Easter Movies, From Godspell to The 10 Commandments To Mallrats

For me, one of the biggest signs that Easter is still primarily a religious holiday is the dearth of Easter movies. There are hundreds of Christmas movies that never mention the birth of Jesus, but there are only a handful of Easter movies – and most of them basically stick to the book. What I’m saying is, some of these Easter movies are a stretch, but I’m working with what I’ve got. Happy(?) Holy Thursday, if that applies to you, and have a good Easter, too!

Godspell

This is what I’m talking about when I talk about Easter movies! Godspell is my personal favorite Jesus musical, an admittedly small genre. You ever notice that some people are Godspell people, and some are Jesus Christ Superstar people, and then everyone else is like “what are you even talking about?” Godspell is cheerful pseudo-hippie 1970s, whereas JCS is glam rock-y 70s, but both tell the story of Jesus as a (cheesy?) musical that I love.  Godspell is based on the Gospel of Matthew and focuses on Jesus’ parables and his more peace-and-love type teachings. I’m going to go all-caps for a second, okay? VICTOR “MR. ANDREWS” GARBER AS JESUS. Okay? I am just warning you, this movie may leave you with a weird crush on both Victor Garber and Jesus.

*(Aside: I absolutely love movies filmed in 1970s-1990s New York, maybe because it looks like the New York I remember as a kid in the 90s, so that’s a bonus.)

Jesus Christ Superstar

While this is mostly an unranked list, Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar probably are my top two Easter movies. While I like the stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar, the movie is a bit less visually appealing to me (read: set in the desert). Also, it focuses on the Jesus/Judas relationship. I love a frenemy situation in musical theater (Hamilton! right?), but it also makes it feel a little darker and less uplifting than Godspell. Nevertheless, my corny musical-loving self is always here for an Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice collab.

My advice, if you can find it: watch the 2001 Great Performances version with Glenn Carter and Renee Castle instead of the 1973 film. We watched it in a high school theatre class and it’s when I really started to like Jesus Christ Superstar.

The Passion Of The Christ

I worked in a movie theater during this movie’s 2004 release, and I can honestly say that the worst customers I encountered were some of the church groups who came in en masse to the early morning shows. Also I worked at the concession stand at the time, and it sort of felt like a weird movie to nosh on Skittles and popcorn during, but what do I know. Customers aside, the hype was deserved and … it pains me a bit to say … Mel Gibson did a great job telling the story of the crucifixion in a fresh way. It was also graphically violent and isn’t a movie I’ve ever felt the need to rewatch.

The 10 Commandments

The 10 Commandments is usually on TV on Easter, even if it’s not technically an Easter Movie. It’s a Cecil B. DeMille Technicolor classic from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner, The 10 Commandments focuses on the story of Moses and will set you back almost four hours, including intermission. I guess it’s televised at Easter because the Moses story is kind of the lead-up to the New Testament, or maybe because it’s the only religious movie that was really in the game for a while there.

Plus, Easter and Passover are both in early Spring, and it illustrates the Passover beautifully.

Ben-Hur

This should be one of our Pop Culture Blind Spots, because I’ve never seen it. As best I can tell, it’s about non-Bible characters who live at the same time as Jesus, participate in a chariot race, then witness the crucifixion. Not only have I not seen the movie, I didn’t read the book, either. Charlton Heston is in it, of course, and it’s a beloved classic, so I should really get on this.

Assorted Jesus Films And TV Miniseries

A note: there are plenty of other movies about the life of Jesus, some better than others. There’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, a Scorsese drama that caused a fair bit of controversy when it was released, and Jesus, a 1999 tv-movie staring Jeremy Sisto as Jesus and Debra Messing as Mary Magdelene (it was the height of the Will and Grace era). There are scores of others, too, so basically pick your favorite if that’s what you feel like watching. I haven’t seen any that seemed better than the others, necessarily, so maybe watch one of the more recent ones if dated costumes and sets will pull you out of it.

Assorted Children’s Specials

You won’t want to watch any of these unless you are trying to entertain a child, probably. I vividly remember The Greatest Adventure, an Easter cartoon about a child who goes back in time to witness the crucifixion. If you were in Catholic school, that passed for a really good Friday afternoon if your teacher rolled out the TV cart and played that bad boy.

