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Top 10 Bible movies

2 Apr

Updated October 2014.

Considering all the material in the Bible, there are surprisingly few Bible movies. Of those that have been made, a significant number of them are “made for television” or other low budget works. With the success of the History Channel’s The Bible, more movies are being proposed for the future. I was cautiously excited about 2014’s Noah. Russell Crowe as Noah sounded awesome! The producers even stated that they planned to remain true to the Biblical account, but unfortunately, that’s not what we ended up with. Parts of it were epic, but other parts seriously drifted from the truth.

Below I’ve put together my opinion of the all time ten best Bible themed movies or short mini-series. My criteria, like the list below, is subjective. But for consideration on the list the movie must be primarily about Bible events or primarily about Bible characters. So that means a movie like Barabbas makes it in, while Ben-Hur does not. Accuracy certainly plays a role in how much I like the movies (higher accuracy generally equals a higher rating) but I didn’t have an “accuracy minimum standard” to make the list. Still, if I felt the movie was heretical, such as The Last Temptation of Christ, you won’t see it included here. Also, no animated films are included either. Sorry Veggietales fans.

Finally, just a note about the History Channel’s The Bible. It doesn’t quite make my top 10. While much of the production was very good, and some of the segments were excellent, I felt that overall there was too much monkeying with significant parts of the story in ways that were important theologically. You can read more about my thoughts here.

Jeremiah

10. Jeremiah. A fairly accurate portrait of the prophet Jeremiah. Like almost all Bible movies, there’s made up material including a silly and unnecessary subplot about a girl. But overall, this is a good account of Jeremiah in a film format. McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) delivers the warnings to Israel in a passionate performance that will likely cause the viewer to question their own commitment to God.

Joseph

9. Joseph. One of the most important stories left out of “The Bible” on The History Channel is that of Joseph. It details how Israel wound up in Egypt and foreshadows God’s forgiveness to us in sending Christ to die for our sins. Joseph is one of the greatest examples of Godly character in the Bible and it comes through in this film (though I didn’t particularly care for the actor who played Joseph). A word of caution: while it is not rated, it certainly deserves at minimum a TV-14. You can read more about the sexual content here.

Esther

8. Esther.  This made for TV version is slightly better than the higher budget theater release One Night with the King. Some may not be familiar with the story of Esther, so I’d recommend reading the book either before watching or following up the viewing. Like other Bible movies, its easy to get caught up in the story of the people on the screen. On a human level, Esther is a great story about stepping up and doing what God desires when we have the opportunity. And although this is a good lesson, we need to remember this story comes from within the grand story Bible and it isn’t primarily about Esther, but its the story of God. The big picture of the book of Esther is about God’s providence. Again, read the book. Always better than the movie.

Nativity Story

7. The Nativity Story. I like this movie even though, like all the other nativity movies and generally American stories of the nativity, it gets two key events wrong. Without going into too much detail, the two events I’m referring to are [1] the journey to Bethlehem, both the timing and the way they are shown to be by themselves (though this is debatable), and [2] the wise men present at the birth. No big deal, but it just gets tiring seeing the same errors over and over. At least the actors aren’t WASPs. Again, the producers of this movie do a lot of speculating, especially with the thoughts and actions of both Mary and Joseph as the events unfold, but they are certainly reasonable and I think they enhance the story well in a movie format. A terrific movie to watch during the Holiday season.

NOTE: Between movies 6 and 7, I find a big gap. The top 6 I think are all really good movies. 7 through 10 are kind of like the best of the rest, but 1-6 are in my mind, in a different class.

Peter and Paul

6. Peter and Paul. I’ve seen some people criticize this film saying that Paul was much more loving than Anthony Hopkins portrays him, but just reading through Galatians, you can see that sometimes Paul gets ticked off. I actually really like Hopkins portrayal of Paul. He does a great job delivering Paul’s introspective thoughts (much of which we know from his letters). My disappointment with this movie was Peter’s character. He seems a bit too wimpy. Also, I felt they rushed his story too much at the end. Overall though, this is the best presentation of the Acts of the Apostles on film (though one that I haven’t seen is the complete 12 hour version of A.D.).

Jesus of Nazareth

5. Jesus of Nazareth. Seeing this as a kid made this the movie that shaped my original thoughts of what Jesus was like. But having experienced Jesus more now through reading the Bible, I think this portrayal makes Jesus seem a bit too solemn. He also sometimes seems like he’s in another world, disassociated with his humanity. I think the actor overplayed that part a little. Still, I really enjoy the sequences of Jesus teaching the people. There was a command in his performance as well that makes you feel like you are watching someone special. And without a doubt, James Earl Jones is my favorite wise man ever! While there are many variances and some created material in this movie, overall it stays closer to the Biblical narrative of Jesus than the History Channel version.

