If you're looking for messiah figures in the movies, you also can follow a few. The cinematic saviors below suggest you can find a Jesus figure in every film genre.
"The Green Mile" (1999)
The miraculous powers of the gentle giant John Coffey persuade his captors that the supernatural is present on the cellblock. Not only do his initials telegraph his messianic status, he also heals, resurrects, metes out justice and even takes the sins of others upon himself. His first convert, Paul (Tom Hanks) may not inherit eternal life, but he comes close.
Honorable mention: "Cool Hand Luke" (1967)
"On the Waterfront" (1954)
"I'm not looking to get crucified," Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) says as he contemplates taking on the corrupt bosses of NYC's union docks. But with a socially activist priest preparing his way, Malloy brings salvation to the workers and suffers a vicious beating for exposing the racketeering. His long, staggering walk back to the warehouse parallels Christ's passion at Calvary.
Honorable mention: "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938)
A Vietnam infantryman experiences what he terms the "battle for the possession of my soul" in a conflict between dueling sergeants Barnes and Elias. The brutal Barnes eventually causes the death of the more peace-loving Elias. Christ imagery is invoked in Elias' death scene. As the men are being airlifted from the scene, we see Elias (Willem Dafoe) stretching out his hands as if to say he has died for his men. Or perhaps Dafoe is just auditioning for his eventual title role in "The Last Temptation of Christ."
Honorable mention: "Apocalypse Now" (1979)
"E.T. - The Extraterrestrial" (1982)
When an alien can heal with the touch of a finger and point to your heart and say, "I'll be right here," there are some obvious Christ inferences to be drawn. The film's undercurrent is that a boy who has lost his father due to a parental separation gains an empathetic relationship with this extraterrestrial. When the authorities kill the alien, it is clear that the boy is dying too. So the story manages to incorporate the giving up of one's life for another, resurrection, ascension and the imparting of a loving spirit.
Honorable mention: "Edward Scissorhands" (1990)
"The Matrix" (1999)
The Internet rages with debates over whether the symbolism in this one is Christian, Buddhist or a form of Gnosticism. Nevertheless, the symbols are omnipresent in this tale of a liberator named Neo (an anagram of the "One"?) who joins with Morpheus and Trinity to rescue an enslaved humanity from cyber-prison.
Honorable mention: "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951)
"Life is Beautiful" (1997)
This small gem of a movie transcends its genre by labeling itself a fable, a narrative intended to enforce a useful truth. Roberto Benigni plays the clown as he woos and wins his wife during the film's first half. Then as the movie shifts tone, he miraculously demonstrates the importance of being who you were created to be, even in the midst of a nightmare. A father becomes a messiah for his own son (admittedly a limited atonement) as he shields him from the horrors of a concentration camp.
Honorable mention: "City Lights" (1931)
"High Noon" (1952)
Saviors are never in short supply in the wide-screen West. But the rugged individualism that permeates these films rarely translates into a life sacrificed. That's true of this classic western as well. But Sheriff Will Kane (Gary Cooper) does at least offer up his life. The ungrateful town he single-handedly saves never seems to get the "Fear not" message. Consequently, their inaction raises Kane to messiah status because he is definitely "rejected by his own."
Honorable mention: "Dances with Wolves" (1990)
"The Road Warrior" (1982)
Today's action/adventure is yesterday's Western with special effects added. The same bootstrap theology guides the genre. This superior sequel to Mad Max features a young, relatively unknown Mel Gibson in a post-apocalypse post-Western. As a lone wanderer who comes to the aid of a community in need, Gibson portrays Max with a passion that suggests Moses, except this Exodus uses more explosives.
Honorable mention: "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"
"The Ninth Configuration" (1979)
The messianic language abounds in this convoluted tale penned by William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist). Its gothic setting and rapid-fire one-liners are enough to confer cult status upon it, while the performances and offbeat premise remain compelling throughout. But be warned. To find the Christ figure at the center of it, you have to be prepared to accept a very bloody and murderous messiah.
Honorable mention: "Blade Runner" (1982)
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)
The rebellious Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) becomes inspiration to an insane asylum. Director Milos Forman actually tones down the messiah overtones present in Ken Kesey's book. But one can still see the parable of a life-giving teacher pitted against a pharisaic opponent. Nurse Ratched, exquisitely portrayed by Louise Fletcher, was truly a cross no one would want to bear, or a bear no one would want to cross.
Honorable mention - "Billy Budd" (1962)