the ordinariness of marriage and children. So, when the preacher shows up, she immediately gets interested in his teachings, and decides to discard her old life.
Mary Magdalene further shows her rivalry with Peter, and it also shows Judas as a devoted disciple who is impatient for Jesus to stop wasting time and start a rebellion.
All in all, it is an interesting Jesus film, and a great movie overall that shows some fresh perspective.
The film stars Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tahar Rahim, and others.
The Visual Bible: Matthew (1993)
Moving on, we have The Visual Bible: Matthew. This is an attempt to film the Bible word-for-word, which is not an easy thing to do, especially when it comes to trying to deduce who fathered who. However, Matthew was a success thanks to Bruce Marchiano’s performance as Jesus.
Until Matthew, previous portrayals of Jesus showed him as quite stern. Playing Jesus, Marchiano made him a smiling, lovely, cuddly man who is the representation of God’s love.
In this movie, Jesus smiles while preaching and even when exorcising demons, and he has a unique relationship with his disciples.
The actor brought the character to life in a completely unique way that was never seen before, which earned it a place on the list of best movies about Jesus Christ.
The film stars Bruce Marchiano, Richard Kiley, Dawid Minnaar, Gerrit Schoonhoven, Kevin Smith, and others.
Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
Next, we have Jesus of Nazareth, which brings us back to a more classic portrayal of Jesus, by Robert Powell.
The film’s director, Franco Zeffirelli, wanted Jesus to have a mystical stare, and Robert Powell had just the eyes that Zeffirelli wanted. Adding some white and blue eyeliner, combined with Powell’s own addition of a non-blinking Jesus made for quite an impressive son of God.
The story of Jesus was told in great detail here, as it was originally a six-hour TV mini-series. It also features an all-star cast, including James Earl Jones, Anne Bancroft, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, and more.
All in all, Jesus of Nazareth is an interesting way to present the life of Jesus and all the details of the Bible stories that revolve around him.
The film stars Robert Powell, James Earl Jones, Olivia Hussey, Anne Bancroft, James Farentino, Ian McShane, and others.
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
Next, we have The Greatest Story Ever Told directed by George Stevens. Another all-star Biblical epic, the film is 4 hours and 20 minutes long.
However, while The Greatest Story Ever Told has some beautiful landscapes and lighting, many have noted that Max von Sydow played an awkward Jesus, with a hipster haircut and a slow way of talking.
While the idea was likely to make Jesus seem deep and profound, Jesus largely seemed monotonous and lifeless.
The rest of the cast saved the film, however.
The motion picture follows Jesus from his birth to Virgin Mary, to his death, and finally, his resurrection. It also addresses many major aspects of his life, such as the execution of newborn males in Egypt by King Herod, Christ’s baptism, and Judas’ betrayal.
The Greatest Story Ever Told could have done better with its Jesus, but overall, it is a great movie filled with Biblical epics and a decent portrayal of Christ’s life.
The film stars Max von Sydow, Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Sidney Poitier, Joanna Dunham, David McCallum, Telly Savalas, and others.
The Miracle Maker (2000)
Back at the turn of the century, a movie called The Miracle Maker came out, and it became an instant hit. The film was not the first example of using stop-motion animation to retell the old stories, but even so, it did an excellent job, achieving more in 90 minutes than others did in hours.
The society’s political atmosphere and events are all well-drawn and neatly summarized. The screenplay itself was written excellently, and the film is filled with parables, miracles, and more.
The Miracle Maker once again tells the story of Jesus Christ, a skilled carpenter who leaves his life behind in order to spread the word of God.
While he focuses on being a faith healer and a preacher, Judas Iscariot is more focused on a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire. Eventually, Jesus becomes a threat to the local powers, and they have to make a decision about his fate.
The film stars Ralph Fiennes, Michael Bryant, Julie Christie, Richard E. Grant, Ian Holm, Miranda Richardson, and others.
The Bible (2013)
Jesus’ story comes from the Bible, so naming the movie or rather, a mini-series involving everything from Genesis to Revelation can only be called after the book itself.
So, in 2013, we got The Bible, a series that actually aired on History Channel, and it became a success overnight, hitting 11 million viewers per episode.
The series had three directors, Christopher Spencer, Crispin Reece, and Tony Mitchell, and it was produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.
It offered a Biblical account of major events described in the holy book, and while it isn’t a movie, I decided to include it on the list of the best films about Jesus’ life and other biblical epics.
The film stars Diogo Morgado, Amber Rose Revah, Roma Downey, Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, Keith David, William Houston, Darwin Shaw, and others.
