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Bible movies to 'flood' screens, return religious films to the box office this year

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20 2014 8:00 a.m. MST

Studio vice chairman Rob Moore, an evangelical Christian, told The Hollywood Reporter the film isn't an exact portrayal of what the Bible records. "This movie has a lot more creativity to it," he said. "And therefore, if you want to put it on the spectrum, it probably is more accurate to say this movie is inspired by the story of Noah."

By contrast, 20th Century Fox's "Exodus," of which little has also been publicly disclosed, appears to be more faithful to its biblical narrative, found in its eponymous Old Testament book.

Expected to be released on Dec. 12, the film is Ridley Scott's retelling of the children of Israel's liberation from Egyptian slavery, in which Christian Bale and Sigourney Weaver, a Scott favorite, respectively portray Moses and Queen Tuya, Pharaoh Seti's wife.

Last December, movie trade magazine and fan websites showed a photo of Bale as Moses, with Britain's Empire magazine describing the onetime prince of Egypt as "riding a very shiny horse and dressed in duds that would not disgrace Gandalf the White."

Faith-based themes

Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of Christian-themed review service Movieguide, explained why Hollywood has turned to the Bible in remarks he gave at the company's annual awards presentation earlier this month.

He said people want great movies, and "great movies are great stories well told, with a positive worldview, and that are spiritually uplifting.” Not only does Baehr's organization applaud movies with biblical themes, it also endorses faith messages in more secular fare.

"In 2013, Superman had to go to church in 'Man of Steel,’ ” he added. "People want Superman to win after he goes to church." Baehr said 87 percent of Americans say they believe in God, and more than 123 million go to church every week, but only 26 million go to the movies every week on average.

Tom Snyder, Movieguide's editor, noted in a telephone interview, "We’ve found that if Hollywood is open to putting more Christian references in top movies, it doesn’t hurt the box office and may even help the box office."

Along with the three Bible-related films, Hollywood is also, apparently, responding to Baehr's call for more faith themes.

At the end of March, moviegoers can see the independently produced "God Is Not Dead," in which a faithful college student defends his belief against an atheistic professor. April will see the release of Sony Pictures' "Heaven Is for Real," chronicling a 7-year-old's recollection of being in heaven.

Cable network WGN America is commissioning a "Ten Commandments" miniseries directed by 10 different Hollywood directors including Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven and Lee Daniels, while David Mamet is teaming with 20th Century Fox Television to do a limited series on the "7 Deadly Sins."

Creative marketing

Making a film is one matter, but selling it is a different and more daunting task. Just ask A-list actor George Clooney, who had a producer's credit on the recent "Monuments Men," which was expected to win its opening weekend, only to finish behind the unexpectedly successful "The Lego Movie."

Burnett, an entertainment industry veteran whose reality series "Survivor," "The Apprentice" and "The Voice" each are heavily marketed, has pulled out all the stops to make this new project a success.

For "Son of God," advance work to boost the opening box office is a key strategic element. Downey and Burnett urged the Washington, D.C., preview audience — which included local megachurch pastor Mark Batterson — to encourage people to pack theaters when the film opens.

"The only chance a faith-based movie gets is in the opening weekend," Burnett said.

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