What are the five best Biblical epics?
After it’s run on Channel 5 came to an end earlier this month, The Bible, the mini-series which has proved to be a monster hit in the US, is now out on DVD in stores now.
Produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett (the man responsible for producing the likes of Survivor, The Apprentice and Shark Tank across the pond), the show brought to life many of the classic stories from the world’s most famous book, including Jesus’s crucifixion, Moses parting the Red Sea and Daniel’s foray into the lion’s den. It won over audiences stateside and we can expect a second series, this time entitled A.D, in early 2015.
There have been countless attempts over the years to bring the stories from The Bible to life on both the big and small screens, some have worked very well, some not so much. We’ve picked out five more choices for you…
The Passion Of The Christ
This is pretty much the ultimate Biblical epic. Co-written, produced and directed by Mel Gibson, this harrowing, two-hour-long epic depicts the final 12 hours of Jesus’s life, right up to his resurrection. At the time, this was seen as a hugely risky and ambitious project for Gibson, who chose to include dialogue in reconstructed Aramaic and Latin with subtitles rather than English, and to shoot with a largely unknown cast.
Released in 2004, it proved to be an enormous success, taking over $600 million in box office receipts and filling cinemas for weeks on end. It’s faithful take on the source material clearly endeared it to Christians, who turned out in their thousands to see the film. It remains the most successful non-English language film and highest grossing R-rated film in US box office history.
As a film, it’s attention to detail is extraordinary and brutal depiction of the events, it’s gripping, spectacular and well worth checking out if you haven’t already.
Jesus Of Nazareth
This was a 1977 television series was made by legendary film director Franco Zeffirelli, and, as these things tend to be, was another hugely ambitious undertaking. A full six hours in length, the series starred Robert Powell as the man himself, Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene, Laurence Olivier as Nicodemus, Christopher Plummer as Herod and a whole host of other stars besides. Despite an enormous budget and tremendous scrutiny upon release, it proved to be a huge success and considered by many to be the definitive portrayal of Jesus. It cemented Zeffirelli’s place as one of the great directors of his era, and proved he could work across film and TV with ease.
The Greatest Story Ever Told
Back in the early 1960s, director George Stevens (the man behind the huge hits A Place In The Sun and Shane) announced his intention to make his own biblical epic. By the time it emerged in 1965, The Greatest Story Ever Told had cost an incredible $21 million (that’s well over $150 million in today’s costs) to make, a $21 million that included covering the cost of 352 biblical paintings which acted as storyboards and turning various US deserts into suitably middle Eastern settings.
Starring Swedish actor Max von Sydow as Jesus, Ben Hur’s Charlton Heston as John The Baptist, Claude Rains (sadly his final ever performance) as King Herod and Dorothy McGuire as the Virgin Mary, the film clocks in at a whopping four hours and 20 minutes and attempts to tell the story of Jesus’s life from the Nativity to the Resurrection.
The film was a box office disaster, failing to get close to breaking even, critics despised it and it’s not aged terribly well either.
The Ten Commandments
Shot by the legendary Cecil B.DeMille, this 1956 motion picture cost an extraordinary $13 million, making it easily the most expensive film ever produced at the time and also by far the most stressful to undertake. Starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Rameses II, it was shot almost entirely on location in Egypt and featured some of the largest sets ever produced for a feature film.
Telling the story of Moses’ journey from adopted Egyptian prince to leader of a nation, this spared absolutely no expense and is a stomping epic, clocking in at just under four hours. Unlike The Greatest Story Ever Told, it’s an engrossing watch, with Heston in particular on top form. A true blockbuster with plenty of substance.
The Prince Of Egypt
This is basically the same story as The Ten Commandments, just a full two hours shorter and animated. Released in 1998 by Dreamworks, it features the voices of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes (readying himself for playing Lord Voldemort by playing another bald tyrant), Sandra Bullock and Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s a funny, light, romantic take on the story, but it introduces children to this story very nicely. One for the whole family (and easily the most time-efficient of our picks).