« Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Inevitable Sequel | Main | Fresh, Rotten, and Everything in Between »

June 17, 2009

Genesis at the movies

Year One -- the "biblical comedy" in which a couple of prehistoric dudes stumble across several characters from the Book of Genesis -- opens this Friday, so now is as good a time as any to take a look at how other films have treated the first book of the Bible.

Alas, time does not permit any deep analysis here. But at the very least, we can say that Genesis-themed movies have been all over the map: the list includes edgy arthouse movies and bloated Hollywood epics, films that offer compelling insights into the characters and cultures that lie behind these stories and films that have sometimes been downright dopey.

Personally, I am drawn to the movies that go beyond the neat-and-tidy Sunday-school versions of these stories, and that sometimes means I am drawn to the movies that explore some of the darker and more neglected elements of the biblical narrative. But even here, it can be fascinating to see just how different the treatments are, at times. Just compare, for example, how Roger Young's Joseph (1995) and Cheick Oumar Sissoko's Genesis (1999) -- both of which are very good, in their own ways -- handle the rape of Jacob's daughter Dinah and the sacking of Shechem by her brothers (as described in Genesis 34).

Anyway, here below is a partial list of feature-length titles that the Genesis-curious can check out, together with the years of their release, the directors who made them and, where possible, the approximate chapters of Genesis that are covered by the films in question. Some of these films deal with Genesis at great length, while others deal with it for only a few scenes; and some of these films can be fairly frank about the sex and violence of the Bible, so as always, you might want to check out reviews of these films, where possible, before seeing them:
  1. Noah's Ark (d. Michael Curtiz & Darryl F. Zanuck, 1928; ch. 6-11)
  2. The Green Pastures (d. Marc Connelly & William Keighley, 1936; ch. 1-9)
  3. Sodom and Gomorrah (d. Robert Aldrich & Sergio Leone, 1962; ch. 13-19)
  4. The Bible: In the Beginning... (d. John Huston, 1966; ch. 1-22)
  5. The Story of Jacob and Joseph (d. Michael Cacoyannis, 1974; ch. 25-50)
  6. The Genesis Project: Genesis (d. ?, 197?; ch. 1-50)
  7. The Annunciation (d. Andras Jeles, 1984; ch. 1-3)
  8. The Emigrant (d. Youssef Chahine, 1994; ch. 37-47)
  9. Genesis: Creation & The Flood (d. Ermanno Olmi, 1994; ch. 1-9)
  10. Abraham (d. Joseph Sargent, 1994; ch. 11-25)
  11. Jacob (d. Peter Hall, 1994; ch. 25-33)
  12. Joseph (d. Roger Young, 1995; ch. 34-50)
  13. The Loss of Sexual Innocence (d. Mike Figgis, 1999; ch. 1-3)
  14. Genesis (d. Cheick Oumar Sissoko, 1999; ch. 33-37)
  15. Joseph, King of Dreams (d. Rob LaDuca & Robert C. Ramirez, 2000; ch. 35-47)
Noah's Ark movies are practically a genre unto themselves, so we might as well create a special list for those, too. I wrote brief summaries of the films below for BC Christian News two years ago, when Evan Almighty (2007) came out, so you can check out the comments there -- but here are the basic titles:
  1. Noah's Ark (d. Michael Curtiz & Darryl F. Zanuck, 1928; ch. 6-11)
  2. Father Noah's Ark (p. Walt Disney, 1933; ch. 6-9).
  3. The Green Pastures (d. Marc Connelly & William Keighley, 1936; ch. 1-9)
  4. Noah's Ark (p. Walt Disney, 1959; ch. 6-9)
  5. The Bible: In the Beginning... (d. John Huston, 1966; ch. 1-22)
  6. In Search of Noah's Ark (d. James L. Conway, 1976; ch. 6-9)
  7. Genesis: The Creation and the Flood (d. Ermanno Olmi, 1994; ch. 1-9)
  8. Noah's Ark (d. John Irvin, 1999; ch. 6-9, 19)
  9. Fantasia/2000 (d. Francis Glebas, etc., 1999; ch. 6-9)
A number of other Noah's Ark movies -- many of them animated -- have come out recently or are in the works right now, too, including:
  1. Aardvark Art's Ark (Warner Brothers)
  2. El Arca (Patagonik Film Group)
  3. Noah (written by Darren Aronofsky)
  4. Noah's Ark (Unified Pictures)
  5. Noah's Ark: The New Beginning (Promenade Entertainment)
  6. Not the End of the World (Illuminated Films)
  7. Rock the Boat (Gaumont)
  8. Sold Out! (written by Uri Paster)
Bits of Genesis pop up in other films, too. The Scorpion King (2002), the prequel to the Mummy movies starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, was set partly in Gomorrah, for example.

Are there any other films we should add to these lists?


How could you have overlooked the animated Prince of Egypt? It was well done, true to the Bible, and the soundtrack is one of the few CDs I have that I never tire of listening to.

The Prince of Egypt is based on Exodus, not Genesis. But I did include the straight-to-video prequel Joseph, King of Dreams, which is based on Genesis. :)

Peter, thanks for pointing me here in my recent post- I knew someone would point me to some other "Genesis" films -- glad you pointed me here -- I certainly would still like to see a film that features Nimrod as a central character as part of the Tower of Babel narrative.

Peter, thank you for Movie Genesis. King of Dreams, which is based on Genesis