In the Washington Post’s free commuter tabloid Express on Thursday, writer Kristen Page-Kirby wrote a little “Film Riffs” feature about Jesus movies headlined “Jesus Is Magic” (yep, also a title of a snide Sarah Silverman special).
Page-Kirby explained that “In ‘Son of God,’ out Friday, Diogo Morgado plays Jesus of Nazareth, a homeless rabbi who spent a chunk of his childhood as a refugee. Jesus can be quite the box-office draw.” She then listed five movies, none of which were the massive Mel Gibson box-office hit we all remember from 2004. Guess what topped the list instead?
1. ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’
Willem Dafoe played the Wonderful Counselor in this 1988 Martin Scorsese film, a movie that managed to tick a lot of people off because it suggested that maybe Jesus would have preferred to not have to die a painful, gruesome, horrible death.
That’s not correct. It ticked off a lot of people because it wanted to turn God the Son into a morally conflicted horny man. Ultimately, after seeing the film, movie critic Michael Medved told assembled reporters “It is the height of irony that all this controversy should be generated by a film that turns out to be so breathtakingly bad, so unbearably boring. In my opinion, the controversy about this picture is a lot more interesting than the film itself.”
Page-Kirby didn’t pick this picture for “box-office draw.” It grossed about $8 million. Next on the list?
2. ‘Hamlet 2’
In this 2008 play-within-a-movie, Steve Coogan plays the Prince of Peace in a musical sequel to “Hamlet,” complete with the song “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” No, it doesn’t make much sense in the movie, either.
This isn’t a Jesus movie, but a movie with a Jesus subplot. So why mention it? It grossed $4.8 million – about half of what producers paid for the rights at Sundance. In today's dollars, "Son of God" grossed more in its Friday debut.
Page-Kirby rounded it out with older films “King of Kings” (1961), “Ben Hur” (1959) – a box-office smash, but it only touches on Jesus – and “Godspell” (1973), with Jesus in modern New York City.
But Mel Gibson’s classic “The Passion of the Christ” isn’t worth mentioning.