Producer Mark Burnett predicts that "a billion" people will see his new film "Son of God," which opens in theaters today.
Burnett, who co-produced the film with his wife Roma Downey, told TheWrap in a recent interview that he is confident in the film's long-term success. "This movie is going to be seen by a billion people over the next three or four years, so a big opening would be great, but this is very much a long-term proposition."
Burnett and his wife have visited numerous churches across the U.S. in an effort to sell out movie theaters for screenings ahead of the film's official release on Friday. Their efforts seem to have worked, as influential evangelical leaders including Mark Driscoll, T.D. Jakes and Rick Warren have bought out entire theaters to prescreen the film.
"There's been nothing conventional about this," Burnett, who has produced such successful reality television shows as "Survivor" and "Shark Tank," told TheWrap. "It's more like networking with all these church leaders, who have become our friends, since we've been consulting and working with them on this project for years."
Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., recently gave out 3,500 tickets for the film's pre-screening on Thursday. As the church stated on its website, the purpose of giving away so many free tickets was to encourage nonbelievers to watch the film.
"This isn't just a pass to a free movie; this is an opportunity to bring a friend, a few friends, who would never otherwise hear the story of Jesus. What we don't want are theaters packed with people who attend Mars Hill. We want theaters packed full of people from Mars Hill with their un-churched friends," the church said on its website.
In addition to Driscoll, other major evangelical leaders like Rick Warren have purchased tickets for the movie; Warren reportedly bought out at least eight theaters near his Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., for screenings. T.D. Jakes, Miles McPherson, and Joel Osteen, to name a few, have also purchased tickets ahead of the film's release.
"We're very excited that the community is mobilizing to support Son of God," Burnett and Downey said in a released statement. "The grassroots support is so important and the faith community is amazing when it mobilizes. Our hope is that the story and message of Jesus Christ will reach tens of millions of people nationwide."
The "Son of God" film plays off of footage from the highly successful History Channel miniseries "The Bible." The film follows the life of Jesus from birth to his resurrection.