Believe it or not, popular cartoons had Easter specials, too: the Smurfs, Rugrats, even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There are a few Easter Bunny specials that probably air on whatever ABC Family goes by these days: Here Comes Peter Cottontail, that kind of thing. Compared to Christmas, the pickings are VERY slim. There’s always Veggie Tales, if that’s something your kids like!

Hop

Now for an entirely different movie: Hop, a 2011 cartoon/live-action hybrid featuring the voices of Russell Brand and Hugh Laurie. I watched this with some nieces and nephews a few years ago, and I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. Bottom line: if you really want an Easter-y children’s movie,this isn’t a bad choice. The kids liked it, anyway.

The Sound Of Music

Definitely not an Easter movie, but The Sound Of Music always used to be on TV at Easter, maybe because networks look for movies that the whole family can enjoy when they’re together. Some of the scenery is sort of spring-y, plus the overall vibe of The Sound Of Music just feels like it fits with Easter and springtime. Okay: maybe I’m just up for any excuse to watch The Sound Of Music.

My first year of law school, a final paper for a class was due the day after Easter. I worked on it for weeks, finished it on Easter night just before The Sound Of Music began, and I swear, sitting down to watch The Sound Of Music felt like almost as refreshing as a beach vacation.

Miss Potter

Now things get tenuous. Beatrix Potter wrote about rabbits, and we think about rabbits at Easter, and this is a movie about Beatrix Potter. But honestly, there is all of this spring-y Lake District scenery, all of this rain and these farm animals, and it really does feel like Easter. Plus, Beatrix Potter-inspired cartoons always used to be on TV near Easter, so I still associate it with Easter.

The Secret Garden

One thing I love about Easter-time (at least here in the Northeast) is seeing life slowly spring back – watching crocuses start to erupt, and then tulips, and – if my garden is any indication – then a whole bunch of weeds, somehow, even though it’s still cold out. A whole sequence of The Secret Garden is about watching the garden come back to life, and that feels very Easter to me.

There are a few adaptations to choose from. Margaret O’Brien was great, but I sort of grew up on the 1993 version.

Holiday Inn

Holiday Inn was a little bit of 1940s marketing genius. First of all, it stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Second, it’s literally set (mostly) in an inn where many holidays are celebrated. It manages to be a Christmas movie (White Christmas), Lincoln’s Birthday (the less said the better: blackface), Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, and, of course, Easter(Easter Parade). Basically, you could pull this movie out at any time of the year, and it would be seasonally appropriate (and a little racist. It’s fine to skip that part).

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Not an Easter movie, but there’s a memorable Easter scene. Christos Anesti!

Mallrats

I told you there weren’t a lot of Easter movies, but who could forget the Easter Bunny scene from Mallrats? That’s enough to make the whole thing an Easter movie, in my book.

Life Of Brian

I wasn’t into Monty Python in high school, because I wasn’t in marching band and I didn’t run lights for the plays, and it seemed like everyone who did those activities loved Monty Python and everyone who loved Monty Python did those activities. But Life Of Brian is funny no matter WHAT extracurriculars you did 15 years ago! It’s about a man, Brian, who lived a life parallel to Jesus, except he was just Brian, a guy.

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Playlist of the Month: Songs From Musicals We’ve Been In

Ah, the first breath of spring. In high schools across the nation, now is the time for students to work together to create something bigger than themselves, to forge new friendships and let their talents shine. Baseball season? Nah. Prom planning? Please. It’s high school musical season!

We spent the first years of our friendship hanging out in our high school’s auditorium during musical rehearsals. We had snacks from a special “junk food locker” (an abandoned locker that we stocked with bulk candy) and played Bullshit and Spoons with the young, pre-gay gay boys we were friends with. Before high school, we were both big fish in our respective theater ponds, and being in chorus and dance company roles just felt so wrong, but we were still happy to be involved in a show.

Even the songs still stick with you years later. In honor of those hardworking theater kids in Hell Week for Grease or Man Of La Mancha right now, here are some songs from musicals we’ve been in – songs we still get stuck in our head over a decade later.

Check out the entire playlist on Spotify!

Molly’s Picks

Feel So Near – Some Weird Play From My Childhood

When I was a kid, I was in this odd, somewhat avant garde youth theater company. I mean, of course I was. For a few years our plays were these adaptations of obscure folk tales with minimalist staging and costuming and kabuki-inspired makeup. A chorus of children sang this folksy tune by Dougie MacLean and what do you know, it sounds pretty good sung by a chorus of children. I’m including this as a nod to my weird childhood.

