By G. Connor Salter, Crosswalk.com
The story of Joseph is easily one of the most famous Bible stories. Numerous people have heard about his coat of many colors, his betrayal by his many brothers, and his rags-riches-rags-riches story. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the most commonly adapted Bible stories. There have been live-action movies that make it seem like an adventure and cartoons that treat it like a comedy. Some of these Joseph movies take more liberties with the text than others, but even the experimental ones often provide great lessons.
Here are 10 of the best Joseph movies ever made, including movies for adults as well as kids.
Editor’s Note: These movies’ inclusion in this article does not mean Crosswalk.com endorses the companies who produce the movies or any dramatic license taken with the material. Readers are encouraged to research the movies for their own conclusions.
Further Reading: What Does the Life of Joseph Teach Us about Trusting God?
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Andry Djumantara
1. Joseph in the Land of Egypt (1914)
Recommended for Kids: No
This isn’t just one of the first movies to feature Joseph’s story. According to the Thanhauser Company, which released it in 1914, it belonged to a new trend taking over the silent film market: features, hour-long dramas with high production values. In other words, this is one of the first movies to fit our standards for what makes a Bible movie. Like most silent films, it communicates its plot through physical acting and occasional caption cards. In this case, the title cards are mostly Bible verses that narrate the scenes, though several provide commentary. For example, when Pharoah promotes Joseph to second-in-command, Potiphar and his wife look surprised in the background, and a card reads, “Are Pharoah and his wife too chagrined to bow?”
Silent films aren’t for everyone, and this one is best for film buffs who already know the genre. However, it’s worth seeing this movie to understand the example that other Joseph movies have fallowed. Bible verses on title cards show an early example of following the Bible story closely. The acting may feel overdone today, but shows how melodrama was always part of Bible movies. Some of the acting is still very effective, especially how Joseph’s body language keeps changing. He seems like a different man at each phase of his journey, which makes it believable that his brothers wouldn’t recognize him.
An interesting and educational Joseph movie for Bible movie fans or film history fans.
Further Reading: The Bible Story of Joseph
Photo Credit: Graphic by G. Connor Salter
2. Heroes and Legends of the Bible: Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors (1998)
There are dozens (if not hundreds) of Bible cartoons to introduce kids to the story of Joseph. Heroes and Legends of the Bible is one of the better options, telling the story without too many additions and covering it under 50 minutes. The story is told via Simon, a narrator who appears on the fringes of the story, occasionally providing a song that highlights the story’s themes. It also features an introduction by Charlton Heston, where he talks about similar Bible characters and the moral lessons viewers can learn from the story of Joseph. Heston’s Mr. Rodgers-like introduction helps kids understand what the story is all about. Parents may find it a good way to get kids interested in the animated version of Ben-Hur, where Heston reprised his famous role.
Parents who want a more compact Bible cartoon may enjoy The Beginner’s Bible: Joseph and His Brothers, which is shorter and equally entertaining in a different way.
Further Reading: 5 Lessons for Hard Times from the Life of Joseph
Photo Credit: Amazon/GoodTimes Home Video
3. The Story of Jacob and Joseph (1974)
This 104-minute TV movie tells the story of Joseph’s father before leading into his story. Like Jesus of Nazareth (released in the same decade), it’s aged well because it has a little camp and melodrama but not too much. The script covers the highlights of Jacob’s and Joseph’s lives, finding clever ways to give characters personality without creating whole backstories. Joseph is introduced in a fight in which his brothers taunt him for carrying clay tablets (which he uses to write and calculate the herds, foreshadowing how he’ll report their negligence to Jacob and that he’ll become a numbers man aiding Potiphar and Pharoah). There are some creative additions (before meeting Pharoah, Joseph checks Nile flooding records to support his famine prediction if anyone challenges him). These additions highlight how Joseph combined faith and craftiness; after all, he went from interpreting Pharoah’s dream to suggesting a famine relief plan that required a certain wise administrator.
Seeing Jacob’s story first gives Joseph’s story resonance. Viewers see how both men were undervalued younger brothers who struggled with hostile siblings. Furthermore, Jacob’s love for Rachel and inability to give her many children add context to his favoring Joseph.
The economic runtime means that Potiphar and his wife don’t get detailed backstories, but they are made memorable. Potiphar’s wife comes across as a lonely woman in a society that marries women off very young, turning her anguish at being spurned into vindictive cruelty. Potiphar seems initially foolish but maybe sly (after all, he puts Joseph in the best possible prison).
An efficient but clever Bible movie well worth viewing today.
