Best Bible Movies

by Sam

A list of the best Bible Movies available, complete with trailers and reviews.

They say a picture says more than 1000 words. If that is true, how much more does a film say that consists of millions of single images? Watching Bible movies is a great way to add some visual impact to the greatest story ever told. I have put here together my personal collection of my favorite bible films that are available on dvd. Not everybody will agree with what I have selected, some of the movies are quite controversial, and that is great.
Because, despite public opinion, being a Christian doesn't mean leaving your brain at the church door. Instead it means being ready to challenge and to be challenged.

The Ten Commandments

You could call this the adult version of the 'Prince of Egypt' reviewed below. The Ten Commandments tell the Old Testament story of Moses from his birth until the arrival of the people of Israel in the promised land. Starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as his adoptive brother, the Pharaoh, this movie draws its inspiration not only from the bible, but also from alternative Jewish, Egyptian and Islamic sources. This might accounts for some of the differences between the Bible story and the film, such as the different reactions to the death of the Egyptians in the Red Sea.

Speaking of the events related to the passage through the Red Sea, this film was made in 1956, long time before computer effects were even thought of. The passage through the Red Sea was filmed using two kinds of footage, one of the Red Sea and one, played in reverse, of water pouring from large U-shaped trip-tanks in the studio, both footage were spliced in such a way that the optical illusion resulted in the parting of the sea.

If you live in the USA, than this movie will be familiar to you as it is traditionally shown on ABC around Easter / Passover. Watching the whole movie in one go is no small feat, as it is a staggering four hours long. At least a DVD allows you to pause it and to replenish your drink and popcorn ;-) It is a great movie with incredible images, well worth watching it.

Suitable for: All audiences, but smaller children might get bored, due to the length of the length of it.

One Night with the King

Ok, the title sounds a bit overly cheesy, but the movie itself is great. This film is about Esther, one of the most courageous women in the Old Testament, and one whose story is unfortunately not told very often in our Churches and Sunday schools. Perhaps because her role is far more important in the Jewish liturgical year then in the Christian liturgical year. The Jewish feast of Purim is based on her achievements and celebrates them.

Before watching the movie, it might be a good idea of reading her story in the Bible itself. Also if there is a whole book in the OT that carries her name, it is a short book with only 10 chapters and it can be read in just under an hour. Here the story in short: Esther is the foster daughter of Mordechai, a Jew like herself. Esther becomes in the 5th century before Christ, through marriage to Xerxes I, Queen of Persia despite belonging to the despised minority of Jews. She conceals her religion before her husband, but stays faithful to Yahweh and his commandments. Her foster father Mordechai saves the live of the king by discovering a plot to murder him. But shortly after that he offends the prime minister so thoroughly that he decides to not only to kill Mordechai, but all the Jews in Persia as well. Mordechai calls on Queen Esther to help her people and she succeeds, revealing at the same time that she is a Jewess as well.

Since the time of Esther, Jews all over the world celebrate the feast of Purim to remember how one woman saved them all. This movie stays, mostly, faithful to the biblical story and is suitable for the whole family under parental guidance. It is also a great movie for girls, as it is one of the few Bible movies that shows a woman as the main protagonist and in a positive role.

Jesus of Nazareth

This story about Jesus Christ's life is a bit different as it was first conceived as a TV series - resulting in giving space of no less than one hour solely to the nativity story! The whole movie is more than six hours long, so take a seat, a bag of popcorn and a cool drink ;-) Most of the biblical passages are quoted verbatim, making it another Bible based, New Testament movie that strives for literal faithfulness. Taking its time in order to tell the story, pays out, the story proceeds at its own pace and is rightly considered to be one of the best gospel movies ever made. It encompasses the events between the betrothal of Mary to Joseph and the resurrection of Jesus. The great faithfulness to historical and cultural details helps the viewer to understand the world as it was in the time of Jesus and to put events into their wider, historical and cultural, context.

Suitable for: The general audience, but babies being ripped out of their mothers' arms and killed by the sword and nails being driven into the hands of Jesus bound to the cross beam may be too much for young children, so parental guidance is strongly advised with this Bible movie. Apart of this, it makes a great movie for everybody that is interested in learning more about Jesus Christ, his world and time, Christians and no-Christians alike.

The Passion of The Christ

One of the most controversial bible movies of all times, The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson was discussed, before even being released, for violence and anti-Semitism. The film concentrates on showing the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ, starting with the scene in the garden of Gethsemane and ending with his resurrection, leaving the tomb. Previous events are alluded to with the help of flashbacks. One thing that distinguishes this film from all other bible movies reviewed here is that it is entirely in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin, with subtitles in the modern vernacular to help the understanding.

Suitable for: The original movie was rated R, due to its violent scenes, the dvd release was left unrated, but I would strongly recommend to parents to first watch the movie before thinking of showing it to even teenagers, let alone younger children. One thing is sure, this film certainly will kick start many a discussion, it is up to you to decide if the movie indulges to much in violent scenes or if it was a good idea to show the crucifixion as it has, most likely, happened two thousand years ago. The same for the anti-Semitism the film has been accused of by some. It is up to you the watcher, to make up your mind what the film shows and provokes in you.

For The Bible Tells Me So

Haunting is too mild a word to describe this movie. If there is only one Bible based film you are going to see this year, or even in your whole life, make sure it is this one. For the Bible tells me so is neither a film adaption of a Bible story nor an ABC of Salvation style film. It is a film that wants us, Christians and non-Christians alike, to start to think if God really hates gays and lesbians. Or if the Bible simply reflects some cultural prejudices prevalent at the time of writing and now as out-ruled and out-lived as slavery thankfully is. For the bible tells me so features and interviews people as well-known a Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop Gene Robinson. It gives them and others room to express themselves and invites us to listen to them. For the Bible tells me so speaks about reading and living the Bible in our times, rather then trying to live in the times of the bible. It is not a kind of in your face movie, it is a movie that challenges our, yours and mine, belief in what the Bible really says. And it may surprise you in what the Bible really does say about homosexuality.

