Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

10 Best Biblical Movies

In honour of some film about a mad fellow in a boat, we list the Biblical films you need to see before the End of Times.

Tue, Apr 1, 2014, 21:22

   

Oh, why not? There are only a few days to go before Noah sweeps onto our movie screens. This is surely the time to knock together one of those lists that we all love to hate. Biblical movies have always been popular — as recently as 2004, The Passion of the Christ  was a smash — but they have, with a few exceptions, never been exactly fashionable. For all that, such sweeping epics always fill up a bank-holiday afternoon very satisfactorily. We’ve been a bit cheeky with a few of these selections. But then you’d expect that. Would you not?

1. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)

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Extraordinarily moving, impressively naturalistic telling of the Christ story from a gay, Marxist genius. The blending of secular music with the blues is particularly impressive.

2. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Cecil B DeMille, 1956)

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It’s huge, it’s a wee bit silly and it doesn’t pay much heed to ethnicity. But nobody does epic oomph better than God and Cecil B DeMille. They come together here for a gorgeous collaboration much in love with colour and spectacle.

3. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (Martin Scorsese, 1988)

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What was all the fuss about again? Twenty-five years after the picture caused controversy among Christians, Scorsese’s adaptation of a Nikos Kazantzakis novel seems like a work of some piety. It’s certainly less violent than a notorious Mel Gibson flick.

4. MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (Terry Jones, 1979)

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But this hasn’t got anything to do with the Bible. Right? The Monty Python team said as much over and over again in 1979. Well, we know better. A brilliant satire of religion that is also a beautiful tribute to the classic Hollywood epic.

5. BEN HUR (William Wyler, 1959)

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This is, of course, not a straight Biblical adaptation. But the story of Judah Ben Hur runs parallel to that of the Christ. It has sombre messages. But, more importantly, it has cool chariot races and that great sea battle.

6. KING OF KINGS (Nicholas Ray, 1961)

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We can’t really have King of Kings and the Greatest Story Ever Told. Can We? In choosing between the two lives of Christ from the 1960s we’ve gone for Nicholas Ray over George Stevens. Jeffrey Hunter is a bit flat as Jesus. But everyone else rules. Rip Torn as Judas, dude!

7. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (Mel Gibson, 2004)

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I know, I know. It’s a very tricky one. The depiction of the Jewish elders remains, well, dubious. But Gibson’s singular religious horror film goes places no other biblical film has dared. Hollywood is still trying to repeat the success.

8. BARABBAS (Richard Fleischer, 1961)

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The beginning of the 1960s marked the height of the sword-and-sandles craze. Any story concerning some bloke from properly olden times could get made into a film. Fleischer’s treatment of Barabbas — the thief preferred by the crowd to Jesus — is cracking hokum from start to finish.

9. INTOLERANCE (D W Griffith, 1916)

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Okay, only one episode from Griffith’s epic folly concerns itself with events from the Bible. But the Judean sequence feels like a feature in its own right. They don’t make ‘em like this now. They rarely made ‘em like this then.

10. SAMSON AND DELILAH (Cecil B DeMille, 1949)

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As Martin Scorsese has pointed out, in a nice irony, biblical epics allowed Hollywood to sneak significant levels of sex and violence into cinema under the guise of responsible piety. DeMille’s hilarious 1949 film is a case in point. Victor Mature is Samson. Hedy Lamarr is Delilah. It’s groovy throughout.

 

 

 

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