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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Questions, Comments, Concerns: The Passion

It’s time for another live TV production for everyone on the Internet to comment on! We’ve previously covered The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz, Grease: Live! and now we’re giving our thoughts on everyone’s favorite musical, The Passion. Although it’s technically not a musical, but more of a story with music.

What even is The Passion? It’s basically the story of the final days of Jesus’ life. This passion play has been done for years around the world, but this specific show is derived from a British TV production, where celebrities paraphrase certain Bible passages which tell the story of Easter, and in between, they sing live performances of pop songs relevant to the story. Meanwhile, a group of people carry a huge cross towards the main stage in the center square where all the action takes place.

The Passion has been huge in The Netherlands over the past few years, and each year it takes place in a different city. In the American version, Tyler Perry’s The Passion took place in New Orleans on Sunday, which was Palm Sunday aka the Sunday before Easter. Whether you’re a believer or not, there’s still a lot to talk about regarding the actual show, so here are some questions, comments, and concerns that came up while watching this musical event for the first time.

Question: What is this stage?

It looks like it could double as Justin Bieber’s latest tour stage.

Concern: This is not a play

Apparently this show is more of a presentation than a theatrical play. I thought it was more along the lines of telling the Easter story with music, but according to Tyler Perry, it’s not. He is the emcee/host/storyteller/narrator of this show, and I also didn’t realize he was going to be doing an opening monologue and continuously explain what’s happening or what’s about to happen. He starts on the Bieber stage in the middle of New Orleans’ Woldenberg Park, and at one point, he’s trying to get through his speech but people start cheering and he pauses to let them continue cheering. It’s… weird? He also says, “…As New Orleans becomes our Jersusalem” there are more cheers from the crowd, who are v excited to see their city turned into the big JC’s hometown.

Comment: Yolanda Adams is serving Jesus chic in this dress

Gospel singer Yolanda Adams sings the first song of the night, When Love Takes Over, originally by David Guetta and Kelly Rowland. I guess it works.

Comment: I’m thrown by the pre-taped packages

Tyler Perry throws to the huge video screens which show Jesus (Jencarlos Canela) rolling with his crew aka the disciples featuring Prince Royce (Peter), Chris Daughtry (Judas) and Christian singer Michael W. Smith (misc. disciple) singing Celine Dion’s Love Can Move Mountains. They’re initially on a famous New Orleans trolley and make their way to some large park and it’s clear this was one of the pre-taped segments for the show. I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around what’s happening. Like there are these folks on the trolley who I think are acting as if Jencarlos is Jesus, but the folks near Tyler Perry are regular audience members. So I guess the Bieber stage is present day and everywhere else is “Jerusalem”? Does it even matter that I have to delineate which one is which?

Question: Is Tyler Perry going to keep telling us what’s about to happen?

Is it necessary to give a character breakdown of all the people in this show? Tyler Perry gives a brief description of the main players in JC’s crucifixion story, but I feel like we can figure it out? But I guess if no one’s saying lines describing what happened in makes sense? And I get that if people are tuning in and not familiar with the Bible/this story and have no idea who the “characters” involved in this story are, you have to explain it… but why are they watching anyways?

Comment: I see you Pontious Pilate

 You talkin’ to no one, Seal.

Comment: Tricia Yearwood is still a solid singer

Trisha is playing the role of JC’s mom Mary. By “playing” I mean Tyler Perry tells me she’s Mary and Trisha sings a song describing how Mary felt towards her son Jesus. On the bright side, I will say it’s hard to cover a Whitney song and be good at it but Trisha’s doing My Love Is Your Love justice.

Concern: All of the disciples’ scenes are possibly pre-taped

We cut to JC and his disciples in a coffee shop and JC is all, ‘Yo Peter, you gonna be the main man to build this whole Christianity thang’ and Peter’s all… ‘Imma dip out byeeeeee’.

Comment: This is giving me Left Behind vibes

Right now, I feel like I’m watching a Christian movie and Kirk Cameron is going to pop up at any second.

Concern: Jesus is… offputting

Is it horrible that I do not care for the way Jencarlos is playing Jesus right now? It feels forced and he has a hint of cockiness to how he’s playing it, and I don’t like it one bit.

Comment: Cross bearers are part of a glorified news report

Throughout the show, a giant illuminated cross is being carried through the city with more and more people joining the group as they go along the route. Joining them is Nischelle Turner, who is a reporter on Entertainment Tonight – I only know this because I have to watch ET every day but they didn’t mention it during the show. She’s basically like the man on the ground with the cross bearers and talking with some of them as they go. So that’s a thing we didn’t see in Grease: Live!

Comment: “Celebrity” cameos are happening

Jesus goes up to a food truck and asks for loaves and fishes (see: parable). Top Chef alum and The Chew host Carla Hall works on the Fish & Bread (???) truck and happily gives it to him, but did we need a cameo from a familiar face in this?