Further Reading: Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors - Bible Story and Meaning
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
4. The Ballad of Little Joe (2003)
VeggieTales has given viewers a lot of fun over the years by adapting Bible stories in ways that keep the morals clear while giving just enough tongue-in-cheek humor to make the stories fun for both adults and kids. Their adaptation of the story of Joseph takes the humor further than some episodes by telling a “Western Bible story” where the action takes place somewhere in the Wild West. Little Joe and his brothers live on a ranch, but after getting sold to desperadoes, he ends up in Dodgeball City. The Western in-jokes continue as Little Joe’s fortunes rise, fall, then rise again, and at long last, he has a faceoff with the brothers who sent him away.
As was always true of VeggieTales’ videos, the writing is sharp, and the in-between segments (a silly song making fun of boy bands, Bob and Larry arguing over whether they can do a “Western Bible story”) are just as entertaining in their own right. At the same time, the comedy never competes with the lesson. The elements work together to make a great Bible cartoon that continues to be fun and edifying after multiple viewings.
Further Reading: VeggieTales: ‘The Ballad of Little Joe’ - Video Review
Photo Credit: Big Idea Entertainment via PureFlix
5. The Bible Collection: Joseph (1995)
This two-part TV movie gives a larger picture of Joseph’s family by including stories usually omitted from Bible movies. Readers who have read the entire book of Genesis will know that when Jacob’s family moved to Canaan, a Canaanite assaulted Joseph’s sister Dinah. They will also know two of Jacob’s brothers made other mistakes (Reuben sleeping with one of Jacob’s concubines, Judah fathering a child with his daughter-in-law Tamar). This miniseries tells those stories without too many sexual details, using them as a backstory for why Jacob is fed up with his older sons and favors Joseph, not to mention how Judah learns repentance.
Joseph’s adventures are handled in a new way, starting with his life in Egypt, then telling his childhood as a flashback when Potiphars asks about Joseph’s past. Unlike many adaptations, this movie treats Potiphar as a shrewd man who knows Joseph is probably innocent but must punish him to save face. This depiction actually fits the Biblical narrative better. As the authors of Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes observe, rape was a capital crime, so Potiphar wouldn’t have let Joseph live (or put him in a high-quality prison housing royal servants) if he believed Joseph was guilty. Putting Joseph in prison must have been a political move to preserve Potiphar’s reputation (and maybe, as this movie imagines, leave the door open for Joseph to be freed and become an asset). Potiphar’s wife isn’t as well-defined as the other characters, but otherwise, this is a nuanced Bible movie that tells the full story, not just the highlights.
Further Reading: 3 Things That Are Revealed about God When Joseph Interprets Dreams
Photo Credit: Lux Vide/Lube/Beta Film/Quinta
6. Joseph The Dreamer (1961)
Recommended for Kids: Yes
Co-directed and produced by Yoram Gross, who spent his childhood evading Nazis in Poland, Joseph The Dream was the first animated movie made in Israel. Originally released in Hebrew and a big success at film festivals, a version with an English language soundtrack was made in the early 2000s, which is now available to watch for free on Gross’ official YouTube page.
Since this is a stop-motion movie made with a small team in the 1960s, the animation is fairly basic (a bit like Gumby). However, even if the script is familiar and the characters’ mouths don’t move, Joseph the Dreamer is still worth watching for its little visual touches. For example, When Joseph is in prison lamenting his fate, the screen changes from showing a prison window to a pile of chains burying a flower.
There’s also an interesting subtext to scenes showing Jacob. As he mourns Joseph’s apparent death, he prays a Hebrew prayer over Joseph’s bloodied coat. He asks God, “Have I not kept your laws? Then why did you take my son from me?” Voices representing mourners cut between reciting Psalm 58 and reflecting on how Joseph has been devoured. Given Gross’ childhood, these scenes could reflect Holocaust survivors’ grief over murdered relatives, questioning God’s silence, and hoping he will “shatter the teeth” of their enemies (Psalm 58:6). The movie ends with Jacob prophesying God will bring his descendants back to their homeland (something which finally happened a few years before this movie appeared).
Further Reading: Joseph in the Bible: 3 Things You Didn't Know About His Life
Photo Credit: Yoram Gross Films
7. Joseph’s Gift (1998)
Joseph’s Gift reimagines the story in a modern-day setting. Jacob Keller is a clothing financier who clearly favors his youngest son Joseph more than his other children, alienating older sons who worry they won’t get their share of the family business. After his brothers pay a sweatshop owner to make Joseph disappear, he loses everything (including the custom-made leather jacket his father sewed for him). Over many years, Joseph goes from a sweatshop worker to a psychiatric hospital patient to a financier, right in time to meet his brothers when their business needs a loan only he can provide.
