2014: The Year of the Bible on the Big Screen?

son_of_god_jesus_inline_0Aside from the seemingly never-ending crop of sequels and superhero stories that never go out of fashion, predicting the next big cinematic trend can often be a rather daunting challenge. After all, who would’ve guessed that 10 years (!) after the worldwide success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ, there would be multiple Bible stories—with plenty of A-list talent attached— making their way to a theater near you?

Yes, 2014 may, indeed, be the year of the Bible on the big screen, beginning with Son of God, which releases on February 28.

On the heels of the History Channel’s much-lauded The Bible miniseries last year, it’s not surprising that Mark Burnett, the reality TV mastermind behind Survivor, The Voice, Shark Tank and more, and his wife, actress/producer Roma Downey (Touched By An Angel) saw an opportunity to expand upon what they’d already done with The Bible with Son of God.

Featuring the life story of Jesus from birth through His resurrection, Son of God not only highlights His Gospel-centered teachings and miracles, but showcases just how much He loved humanity, the perfect lead-in to His death on the Cross.

Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Southern California’s popular Saddleback Church, who has served as a spiritual mentor to Burnett and Downey since The Bible aired, believes Son of God will be a blessing to “millions” when it opens across America.

Roma Downey plays Mary in "Son of God"

Roma Downey plays Mary in “Son of God”

“I’ve seen most of the films about Jesus produced in the past 50 years,” Warren shares. “Son of God stands alone in a class by itself. It is a powerful and poignant movie, the best Jesus movie I’ve ever seen.”

During a Q&A following a recent screening of Son of God, Downey said that one of things that particularly excites her about the film is that it puts Jesus back in the center of our culture.

“People will be talking around the water cooler and around the kitchen table and places maybe where they’re not talking about God or about faith, and that, I think, is exciting.”

A Deliberate Emphasis on God’s Love

In addition to the memorable score by Oscar winner Hans Zimmer, who has composed music for everything from The Prince of Egypt to The Dark Knight to 12 Years a Slave and countless others, what immediately stands out about Son of God is the deliberate emphasis on God’s love.

Every time that Downey has watched Son of God, she says she’s reminded of “how great our God is” and “how much He loves us.” And this is something that she hopes believers and non-believers alike will take away from watching, too.

"Son Of God" is one of many Bible themed movies coming out in 2014

“Son Of God” is one of many Bible themed movies coming out in 2014

“There are so many people out there who have either fallen away or haven’t been exposed to the Gospel,” Downey shares. So this is such a great opportunity to use the film to bring the message home about the love of God. I think it’s humbling to sit there and see what He did for us.”

Since it’s practically impossible to capture every detail of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John into a two-hour film, Son of God hits on the highlights with more than an hour of footage that wasn’t seen before in The Bible miniseries. Starring Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado from The Bible as Jesus and Downey as his mother Mary, Son of God brushes off the dust from more dated productions and showcases our Savior’s life in a way that’s intended be very real and moving.

From the feeding of the multitudes to teaching the Beatitudes, Jesus’s inherent love for mankind is a constant. Differentiating itself from The Passion of The Christ that dedicated significant screen-time to the extreme brutality of Jesus’s death on the Cross, Son of God makes it point a whole lot subtler. No doubt, the supreme weight of his sacrifice is still felt, but it never borders on overkill.

“We wanted to make it an amazing theatrical experience to people who, perhaps, have never been exposed to the story of Jesus or the Bible,” Downey told mlife.com. “The movie is cool, well made, gritty, authentic and emotionally connective.”

More Biblical Epics in Progress

If you watched the Seahawks annihilate the Broncos in the Super Bowl like most of America did, you probably saw the commercial for Noah, starring Russell Crowe (Man of Steel). A rare big-budget effort for director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) the scuttlebutt on the reported $130 million project is that a few artistic liberties have been taken with the material.

With a decidedly apocalyptic take on the Genesis account, the film boasts stunning visuals (I actually walked on the ark during a set visit in Brooklyn where part of the film was shot, and it was quite a marvel) and an A-list cast that also includes Jennifer Connelly (The Dilemma) and Emma Watson (the Harry Potter franchise). But it’s the story’s unconventional approach that should keep both movie fans and Biblical scholars talking for a while. At press time, Noah is scheduled to open nationwide on March 28.

Skipping forward from Genesis to Exodus, Christian Bale (American Hustle) is playing Moses in the Ridley Scott (The Counselor) production of Exodus. Details are scant on the film that will be released by 20th Century Fox, but what we do know is that it centers around the biblical account of the liberation of the ancient Israelites from Egypt. Whether or not the film will measure up to Charlton Heston’s classic The Ten Commandments remains to be seen, naturally. Exodus is slated for release in December, 2014.

Bumped from a Christmas 2014 release to April 2015 is Mary from Lionsgate. A prequel to The Passion of the Christ, the cast includes Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3), Julia Ormond (My Week With Marilyn). A thorough depiction of the woman God chose to give birth to the Savior of the world, popular author/pastor Joel Osteen personally helped fund the project.

Finally, additional titles that will hit on faith-friendly themes include the April 2014 release of Heaven is For Real, starring Greg Kinnear (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues) and Thomas Haden Church (We Bought a Zoo) and a summer 2014 reboot of Left Behind starring Nicholas Cage (The Croods).

While still in development, other movies being kicked around is a big-screen rendition of the bestselling Christian novel The Shack with Forest Whitaker (Black Nativity) directing and starring, and Brad Pitt (World War Z) is reported to be considering the title role in Warner Bros’ upcoming film .

About the Writer

Christa A. Banister is a highly caffeinated novelist, feature writer and film critic who watches bad movies so you don’t have to. When she’s not debating the merits of what’s showing in a theater near you, the Dallas-based writer is working on her third novel, traveling, cooking, cheering on her beloved Packers and blogging about pop culture and everything else at www.christabanister.com.