Mel Gibson’s controversial biblical epic, The Passion of the Christ
(2004), failed to secure funding from a major studio, but still managed to
turn significant profits (over $83 million just on the opening weekend
against a production budget of $30 million). So too have auterist projects
such as Darren Aronfsky’s Noah (2014) and Ridley Scott’s Exodus:
Gods and Kings (2014) continued this religious run on the box
office, as did Kevin Reynolds’ Risen (2016). In contrast, Timur
Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur (2016) bombed (as of early 2018, worldwide
grosses have still yet to recoup a production budget of some $100 million).
This chapter argues that there remains considerable life in the modern
biblical epic, and that these films are generally most successful in
bringing old stories to new audiences in the twenty-first-century cultural
marketplace. But although such works enjoy a built-in Christian fan-base,
this demographic alone is not enough to guarantee box office success. To
turn a significant profit, the modern biblical epic also needs to court as
much controversy as possible, and thereby capture the attention of the
mainstream Hollywood audience, i.e. secular viewers at home and abroad.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book considers memory as a specific framework for the study of popular film, intervening in growing debates about the status and function of memory in cultural life and discourse. It examines the relationship between official and popular history and the constitution of memory narratives in and around the production and consumption of American cinema. The book explores the political stakes of cinematic discourse in its production of national memory. It also examines the discursive and institutional apparatus that has come to support the memory of Classic Hollywood in British cultural life. The book also considers both the presence of music and colour in nostalgia films of the 1990s and the impact of digital and video technologies on the representational determinants of mediated memory.