While this movie isn’t prestige TV, it does some clever things with the material. Joseph’s family comes across as a believable family dynasty, as complex and hierarchical as the Corleone family in the Godfather trilogy. The modern-day elements standing in for slavery, prison, and the Pharoah’s empire all make sense, with a little tongue-in-cheek humor along the way (while working at the sweatshop, the character representing Potiphar’s wife tells Joseph, "effectively my husband own you"). The translation to a modern setting also pushes viewers to consider Joseph’s conditions (how far he fell, how far he rose again when his circumstances changed). Sometimes the movie’s setting changes even feel prescient, as when Joseph helps a business prepare for a coming Wall Street crash (the Great Recession arrived a few years after this movie appeared). While some of the religious language gets toned down, Joseph is seen praying to God, wondering what to do at his worst moments. Joseph also clearly benefits others where he goes, a side of the Bible story that sometimes gets passed over in favor of the flashier scenes.
An effective movie that challenges viewers to think about the Joseph story in new ways.
Further Reading: How God's Provision Is Revealed Through Joseph's Dreams
Photo Credit: Alpine Pictures/Sundae Productions
8. Joseph: King of Dreams (2000)
Made around the same time that DreamWorks was making Prince of Egypt and released as a sequel, this movie has sometimes been criticized for not matching the earlier movie’s quality. While this movie doesn’t have as much spectacle, that may be because Joseph’s story isn’t as action-oriented as Moses’ story. There are no plagues, striking visitations by God, or large-scale miracles like the parting of the red sea. Joseph’s story is basically Ben-Hur minus the sea battles and chariot races: filled with betrayal and drama, but no grand set pieces. Also, Prince of Egypt had to compete with memories of The Ten Commandments, so it had to be groundbreaking. Joseph: King of Dreams didn’t have to worry about anyone comparing it to a classic Biblical epic. Even hardcore Biblical epic fans don’t remember the 1961 movie The Story of Joseph and His Brethren.
With no pressure to compete with an old moive’s memory and no need for huge special effects, Joseph: King of Dreams focuses on filling in the world Prince of Egypt created. The visual design matches and there is that same sense of awe when Joseph finds himself in Egypt. The scenes of his dreams look ethereal and surprising. Most interestingly, Joseph genuinely seems angry with God when his life falls apart the second time. He must learn humility before he can move forward. All told, a fun Joseph movie that makes him seem fallible as well as gifted.
Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation
9. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1972)
This play has occasionally attracted controversy from Christian groups, partly because (in versions like the 1999 direct-to-video recording) that used some bawdy costumes. While costumes vary depending on who produces the play, the larger problem for many viewers is how the script handles God’s role in Joseph’s life. The script omits statements like “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 5:20), although Joseph does talk about his dreams coming true and destiny. So, one could interpret Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as purely a story about a man finding his dreams is up for debate. However, at worst, that choice doesn’t make the play heretical (adding problematic religious ideas to the story). It may secularize it (remove religious ideas), which may not be too different from some Bible cartoons that treat Joseph’s story like an adventure tale. Since play performances vary a lot depending on who produces the plays, any secularization may not be a problem depending on which production you watch.
Whichever rendition you see, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a fun romp. The songs are catchy and in a variety of styles. Each major character gets a great song, and even minor characters get a brief solo in the group songs. Joseph’s tumultuous journey from great highs to terrible lows and surprising redemption is told in a compact, entertaining way.
Further Reading: Joseph's Coat of Many Colors
Photo Credit: © 2022 Really Useful Group Ltd.
10. Sight and Sound Joseph (2010)
Sight & Sound Theatres began in 1976 and has become known for telling Bible stories in a family-friendly way while providing great style. Their productions often involve live animals walking through the auditorium to enter the stage, props that may come down to the audience, and sets with a huge scale. Sight & Sound Joseph delivers with scenes of Joseph being lifted above the audience as he dreams of stars, and catchy songs ranging from Potiphar’s wife planning to trap Joseph to Joseph’s brothers complaining about him. The attempted seduction and then false accusations against Joseph are handled tactfully, making this a safe play for kids of almost any age group.
While the songs may not have the sheer variety of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, they are fun and complement the story. The plot covers Joseph’s story without too many additions (although the prison steward, normally left out of Joseph movies, appears as a comic relief character). The faith element, from Joseph learning to trust God in all circumstances to awkward conversations with Egyptians about which god he believes in, is front and center. Fun for anyone in the family and worth seeing live or as a recording (preferably on the biggest possible screen).
Further Reading: 5 Things You Should Know about Sight & Sound’s MOSES
Photo Credit: Sight & Sound Theatres