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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor