Bible Movies Take Over Hollywood:
Jesus, Noah, Moses, Heaven & More in 2014!
With the release of Son of God, this weekendmarks the beginning of a series of Biblical epics and openly Christian-themed movies that will see wide releases with the full weight of Hollywood’s marketing machine behind them (or most of them). Some of these Bible movies will feature household names like Russell Crowe and Christian Bale playing beloved Bible heroes. In a modern culture that seems, in certain sectors (not all), to be growing more hostile towards the Christian faith, it’s a little baffling that 2014 will see a watershed of Biblically inspired and/or faith-based movies backed by the biggest Hollywood studios. Not all of these movies are created equal, however, and there will be controversy with at least two of them. Let’s take a look at what 2014 holds for moviegoers.
Son of God — released this weekend
The filmmakers originally released this as an episode in the smash-hit TV mini-series The Bible. The powerhouse couple Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (who also created the popular TV show The Voice) produced this big-screen version by adding new footage to the TV material. Although not up to par with the best Hollywood movies, I very much enjoyed the film and already have an itch to see it again. Sure, there is less-than-great production value in some scenes, but in other scenes the film truly shines and moves the audience as well as any Hollywood epic. Read my full review of the film here.
God’s Not Dead — release date 3/21/14
Like Son of God, this movie is another film created by faith-based producers. It attracted some viral attention in 2013 when its trailer was released. It tells the story of a college student (Shane Harper, who is a recording artist and actor known for his role on Disney’s Good Luck Charlie) who stands up to an atheistic philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo) with an infamous reputation for preaching to his students that God is dead. When the Christian student challenges his assertion in front of the entire class, the professor agrees to debate the student to see if the student can really prove that God exists. It features cameos from the Robertson family of Duck Dynasty fame and other actors such as Dean Cain. I wrote a full-length article about the film and the viral attention it received online in 2013; check it out here.
Noah — release date 3/28/14
[Editor’s Note: Be sure to read my review of Aronofsky’s Noah film from March 2014 to see a thorough and thoughtful breakdown of the film’s controversial content and to learn about an excellent alternative to the film: the novel Noah Primeval by Hollywood screenwriter and Christian author Brian Godawa.]
This movie is perhaps the most controversial. Why? Well, it’s because the director, Darren Aronofsky, has told the media that he believes the Noah story is “not religious,” and he has seen fit to alter the story to match his vision for the film — which, according to reports from early preview screenings, has little regard for staying true to the Biblical account. Gospel Coalition wrote this about the director, Darren Aronofsky:
Noah‘s director, Darren Aronofsky, is culturally Jewish and has long been fascinated by the Jewish narrative tradition surrounding stories like Noah’s ark. But he’s also a boundary-pushing auteur whose last film (Black Swan) was a psychotropic nightmare featuring grisly violence and lesbian sex. No wonder Paramount Pictures is a bit worried that Aronofsky’s vision of the Noah story won’t connect with evangelicals.
I go into great detail here about what Ken Ham, founder of one of the biggest apologetic sites online, saw in the the early screening of Noah. However, his conclusions are apparently not the final say because reports have confirmed that Paramount Pictures has been previewing three different versions of the film, which has angered Aronofsky. This might mean that Paramount will force Aronofsky to present a different cut in theaters that is less offensive to Christians and Jews who feel the Biblical account is sacred and should be respected.
Russell Crowe, the actor who plays Noah, apparently feels passionate about the final product and confident enough in it that he has personally petitioned the Pope to screen the film. You can read more about Crowe’s efforts with the Vatican here. This makes me think that the final version of the film will be less controversial than what Ken Ham saw.
I am for one am hoping it is a better version than what Ken Ham saw because the trailer looks absolutely stunning as far as special effects and the emotional power of the acting. Its production value looks as good as anything that’s ever been made in Hollywood. I’m hoping the film will move non-Christians to explore the Bible, even if the film wanders off into non-Biblical territory at times.
Heaven is for Real — release date 4/16/14
If you’ve read the non-fiction true account of a Christian boy who saw a glimpse of Heaven after almost dying in a hospital, you might be surprised to learn that Hollywood has made a full-on major motion picture out of it, and it is featuring such beloved Hollywood veteran actors as Greg Kinnear (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Little Miss Sunshine) and Thomas Haden Church (Spiderman 3, Wings). The production company behind it (Roth Films) is the Hollywood folks who produced such major films as Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful, Snow White and the Hunstman, Arnold Schwartzenegger’s new action film Sabotage, and Disney’s upcoming Maleficent. This is kind of a big deal, as Ron Burgundy would say. This isn’t a grassroots faith-based production team. This is one of the major players of Hollywood putting all their weight behind one of the most blatantly Christian stories in Hollywood history.
What’s even cooler about this film — at least for me — is that it was directed by Randall Wallace. Not a lot of folks know who he is, but he is one of my all-time favorite storytellers in Hollywood. He wrote the screenplay for one of my favorite movies of all-time: Braveheart.
Exodus — release date 12/12/14
Last but not least, we have a whopper of an epic movie. Legendary director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blade Runner) is releasing a retelling of the Biblical story of Moses who will be played by Christian Bale, the superstar actor who brought Batman to life in recent years with the critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy.
This one is coming with some controversy too. Although it appears from reports that Scott is attempting to stay true to the Biblical account, he is apparently highlighting the most violent parts from the story of the Exodus and the forming of Israel as a nation. Some are speculating — based on comments from Christian Bale in a recent interview — that the film will focus on Moses’ leadership when he directed Israel to wipe out nations like the Amalekites. Translation: it might be a very bloody war movie. This is all speculation, of course. No real details have been confirmed yet. No one has seen preview footage or a script at the time of this article’s writing.
Another controversy is the fact that Ridley Scott is an atheist. What I find interesting and even a little endearing about Ridley Scott is that in a recent interview he said this about the Moses movie: “I’m an atheist, which is actually good, because I’ve got to convince myself the story works.” Scott actually makes a decent point here. Sometimes Christian filmmakers mistakenly assume that just slapping a Bible story on the screen will make a compelling movie because, understandably, the Bible is compelling enough by itself simply because it is such a pivotal core of their daily lives. To a Christian filmmaker, the movie becomes sort of a 120 minute quiet time devotional — excellent film craft is just a bonus. Ridley Scott won’t be bringing any attitudes like that into his film making. He will rely on excellent film craft to make the story riveting and not assume that people will love whatever he throws together just because it has actors quoting Scripture in it. He will use the same standards of excellence that he used when making the Oscar-winning epic Gladiator. This is Ridley Scott we’re talking about; it’s like having Steven Spielberg or George Lucas make a Bible movie.
Of course, we don’t yet know what lies in Ridley Scott’s vision for the movie. Time will tell. Even if I don’t agree with Scott on certain things, he is still one of the most talented filmmakers in Hollywood history, and I for one am very excited that he is adapting the story of Moses. Just because he’s not a Christian doesn’t mean God can’t use the man’s talents for His own purposes. We shouldn’t be quick to dismiss people or assume that God is not working in their hearts and lives in some way that perhaps even that person cannot see yet. And besides, if He could use the pagan King Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, he can use anybody and anything for His glory.
The exciting thing is this: if even one or two of these five movies does well at the box office, we might see even more Biblical epics coming down the Hollywood pipeline in 2015.
We live in interesting times.