Oh What A Beautiful Morning – I Seriously Cannot Remember What Play This Was

Oh, cool, Oklahoma? Nope. Just some random play I was in that rather inexplicably included the song Oh What A Beautiful Morning. Again, it was a strange childhood, theater-wise.

The Boy Next Door – Meet Me In St. Louis

In eighth grade, a group of 10-15 local Catholic schools got together to put on a mega-musical. It was like an awkward plaid dream team, and I was thrilled to land in the principal cast. Because I’ve been the same person my whole life, you won’t be surprised to learn that it was the comic relief character, who was an Irish maid. But I had a solo and I was very pleased and honored to finally be in a play where I wasn’t wearing white pancake makeup and a black turtleneck.

I Can’t Be Bothered Now – Crazy For You

When I was a kid my sister had the cassette tape of the Crazy For You soundtrack, and I thought it was just about the best thing ever. [A note: during my sister’s high school tenure our school was putting on, like, Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Rough.] I know the concept of compiling a bunch of Gershwin’s best tunes into a loosely conceived plot is probably, technically, bad, but our school put this on our junior year and years later, I can barely decide which song to include.

On The Street Where You Live – My Fair Lady

Senior year, we performed My Fair Lady and I learned that when it doesn’t involve Audrey Hepburn or Julie Andrews, I really don’t care for My Fair Lady. But we had fun with it – I remember sitting in English class singing Ascot Gavotte with extra-plummy accents because as seniors, and I guess as people, we just didn’t care. In true Lerner and Loewe fashion each number is catchier than the last,  but I’m including On The Street Where You Live because I remember my mom singing it when I was little, and in fourth grade I thought it was THE perfect song for my grade school crush. Yes, like so many theater kids before and after me, I was maybe just a little dramatic.

Traci’s Picks

Embraceable You – Crazy For You

Like Molly said, I could barely decide which song to include because every song was a classic. I legit changed my mind about which one to put on the list three times. Crazy For You was the first time I was really exposed to music of this era – that I actually paid attention to. Lo and behold, I took a liking to it. Since the musical is a bunch of Gershwin songs put together, this one is from Girl Crazy, as seen here by Judy Garland and a bunch of strapping young men. Swoonworthy.

Something Good – The Sound of Music

Okay, I’m cheating a bit. This song wasn’t included in the OG Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which is the version I was in, but rather was added for the film that we all know and love. After the movie, however, this song was included in some revivals of the show so it counts. The version by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer is stunning and simple, like a reflection of their love *awwww cheesy stfu*

Close Every Door – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Like Molly said, we were “big fish” in our respective little ponds, and for me, that pond was my church. We used to put on full musical productions (and were kind of really good and well known for it in the immediate community?) so it’s not like me in a basement naming all the colors of Joseph’s coat. Anyways, this show marked my first “big” role – I was a Narrator. Emphasis on A, because I was one of 6 HAHAHA. When I would listen to Donny Osmond’s version of the soundtrack, I was obsessed with Close Every Door, particularly the last 45ish seconds when he does the key change and the riffs at the end – changed my life. Also, that’s when I retroactively developed a crush on Donny Osmond way past his prime. IDK you guys, I was a weird kid.

I Don’t Need Anything But You – Annie

Annie is like a rite of passage for any theatre kid, including this AZN one right here. I obviously wasn’t Annie, and by the time I did the show, I was too old to be an orphan, so I was a servant/the “Star-to-Be” aka the solo in NYC aka the part OG Annie Andrea McArdle plays in the Audra McDonald verz of Annie. This song always struck me as a super sweet tune between Annie and Daddy Warbucks, and was just filled with positivity about the future. She’ll learn soon enough.

Beautiful City – Godspell

Again, I guess this is cheating a bit, since Beautiful City wasn’t included in the original 1971 Off-Broadway cast recording, which is the soundtrack we went by when my church did the show. It was the first real musical I was ever in, and I’m kinda sad that this song wasn’t included. The song was written for the 1972 film, starring Victor Garber as the big JC, and the version above is from the 2011 Broadway revival starring Hunter Parrish as Jesus. When I first heard this, it was probably a mix of me not being too familiar with it and the fact that I was stunned by how beautiful Hunter’s voice is. It’s a haunting song that still holds up in 2015. Fun fact: My friends walked down the aisle to this song. Not creepy, really cute and made me cry.