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The Old Testament on Film

Heston as MosesThe many narratives of the Hebrew Bible -- often filled with sex, violence, politics, and intrigue -- have inspired film-makers from the very early days of cinema. In fact, there have been at least 110 films based on the Old Testament. The era of silent film saw the production of a number of films retelling Old Testament stories. One of the earliest films, the 1903 production of Samson and Delilah, was produced by the French production company Pathè.

When one first brings up the relationship between the Hebrew Bible and film, however, it's hard not to think of the development of the genre of biblical epic. From the genre's genesis (!) with movies like D.W. Griffith's Judith of Bethulia (1913) to its zenith in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956), the biblical epic has been a staple of the movie industry.

This brief survey of films inspired by the Old Testament lists the movies by different production eras, and within each era films are listed by their release date. While this list is not exhaustive, I have tried to be as complete as I can. Difficulties arose especially with the very early period as most of the earliest silent films are not listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and the most recent period due to the proliferation of direct-to-video movies. I have also not included children's animated films (with a few exceptions) in this list. Sorry, no VeggieTales here! (Though I will definitely have to develop a VeggieTales section in the future).

In the Beginning: From Silent Films to "Talkies"

(1900 to the 1930s)

From the very beginning of the cinema, Bible stories often served as inspiration for films. The first silent film based on the Hebrew Bible was Pathè's production of Samson and Delilah in 1903. That was the first of over fifty silent films derived from the Old Testament. Many of these early films were experimental as they continually discovered how they could go beyond the limitations of the stage with innovations such as outdoor location shooting, boom shots, and massive sets, among other things.

Last Updated on Friday, 02 October 2009 09:54
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The Era of TV & Straight-to-Video

(1970s to the Present)

Richard Gere as King DavidSince the 1970s, virtually all movies based on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible have been produced for television and/or been released straight to video and DVD -- with two exceptions. Bruce Beresford's King David was released in 1985. This film featured a lacklustre performance by Richard Gere as an impotent David (Gere was nominated for a "Razzie Award" in the worst actor category for his performance). It is no surprise that King David was a box office failure. A far better feature film was DreamWorks' 1998 animated feature Prince of Egypt. The animation for this film was excellent, as were the special effects -- I highly recommend it for adults and children alike.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 July 2009 14:10
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The Golden Age of Biblical Epic

 (1940s to the 1960s)

The Ten CommandmentsAfter the end of World War II, the biblical epic met with somewhat of a revival. No individual is more responsible for the development, revival, and dominance of the biblical epic than Cecil B. DeMille. His Samson and Delilah (1949) helped spark the revival in the 1950s. Nominated for five Academy Awards, it won in two categories (Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design). Spurred on by competition with television, another development during this period was wide-screen projection.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 July 2009 14:03
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The OT on Film: Select Bibliography

There are a number of books written on the Bible and film, including a number devoted to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible on film. These works range from scholarly treatments to more popular engagements.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 July 2009 14:20
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