Why Jesus movies suck

History-Channel-JesusSo why is it so hard to make a good Jesus movie? After all, the story of Jesus is the greatest story ever told. Why is it so hard to make a good story out of the greatest story?

The problem of artistry

The problem is artistic. The way one artistic medium works does not always translate to another. The gospels delivered the story of Jesus to us in a written form that does not readily translate to film. Probably the most problematic part of it is the words of Jesus. They are good in written form but when translated to film they seem wooden and awkward.

But, who wants to change the words of Christ? Ideally, a movie would rework the words and actions of Jesus to tell the story without changing the meaning. The problem is that scripture is so rich that while the filmmaker may be able to keep the main story true there is no way one could keep the nuance true. So, people will always pick it apart.

So, is there an answer to how to make a good Jesus movie? Well if I knew how I would make one. But, I think it is worth the struggle. And, if there is an answer, I think it will be found in the filmmaker taking the risk of raising the ire of some Christians to tell the Greatest Story in a way that works for film.

The show, The Chosen , does much of this. The long form of a TV series has allowed artistic flexibility to risk and raise ire while still demonstrating their faithfulness. Maybe, this will open the doors for filmmakers to reimagine the story of Jesus in cinematic form.


This essay is from our Anastasis Series where we resurrect articles from the past that are either still relevant today or can be easily updated. This piece was first published on March 27, 2014, and has been lightly edited and updated.

About Post Author

Related Essay

  • I think that part of the problem is that everyone seems to want to tell the big story, rather than the parts. If you were to just sit down and read any gospel (but Mark) it might take a couple hours, and these are already in “digest form.” (Does anyone really think that people came by the thousands and sat for days to hear a three minute Sermon on the Mount.) In as much as the gospels are dense, it is impossible to create any story line that does not leave huge chunks out.

    To be honest, I am not fully comfortable with the idea of Jesus Movies… (I find it hard to suggest genuine Holiness and transcendence in film) but should I attempt, I would want to create a series of movies.

    Dressed in Flesh: The Incarnation
    the Nazareth Strain
    The Wine that was Water
    Synagoge Syndrome
    Thy Kingdom Come…
    Who do you say…


    How about a film that just gives us the teachings of Jesus with respect to the Kingdom of God…

    As for existing films, my favorite Jesus film of all times is Ben Hur. (But then, Jesus is a background player.) It seemed that this movie alone captures the idea of the Divine otherness and genuine authority of Jesus.

  • Jon Tandy says:

    Many Christian movies in general are preachy and superficial, even the good ones. But the ones that seem best to me are those that do good art (i.e., produce a quality story with quality acting and filmmaking, etc.) and let the story tell itself, rather than turn it into a glorified sermon.
    Regarding Jesus movies, I’m writing this long after your original article. Season 3 of The Chosen is currently being filmed. I think Dallas Jenkins has been blessed with being able to do exactly what you described as necessary for a good Jesus movie – reworking the story artistically while staying true to the meaning, and more so, showing Jesus as a real person who had real effect on people, rather than a wooden preacher acting out the history of the Gospels in around 2 hours.

  • >