I once had a professor who said, “If Hollywood ever runs out of ideas all they need to do is open up the Old Testament.” My professor was right as the Old Testament is filled with many stories of early man and their interaction with a more wrathful God than seen in the New Testament. While there are many films that have been based on biblical topics, not all have hit the mark cinematically — look no further than Evan Almighty for a great example of missing the mark. Making religious films is a touchy subject as there will always be somebody who is offended by the work. Whether it be not close enough to the source material, too close to the source material, improperly cast, etc. In this article, I will discuss seven biblically based films that have either hit the mark or sparked important conversation about religion and film.
Why only seven films, you ask? Well, the number seven has been called the symbol of perfection and is very important in the Bible. Examples include: Jacob’s seven years of service to his uncle Laban, Pharaoh’s seven fat oxen and seven lean ones, God resting on the seventh day, the seven days’ siege of Jericho, the seven churches, and many others, adequately proving the importance of this sacred number.
And as always, beware of spoilers below!
Starting with the most recent film, Mother! is one of the most divisive films to be released in 2017. The film is a loose allegory of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, with elements of eternal recurrence. Darren Aronofsky made a bold decision is stylizing Mother! as a story about a couple whose tranquil life at their country home is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious couple. Mother and Him have a nice home (Earth) that it continuously mistreated by their guests (humanity). Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are great in the roles of Mother and Him, representing Mother Nature and God respectively. The film blatantly lets the audience know that if humanity doesn’t change we will destroy the Earth and God will not stop it. Mother! is a cinematic masterpiece that will be talked about for years to come as well as a must-see film of 2017 — even if you only see it once!
6. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’
Rosemary’s Baby is a one of a kind film that sparked a genre. Starring Mia Farrow, the film chronicles the story of a pregnant woman, Rosemary, who suspects that an evil cult wants to take her baby for use in their rituals. Many moviegoers incorrectly assumed the previous film on this list, Mother!, was going to be a remake of Rosemary’s Baby. Given that they are distributed by the same studio and have similar actors cast in the lead roles, it’s understandable. The film received critical praise and earned Ruth Gordon an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In 2014, Rosemary’s Baby was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. This is an honor only reserved for films being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
5. ‘Joseph: King of Dreams’
Based on the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Joseph: King of Dreams tells of how Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and ends up becoming the second most powerful figure in Egypt only under Pharaoh. Being a prequel to The Prince of Egypt, the film depicts the events that led the Hebrews to live in Egypt. Even though Joseph: King of Dreams was a direct-to-video release by DreamWorks Animation, the film still received mostly positive reviews. The film has a rich score and beautiful original songs with “Better Than I” winning the Video Premier Award for Best Song. This is a great film that children and adults can both enjoy. The film also bolsters a stellar voice cast including Ben Affleck and Mark Hamill.
4. ‘Bruce Almighty’
Bruce Almighty is a hilarious comedy film starring none other than Jim Carrey. The film is about Bruce Nolan, a down-on-his-luck TV reporter who complains to God (Morgan Freeman) that he is not doing his job correctly. After this God contacts Bruce and offers him the chance to be God for one week. He soon realizes that being God is not as easy as it seems. While the film received mixed reviews from critics, moviegoers still flocked to see this film. In its initial run, Bruce Almighty made over $480 million USD worldwide. The film also gave viewers the best interpretation of God in Morgan Freeman. Most of the God memes you find online are taken from his interpretation in this film and its lackluster sequel — Evan Almighty. Morgan Freeman even almost reprised his role as God in This Is the End.
Dogma was a bold film for Kevin Smith to make. The film mainly pokes fun at the Catholic Church and its beliefs and practices. Dogma takes place in Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse and has Jay and Silent Bob help ‘the last scion’ stop two fallen angels, Bartleby (Affleck) and Loki (Damon), who plan to employ an alleged loophole in Catholic dogma to return to Heaven after being cast out by God. The film has an all-star cast including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Rock, and the late Alan Rickman. The film was denounced by the Catholic League and called blasphemous by its members. Even with all the controversy the film caused it still received generally favorable reviews from critics.
2. ‘This Is The End’
This Is the End is one of the smartest, funniest comedies in the past decade. The film stars Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, and many other real-life actors playing fictionalized versions of themselves trying to survive in the aftermath of the Biblical Apocalypse. The film did have a script, but a lot of the dialogue was improvised by the actors. This Is the End received mostly positive reviews from critics and holds the title of being the last movie to be officially rented by Blockbuster Video before they went out of business at 11:00 p.m. on November 9, 2013. The film also gave us the Backstreet Boys reunion we always wanted.
1. ‘The Prince of Egypt’
Based on the story of Moses from the Book of Exodus in the Bible. The Prince of Egypt follows the life of Moses from his status as a prince of Egypt to his ultimate destiny of leading the Hebrews out of Egypt to the Promised Land. This is hands down the best biblical epic to grace the silver screen. Released on December 18, 1998, reviews for this film were positive, with critics praising the animation, music, and voice work. The stellar voice cast consists of Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, and Martin Short. The film’s blend of traditional animation and computer-generated imagery allowed for the creation of vast landscapes and beautiful imagery not seen in animated films at that time. The film features songs written by Stephen Schwartz and a score composed by the great Hans Zimmer. The song “When You Believe” became a commercially successful single, and went on to win Best Original Song at the 1999 Academy Awards.The Prince of Egypt went on to gross over $218 million USD worldwide in theaters, which made it the most successful non-Disney animated feature at the time.
What are your favorite biblically based films? Leave your comments below!