First thing’s first: There is such a thing as a good Bible movie. There are actually quite a few of them. Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments, Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt, William Wyler’s classic Ben-Hur …all well worth the time of both Bible thumpers and film snobs alike.
But it’s true that the hit/miss ratio of Bible movies isn’t exactly inviting. For every Last Temptation of Christ there’s a King David; the atrocious Richard Gere vehicle, or Greatest Story Ever Told, which is definitely a great story, although it’s told as anything but.
But maybe this is more a problem of vision. Lots of Bible stories lend themselves to great cinema, even if film studios aren’t always willing to go there. The problem is often lining up what the biblical values audience wants (tame, family friendly lessons) and what the Bible actually delivers (lots of not particularly family friendly material).
But with the right director, we will believe that the best Bible movie is yet to come. Here are a few filmmakers we’d be curious to see tackle a Bible movie.
Greta Gerwig: Ruth
The Book of Ruth is already laid out like a short love story, replete with tragedy, love, heartbreak and even sexual tension. And most importantly, a compelling heroine who romanced her way into history and the genealogical line of Jesus himself. It’s a great story, and few filmmakers today are as capable of handling the nuance’s of Ruth’s unique character arc than Gerwig, who excels at these sorts of fully realized origin stories.
Robert Eggers: Samson
Eggers’ super power is telling stories of bygone eras that make those times feel both familiar and foreign. In movies like The VVitch, The Lighthouse and The Northman, Eggers captures both the humanity of people hundreds of years removed from us while still highlighting the ways our differing eras set us apart. Few directors are more capable of channeling the strangeness and savagery of Samson’s yarn, a biblical epic that is far more weird than it usually gets credit for in the flannelgraph.
Jane Campion: David
In movies like The Power of the Dog and Bright Star, Campion’s talent for conveying deep emotions like love, trust, jealousy and resentment between her actors sets her apart. That skill would come in handy for the life of David, a man who always seemed defined by his relationships to everyone from King Saul to Jonathan to Abigail to Absalom to God Himself.
Nia DaCosta: Jezebel
DaCosta is only two movies into her career (she’s currently hard at work in The Marvels for, uh, Marvel) but between Little Woods and Candyman, she’s shown a shrewd talent for sympathetic portrayals of people society doesn’t tend to sympathize with. Viewers may not need a movie that turns Queen Jezebel into a misunderstood hero (a la Wicked) but if anyone was going to attempt a human portrait of one of the Bible’s most famous villains, we’d want DaCosta at the helm.
Terrence Malick: Adam and Eve
You could argue Malick already made this movie, since Tree of Life is about nothing if it’s not about the origins of the universe and why God put us all down here anyway. But Malick, maybe our most biblically obsessed modern filmmaker, would be a natural at crafting the beauty of Creation and the heartbreak of the Fall.
Olivia Wilde: Esther
We’re awfully intrigued by Wilde’s burgeoning film career and the ambition she’s bringing to the projects she’s taken on. We’re so intrigued, in fact, that we’d love to see her take on Esther, an oft-filmed Bible tale that still feels like it’s never quite gotten its due. The historical importance, dramatic stakes, complex social dynamics and extremely modern social commentary would all benefit from Wilde’s verve and stylistic flair.
Guillermo Del Toro: Jonah
If we’re gonna get Del Toro involved, we need some creatures, and the Book of Jonah’s got some of the best creatures going. Our english Bibles call the animal that swallowed Jonah a “whale,” but the original Hebrew only refers to it as a “great fish” — it could refer to any giant sea creature. That could be a whale. Or it could be some sort of sea serpent. Or it could be an ancient underwater creature long lost to history. Del Toro would have a ball.
Darren Aronofsky: Jacob and Esau
Aronofsky has already tried his hand at a Bible movie, and his vision of Noah was a little polarizing. But we’ll be honest, we kind of want to give him another shot at the ancient world he crafted for the Flood. His instincts for jealousy, depression and rage have a perfect match in the story of the first sibling rivalry.