Easter Sunday (April 17 this year) marks the proclamation of the Good News that echoes through the ages: “He is risen!” Followers of Jesus Christ celebrate in worship services that are joyous and overflowing.
When it comes to retelling the events of the Passion week on-screen, filmmakers face many challenges.
There are complex political factions (as Risen explores), how events play out in the landscapes of Israel (as The Young Messiah shows), and perhaps even first-century languages for greater authenticity (as The Passion of the Christ employs).
For viewers young or more mature, these adaptations intend to make us ponder anew the Greatest Story Ever Told (itself a movie in 1965) — plus, a couple other relevant Easter stories that offer food for thought.
The Miracle Maker (rated G, 90 minutes, Prime Video)
A little-known film that combines stop-motion and traditional animation, The Miracle Maker adds little speculation or modern spin: it’s just straight Gospel narrative.
Featuring Ralph Fiennes as Jesus, and Miranda Richardson as Mary Magdalene, this expertly crafted feature gives viewers a whirlwind tour of Jesus’ early life, ministry, parables, and the Holy Week.
Risen (PG-13, 107 minutes, Roku and Sling TV)
For pre-teens and up, Risen views Christ’s death and Resurrection through the eyes of a skeptical Roman tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes).
In this version, Pontius Pilate tasks him with ensuring the rogue teacher’s body isn’t stolen in the night.
We witness the confusion at the tomb, followed by a careful investigation of what happened (Clavius' job is on the line). Some violent skirmishes between zealots and Romans play into the wider story of one man's struggle to believe.
Superbook: He Is Risen (TV-G, 27 minutes, YouTube)
The hit animated show produced by evangelical ministry Christian Broadcasting Network transports two school-age siblings into interactions with biblical heroes, then sends them back home with a lesson.
Superbook offers a twist in its Easter special, as their mom comes along this time — and interacts with Jesus’ mother Mary in touching scenes.
Children will, of course, have questions about these pivotal events, but the presentation is at their level.
The Young Messiah (PG-13, 111 minutes, Netflix)
Dare to see the most iconic family of all time through new eyes in this recent gem.
Portraying Jesus at age seven, the film follows Him and His parents back from Egypt, as they return to their homeland in northern Israel.
The compelling story speculates: How much did young Jesus know of his own calling and power? Pursuing the question fully brings a new childlike wonder to faith.
Parents should be aware of some frightening and violent imagery.
The Passion of the Christ (R, 127 minutes, Prime Video / Tubi / Roku)
The biggest box-office Bible film ever, by a wide margin, the 2004 cinematic tour de force from director Mel Gibson and star Jim Caviezel may be the only R-rated film some believers have seen.
It also gave Evangelicals a better understanding of the stations of the Cross, so familiar to Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans and Anglicans/Episcopalians.
For all viewers, it takes away the Sunday-school gloss and resensitizes us to the bloody brutality of a Roman crucifixion. For all its controversy, this is one for teens and up to watch and discuss.
The Waltons: An Easter Story (TV-G, 100 minutes, Prime Video)
A family drama set in rural Virginia during the Depression era, The Waltons series defines the Hallmark nostalgia genre . . . and the forerunner usually does it best.
During the busyness of spring and lead-up to Easter, Olivia, a mother of seven, suffers a fall and is diagnosed with polio. The family has faith she’ll walk again, but with the gift of a wheelchair her fate seems inevitable — until new hope arrives.
Click here for a taste.
The Ten Commandments (G, 220 minutes, VOD)
The story of the Passion, which occurs during Passover week, has sometimes mistakenly been divorced from its Jewish roots.
To better understand the greater context, for decades Charlton Heston has appeared on ABC (it airs April 9 this year) in this 3-hour-plus biblical epic depicting Moses and the Exodus events.
While the style, pacing, and production values are pure Golden Age of Hollywood, scenes of Heston talking through the Passover seder remain powerful.
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.