Suitable for: This movie is not officially rated, but I would suggest a simple "PG" will do. I wouldn't let children see it alone, not because of any violence and / or strong language, more because of the difficult issue itself. One group that might have difficulties watching this movies are people that think they know already everything about what the Bible has to say about LGBT issues.

Prince of Egypt

The story of Moses is the story of two (actually three), unlikely, brothers. A story of adoption and a story of oppression, a story of salvation of the one that will become the savior of many.

Does Moses, Prince of Egypt takes some artistic license with the biblical text of Exodus? Yes, but a limited one. The most important one is that Aaron, Moses birth brother, plays a rather minor rule in the film. This film starts with Moses birth, adoption and early life at the Pharaohs court (I truly love the scene where the Sphinx looses her noose tip ;-) ) and the resulting tell-off the two brothers get by Daddy Pharaoh. I will not spoil the story (see this Wikipedia article about Moses for this), just saying that the film finishes shortly after the people of Israel have left Egypt and doesn't include the years in the wilderness, nor the arrival in the promised land.

Suitable for: The film is rated PG (Parental Guidance), I guess mostly due to the fact that the film gives so much 'food for thought'. It is a great movies to get some real family discussions going about relationships between siblings, freedom versus slavery and the different ways of resistance, violent as well as non-violent ones. A great film to watch with the whole family, just make sure to plan in some time afterward for discussions.

Quo Vadis?

Called the most monumental, colossal and epic movie of its time (1951), it is one of those films that you never forget, no matter how long ago it is that you last saw it. It is situated in the first century of our time, telling the story of the first Christians in Rome in the time of emperor Nero. It features famous Hollywood stars such as Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov and others.

The title 'Quo Vadis?' is latin for 'Where are you going?' and refers to an ancient Christian tradition that the apostle St. Peter met the risen Jesus whilst fleeing Rome and the persecution of Christians under Nero. He asks Jesus 'Quo vadis, domine?' (Where are you going to, Lord?). The risen Christ answers him 'Eo Romam iterum crucifigi!' (I, to Rome, to be crucified [again]! St. Peter then changes his mind, returns to Rome and is crucified.

That is the background to the film title, but the story encompasses more than just this event. It is set in Rome, during the reign of emperor Nero, known for his mental instability and persecution of everybody that doesn't acknowledge him as a god. Whilst some of the roles are based on historic persons and events, others are not. And as it is good, old Hollywood tradition, there is also a love story (between a roman soldier and a Christian woman) at the center.

As the persecution against Christians becomes fiercer and fiercer, cumulating in them being accused of having set 'fire to Rome' many of them are send to the arena to be killed by wild animals such as lions. It would be spoiling the plot revealing who survives and who dies, but let me just say this: It is a great movie that takes every care possible at the time to reproduce the historical settings and costumes. As far as a Hollywood movie can be called 'historically reliable', this one is it.

Suitable for: This movie contains quite a bit of violence and therefore I would strongly recommend to watch it with your children and that this children should be of an age that they can distinguish between a movie and real events. There is also a bit of love and romance, including the odd kiss, around, so use your common sense if you want to watch it en famille or grown-ups only. It is a movie loosely based on some events described and hinted at in the New Testament, that tells a powerful story about the life of the first Christians and it beautiful pictures makes it well worth watching. It might even encourage you to do some more research into the life of the Christians of the first century of our time.

Abraham

Another Old Testament story, this time the one of Abram who became Abraham. The movie covers the calling and name change of Abraham, his travels to Canaan and his commitment to God, including the (intended) sacrifice of his own son on Gods own command. The story starts in Haran, where Abram lives together with his wife and wider family. Unfortunately Abram and Sara have no children together, making a distant relative the sole heir to his wealth. One day, he hears the voice of God that promises him to make him the 'Father of Nations' and to give him descendants as many as the stars in the night sky and the sand corns in the desert. Abraham and Sarah, as they are now called, follow Gods commandment and start their journey. If you want to read the whole story, rather than watching the film, grab your bible and read Genesis chapters 11 and following.

The biggest plus point of this movie is its love to detail and accurate, historical details. The story of Abraham is still of interest today, even to non-religious people, as both Israelis and Arabs track back their roots to him. Making him the common forefather of two peoples that are in war with each other today, a sad war between brothers ...

Suitable for: The whole family, due to the inclusion of the sacrifices, parental guidance is recommended.

Which Bible Movie to choose?

Bible movies are meant to educate and to entertain at the same time. They are rarely dyed in the wool study material. I personally see them more as brain teasers, something to get you thinking about something what you always have taken for granted. When choosing one of them, you might especially consider the age of the people that are going to watch it. The Passion of Christ will not be suitable for small children, whilst not every adult will enjoy watching the Prince of Egypt ;-) Apart of a short synopsis, I have added to each Bible movie review some notes for which age and interest group I think the film is especially suited for and for whom less. But in the end it is all up to you, always remember, God gave us free will – and a brain to use it!

Updated: 03/05/2012, Sam
 
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Sam on 03/06/2012

Thank you, Thamisgith! I make sure to include that in in my next Bible movie article / review ;-)

Thamisgith on 03/06/2012

Great movies. I love bible movies.

Samson and Delilah - Cecil B. DeMille, with Victor Mature as Samson - is one of my favourites.

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