10. David Carradine claimed, in a 2003 Entertainment Weekly interview, to have been Martin Scorsese's first choice for the role of Jesus back in 1972.
9. The author, Nikos Kazantzakis, made this disclaimer in a prologue to "The Last Temptation of Christ": 'This book is not a biography; it is the confession of every man who struggles. In publishing it I have fulfilled my duty, the duty of a person who has struggled much, was much embittered in his life, and had many hopes. I am certain that every free man who reads this book, so filled as it is with love, will more than ever before, better than ever before, love Christ.'
8. Because of the controversy surrounding his role in this movie, Willem Dafoe was refused a role in another historical epic movie, after the sponsors threatened to pull all funding if he was cast. Thus, the role of Doctor John Henry Holliday in Tombstone (1993) went to Val Kilmer instead.
7. Willem Dafoe could not see for three days because he got too many eye drops to dilate the pupils of his eyes in bright sunlight to achieve a superhuman effect.
6. Willem Dafoe filmed the scene where the cobras crawl into Jesus' hut with an extremely high fever.
5. Some historians claim Pontius Pilate was born in Scotland, where his father was posted as a Roman Centurion guard. On knowing this, Scottish comedian Billy Connolly suggested that David Bowie to play Pontius Pilate "as a Scotsman." Bowie did not accept this advice.
4. When Jesus is in the temple and Roman soldiers are coming after him in what appears to be all directions, it is the same five soldiers that are used in each shot. This was to save money as the film had a small budget.
3. Due to several threats from religious groups, director Martin Scorsese had to be accompanied by bodyguards during public appearances for some time after the movie's release.
2. Rated #6 of the 25 most controversial movies of all time. Entertainment Weekly, 16 June 2006.
1. Mel Gibson was considered to star as Jesus. He would later direct The Passion of the Christ (2004).
The script for this film sat in the office of Martin Scorsese's lawyer for at least 5 years prior to being made. Although Scorsese thought the film could be brilliant, he was concerned how the public might respond to the finished film. His lawyer agreed the script was brilliant and very "brave" but advised against making the movie because he did not think movie-goers were ready for such a story.
Martin Scorsese banned smoking from the set, both because he's a severe asthmatic, and to avoid any photographs being taken of actors playing Biblical characters - primarily Willem Dafoe, who smoked at the time - with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths.
Martin Scorsese: [New York] Most of the apostles with speaking parts are played by actors from the New York City area. Scorsese wanted the apostles to speak with urban New York accents because he saw the apostles as "street guys".
The movie was banned and/or censored in several countries including Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Turkey. The film is still banned in the Singapore and the Philippines [July 2010].
Reportedly, a church group offered to buy up all the prints of the picture for $10 million. Moreover, Campus Crusade for Christ's Bill Bright wanted to buy the negative of the picture from studio Universal Pictures so that it could be destroyed for good.
To get the film made, director Martin Scorsese offered to shoot the picture in a minimal 58 days for a mere $7 million, which was half of its original budget when the picture was being developed at Paramount, upon which the Universal Studios green-lighted the production. Due to the time constraints for principal photography, Scorsese developed a "minimalist aesthetic", many scenes were improvised and worked out on the run with little rehearsal and preparation. Scorsese once commented: "We worked in a state of emergency".
The film was originally planned to be produced by Paramount Pictures, budgeted at $14 million and shot on location in Israel. The project was aborted at the last minute in December 1983 due to management at both the Paramount studio and its parent company Gulf + Western becoming nervous about the film from the many letters of protest from religious organizations and the picture's ever increasing production budget. The film was going to be Martin Scorsese's next film after The King of Comedy (1982) but when it got canceled went and made After Hours (1985) instead. Eventually, Universal Pictures and the theater chain Cineplex Odeon co-financed it with the budget cut down to 7 million dollars, and shot in Morocco.
A number of theater chains refused to screen the film. One of them, General Cinemas, later apologized to director Martin Scorsese for this. Similarly, when released on home video cassette and laserdisc in the USA, many video stores including Blockbuster Video did not carry the title because of the film's controversial reputation.
As of 2016, the only Martin Scorsese film to ever get nominated for the Razzie Awards.
According to director Martin Scorsese, the last shot was *not* intentional. The camera used to film this scene was faulty and light leaked in onto the film, causing a white-out at the exact point in the scene at which Jesus expires, and this was not discovered until the film was processed. Serendipity or divine intervention, take your pick.