It can be hard to pick a great Jesus movie to watch this Easter season, there have been literally hundreds of movies about the Easter story of Jesus Christ. There have been big-budget epics like The Greatest Story Ever Told and more personal movies like The Gospel According to St. Matthew. The following list gives 10 accessible Easter movies about Jesus’ life. The list includes some Biblical epics, some kid-friendly movies, and some thought-provoking movies for adults. If you want a longer list of kid-friendly Easter movies, check out these articles on Crosswalk.com and iBelieve.com.
The entry for each Easter movie contains its rating and a recommendation for whether it’s appropriate for children. Each film also has a link to Common Sense Media or IMDb's Parent Guide so you can decide whether the movie is suitable for your family. There is also a link to sites showing where the movie can be streamed. If you can’t stream the movie in your area, check if your local library has Kanopy, an online service offering up to 10 free movies each month using your library card.
Photo Credit: Angel Studios
1. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Probably the controversial movie on this list, The Passion of the Christ was the highest-grossing R-rated movie released at the time. It’s also credited with proving there was a market for Christian films, which led to movies like Facing the Giants and God’s Not Dead.
Some Easter movies emphasize Jesus’s otherworldly qualities—think the ethereal blond Jesus with blue eyes in Son of God. Those movies capture Jesus’ divinity but make it hard to believe he ever worried about anything. The Passion of the Christ presents a Jesus (Jim Caviezel under makeup) who looks very Jewish and is first seen crying and trembling in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Rather than moving lightly over the crucifixion to focus on the empty tomb, The Passion of the Christ emphasizes what happened on Good Friday. We get brutal scenes of the pain Jesus went through, from him sweating blood in the garden, to the Roman floggings, to the ordeal on the cross. Satan cameos in several scenes, highlighting the doctrine that Jesus’ death defeated the powers of darkness (Colossians 3:15).
Some have questioned whether all this brutality makes the movie sadistic. It certainly makes The Passion of the Christ, but it’s as close as anyone has gotten to portraying what crucifixion looks like. While the movie probably plays too much on Jewish stereotypes with the Pharisees, little scenes like a Jewish girl giving Jesus water show the movie isn’t condemning the entire Jewish race.
Photo Credit: Icon Entertainment
2. The Gospel of John (2003)
Also marketed as The Visual Bible: John, this 2003 movie follows the same formula as The Visual Bible: Mathew and The Visual Bible: Acts. Each one takes a book of the Bible and presents its text as closely as possible. In this case, the text is the Gospel of John, taken from the Good News Bible.
At 3 hours long, it’s perhaps best seen in pieces. While it’s not the greatest adaptation of Jesus’ story, the fact it follows the Gospel of John makes it unique. Most movies about Jesus follow the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Those three gospels share many events, although each has a particular focus (Matthew emphasizes how Jesus fulfilled Messiah prophecies, Mark emphasizes how much Jesus suffered, Luke emphasizes how Jesus brought freedom). Scholars estimate that 90 percent of the Gospel of John is new material, and it seems written for a Gentile audience: John doesn’t start by talking about Jesus as Messiah but as Logos, the Word.
From an adaptation perspective, it’s much easier to do what The Jesus Film does and base its script on the Synoptic Gospels. Therefore, The Gospel of John is unique because it follows the fourth gospel closely, which makes it a nice pairing with other Easter movies. You can put together a viewing plan to watch a movie based on each of the Gospels, getting a full view of Jesus’ story from the New Testament’s different perspectives.
Photo Credit: Visual Bible International
3. Ben-Hur (1959)
Ben-Hur is a great example of what William R. Telford calls the Roman-Christian epic: movies that don’t retell the Gospel story but show its effect through supporting characters. These movies include The Robe, Risen, and even a 1961 movie about Barabbas. Ben-Hur is by far the best-known of these movies. While its runtime is long and it’s been remade several times, no one has ever really matched its quality.
The story starts with Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, then switches to a prosperous young Jew named Judah Ben-Hur growing up in Jerusalem. Betrayed by an old friend, Judah is sold into slavery and has a simple plan: escape and take revenge. When Judah returns to Jerusalem as a free man years later, he finds his old enemy but is surprised to meet someone else: a new teacher traveling Judea who may be the long-promised Messiah. Since the Romans enslaved Judah, he’s excited that freedom may be coming soon.
The plot provides a little something for everyone—romance, adventure, sports, exotic locations, and melodrama. Judah’s cravings for vengeance against Rome help viewers see what the average Jew expected of the Messiah when Jesus appeared. The fact Judah craves revenge pushes viewers to see how counter-intuitive it feels when Jesus calls us to love our enemies.
