ABC’s Long-Running ‘The Ten Commandments’ Easter Tradition Continues in 2023

Charlton Heston as Moses holding inscribed stone tablets, alongside John Derek as Joshua, Debra Paget as Lilia and Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956)
Courtesy Everett Collection

UPDATE 2/1/24: Air date info in this post relates to ABC’s airing of “The Ten Commandments” in 2023. For information about when “The Ten Commandments” is airing on ABC for Easter 2024, please click the image below.

For the past half-century, nearly every year since 1973, around Easter and Passover ABC has rebroadcast Cecil B. DeMille’s Oscar-winning 1956 epic The Ten Commandments, which draws its story from the Old Testament book of Exodus about Moses’ (Charlton Heston) deliverance of the Israelites from slavery at the hands of Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II (Yul Brynner).

While the 2023 airing already took place last Saturday, April 1, on ABC, the film is available to stream at

Already a very lengthy film in its original format, the TV broadcast somehow seems to keep getting longer each year thanks to commercials, so if you’re recording the movie, be aware that your DVR will get quite a workout — ABC has it scheduled in a four-hour-and-44-minute time slot!

But with a moviegoing experience this grand, the time flies by, and The Ten Commandments remains a thoroughly enjoyable film, no matter what religion you do or do not practice (and even if today’s televisions, no matter how large or high-quality they may be, can’t do justice to the film’s original VistaVision presentation).

The 1956 production is an expansion/remake of the prologue to the 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments that DeMille also made, which is impressive in its own right:

From an era in which Biblical epics were fairly common in Hollywood, DeMille’s 1956 work is one that remains highly watched and beloved to this day. It’s easy to say “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” regarding such films, but in the case of The Ten Commandments, that is literally true — with its massive live crowd shots (of both people and animals) and spectacular set designs, the cost of making a film like this in the manner in which it was produced would certainly be viewed as prohibitive by any studio today, when CGI-created crowds would be a more manageable and cheaper option.

Along with Heston in his iconic role as Moses (and as the voice of God via the Burning Bush), and Brynner, the film is also star-studded with the likes of Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan (a seemingly odd casting choice, as Billy Crystal famously noticed), Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, Debra Paget as Lilia, John Derek as Joshua, Vincent Price as Baka, John Carradine as Aaron and more.

DeMille is at the height of his directorial powers here as he wrangles so much into a captivating, if melodramatic, presentation. Among the film’s other technical achievements (including its Oscar-winning special effects), it also boasts a grand musical score by Elmer Bernstein.

Almost as dramatic as the film itself was the manner in which ABC used to (and, to a degree, still does) announce its showings of it in its ABC Sunday Night Movie intros, filled with exciting fanfare like this wonderful opening from the 1984 broadcast of The Ten Commandments (which also may have bummed out a few viewers by informing them that Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Hardcastle and McCormick would be pre-empted that evening):

And there was also this intro from ABC’s 1980 airing of the film, featuring an older ABC Sunday Night Movie musical theme. (Looks like that Ten Commandments broadcast pre-empted Galactica 1980 and Tenspeed and Brown Shoe; no great losses, really.)

It’s easy to see why, during the era of those intros, with home video not yet widespread in households, people would eagerly tune in to a showing like this, and why it was hyped so dramatically. But today, when practically any film, including The Ten Commandments, can be readily available to anyone at anytime on DVD or other outlets, why do people still display a sometimes passionate desire to see ABC air this film every year at around the same time?

This seems to be a case where it’s not only the film itself, but the tradition of watching it on television, most likely with family, that combines to make it a special event for many viewers, perhaps made stronger by being set against the backdrop of various spring holidays that are important to so many.

The closing scene from Cecil B. DeMille's <i>The Ten Commandments</i> (1956), depicting the stone tablets in which the commandments are inscribed, with onscreen text reading: "So it was written, so it shall be done"


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