10 Hollywood Films Depicting the Holy Land
Who doesn’t love going to the movies? When we watch a good movie, we’re transported to a distant land and find ourselves wrapped up in a compelling story. It’s through these films many of us learn about places like New York City, Paris, and London for the very first time. Movies can help us better understand a culture, appreciate the architecture, or know a country’s people. If you are someone who wants to know more about the Holy Land, but don’t want to sit through a documentary, you can find many Hollywood films depicting the Holy Land. Below are a few of these movies. Some will focus on the religious aspects, others the history, and even a few just want to tell a fictional story.
“Kingdom of Heaven”
One aspect of the Holy Land that certainly played an important role in its history, but rarely is shown in film these days is the Crusades. These epic conquests between Christian and Muslim forces shaped much of the politics and borders of the area over centuries. “Kingdom of Heaven” follows a young blacksmith who travels to Jerusalem on a personal journey where he witnesses the good and (mostly) bad of what is happening. Legendary director Ridley Scott shot the film in Morocco and Spain in order to capture the early days of the Holy Land.
“The Gospel of John”
Many of the travelers who flock to the Holy Land each year are Christian pilgrims looking to see the streets where Jesus Christ walked. You might as well watch the story of his life play out through this adaptation of the Biblical book. This 2014 project seeks to give an accurate representation of the people and places mentioned in the Bible. If you like what you see here, you can also look for the other three gospel books, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each of these was made around the same time and offers an in-depth portrayal of the written events.
Among the Hollywood films depicting the Holy Land on our list, this is probably the most widely praised. The award-winning film shows the events of the Holocaust through the eyes of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a businessman who looks to save as many Jews as he can through a series of cunning propositions with the Nazis. Of course most of the film is set in Europe, but in the finale we are able to witness the actual grave of Schindler in Israel. “Schindler’s List” is a tough film to watch, but Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece also provides context to why certain events related to the Holy Land happened in the years following WWII.
“The Passion of the Christ”
The most financially successful movie about the life of Jesus is this brutally violent picture directed by Mel Gibson in 2004. For filming, Italy stands in for Israel but the main aesthetic matches what one would expect for Jerusalem. “The Passion of the Christ” shows audiences the final hours of Jesus’ life as he is arrested, put on trial, beaten and executed. Jim Caviezel delivers a strong performance in the main role and the film was nominated for three Oscars.
“Left Behind: The Movie”
Usually the religious Hollywood films depicting the Holy Land are set in the past, but “Left Behind: The Movie” is about a possible future written about in the Book of Revelation. Before people start disappearing and disaster reigns, the movie kicks off with a strange occurrence during a military struggle in Israel. The film’s low production value and a more Western-centered plot keep us from spending too much time in the Holy Land, however.
“David and Bathsheba” - Hollywood Films Depicting the Holy Land
Once upon a time, Hollywood had a vested interest in bringing Bible stories to life. While many of these centered around the life of Jesus, one set many years earlier is “David and Bathsheba.” The forbidden affair between King David and Bathsheba, the wife of one of his bravest soldiers, is a pivotal point in the Old Testament of the Bible and it is set in Israel. Enjoy the dated trailer below.
After the formation of Israel following WWII, the nation’s intelligence service was very concerned in finding runaway Nazis guilty of killing hundreds of people, if not more. “Operation Finale” is one of many movies based around this search for war criminals. It follows a group of agents and spies sent to Argentina to find Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official credited with the plan to wipe out the Jewish race.
Like “Operation Finale,” “Exodus” tells the early history of the Israeli nation, but this time it focuses on politics and military fighting. Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, and Lee J. Cobb star in this 1960 film about the birth of Israel. Filmed on location, you can see for yourself what the Holy Land looked like only a few decades ago. The Oscar-winning movie tells a compelling, though somewhat one-sided, narrative that can help you understand the political turmoil of the last 70 years.
“Risen” - Hollywood Films Depicting the Holy Land
Another of the Hollywood films depicting the Holy Land that involves the story of Jesus is “Risen.” Filmed in Spain, the movie follows a Roman soldier who must investigate the alleged resurrection of Jesus to help the government stop any possible rebellions resulting from the spread of the story. Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, and Cliff Curtis star.
An older classic which has long been hailed is “Ben-Hur.” Charlton Heston stars as a Jewish prince betrayed by a Roman official he thought was his friend. After surviving slavery and a shipwreck, Heston’s title character seeks revenge on those who wronged him. Why is this one of the Hollywood films depicting the Holy Land? Much of the story takes place in and around Jerusalem, though the famous 1959 version was shot in Italy. This is also true for the 2016 remake with Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell.
“World War Z”
Just for fun, why not also acknowledge a zombie partially set in the Holy Land? “World War Z” is an action-thriller featuring Brad Pitt as a former UN employee racing around the globe trying to find the cure to a violent contagion capable of turning people into mindless drones intent on hurting others. An important section of the film is set in Israel, where we see how the local military is handling the crisis.
These are just a few of the Hollywood films depicting the Holy Land which have been made over time. If you were to expand your sights beyond American filmmaking, you would be able to find even more projects able to teach you about the history, people, and culture.
You know what’s even better than watching a movie about the Holy Land? Seeing it for yourself! At Premier Israel, we want to help you embark on the trip of a lifetime as you walk the streets of Jerusalem and take part in the story of the Holy Land. Whether you join us for one of our many excursions or wish to create a customizable adventure of your own, let us help you experience the Holy Land with your own eyes. Click on the link below for more information.