This time of year means many things to many people. It’s about chocolate and jelly beans. It’s about colored eggs. It’s about bunnies and baby chicks. It’s about Passover and telling stories. It’s about re-birth and springtime.
Or it could be about watching movies about these and similar subjects. We’ve selected a dozen (like eggs!) great movies to stream for any kind of Easter, Passover, or Springtime mood. Enjoy!
Cool Hand Luke
Stuart Rosenberg’s Cool Hand Luke (1967) isn’t an Easter movie on the surface, until you consider the famous scene in which Paul Newman’s unflappable title character bets he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in one hour. (Some critics have found Christ and rebirth themes in the sequence, which is good enough for our purposes.) In any case, this effortlessly entertaining American classic about men serving time in a rural prison and working on a road crew still holds up many decades later, thanks to a combination of strong talents.
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Rapscallion Newman gives one of his most appealing performances, while George Kennedy won an Oscar, Strother Martin and Jo Van Fleet steal their scenes, and Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper and Joe Don Baker fill things out. Conrad L. Hall’s magnificent widescreen cinematography feels scorched and heavy with sweat, and Frank Pierson and Donn Pearce’s screenplay is filled with quotable nuggets.
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This isn’t the greatest musical ever made, but, aside from Hop, it’s one of the few Easter-themed movies, and its general sunny pleasantness is hard to resist on an Eastertime spring day. Charles Walters’s Easter Parade (1948) is essentially a love quadrangle, starting with Fred Astaire, as Don, a Broadway star who loses his partner Nadine (Ann Miller), when she seeks a solo career, as well as the romantic company of Johnny (Peter Lawford). A dejected Don hits the bar and makes a bet that he can turn the next girl he sees into a star. That would be the resplendent Hannah (Judy Garland).
The rest of the movie concerns these two lunkheads realizing that they’re in love. Walters wasn’t big on visual flair—see Judy Garland’s movie with director Vincente Minnelli, The Pirate, released the same year, for that—but the Technicolor is nice, and Irving Berlin’s songs are irresistibly smile-inducing.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
On Amazon Prime, Fandor, Hoopla, Tubi TV
Many critics consider Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) to be the greatest movie about Jesus Christ ever made. Pasolini was an avowed atheist who decided to tell the story with as little fanfare or pageantry as possible. Thus, the final film is almost documentary-like, with unremarkable black-and-white cinematography and minimalist, almost amateurish performances. But the dialog, taken directly from the gospel, is still inordinately powerful (it’s amazing how many phrases from Matthew are still used regularly today). Better still, Pasolini manages to capture Christ’s fascinating inconsistencies, his words ranging from compassionate to demanding.
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The powerful score is by Luis Bacalov (Django, Il Postino). Amazon Prime, Hoopla, and TubiTV offer both a colorized, edited (91-minute), dubbed-into-English version of the film, as well as the full-length (135-minute), black-and-white, Italian-language version. Tubi TV’s full-length, black-and-white version is dubbed into English. Fandor offers the subtitled, uncut version, only.
Rent from Amazon Prime, Vudu… $3.99 and up
Here’s a movie about a bunny, although this one is more than six feet tall, invisible, and does not deliver eggs or candy. Even so, it’s an Easter favorite for many families. Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase, Harvey (1950) stars James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, a pleasant, likable eccentric who likes to introduce everyone to his “pooka,” Harvey, an invisible human-sized rabbit that hangs around all the time. Since Elwood buys extra drinks at the local bar and is friendly enough, nobody bothers about this situation. But Elwood’s sister Veta (Josephine Hull, who won an Oscar) can’t tolerate it; she wants her daughter Myrtle (Victoria Horne) to marry into society and is afraid that Elwood’s antics will hurt her chances.
Whatever this sweet movie lacks in artistry it makes up for in its still-relevant messages of tolerance and kindness. This movie was a big comeback for Stewart, whose career had sputtered after his return from WWII.
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One of a very few feature films about the Easter holiday (specifically, bunnies and jelly beans and colored eggs), Hop (2011) is often a little too obvious and a little too slapsticky—it’s from the director of Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties and Alvin and the Chipmunks—but it’s also bright and cheerful and pretty easy to like. Russell Brand voices the young bunny E.B. who would rather be a drummer than take over for his retiring father as head Easter Bunny, and James Marsden plays a human who spotted the real Easter Bunny as a kid.
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The combination of real-life and computer animation is fluid and seamless, and the candy-making scenes are delightfully mouth-watering. David Hasselhoff has a funny cameo, hosting a talent-search show. Hugh Laurie provides the voice of the elder Easter Bunny, and Hank Azaria is the voice of an Easter Chick with nefarious plans. Kaley Cuoco and Elizabeth Perkins are among the human cast.
The Last Temptation of Christ
The huge controversy that surrounded Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) when it was first released has by now turned into a footnote. What remains is the filmmaker’s glorious and deeply-felt cinematic achievement, certainly one of the best religious films ever made. Based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, and adapted by Paul Schrader, the film depicts Jesus (Willem Dafoe) as a mixture of god and human, a man who felt desires and doubts. He even imagines what it might have been like to give up his calling and share a life with Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey).