King Of Kings (1961)
The 1961 movie called King of Kings, distributed by Columbia Pictures, brought a new and unique way of telling the story of Jesus’ life and the major events that transpired during his time.
That is to say that Jesus barely makes an appearance in this movie. There are a few scenes of him preaching and as many of him healing the sick, which usually involve him staring at the people or casting a shadow on them.
However, a lot of attention was paid to Herod’s wife and stepdaughter, who were presented as a major evil.
Not only that, but the movie decided to give Judas a different motivation for his betrayal. It explores a theory that Judas was under pressure to create a rebel leader who would do more than simply pray and spread love.
He believed that by betraying Jesus, he will force his hand, and the arrest would cause the all-powerful son of God to lash out and start the rebellion in earnest.
The film stars Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Ryan, Orson Welles, Rip Torn, Hurd Hatfield, Ron Randell, Rita Gam, and others.
The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John (2003)
Moving on, we have The Visual Bible: The Gospel of John. It is worth noting that this is a standalone film, with no ties to The Visual Bible: Matthew production.
It presents us with a handsome-looking Jesus, which became a popular idea that was reused years later, in another movie in 2014. However, despite “hot Jesus,” as he was dubbed, the 2014 film received a lot of criticism.
As for The Gospel of John, the film was based on the gospel of John, as the name suggests. This allowed it to present some sequences that are not commonly shown in movies about Jesus. One example is Christ washing the feet of his disciples.
The source material is not big on the details, so that left some room for interpretation and imagination, which makes The Gospel of John an interesting film to check out.
The film stars Christopher Plummer, Henry Ian Cusick, Stuart Bunce, Lynsey Baxter, Alan van Sprang, and others.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Back in 1955, a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis presented an interesting idea. What would have happened if Jesus didn’t accept his destiny to become the preacher and a leader of his people, but if he instead opted to lead an ordinary life?
Obviously, we wouldn’t have so many movies about Jesus Christ today, but at the time, the life of Jesus could have turned out very differently if he decided to bottle it.
In 1988, a film based on this novel, The Last Temptation of Christ by director Martin Scorsese, emerged, becoming instantly infamous to the point where cinemas were attacked for playing it.
The others quickly realized that showing the film can only lead to trouble, so they refused to show it. A number of major video stores did the same.
The viewers refused to accept a simple, human being Jesus, who is just another ordinary man who felt sexual attraction, and who sought simple pleasures of family life.
In reality, this outcome would be more than understandable. After all, who wouldn’t rather play with their children than having to take on the burden of being the son of God, the Holy Spirit, and everything that comes with it?
The Guardian said that “The Last Temptation of Christ is a film of questions and not of answers, Scorsese’s confession that the closest any of us can get to godliness is not full understanding, only partially-comprehending goodness.”
The film stars Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, David Bowie, Verna Bloom, and others.
Another American movie that doesn’t quite depict the life of Jesus, but rather some interesting events from Jesus’ time, is Ben-Hur.
This is a story about Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), a completely fictional Jewish prince who gets falsely accused of attempted murder.
Soon enough, he loses his title and gets sold into slavery. After a series of events, he becomes a charioteer, winning multiple races before returning to his home city of Jerusalem.
Upon his return, he learns that his family was imprisoned by his adopted Roman brother, Messala, who was the very same person who framed him.
The film then puts Ben-Hur in an all-or-nothing chariot race where victory means reuniting with his family.
A lot of people still see Ben-Hur as their favorite movie involving this time period, while the chariot sequence is commonly recognized as one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history.
The film stars Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Martha Scott, Haya Harareet, Hugh Griffith, and others.
The Jesus Film (1979)
Moving on, another film that deserves the title of the best movie involving the life of Jesus Christ is called simply The Jesus Film.
While the title is not very inspired, this is a story of Christ’s life based on the Gospel of Luke.
This is a fairly straightforward story about Jesus and a moving film for those who seek a visual story that doesn’t deviate from what the Bible says.
Mary and Joseph are shown as caring parents of Jesus who influence his young years tremendously.
Over time, Jesus grows, and as a young adult, he becomes aware of his purpose and abilities. He then proceeds to gather the apostles, including Simon Peter.
His path eventually takes him to his crucifixion and the following resurrection. The film was praised for the accuracy of Jesus’ portrayal, so I expect you will like it.
The film stars Brian Deacon, Rivka Neuman, Niko Nitai, Yosef Shiloach, Mosko Alkalai, Eli Cohen, Eli Danker, and others.
Another Jesus film that shows an alternative viewing is Barabbas, a story about a criminal who was released by Pontius Pilate instead of Jesus, right before the crucifixion.
