God’s not dead!
If you have not received this text yet, you will soon as it is making its rounds. It usually comes from someone you have not heard from in awhile. How do you respond? You could write “I didn’t know he was dead?” Or, “Its good to hear from you. What is this all about?.”
No matter how you respond to the unusual text from your long last friend, your curious side will get the best of you. You will go to IMDB and find out the text is result of your friend seeing a movie of the same name. Apparently, all God’s not dead movie goers send the text after seeing the movie. You will do some additional research to find out that two other movies, Son of God and Noah, are also making waves (sorry, couldn’t resist) in the religious sector.
Is 2014 the year for religious movies? Why has Hollywood gone religious on us? The answer to Hollywood’s sudden interest might be its success at the box office. As of Easter 2014, the three movie releases, God’s Not Dead, Son of God and Noah, have amassed over $180M, and they are still ranking in the box office receipts. With two additional movies on the horizon (Heaven is for Real and Left Behind), we can see that movie town is looking to do what it has always done, make a buck, but it is doing it targeting a crowd not touched too often in its past.
Religious movies have always been a risk for movie studios, who don’t want to be seen as supporting one religion versus another one. There have been a few exceptions (as can be seen by our list), but the general rule has been, religious movies are too risky, because everyone will see a hidden religious message that will offend or turn people off. In a unique bit of irony, many of today’s movie execs are more secular, which opens them up to follow whatever path leads to profit including the ones with a religious message, implied or otherwise.
Our list includes the top five biggest religious movies of all time in regards to gross revenue. Many of the films are produced years ago so we have adjusted for inflation. Although none of the 2014 movies made our list this time, at the rate they are pulling in cash, one of them will be on the list soon.
Be forewarned, spoilers ahead.
5. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)- $377M
The movie, based on the classic C.S. Lewis book, is not known as a religious one, but it falls into this category because the novel was one. Although many dispute its religious allegories, many others accept that the main character, Asian represents Jesus Christ. Many others use the entire Narnia series as a way to teach basic Christian thoughts and principles. The book series has been adapted many times since it was written in the 1950s. The three recent movie adaptions have combined to bring in more than $500M, but it is the first one that brought in enough to make it onto our list. The story starts with four young children finding themselves in an old country mansion. While playing a game of hide and seek, the youngest one, Lucy, finds a magical door in a wardrobe leading to the land of Narnia. Soon, all four children have made their way to the land ruled by the evil White Witch. After connecting up with Asian, they are told they are the chosen ones from long ago prophecies, proclaimed to come to the land to defeat the evil queen. Through their adventures, the children realize their true potential and defeat their enemies and restore peace and tranquility to the land.
4. The Passion of the Christ(2004) – $498M
This Mel Gibson movie has become a classic since it was released in 2004. This movie outlines in grave detail the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life from the Garden of Gethsemane to the time he spends on the cross dying. It is subtitled as the movie is in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic. At first, the movie was ridiculed and frowned upon by religious leaders from around the world(made number 1 on EW’s most controversial movies). However, it created enough interest to place at number four on our list, bringing in an estimated $498M in ticket sales. It won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Drama and was nominated for three Oscars. It has more pre-ticket sales than any movie in history and is the highest grossing R-rated movie. It is rated by several Catholic periodicals as the most influential movie of all time. Famously known for its Roman Catholic influences (Mel Gibson is a very conservative Catholic), it includes emphasis on Mary, the Stations of the Cross, and depictions of Satan. Because of some of the experiences while making the movie, several of the cast and filming crew convert to Catholicism including the athiest actor, Luca Lionello, who playes Judas Iscariot in the movie.
3. The Robe (1953) – $545M
This movie is based on the best selling 1940s novel of the same name by Lloyd C. Douglas, who is a former minister and writes the book to answer the question of what happens to the soldier who wins Jesus’ robe in a dice game. It follows the character of Roman tribune Marcellus Gallio and his Greek slave Demetrius. Marcellus is in charge of crucifying Jesus. After Jesus dies, he experiences severe nightmares and delusions. He returns to Palestine to learn more about Jesus. The film is the first one ever released in wide screen format, CinemaScope and starred Richard Burton and Jean Simmons. It was nominated for five Oscars including best picture, taking two home for Best Costume Design and Best Set Decoration. Interestingly, Richard Burton hates playing the part of Marcellus, but was still nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. The movie was very popular when it was released in 1953, because of the novel’s popularity and the new CinemaScope technique, with many theaters seeing long lines to get in. The film was considered by many to be the trendsetter for the next two films on our list.
2. Ben-Hur (1959) – $818M
This film is considered by many to be the greatest religious film ever as it is adapted from the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ written by Lew Wallace. With the largest movie budget in history up to that point and starring Charlton Heston to boot, the epic tale of Judah Ben-Hur is told. A Jerusalem prince and merchant, Ben-Hur is falsely accused by the Tribune, an old childhood friend, of nearly causing the death of the Governor. After being placed in slavery with his Mother and Sister, Ben-Hur dedicates his life to revenge for the wrongs against him. During his trials, he encounters Jesus several times including when Jesus gives him a drink of water. Ben -Hur eventually makes it back to Jerusalem,where he is reunited with his family, but only after Jesus cures his Mother and Sister of their leprosy in a rainstorm. Ben-Hur is considered the masterpiece of movie making, wining 11 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. The chariot race in the movie is considered the best scene in the movie. It takes 5 weeks to film, 15,000 extras and 18 acres of land.
1. Ten Commandments (1956) – $2B
The Ten Commandments is the movie to which all religious movies are compared. It is an epic movie that followed the story of Moses and his quest to lead the Hebrews from captivity to freedom in the promised land. Shown on ABC’s Easter Telecast for years, it is a movie cherished by millions around the world. Charleston Heston plays the lead in this movie before he was Ben-Hur. He was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actor. Surprisingly, the movie only wins one Oscar for best special effects. One of the special effects is the parting of the Red Sea, which is done by flooding two “dump tanks”, and then the flooding is shown in reverse in the movie. Its two billion dollars makes it the sixth highest grossing film of all time with only Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Titanic above it.