10 Great Easter Movies to Watch This Weekend

By Colin Bertram
|  Friday, Apr 18, 2014  |  Updated 5:48 PM EDT
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Most people can easily list their favorite Christmas, Thanksgiving and other major holiday movies. But how many of us have a list of films we enjoy every Easter?

The holiest holiday of the Christian calendar has spawned numerous adaptions of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the early days of Hollywood (1953's "The Robe") to the recent spate of Christianity-based fare on offer at the cineplex (2014's "Son of God"), there's an Easter-themed movie sure to appeal.

Even those looking for lighter Easter-themed fare need only look to Fred Astaire and Judy Garland ("Easter Parade") and the Peanuts gang ("It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown") for something to view this weekend.

Here, in no particular order, a list of 10 of the best Easter movies:

"The Robe" (1953)

Richard Burton plays military tribune Marcellus Gallio who commands the Roman unit that crucifies Jesus. In a dice game, Gallio wins the robe Jesus wore and is told it will serve as a reminder of his first crucifixion. Haunted by nightmares of the act he has participated in, Gallio slowly begins to believe the robe is having an effect on his life. Over time he comes to understand what Jesus was trying to achieve, and eventually converts to Christianity - much to the disgust of his peers and his father, an important Roman Senator. "The Robe" was also the first film ever to be released featuring the wide screen process known as CinemaScope.

"Son of God" (2014)

Produced by reality television competition guru Mark Burnett ("Survivor," "The Voice") and his wife, actress Roma Downey, "Son of God" was adapted from the ten-hour miniseries "The Bible" which aired in 2013 on the History channel. As a feature film it both expands upon and abridges the Jesus-driven portions of the miniseries, from birth to resurrection. While making the movie Burnett says he couldn’t help but notice certain similarities to popular contemporary entertainment. "The feeling of the movie and the pace, it’s like 'House of Cards,' that political intrigue, the political drama," he said. "It’s a political thriller wrapped in an epic – and it’s pretty epic, the scale: hundreds and hundreds of extras and special effects with miracles."

"Jesus Christ Superstar" (1973)

Based on the Broadway musical of the same name created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, this rock opera follows the final weeks of Jesus' life and features no spoken dialogue. Ted Neeley stars as Jesus, Carl Anderson as Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene. The film centers on the conflict between Judas and Jesus leading up to the crucifixion and features the hit song, "I Don't Know How to Love Him."

"Easter Parade" (1948)

Starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire and featuring music by Irving Berlin, "Easter Parade" definitely falls on the lighter end of the Easter movie spectrum. Astair stars as a dancer suddenly bereft of a partner when his former colleague (Ann Miller) departs the duo for a solo career. Astair's character finds a replacement in a chorus dancer who can not only move, but has a great singing voice (Garland). The movie features beloved numbers such as "It Only Happens When I Dance With You," "A Couple of Swells" and of course, "Easter Parade."

"Jesus of Nazareth" (1977)

Italian director Franco Zeffirelli's dramatic take on the life of Christ is a television mini-series produced in Britain. Robert Powell portrays Jesus alongside an all-star cast that includes Christopher Plummer, Anne Bancroft, Laurence Olivier, Claudia Cardinale, Ian McShane, Olivia Hussey, James Mason, Ian Holm and Anthony Quinn.

"Ben-Hur" (1959)

Charlton Heston is Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish merchant of noble blood in this sword-and-sandals historical epic that begins with the birth of Jesus and ends with the titular character witnessing the Crucifixion. Thanks to an act he did not commit, Ben-Hur ends up a slave who must fight his way back to the land and the woman he loves. One key scene involves Ben-Hur being denied water when his slave gang arrives at Nazareth. He collapses and a local carpenter (who is revealed to be Jesus) comes to his aid against the orders of the Roman guards. The nine-minute chariot battle featured in the movie became a hallmark of great cinematic moments and the film went on to win eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture.

"The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965)

Max Von Sydow portrays Jesus in this three-plus hour movie that also features Charlton Heston as John the Baptist and follows the life of Christ from Nativity to Resurrection. Other notable stars in the movie include Angela Lansbury, Jose Ferrer, Telly Savalas and Dorothy McGuire, and it marks the final film of Claude Rains.

"It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown" (1974)

In this, the 12th prime-time television outing to feature the Peanuts gang, Linus tries to convince everyone the Easter Beagle will make the holiday a success when he arrives on Easter morning. After Linus' previous belief in the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and co. don't buy in to his ideas. Even Sally has trouble keeping the faith in her "sweet baboo" following her previous disillusionment at Halloween. Of course, by the time Easter morning arrives so does the Easter Beagle (Snoopy), just in time to distribute eggs.

"The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988)

Directed by Martin Scorsese, it's one of the more controversial retellings of Jesus' life, with Willem Dafoe as Jesus, Harvey Keitel as Judas Iscariot, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, and Harry Dean Stanton as Paul. Throughout the film Jesus is tempted by the various sins he must overcome, including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust.

"The Passion of the Christ" (2004)

Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus, the film covers the final 12 hours of Jesus' life and was controversial for its use of language and depiction of violence. The entire dialogue is performed in the ancient languages of Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew, with Jesus' arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion and resurrection shown in graphic detail. "The Passion of the Chris" is still the most successful non-English language film ever at the box office, grossing more than $600 million worldwide.

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