Ten Commandments

4. The Ten Commandments. The classic story of Moses and the Exodus. There’s a lot of extra-Biblical material added and in fact, I found that this movie is so popular that occasionally people I speak to are surprised that “facts” from this movie about Moses and Joshua aren’t in the Bible. Still, it will be hard for any actor to make a better Moses, even Christian Bale. And no one will ever make a better Pharaoh than Yul Brynner. “So let it be written; so let it be done!

Barabbas

3. Barabbas. The fictional tale of what happened to the man who was freed when Jesus was crucified. Its a fantastic story of the struggles so many of us face when God chases after us, but we run away. If you like old epic films, this one won’t disappoint. But of all the films on this list it certainly takes the most creative license.

Gospel of John

2. The Gospel of John. Like the Visual Bible movies Matthew and Acts, this film is based on a word for word presentation of the Bible. However, it is far better. It uses the more functional translation The Good News Bible which makes the dialog flow better in a film format. The acting and production are both very good for a Bible movie that stays so true to Scripture. Highly recommended!

Passion1. The Passion of the Christ

Wow. If you’ve seen it, you know.

The Bible on the History Channel

13 Mar

History-Channel-The-Bible-2

There’s alot of opinions about the new mini-series “The Bible” airing on the History Channel. I’ve read widely varying reviews from Rick Warren calling it the best Bible movie he’s ever seen to others suggesting it is racist and horrifying. First off, I just want to say that I applaud Mark Burnett and his wife for making it. Any Christian who endeavors to make a Bible movie knows going in that you’re going to get criticized from within the Christian community no matter how well you do. And for the Burnetts, they get the added criticism from outside, especially in their world of Hollywood entertainment.

Since I don’t really like to write on big news, but several people have asked my for my thoughts, I think I found a compromise. I read a bunch of other blogs, and many of them are posting their reviews. Each week, say by Tuesday evening (late), after I’ve had a chance to read through a bunch of other reviews, I’ll post a link here to the review that best captures my thoughts on the week, or up to that point in the series. I hope you find it useful.

Week 1 – Not the Absolute Train Wreck I Thought it Would Be

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4 – Botched!

For week 5, I’m going to add a few of my own comments because of all the reviews I read, I couldn’t quite land on one that fit my thoughts close enough. Part of me feels like this post. I’m disappointed with all the purposeful changes. It wasn’t like there was just a few minor issues. There were tons! And many of them were theologically significant. How I wish someone would make a more faithful account! On the other hand, as I searched the internet for reviews, I kept coming across posts or comments from people that shared how impactful the series was for them. For some, it was the first time they personally encountered Christ. And if there’s more people in the pews next Sunday, that’s a wonderful thing. I did find the presentation powerfully moving, especially the final night, even if it lacked adherence to Scripture. So I leave this series with mixed feelings. I am delighted that God’s name was proclaimed to so many people. I pray that more people will come to know Him and read truth in His Word. And finally, I am hopeful that the success of this will lead to better and more accurate films.

Other recommended stories & posts

‘Jesus’ to get miniseries after success of ‘Bible’

Mark Burnett says ‘weird things happened’ on ‘The Bible’ set

5 Secrets of ‘The Bible’

The History Channel’s “The Bible” Features a White Surfer Jesus

See What Famous Celebrities Were Saying on Twitter!

Best Order to watch Star Wars movies

1 Mar

With Star Wars 1 in 3D in the theaters this weekend, I thought I’d repost this 2008 thought from an old blog (with a few minor edits):

This year I took my kids through one of my favorite childhood experiences, Star Wars. We did the movies, bought the Legos, played the video games, had light saber battles, dressed up for Halloween, and more! 2008 for them was all about the Force.

So before I started this, I gave a lot of serious thought to what order I would have them watch the movies in. Would chronological be the best? Would it be better to go in the order they were made? Should we skip around? Should I fast forward through the scenes with Jar Jar? (Seriously, I considered doing that.)

I came to the following conclusion, and after watching them this way, I would highly recommend it to anyone, especially if its your first time through the series.  4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6

Why this order?

Without giving away specifics (for those that are neophytes), there are several good reasons. First, it preserves some great surprises in 4 and 5 that are completely ruined if you watch 1-3 first. This order also adds an element of surprise to the end of number 3 if you haven’t yet watched 6. Finally, the highlight was going from 3 to 6. It really puts focus on the transition of Vader, and adds so much to the intensity of number 6. There are a few other good reasons too, but these really stand out. Also, while some traditionalist prefer the original cuts, I think the newest versions of 4-6 with new scenes and the actors from 1-3 inserted are far better to watch when viewing the series in its entirety.

Enjoy!

Train up a child in the way of the world and from it he will not depart

29 Oct

I’m very concerned about what goes into my kids heads, and I try to limit the amount of filth that they are exposed to. They remind me of it every day. “But Dad, so and so get’s to watch R rated movies!” or “You’re so strict!” or “I’m the only one of my friends who doesn’t get to play M games!” The fact is that most of their friends parents hear the same thing.

