Q: Another Christian-themed movie is on its way--this one most likely for theaters--based on the story of Jesus’s resurrection. Is there really enough of an audience to sustain the recent resurgence of Bible-themed entertainment?
Well, let’s take a look at the slate, here: Mark Burnett is producing a sequel to his massively popular History Channel series "The Bible," this time for an even bigger audience on NBC; Ben Kingsley is set to star as King Herod in the LionsGate-produced film "Mary Mother of Christ;" and there’s the freshly announced project mentioned above: a theatrical film based on the New Testament account of what happen after Jesus was crucified.
Now, that may feel like an influx of Biblical proportion, but it’s really just a case of supply rising--Noah’s flood style, if you will--to meet an equally large surge in demand.
You might not know it from looking at your multiplex listings, where judging by what's playing on a typical weekend a visitor to our planet might think we're populated by nothing but teenage skateboarders, but Christians are in fact the biggest demographic group on our block. Jonathan Bock, of the faith-based marketing firm Grace Hill Media, likes to point out that there are 2 billion Christians on the planet, and that the United States is 70 percent Christian.
But the most telling statistic may be this one, courtesy of the Association for Christian Retail’s annual State of the Industry Report: DVD sales in Christian stores jumped 26 percent between 2010 and 2012. This past spring, a whopping 13.1 million total viewers tuned into the History Channel to watch Burnett’s original Bible series. The series was so popular that we’re getting not only that sequel I mentioned, but also a possible theatrical release of the original series.
And this trend is not limited to the United States; the burgeoning Nollywood, shorthand for the Nigerian film industry, is being fueled largely by religious film studios or movies with faith-based messaging; one estimate indicates that a fifth of all Nigerian movies can be classed as Christian.
All that’s proof that today’s Christians really, really want to get their visual Bible on. So is it any surprise that Hollywood is still listening?
“There have always been films on Bible stores, from The 10 Commandments to The Passion of The Christ,” the association’s Eric Grimm tells me. “Christian or biblical films are not new. What's new is that many new Christian filmmakers are using media to tell life stories in new ways.”
And there’s a reason for that, too: Money. Yes, it makes financial sense to make Bible-based movies, but not just because they garner ticket sales or ad dollars. There’s money to be saved, too: Like stories based on a classic fairy tale or Shakespearean play, most people already know Bible tales, making them an easier, and perhaps cheaper, sell than, say, a new franchise such as Pacific Rim.
“You don’t even have to have ever darkened the door of a church to know who Moses and Noah or Jesus are,” Bock tells me. “You may not know every single detail, but you certainly know the names.”
And speaking of franchises...
“The Bible is full of great and universal stories,” Bock says. “If I’m a studio, I don’t have to pay a licensing fee to Marvel or DC; these stories are public domain, and that’s a large line item to consider.”