Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Jesus in the Movies: A Rhetorical Analysis of Selected Films from 1912-2004

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

John Makay (Advisor)


The purpose of this investigation is to discuss popular film interpretations of Christ’s life and how the films’ narratives function rhetorically. These films become part of the rhetorical dialogue and add to the discussion of Christianity. Using Fisher’s (1984) Narrative Paradigm, a thematic and character analysis is conducted identifying the common themes of sacrifice and vengeance, noting the progress in the Christ character. Six films have been selected for analyses that represent both the successes and failures of the Christ Film genre. The films selected are From the Manger to the Cross (1912), The King of Kings (1927), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and The Passion of The Christ (2004). In addition, the investigation seeks to understand each film in the particular period that it was produced. Using rhetorical analysis and history data, this investigation attempts to understand the ways that films about Jesus aid in spreading the message of the Gospels.