Comment: No one likes Creed

this is a real angelfire site

Jesus is singing Creed’s With Arms Wide Open during The Last Supper but I think JC would still be on the side of most people by saying Creed isn’t the best.

Concern: Time is going slowly

Trisha Yearwood is currently singing contemporary pop hit Hands by Jewel and legit I feel like I’ve been watching this for 2 hours but it’s only been 30 minutes.

Comment: The cross just went down Bourbon Street

The illuminated cross was brought down New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street, which if you don’t know is home to a bunch of bars and a lot of Mardi Gras celebrations. So that’s a first. Nischelle interviewed a man who is in the military and also a woman whose teenage son was killed due to violence, so in addition to the Christian story they’re telling, they’re also incorporating social issues. Tyler Perry made a few (horrible) jokes too. I’m just so confused as to what this whole thing is.

Question: Why is Judas singing Evanescence in an empty factory

Judas is having some internal struggles while he battles betraying Jesus, so he decides to since Bring Me To Life by Evanescence in a dark, empty, creepy factory building. I find it impressive yet unnerving due to the location, but Tyler Perry has a different response, saying of the (pre-taped) scene, “Wow, I believe he’s in turmoil.”

Comment: The audience is feelin it

 A lot of the audience members are really feeling the show and are getting emotional. It looks like it could be a scene from Jesus Camp. But then there are some who are the folks who constantly are aware they’re on TV and wave every chance they get.

Comment: Jesus Christ: The Unauthorized Musical

I just realized the best way to describe this show – an unauthorized musical about the final days of Jesus’ life. Remember how a couple of producers in LA have made the Unauthorized Cruel Intentions musical and the Unauthorized The O.C. musical (which I pitched songs for) and the upcoming Unauthorized Friday Night Lights musical? This is what that is. Retelling a story with the characters singing “modern” pop songs is exactly what The Passion is and I wish I truly understood that before I watched this.

Question: Why is it taking so long for Judas to kiss Jesus

Honestly, there’s no time for singing. He needs to betray him immediately. I will say that this is a powerful scene with the police taking Jesus away while the other disciples fight back and an eerie reminder this is what’s happening in America and not just fictionalized Jerusalem.

Comment: Lil Wayne tho

This commercial featuring Lil Wayne just aired and I am dying. He’s actually really funny! And maybe the most entertaining part of this show!

Question: Where is Hoobastank?

Because they’re still getting royalties off The Reason 12 years later and honestly, good for them. But was I missing Hoobastank in my life? No.

Concern: How heavy is this cross tho?

Photo Mar 22, 12 20 03 AM

I know a bunch of folks are carrying the cross and the weight is distributed evenly, but still, it can’t be easy to carry a large illuminated cross for 2 miles.

Comment: A real musical in a faux musical

Trisha’s singing You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel and I’d honestly rather watch Carousel right now.

Comment: Seal as Pontius Pilate

Jesus is in custody and brought to the Bieber stage for the first time since the show started an hour and a half ago. Seal also shows up as Pontius Pilate and I’ve always thought that if Seal played a villain it wouldn’t be a stretch. Also, they’re singing a song I’ve never heard before called We Don’t Need Another Hero, which is apparently by Tina Turner for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Comment: I think I’m biased against Seal

Remember last week when I said Kiss From a Rose was overplayed and I ended up hating it because of its heavy rotation? I think that has made me subconsciously dislike Seal and throughout his entire rendition of Mad World, I tuned out.

Question: Is Lifehouse a Christian band?

Trisha Yearwood is singing Lifehouse’s Broken, which is not only a song I’ve never heard of but, seamlessly fits as a song Mary sings as she says goodbye to her son. It’s such a good match that I’m wondering if Lifehouse made a foray into Christian music.

Comment: Tyler Perry has confidence

The way pastor Tyler Perry is talking and saying how “amazing” the show is makes it seem like he’s overly confident like he is well aware all of America is watching and tweeting about this show right now. Update: 6.61 million people tuned in to see The Passion, which is way down from when Fox did Grease: Live in January. To put it in perspective, more people watched Steve Harvey’s new kid talent show Little Big Shots than The Passion.

Question: Is Jesus about to pull a Michael Scott?

After the crucifixion (that Tyler Perry described to us instead of it being acted out), Jesus rises from the dead and Jencarlos shows up on the roof of a building overlooking the Bieber stage and the reveal of his location is legit like Michael Scott going on roof of Dunder Mifflin and threatening to jump. Also, it’s really windy which is a bit concerning.

Comment: I guess that was ok

Photo Mar 22, 12 09 28 AM

I think the main problem is that although I knew what the idea of the show was, I still thought it was going to be more like Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar. Not to say it was horrible. You know who probably really liked this show? My parents. My parents who are super in the big JC and are probably talking about it like we talk about the last episode of Scandal. So, glad they finally have a TV program to chat about.