While this film isn’t graphic, it’s a bit long for kids to watch. If you want to introduce kids to the story, check out the animated version released in 2003. Considerably shorter (an hour and 17 minutes), it includes an introduction by Charlton Heston, who does the voice for Judah Ben-Hur.
Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
4. The Miracle Maker (2000)
Recommended for Kids: Yes
There is a long history of animated movies based on Bible stories. However, they tend to be a bit dry, with a few exceptions like Prince of Egypt and the Rankin-Bass stop-motion cartoon The Little Drummer Boy. It’s generally easier to adapt a Bible story with some satirical elements (like VeggieTales) than to tell the Bible story straight and risk running into all the clichés.
Produced by several independent companies alongside Icon Entertainment, The Miracle Maker goes beyond what you’d expect. It tells the story of Jesus with claymation figures, cutting to hand-drawn animation for some scenes (what Jesus is describing in his parables, Mary’s flashbacks to finding Jesus in the temple. The story starts with Jairus taking his sickly daughter to a healer who can’t do anything for her. They bump into a carpenter named Jesus (voiced by Ralph Fiennes), who is finishing his last job before going off to do his “father’s work.” From there, the movie follows Jesus’ ministry from the selecting of the disciples to Jesus’ resurrection, with Jairus and his family reacting to his teaching before and after Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter.
Despite a small budget, the animated figures in The Miracle Maker are fluid and lifelike. Like Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit movies, the camera work looks like something out of a live-action film, making the characters even more engaging. Jesus (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) comes across as approachable and playful as he engages his followers.
Photo Credit: British Broadcasting Corporation, British Screen Productions, Cartwn Cymru, Christmas Films, Icon Entertainment International, Sianel 4 Cymru
5. King of Kings (1961)
Dozens of Biblical epics appeared in the 1950s-1960s, but most haven’t aged well. The acting seems campy, the costumes artificial (“Bathrobe epics” as some call them). The runtimes are so long these movies make the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy feel like a quick romp.
King of Kings is that rare Biblical epic that has aged well. It’s long but much shorter than The Greatest Story Ever Told. Like pretty much every epic, it embellishes the story—it starts with the Romans invading Jerusalem in 63 BC. It features a Roman soldier who keeps meeting Jesus and finally says, “surely this man was the son of God” at Golgotha. In the tradition of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, King Herod Antipas’ stepdaughter is a flirt who is attracted then repulsed by John the Baptist. Barabbas is a rough freedom fighter who knows Judas Iscariot but doesn’t care for a peaceful Messiah.
These details go outside the Biblical record, but you can say the same thing about The Ten Commandments. More importantly, these changes give King of Kings a particular focus: what was Jesus’ message in a violent time? The Romans and Herod Antipas wanted Judea as a peaceful colony. The Israelites wanted to overthrow their rulers. Jesus declared he was the prophesied king, but his kingdom was not what they expected. Jeffrey Hunter (later known for playing Christopher Pike in Star Trek) captures this interesting balance: powerful but otherworldly, a king whose plans will shock the world.
Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
6. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
While this 6-hour miniseries is a bit long for one day, it works well as a series to watch over the Easter season. Episode 1 starts with Mary receiving a message from the angel Gabriel, and episode 4 ends with the resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples. Each episode is about 90 minutes long, short enough for an evening’s viewing during Holy Week.
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli (known for his operas and his 1968 movie Romeo and Juliet), this miniseries has theatrical, artificial elements. Jesus (Robert Powell) is impossibly handsome, and his mother (Olivia Hussey) looks like a teenager no matter how much grey powder is in her hair. Christopher Plummer adds some operatic camp as King Herod Antipas. However, these artificial elements feel more like a condiment than a main ingredient. The story is theatrical, but it never becomes a campy Bible pageant.
The miniseries also uses its runtime to give some great setting details. If King of Kings highlights the Roman angle, Jesus of Nazareth highlights the Jewish angle. It starts with Mary’s mother arranging the engagement with Joseph. Later it shows Joseph consulting his rabbi when he discovers Mary’s pregnancy and a 13-year-old Jesus undergoing a Bar Mitzvah. As the story moves into later episodes, viewers see leaders like Joseph of Arimathea contemplating how to handle this new rabbi who seems to be rewriting their religion. The fact that Jesus upset norms to fulfill the law in an unexpected way has never been clearer.
Photo Credit: ITC Entertainment/RAI
7. The Jesus Film (1979)
Where to Watch: The Jesus Film Project
Many people claim that this is the most translated movie of all time, thanks to the Jesus Film Project’s goal to get it to as many viewers as possible. Produced by Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), it was intended more as an educational film than a theatrical feature. It follows the Gospel of Luke (Good News Bible translation) very closely, but its runtime is just under 2 hours. This makes it short enough to watch in an afternoon and great for viewers who have seen The Gospel of John or The Visual Bible: Matthew and want to see a Jesus movie based on a different Gospel. It’s also free to watch year-round on the Jesus Film Project’s website.
