Jesus in the movies

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Jesus Christ Superstar 1973

Rather than being a direct adaptation of the Gospels, Jesus Christ Superstar was based on the rock opera of the same name by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Beginning life as a handful of songs, before becoming an album, and then a stage musical, Jesus Christ Superstar was finally made into a film in 1973 by Norman Jewison.

The musical itself is an interesting interpretation of the last week of Jesus’ life – taking the traditional story of Jesus’ death and reworking it with electric guitars and a good dose of theological angst. The growing popularity of Jesus, and his claims that he is God, are threatening to undo all his good work – or at least such is the belief of Judas.

Judas is determined not to give the Romans yet another opportunity to crush the Jewish people, so he agrees to hand Jesus over and thus fulfils his destiny. When he realises that he has been used, both by God and the Jewish priests, he kills himself before returning in the final song to question Jesus about his motives.

The film is as unusual as the musical on which it is based. Filmed on location in Israel, it continued the blend of ancient and modern that made the original work so popular. The film features ancient sets, yet modern weaponry. Jesus is dressed in his traditional white robe, whereas his disciples wore clothes that were more up to date (at least back then).

The same year saw another musical about Jesus converted into a movie. Godspell featured Jesus dressed as a clown and teaching his followers on the streets of New York. While Superstar proved the more commercially successful, both musicals still remain popular today.

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About this module

It’s “the greatest story ever told”, according to one famous movie title, and among these films is the alleged most watched film of all time. In these pages we review some of the most significant Jesus movies made over the past 50 years.

Written by Matt Page

Categories: Creativity, Biographical, Sound & vision,


Module contents

arrow Introduction

arrow King of Kings 1961

arrow The Gospel of Matthew 1964

arrow Jesus Christ Superstar 1973

arrow Jesus of Nazareth 1977

arrow Jesus 1979

arrow The Last Temptation of Christ 1988

arrow Jesus 1999

arrow The Passion of the Christ 2004

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