Hollywood seeks the holy grail

Will a slew of Bible-based dramas deliver box-office bounty?

Sometimes the oldest stories work the best. That, at least, appears to be the thinking behind a deluge of biblical tales heading cinema-wards.

Not since the biblical epic's heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, have so many films clamoured to spread the word. In March Darren Aronofsky's Noah, with Russell Crowe on ark duty, arrives. That's followed by Ridley Scott's Exodus, telling of the tale of Moses, starring a grim-of-face and heavily bearded Christian Bale and slated to open just before next Christmas. The year will also see the release of Mary starring Ben Kingsley as King Herod, Peter O'Toole as the prophet Simeon and Odeya Rush as the mother of Christ. Meanwhile Robocop director Paul Verhoeven is pressing on with Jesus of Nazareth and, while Steven Spielberg recently passed on a second Moses movie, Gods and Kings, Ang Lee is tipped to take over.

Nor is it just film that's turning to the bible for inspiration. Last week saw the start of The Bible on Channel 5, a 10-part retelling of the good book's most famous stories, which was among the most-watched programmes in the US this year, pulling in over 13 million viewers an episode.

Indeed so great was The Bible's success that a film version, Son of God, has been cut from the New Testament scenes and filming has already begun on a second series, the wonderfully titled AD: Beyond the Bible, which will chart the spread of Christianity in the days after Jesus's death.

So why is religion such big news? In part it's a trend driven by economics and box-office receipts. In recent years Hollywood has been all about the superhero movie – but each new big-budget extravaganza seems to be delivering less than the one before. Biblical stories share certain traits with the superhero genre – an epic vision, clashes between good and evil, people triumphing against the odds, and the call for spectacular special effects.

Like the heroes of Marvel and DC, The Bible's leading men and women are known throughout the world and have the potential to bring in a huge audience of "fans". However, and crucially, unlike those comic-book guys, the heroes and villains of The Bible are in the public domain. There's no need to pay a costly licensing fee to God.

But those of a less religious bent might well wonder if the good book is actually an effective text for adaptation. The bombastic trailer for Noah, all orange skies, circling birds and water exploding up from the ground, walks a fine line between epic and ludicrous and, while Ridley Scott knows how to shoot a serious historical blockbuster, it's hard not to wonder if Bale's glowering Moses will raise more giggles than cheers.

The Bible only adds to those doubts. The 10-part series (made by Mark Burnett, the man behind US reality-TV juggernaut Survivor, and his wife, Roma Downey, best-known for saccharine 1990s show Touched by an Angel), aims to tell some of the Bible's most famous stories but consists largely of bearded men proclaiming God has ordered them to act while their wives wait in the shadows.

In the US it ran into controversy after Conservative commentator Glen Beck claimed that Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, the Moroccan actor playing Satan, resembled Barack Obama, forcing the History channel to put out a statement denying "this false connection". Reviewers were further unimpressed with the show's largely white cast and "marginalisation of women".

'The Bible' is on Saturdays at 9pm on Channel 5

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game