Bible Review 14:1, February 1998

Jesus in the Movies

Jesus may be the most filmed figure in history

By Peter T. Chattaway

Films recreate the past and make it come alive. For many people movies are their first and most memorable encounter with history. Movies can also reflect a society’s changing values, as well as its attempts to come to terms with its past and draw lessons for its future. This is especially true of movies about religious history and, in particular, movies about Jesus.

The pioneers of cinema were also the pioneers of the biblical movie. Early filmmakers focused on Jesus’ life in an effort to bring a degree of respectability to the new medium—regarded by many at the time as a vulgar gimmick for lowbrow riffraff. At least 16 films in the silent era were based on Christ’s Passion. The earliest, entitled simply The Passion, was released by the Lumière brothers in 1897, two years after they opened the first movie theater, in Paris.1 For the past 100 years, Jesus has remained a popular subject—perhaps the most filmed subject in history.

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