Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Jay Baruchel, Fred Armisen (as Jesus), and Rosa Salazar in Man Seeking Woman.

Rock me, sexy Jesuses: 15 super-cool sons of God

Jay Baruchel, Fred Armisen (as Jesus), and Rosa Salazar in Man Seeking Woman.
Photo: Michael Gibson/FX, Graphic: Nicole Antonuccio.

This Easter Sunday will see NBC’s live telecast of Jesus Christ Superstar with singer John Legend in the title role—the second, or third, or more likely, 102nd coming of Jesus as a pretty cool dude. The trope of our God being an awesome God, as well an awesome guy to hang out with, is a popular one in church youth groups, novelty tees, and music (see this previous Inventory, as well as pretty much all of Christian rock). And on occasion, films, movies, and TV shows have risked testing Jesus’ chill by taking that hip, affable image to potentially blasphemous extremes. Here are 15 examples of times Jesus was just alright with you.

1. Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)

The Old Testament of Cool Jesus, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar took the Son Of God and resurrected him as a son of Woodstock. Backed by a soulful, funky, psychedelic stew of sounds, largely brewed by members of Joe Cocker’s band, the Jesus of both the 1970 concept album and Superstar’s many stage runs is the Messiah in the mold of a tormented rock star. Besieged by fans who all want a piece of him, Jesus frets that no one really loves or truly understands him but his old lady—and even she admits that she doesn’t know how. On record, Jesus was given his rocker grit by Deep Purple/Black Sabbath singer Ian Gillan; in Norman Jewison’s 1973 film, rocker Ted Neeley turned Jesus into a golden-haired hippie Adonis with the combined swagger of Robert Plant and Barry Gibb. It’s a role that’s naturally called to a lot of other rock star-types over the years, right up to John Legend’s portrayal for NBC. After all, as even Caiaphas grudgingly admits, “One thing I’ll say for him: Jesus is cool.” [Sean O’Neal]

2. Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)

A good decade before Abraham Lincoln claimed the same title in Seth Grahame-Smith’s mashup novel (and subsequent film), the Son Of God was already kicking undead ass in this no-budget film from Canada. Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is exactly what it sounds like—a trashy excuse to mix the Bible and bloodsucking vampires (who stroll around in broad daylight here, in open defiance of vamp folklore), where Jesus is forced to put the Second Coming on hold after a group of vampires tear through Ottawa. It’s Troma-style filmmaking at its purest and most disreputable, with Jesus busting heads, driving stakes through hearts, and, at one point, taking on a crowd of angry atheists while some random people are clearly trying to have a picnic in the background. Quality aside, it’s a great use of the Nazarene as action hero, summed by a scene where he cuts his long tresses in order to get down to the business of fucking up some vamps. [Alex McLevy]

3. Dogma (1999)

In Kevin Smith’s religious satire Dogma, George Carlin’s Cardinal Glick comes up with a dramatic rebranding for the Catholic Church, based on the idea that avoiding eternal damnation doesn’t have to be such a downer. He begins by replacing the traditional, “wholly depressing” image of Jesus on the cross with the far more approachable “Buddy Christ,” a smiling, winking Jesus who lovingly bestows his thumbs-up upon the world. And although the church’s new fast-food-like mascot and attitude riles some of the more orthodox, as we soon find out from Chris Rock’s Rufus The 13th Apostle, it’s not all that far off from the real Jesus. As Rufus tells it, “The Man” really is a pretty laid-back and happy guy who loves to sit around the fire, listening to his friends drink wine and talk. Indeed, the only thing he really gets uptight about is the fragmenting of his religion into denominations, and the idolatry and fractiousness that’s caused. Dogma’s Jesus even has his own endearingly human flaws, like the fact that he still owes Rufus $12. Sounds like a pretty good buddy to have. [Sean O’Neal]

4. Man Seeking Woman (2016)

Simon Rich’s FX dramedy told a straightforward story of a Man Seeking Woman with lots of giddily surreal flourishes. In the first season, a heartbroken Josh (Jay Baruchel) eats his heart out as his ex-girlfriend (Maya Erskine) rebounds with Hitler (Bill Hader). But the second season posited that it’s actually worse to see your crush with someone you can’t help but like—someone like Jesus. Fred Armisen plays the Holy Spirit as the kind of affable guy who makes a great charades partner without showing off (there’s no use of God-like powers here), leaving Josh desperate to find something, anything wrong with him when he turns up at Rosa’s (Rosa Salazar) dinner party. Unfortunately, Armisen’s Jesus remains pretty much perfect, even humbly objecting to being included in the round centered on famous people. Not even King Herod could quibble with that. [Danette Chavez]

5. Fight Of Gods (2017)

Fighting games get off on wild crossovers. Want to watch Solid Snake kick Mario’s ass? Done. Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney squaring off against Wolverine? Also done. The 2017 title Fight Of Gods takes that to its logical extreme, pitting deities from world religions—Buddha; Odin; uh, Santa Claus—in a bare-knuckle brawler. The Son Of Man, no longer so keen to turn the other cheek, righteously rips himself off the cross, the hunks of wood still nailed to his hands adding even more heft to his ass-whooping. For Jesus’ super move, a beam of damage-dealing light blasts down from heaven, while J.C. briefly ascends to commune with the rest of the Holy Trinity. Then it’s back to Earth to teach the rest of these would-be saviors that there’s only one deity who takes a crucifixion and keeps on kickin’. While Fight Of Gods’ design looks pretty rough—and the whole blasphemy aspect got it banned in Malaysia—it’s since found a home within the greater fighting game community that’s willing to look past its mechanical faults in order to watch the New Testament act a little more like the old one. [Clayton Purdom]

