Jesus has inspired artistic and cultural works for nearly two millennia. The following lists cover various media to include items of historic interest, enduring works of high art, and recent representations in popular culture. The entries represent portrayals that a reader has a reasonable chance of encountering rather than a complete catalog. Lesser known works are not included.
For purposes of classification, popular culture music is a separate section from operas and oratorios. Television covers live action series, TV movies, miniseries, and North American animation but not Japanese anime, which appears with manga and graphic novels.
There has been a long tradition of featuring Jesus in paintings and sculpture, ranging from the Roman catacombs and the conservative icon tradition of the Orthodox world through medieval altarpieces to modern acrylics. Many images depict the Life and Passion of Christ, especially the Crucifixion of Christ, whilst others show the infant Christ with his mother (Madonna and Child) or Christ in Majesty. Many of the most famous paintings in Western art feature Christ. The tradition continues in professional and folk art in many countries, as well as popular commercial imagery. Most images, whatever their origins, (as left) keep fairly close to the conventional appearance (and clothing) of Christ established in Byzantine art by about 400AD, which is now instantly recognisable.
Gospel music has remained a strong pop element in the music of religious America, of which Jesus is a frequent topic.
There have been significant (and successful) attempts to incorporate Jesus in current popular music trends, from rock to hip-hop. This incorporation happens on three different levels:
Bands or artists who focus almost entirely on Jesus/Christianity. Most of these bands are in support of it, and their music will almost always deal with spiritual themes. A few detractors may critique, attack, or ridicule Christianity and Jesus.
Songs that deal with Jesus/Christianity. Bands or artists may not be religious at all, but they will still produce a song (or songs) in reference to Jesus. The songs may deal with Jesus/Christianity in a positive light (e.g., "Have A Talk With God" by Stevie Wonder), a negative light (e.g., "Heresy" by Nine Inch Nails or the logan used by the Anarcho-punk band Crass who used the slogan "Jesus died for his own sins, not mine"), or just as a tool to help provide commentary on modern society (e.g., "Jesusland" by Ben Folds).
A simple reference to Jesus in a song. Many artists/bands will use a line in a song to show that they are Christian, but the song will have nothing to do with religion. Hip-hop artists will often give a "shout-out" to "the LORD", "Jesus", and other aspects of Christianity as well.
During the 1970s, the "Jesus Movement" produced many songs on the theme, and there have been many bands since then, both Christian and secular, which have done likewise.
Not to mention thousands upon thousands of classical works written by composers of all time periods.
The ensuing decade brought an attempt by a major studio to produce a religious epic in which the Christ Event was its singular focus. MGM released King of Kings in 1961, inspired by Cecil B. DeMille`s 1927 film The King of Kings. Critics suggested the film should have been titled I Was a Teenage Jesus, due to Jeffrey Hunter's youthful appearance in the film.
Four years later, The Greatest Story Ever Told, directed by George Stevens, was completed for $25 million. Though Max von Sydow's performance as Christ was praised, the film fared poorly at the box office. Franco Zeffirelli's 1979 film Jesus of Nazareth was a highly praised television miniseries, but stood as the last major Hollywood production of Christ's life for nearly a decade.
It wasn’t until 1988 that another major studio took a gamble on a movie involving the life of Jesus, but this one involved a new wrinkle. Universal released The Last Temptation of Christ amidst protests. The pre-release publicity centered around demonstrations taking place outside of Universal after celebrated figures in the evangelical media began speaking about heretical content in the film. Theater managers across the USA were reluctant to screen the movie and no major video chain would carry it.
Screenwriter Paul Schrader adapted The Last Temptation from the Nikos Kazantzakis novel which engages in a fictional exploration between the two natures of Christ - divine and human. The film was not intended to be a Gospel portrait. The fictional aspect, which apparently provoked opponents of its release, centered around a vision presented by the devil to the Jesus of the film while on the cross. In this vision, Jesus is shown what it would have been like to marry, have a family, live until an old age, and die a natural death. The struggle for the Jesus of the film is the torment between his human wishes for a normal Jewish life and his longing to accomplish the divine mission set before him. In the film is that Jesus conquers these temptations and carries out his sacrificial death by crucifixion.
The Jesus action figure has become somewhat of a meme of American culture. The action figure made an appearance in Sum 41's music video for The Hell Song. It also made an appearance in Smosh's video of the Pokemon theme song.
John Lennon in 1966 compared his group, The Beatles to Jesus in a remark that sparked outrage and controversy particularly in the US South: "We're more popular than Jesus now." He later retracted the remark and apologized to anyone who had been offended by it.
Many adult-oriented cartoons, such as South Park and Family Guy, use Jesus Christ as a character, in unusual situations such as a talk show host. Common associations made (e.g. The Simpsons) are of Christ as a hippie or rock n' roller, due to his popular image as a peaceful man with long hair and a beard.
In the Spawn comic book series, The Man of Miracles appeared to humans in the form of Jesus Christ to spread a message of peace and tolerance so that armageddon could be prevented. Unfortunately, this message became corrupted by humanity, thus making armageddon inevitable.
A Christian Mexican campaign called "Vive lo Rojo" (Live the Red) puts big signals of Jesus in a very modern and friendly way. Together with Christian messages, Jesus is portrayed with modern things such as a skater, a car or himself hearing music from an iPod.