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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz