In a world where movie theaters are hard to fill, studios are looking for a hero. Could their savior be found...in the Bible?
A slew of Bible-themed films are on the way which could make for the biggest era of Bible-based epics since the 1950s.
Just like those technicolor spectaculars, these films appear to have a cast of thousands. Russel Crowe is slated to play Noah. Stephen Spielberg may direct a film about Moses. Another film about the Exodus could be directed by Ridley Scott. Warner Brothers bought the script for "Pontius Pilate" (who knew he had an agent?). Sony Pictures has tapped Will Smith to direct "The Redemption of Cain," but Mel Gibson appears not to be involved in a film that Lionsgate calls a prequel to "The Passion of the Christ" and is called "Mary, Mother of Christ."
Erica Orden writes in The Wall Street Journal:
There are compelling economic reasons for Hollywood to embrace the Good Book. The studios are increasingly reliant on source material with a built-in audience, something the Bible—the best-selling book in history—certainly has. And like the comic-book superheroes that movie companies have relied on for the past decade, biblical stories are easily recognizable to both domestic and the all-important foreign audiences. What's more, they're free: Studios don't need to pay expensive licensing fees to adapt stories and characters already in the public domain.
With floods, plagues, burning bushes and parting seas, Bible movies make great vehicles for big-budget special effects, a key selling point for a wide swath of audience members. Paramount is hoping "Noah" will connect with religious Americans who "may not necessarily go to more than one or two movies a year," said Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore....
...Not since the 1950s has Hollywood been so smitten with scripture. After World War II, Hollywood relied on religious epics as vehicles for its biggest stars, particularly Charlton Heston, who carried both 1956's "The Ten Commandments," about Moses' exodus from Egypt, as well as 1959's "Ben-Hur," about a Jewish prince sent into slavery and rescued by Jesus, only to witness Jesus' crucifixion. Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epic "Samson and Delilah," released in 1949, was another hit.
By the 1960s, however, several epic-style biblical movies flopped, including 1965's "The Greatest Story Ever Told," which cost $20 million, a substantial sum at the time, and took in only $1.2 million. As a result, pricey religious movies and musicals were blamed for the movie industry's financial troubles during those years, said Drew Casper, a film historian and professor at the University of Southern California. "These were genres to be avoided from this point on," Mr. Casper said.