With at least 10 major movie productions based on biblical figures and accounts potentially headed for the big screen, it seems Hollywood is turning to Scripture more and more for inspiration.
While certainly not all of the films scheduled for release in the next year or so are guaranteed to be hits with Christian viewers, most of the projects are attached to big Hollywood names and will likely attract an audience either way.
Here's a list of Bible-inspired movies being considered for a theatrical release:
"Noah" – Expected release: March 2014
- (Photo: Twitter/@DarrenAronofsky)
Perhaps one of the most talked about films movie-goers are anticipating is Darren Aronofsky's "Noah," based on the biblical figure called by God to build a giant ark to escape the flooding of the whole earth (Genesis 6-9).
While Noah and his family are credited in the Bible as being obedient and faithful to God, there is a concern among observers that Aronofsky, whose credits include "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler," will cast the Old Testament figure as a bit cuckoo.
"If you were expecting a Biblically faithful retelling of the story of the greatest mariner in history and a tale of redemption and obedience to God you'll be sorely disappointed," wrote Hollywood insider Brian Godawa in his review of a draft of the script credited to Aronofsky, John Logan and Ari Handel. Godawa told The Christian Post he fears Noah, played by Russell Crowe, will be portrayed as having an extreme environmentalist bent.
Current names attached to the project include: Emma Watson as Ila; Logan Lerman as Ham; Jennifer Connelly as Naameh; Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah; and Douglas Booth as Shem. Other characters figuring into the story include Adam, Eve and Cain.
"Gods And Kings" – Expected release: TBA
This Moses re-telling to be distributed by Warner Bros. made headlines last year when Director Steven Spielberg was reportedly requested by the studio to give the Old Testament story a certain gritty feel.
Deadline.com cites an "insider" as saying, "There have been glossy versions of the Moses story but this would be a real warrior story." The insider claimed that the film would have a "Braveheart-ish" spin and involve Moses "coming down the river, being adopted, leaving his home, forming an army, and getting the Ten Commandments."
The biopic, tentatively titled "Gods and Kings," is not yet in production, which Warner Bros. is shooting for to begin in March or April of this year. The scriptwriting team is said to include Stuart Hazeldine ("Paradise Lost") and Michael Green ("Green Lantern").
The original award-winning movie, "The Ten Commandments" by Cecil B. DeMille, starred Charlton Heston and grossed $65 million in 1956, which Deadline.com estimates is equal to $1 billion by today's standards. It's likely Warner Bros. is hoping Spielberg ("Lincoln" and "Saving Private Ryan") can make this new version just as successful.
"Moses" – Expected release: TBA
Ridley Scott, known for "Prometheus," "Gladiator" and "Blade Runner," let slip in an Esquire magazine interview last year that he was also working on a retelling of Moses, whom the director called an "interesting" figure.
When asked about possibly taking on a movie about the Virgin Mary, Scott told Esquire, "No, I've got something else in the works. I'm already doing it. It's called Moses."
The British filmmaker added, "It's definitely in the cards, though. What's interesting to me about Moses isn't the big stuff that everybody knows. It's things like his relationship with Ramses [II, the pharaoh]. I honestly wasn't paying attention in school when I was told the story of Moses. Some of the details of his life are extraordinary."
No details about the project have been made public, and it was unclear if it would actually carry the title "Moses," as suggested by Scott. As for his vision for the movie, Scott didn't say, although he did share his intrigue with "eternal questions of creation and belief and faith." He also spoke of his disdain for religion, which he called "the biggest source of evil."
"Mary Mother of Christ" – Expected release: December 2013
"Mary Mother of Christ," described as a prequel to Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" that grossed more than $370 million with its 2004 theatrical release, is likely to hit the big screen in time for Christmas.
"Under the reign of terror of Herod the Great and against all odds, Mary and Joseph survive as young parents in one of the most treacherous times in history. From Mary's youth to her struggles as a young mother caring for her child, Jesus, up to the age of 12 years old. We will peer into Mary's life at ages 8, 15, 19 and 27," reveals a description from Aloe Entertainment.
