Since its introduction to America and the world, film has become one of the most important and popular cultural mediums ever (Marsh 33). Ever since the motion picture industry began, the role of Jesus Christ has been used numerous times in different ways. These portrayals of Jesus in film have varied in showing either a traditional image, pertaining to the gospels, or one more unconventional, usually based on someone else's interpretation. Both of these different ways of showing Jesus and his life have greatly influenced people’s image of him (Brunstad 145). Because of the movies' portrayals of Jesus, his differing image has also been shown as more human, usually when Jesus is unconventional, or more divine. The portrayal of Jesus Christ, from Ben-Hur to The Passion of the Christ, focuses too much on either his human aspect or his divine aspect, but has never met the correct depiction of a believable God-man.
Jesus Christ shown as a God-man is central to Christian beliefs. In Christian culture Jesus is understood to be both fully divine and fully human at the same time. Because of this idea, the attempt has been made by several films to show Jesus in this way, but has never been achieved.
The movies that will be discussed in this paper came out between 1959, after Ben-Hur, and 2004, before The Passion of the Christ. They are as follows, in chronological order of when released: Ben-Hur, King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Jesus Christ Superstar, Jesus of Nazareth, The Last Temptation of Christ, and The Passion of the Christ. Ben-Hur came out in 1959. It was directed by William Wyler. The role of Jesus was played by Claude Heater. This movie deals with Judah Ben-Hur, played by Charlton Heston, and his betrayal by his Roman friend, Messala, played by Stephen Boyd. It is set during the time of Christ. The parts that show Jesus are based on gospel accounts. King of Kings came out in 1961. Nicholas Ray directed it and Jeffrey Hunter was cast as Jesus. This movie is about the life of Jesus, from birth to death, based on gospel accounts. The Greatest Story Ever Told was released in 1965. It was directed by George Stevens and Max von Sydow played the part of Jesus. It is also about the life of Jesus, from birth to death, based on gospel accounts. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew originally came out in European theaters in 1964, but wasn’t released in the United States until 1966 (Stern 114). It is a foreign film, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Enrique Irazoqui played Jesus Christ. It is about the life of Jesus as shown in the gospel of Matthew.
Jesus Christ Superstar was released in 1973. Normal Jewison directed it and Ted Neely was cast as Jesus. This is a film version of the musical Broadway play, presenting the last few weeks of Christ’s life. Jesus of Nazareth is a made for television miniseries that was shown in 1977. It was directed by Franco...