Once upon a time Hollywood chose biblical material, portrayed it fairly faithfully, and often won Academy Awards for doing so. Those days may be gone, but even as we plan to fill baskets and color eggs, we can bring these classics into our homes to create more meaningful traditions to share with our children and lead them to a deeper understanding of Easter.
Children are not abstract thinkers. These movies will help them grasp the timeline and the growing drama surrounding Jesus's life in the weeks leading up to his crucifixion, burial and resurrection. With the exception of The Passion, watch them together as a family:
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
The Greatest Story Ever Told is a classic epic film which recreates the life of Jesus from his birth in Bethlehem to his baptism by John, his teaching and miracles, the Last Supper and finally his crucifixion, burial and resurrection. An all-star cast includes Max von Sydow, Charlton Heston, Dorothy Maguire, and Sidney Poitier.
It won 11 Academy Awards and is still relevant enough that even in these secular times, networks run it during Easter. Charlton Heston stars as Judah-Ben Hur, a wealthy Jewish prince betrayed and sold into slavery, who fights his way back to seek revenge against the Romans. Though the story does not center on Christ, Ben-Hur's encounters with Jesus throughout the film lead him on the path to faith and forgiveness.
During Jesus's trial and suffering, Pontius Pilate gave the people of Jerusalem a choice to have either the innocent Jesus or the criminal Barabbas released from prison. We know the story: Barabbas went free and Christ was crucified. This poignant film, starring Anthony Quinn as Barabbas, tells the tale of man who overcomes his inner struggles, eventually finds faith in God, and commits his life to Jesus Christ.
Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
Originally a TV miniseries, this 6-hour film emphasizes the humanity of Jesus from his birth to his resurrection. In the hands of internationally acclaimed director Franco Zeferelli, each frame is like a work of art.
King of Kings (1961)
Orson Welles narrates this 3-hour film, which is very Hollywood-ish, but has its moments. (Well, when you're telling the story of Jesus, you can't go all wrong!)
The Robe (1953)
As Jesus is dying, the Roman soldiers cast lots for his robe. The winner (Richard Burton) later becomes convinced that his hallucinations are the result of a curse received from the robe and sets out to find his escaped slave (Victor Mature), who has it. Instead he finds faith and commits his life to Christ. The first movie to be filmed in CinemaScope, The Robe won Oscars in 1953 for costume design, art direction, and set decoration.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Not recommended for children or the faint of heart, The Passion of the Christ chronicles the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus. Not a family-friendly film, this was directed by Catholic director Mel Gibson (admittedly not so perfect, but neither are we) specifically to focus a la The Stations of the Cross.
Barbara Curtis is a Virginia writer. This story first appeared on WORLD Virginia.