Beliefs Culture Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

5 films that will make 2014 ‘the year of the Bible’

Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in 20th Century Fox's "Son of God." Photo courtesy of Lightworkers Media
Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in 20th Century Fox's "Son of God." Photo courtesy of Lightworkers Media

Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in 20th Century Fox’s “Son of God.” Photo courtesy of Lightworkers Media

The Bible narrative has always been one heck of a story. It reads like a mix of action thriller, period drama, romance novel, and the more apocalyptic parts, like pure fantasy. The gripping narrative sections of the text are part of the reason why the Bible is the bestselling book of all time.

But in 2014, we’ll discover if the Good Book is as captivating on the modern day silver screen as it is in print.

The scrappy Christian film industry has been budding for the last several years, proving that people of faith are hungry for content that speaks to the soul. But what many religious films possess in terms of spiritual content, they often lack in star power and budgets. This year, however, big studios such as Sony and Lionsgate are entering the fray by releasing films of, well, biblical proportions. To wit:

“Son of God” | 20th Century Fox (February 2014)
Reality TV pioneer Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey, shocked the world last year when their History Channel series “The Bible” set cable TV records. Now, the Christian power couple has taken footage from that series and partnered with 20th Century Fox to create “Son of God,” a film about Jesus’ life that will doubtlessly attract churchgoing Americans. As the first film on this list to release, it may be helpful box office barometer for the others.

“Noah” | Regency Enterprises (November 2014)
A flood of publicity has already been created around the “Noah” film and its impressive $130 million budget. The cast includes Russell Crowe, as the sailor himself, as well as Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson. Darren Aronofsky of “Black Swan” fame directed the movie. If the trailer is any indication, it should be visually stunning while taking massive artistic liberties in creating details not found in the biblical narrative.

“Heaven is For Real” | Sony Pictures (April 2014)
Though not technically a biblical movie, Sony Pictures’ “Heaven is For Real” must also be mentioned because it will likely riff on popular Bible themes such as heaven, Jesus, and salvation. The film is based on the New York Times bestselling book by the same name and stars Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilley, and Thomas Haden Church. This story of a little boy’s life-after-death experience is not so coincidentally scheduled to release just before Easter.

“Exodus” | 20th Century Fox (December 2014)
Twentieth Century Fox has kept a tight lid on Ridley Scott’s “Exodus.” All we know is that the film is an adaptation of the biblical story of the ancient Israelite people’s liberation from Egypt. Christian Bale will star as Moses, and Sigourney Weaver will co-star. Critics won’t be able to help themselves from comparing the film to the 1956 movie “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston. The question will be whether this film can duplicate the classic’s box office success.

“Mary, Mother of Christ” | Lionsgate Films (December 2014)
The long awaited prequel to “The Passion of The Christ” is scheduled to arrive before Christmas after a long set of delays. The cast includes the late Peter O’Toole, Sir Ben Kinglsey, Julia Ormond, and 16-year-old Israeli newcomer Odeya Rush as the holy mother herself. The hefty cast combined with a serious budget from Lionsgate and the backing of several Christian notables (including mega-church pastor Joel Osteen who gets an executive producer credit) give this movie serious box office potential.

The uptick in biblical movies is a testament to the ongoing power of those ancient narratives to capture the hearts and minds of the masses. And it also reminds us that Hollywood is driven by money more than by agendas. The Bible’s stories are an enduring draw, so Hollywood is doing what it has always done best—turning a buck by giving audiences what they want.

In this way, the film industry is a mirror reflecting what society desires: sex, violence, and great stories with a touch of God in the mix. In 2014, we’ll find out just how much they crave the latter.

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Trailers for the first three films listed are available for viewing:

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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