Becoming a well-known figure due to his role in the conspiracy against the son of God, many have wondered what might have happened to Barabbas after his lucky escape.
Well, this movie tells that tale, showing how he returned to the life of crime, unaffected by his second chance, or the fact that an innocent took his place on the cross.
Of course, Barabbas was no criminal mastermind, so he was quickly recaptured and imprisoned in the sulfur mines.
The film stars Anthony Quinn, Silvana Mangano, Arthur Kennedy, Jack Palance, Katy Jurado, Harry Andrews, and others.
Son of Man (2006)
Son of Man is a brilliant re-imagining of Jesus’ life, only it takes place in present-day South Africa. Interestingly enough, the story still works surprisingly well.
At first, Joseph and Mary are summoned to the immigration station, which ends up being quite a nightmare for them. There is a constant feeling of danger due to political unrest, and it all helps set the right mood.
In contrast, the film uses children as angels and shepherds, while prolonging Jesus’ scenes as a toddler.
Eventually, Jesus grows up and, once again, becomes a preacher, spreading the word of God, and insisting on non-violence.
He does not shy away from pointing out the lies of the foreign government that occupies the region.
This is an interesting film to watch once the Easter season arrives, and once again, the modern-day setting still works surprisingly well, so I definitely recommend watching this film.
The film stars Andile Kosi, Pauline Malefane, Andries Mbali, and others.
Histoire de Judas/Story of Judas (2015)
Another interesting take on the events surrounding Jesus’ capture and crucifixion comes from a French film Historie de Judas (Story of Judas).
Typically, in films involving Jesus, Judas is always presented as a betrayer and backstabber. However, this film shows him in a completely different light, as a good man, and Jesus’ best friend, at that.
The take might be considered as a bit far-fetched by some, and in it, Jesus was never betrayed by Judas. Instead, both of them were victims of a vengeful scribe.
The idea of Judas being a good guy who was either framed, tricked, or otherwise, is not exactly new, and it wasn’t used the first time, either.
However, the film itself is visually stunning, and if you never saw a movie with this take on the events surrounding Jesus’ capture, this film is a pretty good choice.
The film stars Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche, Nabil Djedouani, Mohamed Aroussi, Regis Laroche, Patricia Malvoisin, and others.
The Gospel According To St. Mathew (1964)
Moving on, another one of the older films that I really liked was The Gospel According To St. Matthew, from 1964.
This is a drama that presents the story of Jesus based on St. Matthew’s recollection of events. However, the interesting part about this movie is why the Italian director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, chose St. Matthew.
According to him, the other gospels did not fit his vision of the story of Jesus. Mark was too vulgar, John was too mystical, while Luke was too sentimental.
Matthew was the best of the bunch, and so this is his recollection of events on the screen.
The film stars Enrique Irazoqui, Susanna Pasolini, Luigi Barbini, Ferruccio Nuzzo, Otello Sestili, Marcello Morante, and others.
The Passover Plot (1976)
Theories about Jesus and the events that surround his life have been present for a long, long time. The best-known one was that Jesus was, in fact, married. This one was popularized by The Da Vinci Code.
However, there is another theory that says that Jesus came back to life because he never really died.
According to the theory that first emerged in a 1965 novel, and then in this 1976 film, Jesus used a drug that simulated the appearance of death. Once it wore off, he woke up from a deep sleep, thus fulfilling the prophecy of a resurrecting Messiah.
This is definitely not your typical story of Jesus, but if you want something a bit different, and you like watching conspiracy theories, then this film might be the right choice for you.
The film stars Zaiman King, William Paul Burns, Harry Andrews, Hugh Griffith, Donald Pleasence, and others.
La Voie Lactee/The Milky Way (1969)
Finally, the last on our list is a film called The Milky Way (La Voite Lactee).
The film follows two traveling hobos who get mixed with a number of different characters and discuss religious philosophy.
The film also depicts multiple appearances of Jesus and his mother, Mary, which often result in hilarious moments.
Apparently, she was the one who convinced him to keep his beard, saying that he looks better with it. Also, the film shows a moment where Jesus heals a blind man by spitting in his eyes. While this is a scene from the scriptures, it is very rarely shown on film.
It is a fun film to end this list with, and if you are interested in a Jesus movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is less meaningful and deep, then I definitely recommend giving it a go.
The film stars Michel Piccoli, Jean-Claude Carriere, Laurent Terzieff, aul Frankeur, Bernard Verley, Edith Scob, and others.
Which is your favorite movie on the list? Let me know in the comments section below as I would love to know!