A synopsis on the official movie website promises that "Mary Mother of Christ" will be "visually beautiful" and rely on historical documentation to "show a side of the world's most familiar story, which humanizes the biblical characters and brings us closer to understanding how love truly is the underpinning of faith. By the end of the film, if we haven't before, we will come to believe and be inspired by these human examples."
"Mary Mother of Christ" is still in production and includes scenes filmed in Italy, Jordan and British Columbia. Among its many executive producers are megachurch Pastor Joel Osteen, and Alister Grierson ("Sanctum" and "Kokoda") is set to direct. The script was written by Benedict Fitzgerald ("The Passion of the Christ") and Barbara Nicolosi.
The New Testament-based film is being distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment and stars Ben Kingsley as King Herod and Peter O'Toole as Simeon. Other main cast members include 15-year-old Odeya Rush as Mary, Julia Ormond as John the Baptist's mother, Elizabeth, and reportedly Hugh Bonneville as Satan.
"Goliath" – Expected release: TBA
- (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)
While it was revealed in 2011 that Taylor Lautner of "Twilight" fame and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson had been tapped to play the biblical David and Goliath, respectively, little news has emerged on the progress of the film, directed by Scott Derrickson.
Relativity Media, responsible for such films as faith-themed "Machine Gun Preacher" and "Immortals," reportedly was working in partnership with Temple Hill Entertainment on "Goliath." IMDB.com indicates that the Bible-based film has been "announced" but does not identify it as being in any stage of production, with its status last updated in September 2012.
Derrickson, who has previously directed "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," was said to be teaming up with Ryan Kavanaugh, Wyck Godfrey, and Marty Bowen as producers. Godfrey and Bowen have also produced "The Nativity Story" and the "Twilight" films.
"Goliath" will reportedly have a feel similar to the 2006 Greek epic "300" and screenwriters John D. Payne and Patrick McKay reportedly portray the giant Goliath as a sort of bounty hunter chasing after Israel's future king, David.
"Pontius Pilate" – Expected release: TBA
- (Photo: Reuters/Yves Herman)
Currently in development and said to possibly star Brad Pitt, is another New Testament-based film titled "Pontius Pilate," about the Roman ruler who sentenced Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion.
"Pontius Pilate" is reportedly based on a screenplay by Vera Blasi, author of Woman on Top, and is said to follow Pilate from his youth to his position as the governor of first century Judea, and his fated encounter with Christ.
While Blasi reportedly claims to have spent over 10 years researching the story, Deadline.com reports: "Blasi's script reads almost like a Biblical era 'Twilight Zone' episode in which a proud, capable Roman soldier gets in way over his head. His arrogance and inability to grasp the devoutness of the citizenry and its hatred for the Roman occupiers and their pagan gods leads him to make catastrophic decisions. All of this puts him in a desperate situation and in need of public approval when he is asked to decide the fate of a 33-year-old rabbi accused by religious elders of claiming he is King of the Jews."
Pitt, recently in "Killing Them Softly" and "Moneyball," is said to be considering the role of Pilate, but no word has emerged on whether his appearance in the film is a done deal. Other New Testament characters figuring into the film include John the Baptist, Salome and Mary Magdalene.
"The Redemption of Cain" – Expected release: Summer 2015
Actor Will Smith reportedly has been given the green light to make his directorial debut with the film "The Redemption of Cain," but this is one story critics say doesn't seem very much related to the biblical account of brothers Cain and Abel.
Sony Pictures Entertainment has picked up distribution for Smith and his Overbrook Entertainment to produce the film, which will reportedly put a vampire twist on the Old Testament's first recorded murder.
The script for "The Redemption of Cain" is credited to Caleeb Pinkett, Jada Pinkett-Smith's brother. According to a report from TheWrap.com, casting has already begun and filming is expected to start in July of this year.
Specifics on the vampire angle have not been disclosed. Shooting is expected to take place in London, Jordan and Morocco. What appears to be a poster for the film has been uploaded on IMDB.com and shows a gold mask against a black backdrop with archaic characters and the words in English "call your god." The date summer 2015 is also featured on the poster.
"Ben-Hur" – Expected release: TBA
The 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace has inspired another film adaptation, with the previous 1959 cut starring Charlton Heston of "The Ten Commandments" fame.
