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Movies for Grownups

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The Bible Is Back on Screen

Movies inspired by the Good Book are all the rage this year, but these 10 classics remind us, they have a high standard to meet

Charlton Heston in Ten Commandments, 1956. Best Bible Movies. (Everett Collection)

Charlton Heston parts the Red Sea in one of the most well-known biblical movies of all time, "The Ten Commandments." — Everett Collection

En español | Hollywood is resurrecting the biblical epic, a genre with a unique blend of spectacle and substance: Son of God, the story of Jesus as told by the makers of last year's History channel miniseries The Bible, has grossed more than $50 million since it opened Feb. 28. Noah, starring Russell Crowe as a brooding ark builder, set sail March 28. And director Ridley Scott has cast Christian Bale as his action hero Moses in Exodus, shot in 3-D and due in theaters Dec. 12.

Also in the wings in Hollywood: films based on the stories of Cain and Abel, Pontius Pilate and David vs. Goliath.

Bible tales with big stars are nothing new, of course. Here are 10 fit for family viewing — no graphic violence (as in 2004's The Passion of the Christ) or excess lustiness (as in 1949's Samson and Delilah) in sight!

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The Robe (1953)

In the first film released in CinemaScope, Richard Burton stars as Marcellus, a Roman tribune commanding the soldiers ordered to crucify Jesus. His life, along with that of childhood sweetheart Diana (Jean Simmons) and slave Demetrius (Victor Mature), changes forever when Marcellus wins the Messiah's garment in a drunken game of dice. Time magazine called The Robe "ablaze with Technicolor and alive with romance, action and Biblical pageantry … Hollywood at its supercolossal best." The movie earned five Oscar nods but won only for costume design.

The Ten Commandments (1956)

A top-notch Charlton Heston plays Moses, the adopted Egyptian prince who leads the enslaved Hebrews to freedom. Shown on ABC each spring, The 10 Commandments has become to Easter what It's a Wonderful Life is to Christmas. This final offering from the master of the film epic, Cecil B. DeMille, gave the director the chance to partly remake his 1923 silent version. Yul Brynner (Pharaoh Ramses) and Anne Baxter (Nefertiri) verge on kitsch, but it's hard to knock the predigital parting of the Red Sea.

Barabbas (1961)

Anthony Quinn is the imprisoned thief whom Pontius Pilate released after the crowd chose to save him over Jesus. After witnessing Christ's death and learning of his teachings, a guilt-ridden Barabbas ends up toiling in a mine, fighting as a gladiator and taking part in the burning of Rome. Filmed in Italy, the epic undertaking captivated audiences with its massive battle in a gladiator arena and a crucifixion sequence shot during an actual eclipse of the sun.

King of Kings (1961)

Nicholas Ray went from directing 1955's Rebel Without a Cause to this thoughtful portrait of a rebel with one. He artfully juxtaposed large crowd scenes (the Sermon on the Mount) with intimate moments between Jesus and Mary. The first mainstream film in English to show Jesus' face onscreen, King of Kings came under fire for casting Hollywood-handsome Jeffrey Hunter in the title role. Its reputation and influence have recovered nicely from those initial pans.

Next page: The Greatest Story Ever Told and 5 more classics. »

   Read Movies for Grownups review of 'Heaven Is Real'

Rated: PG
Run Time:
1 hour, 40 minutes
Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Margo Martindale
Randall Wallace

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