While Greek myths are often reinterpreted and adapted into modern-day tales, Egyptian mythology rarely takes shape on the big screen. When it does, more often than not it’s the trappings of the ancient culture that fascinate us, rather than the gods in the pantheon.
Probably the most successful depiction of Egyptian mythology on the big screen – and certainly my personal favorite – is 1999’s The Mummy. This movie hits all the right notes: adventure, romance, and a little bit of comedy. Rachel Weisz is absolutely adorable in this movie as the mousy yet assertive librarian, and she has great chemistry with Brendan Fraser and John Hannah. The connection to history ends at the names of the characters (Seti, Anck-su-namun, Imhotep); they bear almost no resemblance to their namesakes. But you can still glean some relevant trivia: that Seti I was the second pharaoh of the 19th DIN-asty, how mummies are made, and….. well okay that’s about it. But still an awesome movie! The Mummy Returns isn’t half-bad either, but I have to draw the line at The Scorpion King.
Prince of Egypt
Prince of Egypt focuses on the Biblical story of Moses leading the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, but it does feature a bit of the Egyptian religion as well – particularly “Playing With the Big Boys Now,” during which the pharaoh’s priests list all the Egyptian gods. Otherwise the movie doesn’t delve much into Egyptian history – we see a few hieroglyphs, temples, and animal-headed statues throughout the movie, but those serve mostly for atmospherics.
This movie follows an Egyptologist who is hired by the government to translate the hieroglyphs on an ancient stone ring, which turns out to open a wormhole into another galaxy. He and the rest of the team travel through the portal onto an ancient Egypt-like planet, where they learn that the sun god Ra was really an alien body-snatcher. The best part of this movie was undoubtedly the special features, which had me totally convinced that aliens built the pyramids. Seriously…. it’s science.
Night at the Museum (1 and 2)
This is a fun, fluffy movie about a museum in which the exhibits come to life at night, thanks to an Egyptian artifact. NATM 2: Battle of the Smithsonian expands a bit on that focus, as the lead villain is an evil pharaoh intent on raising an army from the underworld. The movie is very watchable – thanks in large part to Amy Adams’ adorable Amelia Earhart – but I cannot STAND the forced, humorless ad-libs between Hank Azaria and Ben Stiller: “Don’t touch it.” “I’m touching it!” “Don’t do it.” “I’m doing it!” Repeat ad nauseam.
The Lion King
This one may come as a bit of a surprise; usually parallels are drawn between The Lion King and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Most people are familiar with the basic plot – the king is murdered by his brother, and the young prince seeks revenge. What is less well-known is that the story bears a striking resemblance to another classic tale, told thousands of years ago, in Egyptian mythology: Osiris is murdered by his brother Set; Osiris’ son Horus must avenge him and reclaim the throne.