July 04, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

1. Ben-Hur (1959)
The winner of 11 Oscars, William Wyler’s Sunday-school lesson about friendship and betrayal between Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and his boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) is best known for its rollicking chariot race. That’s fair. It’s a stunner.

2. The Ten Commandments (1956)
Cecil B. DeMille’s Old Testament epic is still unequaled in its fire-and-brimstone scope and ambition. As Moses, cinema’s first superhero, Heston leads a cast of thousands with a staff and a cotton-candy beard, producing stone tablets with earnest grandeur.

3. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Martin Scorsese’s fever-dream adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ what-if novel gives us a more fallibly human version of Jesus (Willem Dafoe) than the one we know from the Gospels. Some called it blasphemous. We call it hauntingly beautiful.

4. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
Britain’s brainy troupe of merry pranksters tackle the New Testament, sending the three wise men to the wrong manger and hailing an unwitting Messiah. Sure, it’s a cheeky satire, but there’s insight beneath the belly laughs.

5. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Mel Gibson’s controversial re-creation of the tormented last hours of Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel) is unsparingly violent and bloody. With its excruciating account of Christ’s suffering, spirituality, and grace, it’s also undeniably powerful.

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