2014: Year of the Bible movies

The Chinese may be celebrating the Year of the Horse, but fans of faith-based films have declared 2014 the Year of the Bible Movie. First out of the gate was "Son of God," which opened strong, but had a disappointing showing its second week. Pundits didn't have long to assess the implication of the movie's box office showing since two other significant movies, "God's Not Dead" and the long-anticipated film "Noah," debuted the latter part of March. Data on those two releases was not available at press time. Also on the horizon is "Heaven is for Real," expected to be another large box-office draw.


Here is a wrap-up of what to expect in 2014:

'Son of God'
Produced by the husband-wife team of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the epic picture was mostly a recast from the couple's 2013 blockbuster mini-series "The Bible."

According to Box Office Mojo, "Son of God" ranked second in ticket sales its opening weekend, selling $31.49 million. It came in $5 million under the No. 1 movie of the week, newcomer "Non-Stop." In its second week the movie grossed just $10.4 million, a 60 percent drop, but still managed to land in the No. 5 spot.

According to Box Office Mojo, the movie ranks fifth all-time in overall gross ticket sales for Christian films and fourth in opening weekend tills in the same category, beating out "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." www.sonofgodmovie.com


'Noah'
Perhaps the most anticipated faith-based film of the year is director Darren Aronofsky's "Noah," starring Russell Crowe, Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Aronsofky has contemplated a film based on Noah since his success with the 1998 film "Pi."

With a budget in excess of $125 million, there has been persistent public wrangling between Aronofjsky's creative intentions for the film and Paramount Pictures' desire to not alienate its significant ticket draw—Christians.

Critics of the film said "Noah" takes liberties with the biblical content by focusing on such topics as environmentalism and overpopulation.

In late February, the National Religious Broadcaster issued an "explanatory message" with Paramount telling moviegoers to expect "a dramatization of the major scriptural themes and not a line-by-line retelling of the Bible story." The disclaimer, they said, would appear on all future marketing materials.

In the statement, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president & CEO of NRB, called it "an imaginative interpretation of Scripture, and not literal." At the same time, he thanked the studio for taking on a film with strong biblical content.

Johnson also advised believers to use the non-Scriptural moments in the film as teaching moments to engage others in a respectful dialogue  about the greatest selling book of all times.

In an open letter to Hollywood, Faith Driven Consumer a national resource movement to educate and encourage Christians wishing to spend their money with like-minded businesses, warned that the movie strays too far from the Bible.

"Here is what you need to know about Faith Driven Consumers: We hold a deep, daily commitment to our faith, and therefore being true to the Bible is vitally important to us," wrote Chris Stone, a brand strategist who founded Faith Driven Consumer. "This is the driving factor behind our healthy skepticism over 'Noah.'"

Stone went on to ask for continued dialogue ue, assuring Hollywood insiders that with 46 million Faith Driven Consumers nationwide, films that adhere to the gospels can be successful.

"In the run-up to 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy or the Harry Potter movies, journalists wrote extensively about the need to remain true to the books and ensure that these films still connected with their core audiences," Stone said in his letter. "By respecting these audiences and the stories as told in these novels, these films did resonate and were successful business enterprises." www.noahmovie.com


'Heaven is for Real'
The captivating story of heaven from the eyes of a pint-size package— who reveals compelling details of his ethereal trip after a near-death experience—hits the big screen April 16. "Heaven is for Real," starring young newcomer Connor Corum, with Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly as his parents, is based on the blockbuster best-selling book by the same name.

The book, released in 2010, spent 64 weeks in the No. 1 spot on The New York Time's best-seller list. Published by Thomas Nelson, the non-fiction work was co-written by San Diego author Lynn Vincent and Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo, whose 4-year-old son experienced a taste of heaven after he nearly died during surgery to remove his burst appendix. Three and a half years after the book's release, it remains on the Times best-seller list, having sold 10.5 million copies in 25 languages.

For the film adaptation, "Heaven is for Real" widens its scope, incorporating Todd's struggles in deciding to go public with Colton's story. His son's story not only impacts the Burpos, but also their small town, which was inundated with media in light of the revelations about the child's experience. While immensely moving and comforting for some fans, the book has its critics and skeptics.

 Filmed in Winnipeg, Canada, "Heaven is for Real" opens in time for Easter weekend. It also stars Margo Martindale and Thomas Haden Church.


'Left Behind'
Set for release sometime this year is a remake of the 2001 picture "Left Behind." Starring Nicolas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan and Jordin Sparks, the remake focuses on the first few hours after the Rapture and "the chaos of the world in the wake of millions of people vanishing with no explanation."

The reboot is directed by Vic Armstrong and produced by Paul Lalonde, who also co-wrote the script with John Patus. Filmed in Baton Rouge, La., the $15 million action-thriller will be released through Stoney Lake Entertainment.

As with the original, the remake is based on the best-selling series by Alpine resident Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. The original movie was released on DVD in September 2000 and then hit the theaters in early 2001.With more than 65 million copies sold, it is estimated that one in eight Americans has read at least one of the 16 books. www.leftbehindmovie.com


'God's Not Dead'
Art imitates life in Pure Flix Entertaiment's "God's Not Dead," which released March 21.

The screenplay, based on the Rice Broocks book by the same title, depicts the adversarial relationship between college freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), a devout Christian, and Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), his dogmatic and argumentative philosophy instructor. Several other storylines add dimension to the plot.

Produced by David A.R. White, a founding partner in Pure Flix Entertainment, the film centers on the ongoing tension created when Professor Radisson forces Wheaton to prove the existence of God over the course of three short class presentations. If Josh fails to convince his classmates of God's existence, Radisson vows to flunk his young student.

Also featured in the film are Christian rockers the Newsboys and Willie and Korie Robertson, stars of the A & E reality show "Duck Dynasty," who appear as themselves. www.godsnotdeadthemovie.com


'Exodus'
Just in time for Christmas, noted English director Ridley Scott is expected to release his big budget film "Exodus," starring Christian Bale as Moses, and Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley.

The storyline, crafted by Bill Collage, Adam Cooper and Steven Zaillian, centers on Moses as he leads the Israelites out of Egypt and their forced bondage as chronicled in the Bible's second book.

Scott's previous directing work includes "Blade Runner," "Thelma and Louise," "Robin Hood" and "Prometheus". "Exodus" will be distributed by 20th Century Fox.

It is currently set to release on Dec. 12. www.imdb.com/title/tt1528100