The script for "Ben-Hur" focuses on the title character of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince, and his close friend Messala, according to Deadline.com. While the two separate as youth, their reunion as adults brings tension, betrayal and enslavement for Ben-Hur. This retelling of the novel features Jesus Christ, whose story, Deadline reports, is also told in parallel. Christ and Ben-Hur meet on numerous occasions that results in the latter coming to faith. The film apparently concludes with Pontius Pilate sentencing Christ to death by crucifixion.
While Wallace's novel is considered one of the most influential Christian and best-selling works ever written, the 1959 film adaptation starring Heston was also considered successful in its own right, winning 11 Academy Awards.
The script for the new "Ben-Hur" film was written by Keith Clarke, and Sean Daniel and Joni Levin reportedly will serve as producers on the project.
"Left Behind" reboot – Expected release: TBA
"Left Behind," an apocalyptic faith-based film, is set to get a reboot with Nicolas Cage and Chad Michael Murray slated to take on roles previously played by Kirk Cameron and Brad Johnson.
While some may have been surprised to learn that a re-telling was in the works for the 2001 movie based on the best-selling series from Christian writers Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, a company named Family Screen Partners is working to bring to the big screen next year its version of a post-Rapture society.
LaHaye and Jenkins' book series speculates on how the world might look if the scenarios outlined in the Bible's Book of Revelation were to come to unfold in modern times – featuring the Rapture (or spiriting away to heaven) of Christians and the empowering of the anti-Christ as two defining events. In the 2001 installment of the "Left Behind" film, Cameron plays a reporter named Buck Williams who comes to faith and falls in love with a young Christian woman named Chloe Steele.
In the reboot, Murray ("Megiddo: The Omega Code 2") plays Buck Williams, while Cage takes on the role of Raymond Steele, the father of Chloe, played by Ashley Tisdale ("High School Musical). "After millions of people suddenly disappear from Earth, Chloe wanders America looking to find any remaining members of her family," reads a description from Deadline.com. An IMDB.com description adds, "A group of people struggle to survive in the aftermath of a 'Rapture' that has removed people of the Christian faith from Earth."
Vic Armstrong, whose credits include more than a hundred projects either as stunt director or coordinator, is directing "Left Behind" while the script was reportedly written by John Patus. The adventure-disaster film reportedly starts shooting this spring in Baton Rouge, La.
"Jesus of Nazareth" – Expected release: TBA
Another movie said to be inspired by the Bible and headed for theaters in the future includes a controversial portrayal of the life of Christ from director Paul Verhoeven, a member of the equally controversial Jesus Seminar.
It was revealed last year that Verhoeven, director of "Basic Instinct" and "Total Recall," would be working on a film based on his 2010 book, Jesus of Nazareth. The film strips Christ of his divinity and his mother, Mary, of her immaculate conception by portraying Jesus as a product of rape and the son of a Roman soldier. The movie is said to be in development, with award-winning writer Roger Avary ("Pulp Fiction") reportedly tasked with creating the screenplay. No roles have been cast as yet, and it's possible that whoever signs onto the film will face criticism.
Verhoeven reportedly told Deadline.com in 2011 that he views Jesus as an innovator of ethics.
"My own passion for Jesus came when I started to realize that. It's not about miracles, it's about a new set of ethics, an openness towards the world, which was anathema in a Roman-dominated world," the filmmaker said, according to the Daily Mail. "Jesus' ideals are about the utopia of human behavior, about how we should treat each other, how we should step into the shoes of our enemy."
The Jesus Seminar, to which Verhoeven reportedly belongs, is controversial for dismissing historical, orthodox beliefs about Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible. The filmmaker's upcoming project is also seen by some as an "attack" on Christianity.
Mel Gibson's next project
Finally, "The Passion of the Christ" director Mel Gibson had previously been reported to be working on another religious-based film with Joe Eszterhas. However, it appears Warner Bros. has put the project on hold after reading Eszterhas' script about the 2nd century B.C. Jewish Maccabeean revolt. While TheWrap.com reports that some believed the script lacked "feeling" and "a sense of triumph," there were also protests among Jewish groups who rejected the idea of Gibson undertaking the project, due to anti-Semitic statements he has made in the past. There was no word on when, or if, the project might resume.