Contrary to what you might expect, the most watched film of all time is not Star Wars or Gone With the Wind, but a Christian evangelistic film that is largely unknown in the West.
Jesus (also known as the ‘Jesus Film’) was made away from Hollywood, with a cast of almost entirely non-professional actors, and a shoestring budget. It contains no CGI, dramatic camera movements, memorable performances or impressive special effects. More often than not, it has been viewed on ad hoc cinema screens in remote developing world villages, set up specifically for the occasion.
Back in the 1970s, producer John Heyman had planned to film the entire Bible, word for word. But by the time he had completed the first book (Genesis) he had already run out of money. Heyman decided to approach the mission organisation Campus Crusade for Christ about making a film based on the Gospel of Luke.
The plan was that it would be released to cinemas in the hope that it would generate enough cash to bankroll the rest of the project. Instead, the film’s box-office failure meant the end of that particular project. However, almost 30 years later, Campus Crusade claims to have shown the film to over 5.6 billion people and translated it into over 1,000 different languages.
As you might expect, the production values are low, and while the script significantly shortens Luke’s text, it never attempts to dramatise it, leaving the finished film feeling awkward and forced. Having said that, Brian Deacon’s performance as Jesus was the first in over 50 years to inject some warmth into Jesus’ character, and it was also the first film to base its portrayal of the crucifixion on archaeological findings rather than church tradition.
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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
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