Usually the Jesusy industrial complex focuses on films that are cheap to make like Heaven Is For Real and God's Not Dead. When you only have to pay a couple of college-age actors and one giant straw man, you can make a whole movie for $2 million and then easily turn a profit on church-group outings alone.
Risen is going big instead, with a swords-and-sandals epic about pagans trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Jesus's body three days after he's crucified. It focuses on the non-canon Roman detective Clavius, played by Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love), and his sidekick, played by Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), who's got that clean-cut blond boy appearance you'd expect from a soldier in the Middle East.
Jesus himself is played by Cliff Curtis, though he isn't around much, which is kinda the point. But it was such a surprising choice (obviously, Jesus shouldn't have a New Zealand accent, cute as it is) that it got me thinking about the best portrayals of Jesus on film. I narrowed it down to five. Then that five turned into six because of a tie. It's a miracle!
Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ (2004)
I'm basically required to mention Caviezel because he was the top-grossing Jesus of all time. But I think he's also earned it by being the Jesus who spent time in actual pain. Passion is basically a religious version of the bear attack in Revenant, stretched out to 126 agonizing minutes, and Jim suffered plenty of real pain for the fake torture. He spent five weeks filming the crucifixion alone, balanced on a cross on an Italian cliff and terrified of falling. If that weren't enough, he survived being struck by lightning while on the cross. As we all know, being struck by lightning either means God loves what you're doing or He hates it. Or, in the case of lightning rods, it could mean He doesn't care either way. But still, all reports suggest getting hit by lightning sucks, so Caviezel gets to be the No. 5 Jesus.
TIE: Christian Bale in Mary, Mother of Jesus (TV movie, 1999)
and Jeremy Sisto in Jesus (TV movie, 1999)
If there are two things we know for sure about Jesus, they are that he's handsome and white. So there is no better choice than the handsomest of white men, Christian Bale. "Do you believe in me?" "Yes." "Swear to me!"
But Jeremy Sisto from Law & Order also played a shockingly handsome Jesus on TV in the same year. It was a great year for young women having some feelings about Jesus a little lower than their hearts.
Graham Chapman in Life of Brian (1979)
Technically, Jesus was played by Kenneth Colley (Admiral Piett from The Empire Strikes Back), and he's fine. But Graham Chapman's bumbling Jesus analog, Brian, is a complete delight. He has a British accent, wants sex and really doesn't want to be the savior. But while the film fiercely mocks some elements of the biblical story, Brian and Jesus are handled very gently. The joke is on the followers of Brian, not on the well-meaning character himself.
John Turturro in The Big Lebowski (1998)
Turturro's portrayal of the Jesus has the highest bowling average of any Jesus in film history. And knowing where bowling balls have been makes his licking scene almost as difficult as getting hit by lightning.
The CGI Lion in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
The creators of TCON:TLTWTW went against the grain by casting Jesus as less of a white man and more of a cartoon big cat who could rip your face off but doesn't because he's Jesus. He has the longest jump and fiercest claws of any Jesus—and if that weren't enough, he's voiced by Liam Neeson, so he sounds awesome!
There is some concern that his performance wasn't as believable as others on this list because he was so obviously computer-generated. A fair point. But still, I felt much sadder when he was sacrificed at the Stone Table than when any of those things happened to Caviezel. And instead of just disappearing from the tomb like Jesus does in Risen, the CGI Lion wastes no time mauling Tilda Swinton to death, like a good Jesus should.
SEE IT: Risen is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at most Portland-area theaters.