Some of us learned about the Bible from reading it, and some of us by watching it play out in glorious color on the big (and sometimes small) screens. So with Easter coming up this weekend, we thought it was time to look back at some of the most heaven-sent offerings ever sacrificed to the big (and small) screens ... plus one that's best saved for those with a strong sense of humor.
We're praying you have time to check out all of these great movies!
'The Robe' (1953)
Get your Bible on big-screen style ("Robe" was the first movie released in CinemaScope) with this lush story of a Roman tribune (Richard Burton) in charge of the soldiers who will crucify Jesus. He wins the Messiah's robe in a game of dice, and it's a piece of clothing that has the power to change his life — and the lives of those around him. We can relate.
'The Ten Commandments' (1956)
Multiple generations grew up watching the annual TV re-airing of this classic during the spring holidays (and this year you can see it in theaters again on March 23). In the film, Moses (Charlton Heston) gets a big beard and a big job: bring the law down from Mt. Sinai to the Hebrews after they escape Pharoah. Settle in: This one seems almost as long as Passover, with a three-hour-40-minute running time.
Sold to audiences as "the entertainment experience of a lifetime," it turns out MGM was right. Again, Heston dazzled as Judah Ben-Hur, who spends nearly three hours wandering through Jesus' time, witnessing the Sermon on the Mount and the crucifixion — and still has time for a famous chariot race. And bonus: There'll be a new "Ben-Hur" in theaters August 12. See below for the trailer:
'King of Kings' (1961)
Less well known than the 1950s Biblical blockbusters, "King of Kings" features Rip Torn as Judas and Orson Welles narrating, and was an adaptation of the Gospels that still stands tall after many decades. The film took a risk in showing Jesus as having human issues to conquer, and was the first mass-market film to show the Messiah's face on-screen. (We've come a long way since then.)
'Jesus Christ Superstar' (1973)
If you prefer your Biblical retellings with a modern twist, Broadway showmanship and a touch of irreverence, you can't miss with the super-'70s rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, which was a smash stage success in 1971. Focusing on the trouble between Jesus (Ted Neeley) and Judas (Carl Anderson) as the crucifixion approaches, it's groovy and spiritual at the same time.
'The Prince of Egypt' (1998)
If you want something that's less "ancient and bombastic" and more "ancient and good for small children," this animated tale of Moses facing his destiny is a pretty great way to start. The song "When You Believe" won an Oscar, and hundreds of religious experts were brought on board to make sure the whole thing was authentic. That said, Val Kilmer voices both Moses and God, so you can make your own final judgment.
'The Bible' (2013-15)
Reality TV mastermind producer Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey ("Touched By an Angel"), went all out for their first scripted project, which covered the books of Genesis to Revelation. Sections of the series (and some extra scenes that had not aired) were later turned into a movie feature, "Son of God." The sequel to the series, "A.D. The Bible Continues," aired on NBC in 2015. Take that, extra-long Hollywood features of the 1950s!
Bonus: 'Monty Python's Life of Brian' (1979)
We're tossing this in here because while it is definitively not the story of Jesus, it is just as definitively not not the story of Jesus. Members of Monty Python skewered Biblical legends by focusing on a regular schlub named Brian (Graham Chapman) who gets mistaken for the Messiah. Highly controversial at the time of its release, these days "Brian" gets a 96 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered a comedy classic. So here's one for the nonbelievers (or those questioning) out there. Warning: May not be appropriate for the whole family.
Follow Randee Dawn on Twitter.