If you are thinking of showing your kids a film about the life of Christ as we get close to Easter (a valid, wonderful thing to do, no matter your faith), my choice for you would be the 1961 Samuel Bronston production “King of Kings” starring Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus–if you can tolerate the fact that Jesus is played by a hunky teen idol with fabulous shoulder-length hair. I loved this film as a pre-teen girl and would watch the Chicago television guide for it every year around this time (back when we all had to wait for movies to show up for us).
The scenes on the cross aren’t so realistic as to terrify kids, but they’re bloody and gripping for sure, and Jesus’ conversations with the thieves being crucified on either side of him are well done. The tomb scene the next day is incredibly moving, and the music throughout will just pierce your heart. (I can hear it in my head right now.) Critics hated the Jeff Hunter casting, but free of any knowledge of his former work, I have no problem with his performance.
Since “King of Kings” invests little energy in pointing fingers and speculating about who killed Jesus anyway, it is more instructive than Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” which seemed to inflame and repulse many viewers (though I know it inspired others). More than that to me, the violence in “Passion” was so over-blown and gratuitous. By comparison, “King of Kings” is watchable, and focused on Jesus’ real message. Better still, it’s safe for kids 10 and up, who are ready to contemplate Christ’s death and resurrection.
Do you agree? “King of Kings” is still a staple of most video stores. Here’s an article that mentions other biblical film-making efforts.