While many special effects (including ones added years later for the online version) haven’t aged well, and the narration is clunky, this movie has a few surprises. Satan appears as a snake in the desert temptation scenes, a clever reference to Genesis 3. When Zacheus declares he will pay back any clients he has cheated, he pulls back a tapestry to show money he’s hidden behind a rock in a hole in the wall. Brian Deacon can’t deviate from Jesus’ lines in the Gospel of Luke, but he finds little nonverbal things he can do in scenes of Jesus walking between with his disciples. This may not be the earthiest Jesus, but he clearly cares for people.
Photo Credit: The Jesus Film Project
8. Son of God (2014)
This movie, edited from The Bible miniseries aired on the History Channel, fits solidly in the middle. It doesn’t tell a Gospel text verbatim like a docudrama. It doesn’t present everything as a vast, epic adventure that requires multiple sittings to get through. It’s compact and well-packaged, suitable for everyone except small children who are too young for crucifixion gore.
Son of God starts with a few clips from The Bible, a quick view of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and some scenes of Jews fleeing Roman soldiers before Jesus walks onto the set and jumps into Peter’s fishing boat. After a few moments following Jesus’ ministry, the movie skips to Jesus entering Jerusalem on Passion Week. The images of Jesus being captured, beaten, and crucified are a bit brutal for young viewers, but not nearly as graphic as The Passion of the Christ. Unlike The Passion of the Christ, Son of God shows Jesus’ followers discovering the empty tomb and seeing Jesus before he ascends. All of these scenes are narrated by an old man who turns out to be John, thinking about his experiences while exiled on Patmos
It’s hard to escape the fact this movie is a shortened version of a TV program, skimming over many moments to provide the big emotional notes. However, that fast pacing also makes this an exciting watch for teenagers or adults who are tired of long Biblical epics or docudramas like The Gospel of John.
Photo Credit: 20th-Century Fox
9. Last Days in the Desert (2016)
This movie is more a reinterpretation than an adaptation of Jesus’ story. It imagines alternate versions of some Bible scenes and suggests what could have led to those scenes. This approach can help us rethink what lessons we take from Bible stories and better understand what truly matters.
Last Days in the Desert stars Ewan MacGregor (best-known for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars) in two roles. In the first role, he is Jesus walking through the desert. In the second, he is Satan taunting Jesus. Jesus meets a family of three—a stonecutter who lives on the desert’s edge, his sickly young wife, and his son who wants to live in Jerusalem. Jesus stays with the family for several days, drawn into the slow-burning conflict between what the stonecutter’s son wants and what his father wants for him.
While the Synoptic Gospels all describe Jesus’ fasting in the desert for 40 days, none tell what happened beyond Satan’s three temptations. Last Days in the Desert suggests what could have happened and reinterprets how Satan tempted Jesus. These scenes aren’t Scripture, but they help viewers consider what it was like for Jesus to be tempted in every way (Hebrews 4:15), emptied to be a servant (Philippians 2:7), and therefore not having the Father’s unlimited foresight while he was on earth (Mathew 24:36). It’s not a movie for kids unfamiliar with the Bible story, but it’s a great movie for adults pondering how Jesus fought his temptations, his desire for the cup to pass away.
10. The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964)
Rating: Not Rated
This movie has been much debated since it came out in the 1960s. It was written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, who didn’t believe in God but observed, “my vision of the world is religious.” The movie began when Pasolini visited Assisi, Italy, for a papal dialogue with non-Christians. Traffic problems meant Pasolini was stuck in his hotel room, where he found a copy of the New Testament. After reading the Gospels, Pasolini was intrigued by the idea of telling Jesus’ story to capture “the believers’ point of view.” The result made Pope John Paul II’s 1995 list of important religious films.
Because Pasolini was an arthouse director, he took an experimental approach. The movie uses non-professional actors (his mother Susannah plays an older Mary, Jesus is played by an economics student Pasolini was chatting with one day). The camera work resembles a documentary—as if one of Jesus’ followers was carrying a camera around on his shoulder, capturing events as they happened.
The movie takes all of its dialogue from the Gospel of Matthew, but emphasizes a side of Jesus we often forget: he was a revolutionary. He threw people out of a temple. He told his followers he was sending them out like sheep among wolves. He said he was a rock that people would be crushed on. He cursed a fig tree. This movie leans into that shocking side of Jesus, reminding us how counter-cultural Jesus’ teachings were.