If you’re a concerned parent and you identify with the last paragraph, then this post is for you, especially the links toward the bottom. If this doesn’t concern you as much, I ask that you please read this short list of facts and the links that they come from first. Then think about how you want to follow Proverbs 22:6 and “Train up a child in the way he should go”, or not.

Some frightening facts:

  • The typical 11-year-old has seen nearly 8,000 murders on TV
  • Today’s television programming averages over 800 violent acts per hour – all which is easily available especially to the more than 50% of children who have a television in their bedroom
  • One study showed that 15% of music videos now show interpersonal violence
  • More than 12% of children aged 10 to 14 watch R-rated movies regularly
  • The average kid today spends 50% more time in front of media than in school

Why is this a big deal?

  • When kids are exposed to media violence, they can become desensitized to it and become more violent and aggressive
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics says that “playing violent video games leads to adolescent violence like smoking leads to lung cancer.”
  • Research from Yale, the NIT, and more indicates all of the following children’s health concerns are strongly associated with exposure to media: obesity, tobacco use, sexual behavior, drug use and low academic achievement

These above facts come from the following excellent sources, which you should at least skim through:

As Christians, we should know this stuff. The Bible has been telling its readers for years. Here’s just a few verses we should be aware of.

“Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 ESV). We should not be worldly for we are not worldly. Focus on what is good.

“Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Cor 15:33 ESV). When we’re around a bad influence, it impacts the way we behave and even think. That bad influence doesn’t have to be a real person. It can just as well be a fictional person on television that we “get to know” or identify with. That will influence us as well. Think about how movies or shows have inspired or impacted you, or watch your kids playing after they’ve just watched something and see how it impacts their thinking.

What we watch influences how we think and what we do. The saying “garbage in, garbage out” is not from the Bible, but the principle is certainly found there. Proverbs 15:14 (NLT) says that “A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.” Don’t feed on the trash. (Even a spec of dog poop ruins a batch of brownies).

You might say that “it’s just entertainment and it wont affect me”, but that’s not what the Bible says. When Paul was wrapping up his letter to the Romans, he wrote to them “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” Romans 16:19b (ESV). While he was talking about doctrine, certainly the principle applies beyond that. We should avoid what is evil and what is trash and instead regard what Paul writes to the Philippians: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” That is where God wants our minds to be.

As parents, it’s difficult to search our way through all the media that our kids watch or games that they play. So to help navigate the waters, the following websites are very useful, especially the first two.

Commonsense media – Provides reviews of movies and video games with age recommendations. Also allows for parents and kids to comment on their reviews and make their own. The comments can be extremely valuable.

Plugged in – A resource of Focus on the Family that provides in depth reviews of movies and games. Unlike most secular parenting reviews, this site also includes in its reviews all references in the movie to spiritual content or spiritual issues making it very valuable to the Christian parent. Perhaps the only thing some may find lacking is age recommendations. UPDATE 2013: They have added a rating called “Content Caution” which greatly helps.

Movie Mom – an interfaith website with short movie reviews and some age range recommendations.

IMDb – scroll down on the movie page to Parents Guide (just below the ratings info). Offers information on movies in categories of: Sex & Nudity, Violence & Gore, Profanity, Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking and Frightening/Intense Scenes.

Netflix has similar reviews to IMBd and offers age recommendations if you view the movies through their website, but as of this post there is still no way I know of to review that information from your television.

(This post by C. Michael Patton offers a good guide for making your decision after you’ve read about a movie, though I’m not convinced that watching movies about sorcery doesn’t attract more people to it. I think he may be mistaken on that one. Why would everything else people watch (violence, sex, etc.) show a statistical correlation to their behavior but not sorcery? Actual sorcery may not be accessible, but Wicca certainly is. Also, sometimes the attraction is that something is not accessible so it keeps people attracted to it and longing for it, so be mindful of that as well. Still, a nice acronym for making wise decisions about media.)

There are also other options if there’s really some movies that you want to see, and yet avoid all the negative content. Technology has advanced and now you actually have the ability to take offensive content out of DVDs or television. If you’re interested, here are a couple devices that can filter movies and television for you.

Plugged in online’s website also offers a section called “Movie Nights” with pdf’s that you can download to help guide you and your family through discussions about movies with your children. The list of movies is much more limited than their reviews, but there are quite a few. These tools help you teach Biblical principles to your family using secular movies.

One final note that I think may be helpful. Often even if you do your best to keep your kids filtered, they can get exposed to objectionable content at a friends house. Focus on the Family offers some insight on how to handle this kind of situation.

Someday our kids will have to deal with media’s impact on this darkening world. Let’s train them up to be the lights.