Some of Scorsese’s streetwise casting (Harvey Keitel, Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie, Victor Argo, John Lurie, Andre Gregory, etc.) may seem a little out of place for Biblical times, but the director’s patience and intensity, and a deeply meditative score by Peter Gabriel keep things on a spiritual plane. The film was nominated for one lone Academy Award, Scorsese for Best Director, but lost to Rain Man; Scorsese would have to wait nearly 20 more years for his award.
Life of Brian
Following their legendary Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin re-teamed for the hilarious satire Life of Brian (1979). Chapman stars as Brian, who was born in Bethlehem in the stable next door to Jesus’s. As a young man, he hears the real Jesus speak and falls in love with Judith (Sue Jones-Davies). But, while repeating some of Jesus’s words as a distraction, he becomes mistaken as a real prophet and quickly amasses hundreds of followers, despite his protests.
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It all comes down to the once-controversial crucifixion scene, featuring the classic song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” (Legendarily, the film was briefly banned in Norway.) In all, the six actors are said to have played 40 parts; Palin plays Pontius Pilate, while Jones plays Brian’s mother and directed the film.
Rent from Amazon Prime, Vudu, iTunes… $2.99 and up
Kevin Smith’s second feature after his low-budget phenomenon Clerks initially suffered from “sophomore slump” syndrome, but it has since developed its own following. Suffering from girl problems, two friends (Jason Lee and Jeremy London), decide to spend the day at the local mall, where all kinds of trouble arises. In one unforgettable holiday scene, the stalwart Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) beat up the mall’s Easter Bunny!
Driven by wry, funny dialog, the visuals (and performances) are not exactly the strong suit of Mallrats (1995), but it’s funny enough to work. Ben Affleck, Shannen Doherty, Claire Forlani, Joey Lauren Adams, Ethan Suplee, and Michael Rooker co-star, with a now-legendary cameo by the late, great Stan Lee. See also: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) [Hoopla], wherein two other ne’er-do-wells wind up battling a demonic Easter Bunny in hell!
The Prince of Egypt
Since Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments is not available for streaming this year, the DreamWorks Animation feature The Prince of Egypt (1998) is a more than acceptable substitute. One of the few hand-drawn efforts (albeit with some computer-assisted backdrops) in the uneven DreamWorks canon, this movie is uncommonly beautiful, and surprisingly moving and exhilarating. It tells the familiar Passover story, from baby Moses being placed in a basket on the Nile to the parting of the Red Sea.
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Few of the songs are memorable, except one fun one sung by Steve Martin and Martin Short as a pair of evil minion priests. Another tune, “When You Believe,” received an Oscar nomination, as did the entire score, by Stephen Schwartz and Hans Zimmer. Some of the great voice cast provided their own singing, including Ralph Fiennes as Rameses and Michelle Pfeiffer as Tzipporah. Val Kilmer provides the voice of Moses as well as the uncredited voice of God, and Sandra Bullock, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Jeff Goldblum, and Danny Glover are also heard.
Rebel Without a Cause
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The great director Nicholas Ray teams up with the great star James Dean for this beautiful, anguished melodrama that begins on Easter night. Jim (Dean), still dressed in his Easter best, has somehow left dinner and gone off to get drunk; he wanders the streets playing with a toy monkey. The troubled Jim is the new kid in town and immediately runs afoul of the law and local thugs, but he also connects with two other outcasts, Judy (Natalie Wood) and the meek, needy Plato (Sal Mineo), who latches onto the other two as if they were his surrogate parents.
Ray’s widescreen frame and bold colors—especially Jim’s heart-red jacket and the incredible planetarium sequence—bring out the characters’ wrenching emotions in a vivid and intense way. Jim Backus co-stars as Jim’s emasculated dad, wearing a frilly apron in one of his key scenes with Dean. “You’re tearing me apart!”
Rise of the Guardians
Rent from Amazon Prime, Vudu, iTunes, Google Play… $3.99 and up
This slick, exciting computer-animated family movie, based on books by William Joyce, features Santa Claus as a main character, and it does make great Christmas viewing, but the story actually takes place at Easter, with Hugh Jackman voicing a scrappy, warrior Easter Bunny (with an Australian accent). Together with Santa (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), the Sandman (who has no voice), and their newest recruit, the cocksure Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), the super-hero like Guardians must stop the evil Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law); he gains power when children no longer believe in their guardians.
Directed by Peter Ramsey—who went on to win an Oscar for the remarkable Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—Rise of the Guardians (2012) is fast, fun, and perfectly paced at 97 minutes. The great cinematographer Roger Deakins served as an advisor on the film, helping with the lighting and textures of the images.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
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This ground-breaking movie is one of the greatest entertainments in Hollywood history, a jaw-dropping combination of hand-drawn animation and live-action that is still as startlingly fresh as when it first appeared. It’s not an Easter movie, of course, but it does star a cheerful Rabbit who only wants to make people happy. It’s set in a 1940s-style Hollywood, where cartoon characters are actors who walk amongst humans.
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Roger (voiced by Charles Fleischer) has been accused of murdering novelty maker Marvin Acme after seeing pictures of Acme with his shapely wife, Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner). Roger turns to burned-out private eye Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) for help. At the other end of things is the creepy Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), who has a sinister plan for ToonTown. Lots of classic cartoon characters appear in cameos. Robert Zemeckis directed, briskly, and with lunatic energy.