Holy Week is a period of celebration in many parts of the world, Spain being the place where its festivities and traditions are most recognizable. But, beyond the processions, the pasos and the saetas, if Holy Week is recognizable for anything, it is for the films that are constantly repeated on television.
Here is a list that mixes the most classic Easter movies -from Ben-Hur to The Greatest Story Ever Told- with some new proposals of contemporary cinema that can be, and surely will be, added to the movies to watch during this week of passion.
The best movies for Easter
The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004)
We start with the most obvious and, also, one of the best on the list. Mel Gibson made with The Passion of the Christ the roundest film ever made about the story of Jesus Christ. Based to the heart of the New Testament but with some other interpretation of his own and with images as hard as they are shocking, the director managed to carry out a work that does not age and that is worth remembering whether you are a Christian or not.
Risen (Kevin Reynolds, 2016)
After the Passion comes the Resurrection, and no film has portrayed this cycle better than Risen, a biblical drama starring Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton in which they play Roman tribunes charged with killing Jesus Christ. When they return to see him resurrected, they discover that they have made a mistake in the path they took.
The Greatest Story Ever Told (George Stevens, Jean Negulesco, David Lean, 1965)
But if there is one film that appears on television year after year around this time, it is this gigantic epic led by David Lean and in which sixties landmarks such as John Wayne and Sidney Poitier play the protagonists of the Gospels. Despite the years, this historical feature film is still worth a look. Of course, the 141-minute and 199-minute versions pale against the huge opera that is the original 260-minute version.
The Life of Brian (Monty Python, 1979)
The greatest blasphemy to the Bible ever made – at least according to the time it was released – is this hilarious Monty Python film that has gone down in history as one of the best comedies in existence. The confusion of the messiah with a certain Brian triggers a series of events that end up turning the story of Jesus completely upside down.
Jesucristo Superstar (Norman Jewison, 1973)
Shortly before the blasphemy of the Monty Python, Norman Jewison adapted the Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar in the form of a fairly solvent film. Beyond the plot, which is the same as always but somewhat sweetened and with homosexual overtones, the film is worthwhile for its fantastic songs.
The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)
Martin Scorsese, one of the best film directors in history, wanted to make his own version of Jesus Christ with this movie that pissed off the most Christian people of the time and, nevertheless, was not a great success at the time. But, as time has gone by, Willem Dafoe’s Jesus Christ and its complex narrative about the Bible have earned it a place as one of the best films about Christianity ever made.
Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)
After directing The Last Temptation of Christ, a priest friend of Scorsese’s lent him the book Silence by Shusaku Endo. This novel opened his mind and made him rethink his faith in a way he had never felt before, and finally in 2016 he adapted it into a wonderful film that speaks better than any other about the duality between faith. A pristine work starring Andrew Garfield that wins with each new viewing.
The Prince of Egypt (Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells, 1998)
The animated film about the Bible par excellence is this DreamWorks marvel that adapted the Exodus and told the story of Moses in the form of a “Disney-like” musical. The feature film was a huge hit with Christians and atheists alike, and became a benchmark for a generation of animation fans. And, like all good animated films, it hasn’t aged a bit.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (Ridley Scott, 2014)
The story of Moses was retold in 2014 thanks to a Ridley Scott tired of aliens and in search of a more epic adventure. With Christian Bale as the lead and Joel Edgerton as his brother Ramses, it is fair to say that it failed to portray even 1% of the magic of the previous one, although it is a solid film especially at this time.
The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956)
Finally, the Exodus trilogy ends with this classic that reappears every Easter on our television. DeMille’s film told the story of Moses like never before, and left perennial images that have inspired all kinds of subsequent filmmakers. You only have to see 300 to see that.
Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014)
The same year that Ridley Scott told the story of Moses, Darren Aronofsky did the same with the myth of Moses. A lifelong fan of the Bible and its stories, after his success with Black Swan, he decided to make this epic film in which Russell Crowe and Emma Watson play the main characters full of grace. Despite bad reviews, it has aged quite well.
Mother! (Darren Aronofsky, 2014)
Almost all of Aronofsky’s films, including The Whale, have something biblical about them. But with Mother! he came up with a c that recreates Genesis through a Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem who have never been better. If you understand it, it’s an incredible film.
Nobody knows anybody (Mateo Gil, 1999).
A classic Easter movie is Nadie conoce a nadie, and not because it is a biblical story but because it takes place in the middle of Holy Week in Seville. Starring Eduardo Noriega and Jordi Mollà when they were at the top of their careers, it is a dark thriller that made history on the Spanish scene.
My dear brotherhood (Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz, 2018).
But if what you want is to laugh and celebrate Easter as the fun holiday that it really is for Andalusians, nothing better than this surprising feature film. It is the debut feature of Marta Díaz de Lope Díaz and it is directed with a wonderful comic precision.
Bola extra: Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959)
It’s not clear what relationship why this happens, but one movie that comes to mind when we think of Easter is Ben-Hur. And yes, Jesus Christ appears and has great importance, but it is curious how this work of Billy Wyler came to surpass the Passion and Exodus. Of course, it was crazy in its day: it got 11 Oscars and became the second highest-grossing film in history after Gone with the Wind. But it also managed to go down in history as the film we all remember when we look back to the Hollywood of the 1950s.
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