6. Hamlet 2 (2008)

He’s a righteous dude with some incredible ideas about morality, and even more incredible abs; he’s the “man with the plan” in his “awesome custom van” that everyone wants to party with. This high-school musical’s idea of cool Jesus airdrops into the titular play of Sundance breakout Hamlet 2, a buddy comedy about Jesus traveling through time alongside Shakespeare’s tragic prince, both of them just working shit out with their dads. The whole thing is a desperate bid for attention-getting controversy by Steve Coogan’s failed actor turned drama teacher, who also plays Jesus, giving the Messiah a pouty, underwear model’s intensity as he struts in jeans and a tank-top, making all the girls and greasers swoon in the play’s blasphemous showstopper, “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” This blunter spin on Jesus Christ Superstar’s portrait of Jesus as locker pin-up maybe isn’t as heretical as Coogan’s publicity-hungry character might hope; still, it is damned catchy. [Sean O’Neal]

7. Superstar (1999)

Mary Katherine Gallagher (Molly Shannon) is a horny, orphaned teen who fantasizes about being super-famous, so naturally, she envisions the Son Of God as a composite of past authority figures, her dead father, and her crush Sky (Will Ferrell). After an especially bad day at school, Mary finds a friend in Jesus, who floats into her bedroom to the sounds of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky.” He has the flowing, honey-colored locks and abiding temperament that the Western world has long associated with Christ, but he’s also hip to the music-playing technologies of today (or rather, of 20 years ago). He’s a funky youth pastor, basically, and instead of looking down on her desire for stardom, Jesus supports Mary’s dreams of winning the school talent show. He even deploys a little mirage to keep her true love (Harland Williams) from riding out of town. [Danette Chavez]

8. The Ten (2007)

Years before presenting a more complicated portrait of the messianic archetype on HBO’s The Leftovers, Justin Theroux played a very different sort of savior in David Wain’s scattershot biblical sketch comedy, offering salvation primarily to bored housewives. In the film’s second vignette, “Thou Shalt Not Take The Lord’s Name In Vain,” Theroux plays a sexy, swarthy carpenter named Jesus, who catches Gretchen Mol’s eye while she’s on vacation down in Mexico. A couple of lustful, sweaty exclamations of “Jesus Christ!” later, Theroux’s Jesus reveals to his new girlfriend that he’s the real deal—he’s just been bumming around Earth, having a little fun before taking over the family business of starting the apocalypse. But while this Christ might be a bit of a lothario, he’s no cad; when he and Mol are forced to part and get back to their “real” lives, he leaves her with a handful of warm, wistful memories, plus a happy little twinge whenever she and her family sit down to say grace. [William Hughes]

9. Legend Of The Liquid Sword (1993)

What’s cooler than a Jesus Christ who can deliver roundhouse punches that end in explosions? As argued by the 1993 wuxia comedy Legend Of The Liquid Sword (based very loosely on the Chu Liuxiang book series), the answer is: not much. The movie tells the story of Chor Lau-heung, a young martial-arts student who’s sent to Shaolin Monastery for a competition that occurs once every 10 years. From there he must square off against an antagonist named the Bat Prince and a demonic cult—a nigh-incomprehensible, yet deeply entertaining slice of cinematic weirdness that also features a literal deus ex machina when Jesus drops out of the sky to dole out that aforementioned, superpowered punishment to sinners. It’s the rare instance of the Almighty showing up exactly when you need him, another thing that makes this Jesus especially cool. [Alex McLevy]

10. Black Jesus (2014)

In Aaron McGruder’s animated hit The Boondocks, a 10-year-old agitator riles his suburban town with a Quincy Jones-produced Christmas pageant about a black Jesus. Expectations were naturally high for McGruder’s live-action Black Jesus to do the same, but to the surprise of even the easily triggered Bill Donahue, the Adult Swim show mostly slipped in as affably as its titular character. As played by Gerald “Slink” Johnson, Black Jesus is really just an easygoing dude who only wants everyone to get along—and sure, he also wouldn’t mind taking a pull from a blunt or 40 every now and then. Across the show’s two seasons (it’s been renewed for an as-yet-unannounced third), Black Jesus made a case for emphasizing Jesus’ Son Of Man side: Jesus as the inexplicably nice guy in your neighborhood who can always be counted on to help you out of a jam. It’s just that this guy actually loves you so much, he happens to have died for your motherfucking sins. [Sean O’Neal]

11-15. South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, Lucy, The Daughter Of The Devil

Rather than portray the Son Of Man as a pious milquetoast, a whole slew of contemporary adult cartoons have invented Christs whose personalities are a better fit with their “former guitar tech for The Allman Brothers” look. The Simpsons pictures Jesus mixing bloody marys for Rodney Dangerfield in heaven’s VIP section; Loren Bouchard’s phantasmagorical Home Movies follow-up, Lucy, The Daughter Of The Devil, paired off its hipster Antichrist with a beatboxing, Burning Man-attending, miracle-performing DJ conspicuously named Jésus. And in the animated worlds of Seth MacFarlane, Jesus has gone from Quahog record-store clerk to the toast of Hollywood, while also throwing a bitchin’ birthday party at his dad’s mansion. But when it comes to the alpha and omega of cool cartoon Messiahs, there can be only one, and he used to host a call-in show in a Colorado mountain town: Having brawled his way through South Park’s pair of Christmas-themed precursors, Jesus retired to a relatively quieter existence of offering advice on television; organizing Rod Stewart concerts; joining Cartman on a goodwill ass-kicking expedition to Iraq; dying (again); being resurrected (again); then serving as a member of both the gods-and-prophets-only Super Best Friends and Imaginationland’s Council Of Nine, alongside other totally cool characters like Gandalf and Wonder Woman. [Erik Adams]