Like spooky Halloween movies or Christmas TV specials, watching classic Easter movies is a perfect way to huddle together to spend quality time with family.
Just up ahead, check out our top ten picks of Hollywood epics, old fashioned musicals, and animated tales appealing to kids of all ages this holiday season.
1. Easter Parade (1948)
For fans of old gems from MGM, this one remains an "all singing, all dancing" Easter treat with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland at the top of their game.
The plot? Feuding show biz partners, Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) and Nadine Hale (Ann Miller), break up the act to set out on their own when -- lo and behold -- chorus girl Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) enters the picture to become Hewes' new partner and (you guessed it) a star is born!
2. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
The Greatest Story Ever Told remains a classic Easter film with a lighter-than-usual touch of Hollywood hoopla, helped along by Max Von Sydow who gives a quietly powerful performance as Christ. Best trivia tidbit: actor Telly Savalas kept his head famously shorn for the rest of his career after shaving his head for the film in his brief appearance as Pontius Pilate.
3. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
This thoughtful remake of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" by director Franco Zeffirelli caused an uproar in 1977 by promising a modified version of the life of Christ as a human being rather than the son of God. Despite being made for TV, the project attracted an A-list of Hollywood actors including Olivia Hussey as Mary, Peter Ustinov as Herod the Great, Christopher Plummer as Herod Antipas, James Earl Jones as Balthazar, and Laurence Olivier as Nicodemus.
With sponsors pulling out of this TV miniseries for fear of a Christian backlash, it nevertheless swept the ratings when it originally aired in two three-hour segments, on Palm and Easter Sunday, and praised to high heaven for its refreshing lack of usual lHollywood theatrics.
4. Hop (2011)
This entry into the Easter movie cavalcade may prove too overly sweet for adults and older teens, but younger kids will eat up this wacky tale of the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) and his ambitions for his offspring (E.B., voiced by Russell Brand) to continue in the role of Easter Bunny.
Hilarity ensues when E.B. announces he has other plans involving hopping off to Hollywood to start a rock band. Even the adults will appreciate the dazzling mix of CGI and live action, although "Hop" offers jokes only 3-9 year olds can love.
5. Quo Vadis
In the grand MGM tradition with a cast of thousands (including an uncredited performance by a young Sophia Loren as a slave girl) Quo Vadis chronicles the rise of depraved Emperor Nero (Peter Ustinov) during early Christian Rome.
Meanwhile, boy meets girl in a love-hate relationship between Roman general Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor), and a young Christian woman, Ligia (Deborah Kerr). Will this Romeo and Juliet find true love and happiness? And how does their devotion eventually affect the downfall of Nero? Stay tuned. Best trivia tidbit: try to keep track of the number of costumes in this sweeping epic, which holds the record for the most in one movie: 32,000.
6. Barabbas (1961)
Well played, and with a minimum of sentiment until the closing scenes, this surprisingly moving film retells the story of the common criminal (Barabbas, played by Anthony Quinn), who is set free just as Jesus is led away to Mount Calvary. After his release, Barabbas is haunted by guilt over Jesus' crucifixion and sets out be a better man and a devout Christian.
Best moment: the total eclipse of the sun that takes place during the crucifixion scene. The solar eclipse was a real event that year, for which director Richard Fleischer delayed shooting in order to capture the cosmic phenomenon for the film.
7. Ben Hur (1959)
The "epic of epics" (and Winner of 11 Academy Awards, including best picture) this marathon film begins with the birth of Christ and ends on his way to Calvary. Along the way, the movie focuses on Judah Ben-Hur, played by Charlton Heston, who is falsely accused of attempted murder. Enslaved on a warship, he later escapes to exact revenge on his betrayer (in the now-famous chariot race scene.) Get the popcorn ready and hunker down for 4 hours of flowery dialog interspersed with awkward love scenes and heroic battles.
8. The Robe (1953)
The movie that asks the question: what happened to the Roman tribune who won Jesus' robe through a dice game? A scenery chewing Richard Burton plays the hard-bitten Marcellus Gallio who wins the robe -- but loses his mind -- as he embarks on a quest to find out more about the man who wore the robe.
Despite the overwrought performance by Burton, this is still a sentimental favorite for being the first ever motion picture filmed in Cinemascope, and winner of three Oscars for costume design, art direction, and set decoration.
9. Godspell (1973)
Featuring catchy music and a young, attractive cast romping through Manhattan, Godspell is based on a script lifted from the Gospel of St. Matthew. Although looking dated now, Godspell is fun Easter fare for kids and teens that espouses the idea that Jesus was just a long-haired hippie clown with connections from above.
10. Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
Released in the same year as Godspell, this former Broadway musical was rightly called a "rock opera" with every word sung -- as written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The direction is somewhat tortured as events lead inexorably to Christ's crucifixion, but stick around for some lovely tunes including the mournful "I Don't Know How To Love Him" and the very groovy "Everything's Alright."