Jesus Crucified in the Movies

I’m writing an article on the ways various movies have portrayed the crucifixion of Jesus, and am currently in research mode. Here’s my research list of movies, with year, director and person acting as Jesus. I’d value any comments or additions people might have at this early stage.

Ben Hur

This 1959 movie, directed by William Wyler, may have been the first movie to depict the nails being driven through Jesus’ wrists, rather than his palms. The crucifixion scene is supplemented with a number of supernatural events. Jesus was played by Claude Heater though his face is never shown.

King of Kings

Released in 1961, and directed by Nicholas Ray. Jeffrey Hunter plays Jesus, the first Hollywood actor to have his face shown in the role.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Max von Sydow plays Jesus in this 1965 movie directed by George Stevens, exploring the agonizing experience of betrayal and abandonment.

Godspell

A Musical based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, was directed by David Greene and released in 1973. Victor Garber as Jesus.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1973 movie directed by Norman Jewison, sped up the process of the death of Jesus, played by Ted Neeley, with anachronistic costumes worn by onlookers.

Jesus of Nazareth

Franco Zeffirelli’s 1979 mini-series, based on the Gospel of John, has blue-eyed Robert Powell playing an almost stoic Jesus on the cross.

Jesus

The 1979 film directed by John Krish and Peter Sykes, and sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, has Brian Deacon as Jesus. The narrative is based on the Gospel of Luke. Scenes for The Story of Jesus for Children, which removed much of Jesus’ more violent scenes and added more appropriate ones for younger viewers, were filmed concurrently with those of Jesus.

Life of Brian

Crucifixion was irreverently featured in the comedy film Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979). At the end of the film, Eric Idle and his crucified Monty Python crew sing, “Always look on the bright side of life”.

Last Temptation of Christ

Martin Scorsese’s 1988 movie based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis has Willem Dafoe as Jesus hanging on the cross, fantasizing about an alternative reality in which he survives to live to old age with Mary Magadalene.

Jesus of Montreal

This 1989 movie directed by Denys Arcand shows a group of actors put on an unorthodox, but acclaimed Passion Play which incites the opposition of the Catholic Church while the actors’ lives themselves begin to mirror the Passion itself.

Matthew: The Visual Bible

Bruce Marchiano plays as passionate Jesus in this 1993 movie directed by Regardt van den Bergh.

The Miracle Maker

A 2000 movie providing an animated Jesus, directed by Derek W. Hayes and Stanislav Sokolov, with Ralph Fiennes providing the voice for Jesus. The crucifixion scene is brief, for the sake of the kids.

The Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of the Christ (2004) depicted an extreme level of violence, but showed the nails being driven into Jesus’ palms, as is traditional, with ropes supporting the wrists. The crucifixion is played out for as long as possible, exploring the pain and shame of the experience.

Gospel of John: The Visual Bible

Henry Ian Cusick plays Jesus in this 2004 movie directed by Philip Saville.

Color of the Cross

Co-writer and director Jean-Claude La Marre plays Jesus in this 2006 re-telling of the final hours and days of the Messiah, suggesting that Jesus was crucified because of racisim.

The Passion

BBC’s 2008 drama The Passion stirred critics with a portrayal of Jesus being crucified in a foetal position, arms above his head, nails through his arms and his knees bent.

4 thoughts on “Jesus Crucified in the Movies

  1. Ian Ferguson

    How literal do you want to be? Currently Gran Torino has a fairly explicit “symbolic crucifixion” scene. And of course The Matrix does the whole death and resurrection thing.

    Reply
  2. Wm Edmunds

    In an article by Dr. Angreas Lambrianides, General Surgeion, Brisbane, Australia, “The Cross of Christ” is accurately (In my opinion) portrayed has having two parts. (See -www.scionofzion.com/cross_of_christ.htm)

    The stipes, the upright post which was permenently in place, and the patibulum, the six foot, rough hewn, Cyprus, crossbeam. It was the crossbeam alone that Jesus carried to Golgotha. It’s weight of approximately 125 pounds, alone, would have caused him to stager and fall.
    See also – “The Agony of Calvary“, Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion by R.P. Kloepper II, M.M.
    See also: “A Physician Testifies About the Crucifixion by D.C. Truman Davis.

    And yes, I believe that the spikes were driven through his wrist bones so that they would not pull apart when his total body weight was upon them, as the would from his palms. Spikes were then driven through his ankles, usually between the metatarsal bones, damaging the digital nerves, with his knees turned and slightly flexed.

    Logos Library System shows a picture of this based upon a skeleton found near Jerusalem.
    re:The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.

    At least this is the picture I presented from my own research in my book, “All Roads Lead to Zion,” published by Strategic Book Publishing. I would appreciate hearing your response to it. You can order a copy through http://www.strategicbookpublisning.com/AllRoadsLeadToZion.htm or http://www.WmEdmunds.com.

    A question: How many of the Jesus characters protrayed in the movies that you identified were blue eyed? That would not be very authentic, either.

    W. Edmunds

    Reply
  3. Aileen Watson

    I realise this was years ago- but you might want to look at The Agent starring Richard Hasnip, Man Dancin’ by Norman Stone (Known out side of the UK as Kerrigan’s Passion) and To End All Wars with Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Carlyle. All great fims- enjoy!

    Reply

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