Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) Movie Poster Image
Dated, unconventional rock opera has some violence.
  • G
  • 1973
  • 108 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Reworks some New Testament biblical doctrine: Jesus' martyrdom is portrayed as the only way to ensure dissemination of his messages. Judas Iscariot's motives for betraying his friend were wrong-headed but based on his belief that Jesus's celebrity would destroy the Christian movement's purpose. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lead characters are more nuanced than they're usually depicted. Jesus is portrayed as the world's first "superstar"; despite his goodness, desire for peace, goodwill, and forgiveness, this messiah is shown to have a temper, to have doubts about himself, and to be pessimistic about the future of mankind. Judas Iscariot is a complex villain, initially trying to reason with Jesus, then losing heart and betraying him out of a desperate desire to preserve their mutual cause. Mary Magdalene is wholly sympathetic: loyal, caring, and grateful for redemption. Cast is ethnically diverse.

Violence

Judas commits suicide by hanging himself. Jesus is flogged; thirty-nine lashes leave him bloody and weak. The crucifixion sequence is lengthy and graphic, with many shots of bloodlust on the faces of those who watch; most are gleeful. Jesus' followers are intimidated by modern-day weaponry (tanks, rifles) as well as pitchforks, swords. In a fit of temper, Jesus destroys a marketplace. A group of poverty-stricken and diseased citizens crawls along the ground, begging for help.   

Sex

Some women (particularly dancers) wear provocative clothing. The choreography is purposefully sexual, sometimes designed to be exaggerated and comic. Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a sensual woman, especially when she interacts with Jesus.

Language
Consumerism

One Coca-Cola shirt.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Ceremonial wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jesus Christ Superstar, a filmed version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hugely successful staged rock opera, is a fantastical departure from its biblical source. Using a "play-within-a-play" format, the last week of Jesus' life is acted out by a ragtag group of 1970s bohemians (or "flower children) in a desolate desert setting. There is no dialogue. Rock music provides plot and mood and accompanies all the action. Director Norman Jewison blends modernity with antiquity throughout. Costumes change from 1973 to 29 A.D. and back again. Twentieth-century weaponry, dancing, and, of course, rock music, become the means of retelling this age-old story. Despite the G rating the film earned in 1973, there is considerable violence, including Jesus receiving 39 lashes (with lots of blood); Judas Iscariot taking his own life; and a lengthy, intense sequence depicting Jesus' crucifixion. This is an experimental work, controversial when it was first released. Audiences expecting a traditional Christian recounting will be surprised, at the very least. Given the graphic nature of the violence, as well as the unconventional treatment of Jesus' last days, the movie is best for older or very mature kids.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAsher P. December 10, 2017

Loved as a Kid! Great Rock Opera, Great Character Development

My parents introduced me to this film when I was 5. I was from an atheist family but familiar with the Christian cannon of Jesus. My parents explained the plot... Continue reading
Parent Written byRebecca C. April 11, 2017

A conversation piece with music to keep an important story engaging

Definitely worth watching as an adult, watch it before you introduce it to your child, so you know what to expect. Once you do, there are a lot of teachable, co... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old April 26, 2015
Kid, 10 years old February 22, 2018

Good, saw it at 9.

Good, for catholics. has some blood and violence. Good message. Fun musical.

What's the story?

In this version of New Testament events surrounding Jesus' death, Christ (Ted Neely) is depicted as the first true celebrity. It's structured as a "play within a play," with a busload of pilgrims landing in a modern-day desert and making sets, props, and costumes to present their interpretation of the savior's last days. There is no spoken dialogue; a rock opera score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and dancing provide the narrative. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR finds the young prophet leading an exuberant troop of starstruck followers with Mary Magdalene (Yvonne Elliman) at his side, while his dearest friend and disciple, Judas Iscariot (Carl Anderson), worries that his idol's message is being corrupted by the growing stardom. Here, Judas is far from a betrayer grasping for a satchel of gold but rather an honorable, if misguided, loyalist. Jesus himself recognizes that it is only in death that his word will become widespread and powerful. The rest of the players -- Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas -- carry out their formidable roles as the villains.

Is it any good?

Whether or not viewers will enjoy this movie mostly depends on an appreciation for Andrew Lloyd Webber's distinctive music, especially since there's no spoken dialogue. A few of the songs ("I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Jesus Christ Superstar") have become classics, and they're representative of Webber's score for this unconventional treatment of the age-old tale. For some, it may simply register as silly or frenzied. For Christian scholars, the license taken by Webber, director Jewison, and company is of biblical proportions. Still, the movie is high on energy and irreverent at times and strives for originality. Impressive performances by both Carl Anderson and Yvonne Elliman stand out from the rest of the cast, most of whom play everything big, bigger, and biggest. Most likely, the MPAA ratings board that tagged the movie with a G rating would have second thoughts today; the crucifixion, bloody lashing, and suicide scenes are definitely not appropriate for kids. First conceived as an album of Webber's biblically themed music, Jesus Christ Superstar as a staged production has had revivals and played throughout the world over the last decades.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Jesus Christ being portrayed as the world's first superstar. Which similarities do you see in the way celebrities are "worshipped" in today's world? 

  • Besides the music, which techniques did the filmmakers use to update the telling of Jesus' story and make it more relevant for modern viewers?

  • Why was Judas afraid that Jesus' popularity might hurt his cause? Have you seen other instances in which the messenger becomes more important than the message?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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