Hollywood, Christians and the American Culture Wars
Karen Patricia Heath

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.

in The Bible onscreen in the new millennium