How Jesus Is Bringing Churchgoers Back to the Movies

Posted: February 23, 2014 in Movies


How do you get churchgoers to go to the movies?  You give them Jesus, of course.  And that is what Fox Studios has done with Son of God, a movie adapted from extended out-takes and additional footage shot while making The Bible mini-series.

The Bible aired on The History Channel last March and was seen by 13.1 million viewers, a record for a cable television special series. The series became the biggest-selling miniseries on DVD in its first week of release, and biggest on Blu-ray and Digital HD of all time.  A sequel, A.D.: Beyond the Bible is being planned by NBC.

Producers and husband and wife, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, both devout Christians in a The Hollywood Reporter interview said ” Our hope is that the story and message of Jesus Christ will reach tens of millions of people nationwide.” Son of God is directed by BBC historical documentary veteran Christopher Spencer.

Churches and Christian charities and universities are eagerly embracing the chance to deliver “The Message”.

Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university, has bought out 13 of the 14 auditoriums for the nearby to campus 14 screen Regal for the February 28th opening of Son of God.  The Liam Neeson actionneer, Non Stop, a high altitude hijack thriller, will be be the only other film competing with Son of God.

Relief group Compassion international, which is the exclusive charity for Son of God in the US, has purchased over 225,000 tickets for screenings in 40 cities.  The group is using local churches to handle the ticket distribution.

San Diego’s Rock Church, has booked all 19 screens of a local AMC for early Wednesday previews of the movie.  Sacramento’s Bayside Church bought over 2,000 seats for the local movie house there.  Mega-church pastor Rick Warren is also contributing to the theater take-over craze by buying out screens in 8 different movie palaces through out Orange County.

“I’ve seen most of the films about Jesus produced in the past 50 years, and Son of God is the best,“ Warren said in a statement. “We’re excited Jesus is back on the big screen, and we’re going to fill the theaters.”   “This is a rare opportunity to bring the story of Christ into our mainstream culture. We want to see Jesus in movie theaters where sight and sound can open up our senses and let grace come in. The message of the Gospel deserves to be on the big screen – and this is our chance to see it there.”

Fox is also making a push to get the word about Son of God out to the heavily Latin Christian/Catholic market.   Three thousand dual track English/Spanish digital copies are being released.  Heavily dominated Latino markets are getting a dubbed version that features the voices of Mexican actors Eduardo Verastegui, Adriana Barraza and Blanca Soto. A 22 minute making of special will be shown on Telemundo February 22nd.

“There’s a high level of Christianity in the Hispanic community, many of whom don’t normally go to the movies but want to see Son of God,” says Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson to THR.  Burnett notes the campaign has been helped by the fact that the star, Diego Morgado, who is Portuguese, “is the first Latin Jesus in an English film.”

Actor Morgado related in a comment to Good Morning America how an experience at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem changed how he went about preparing for the role of Son of God.

“I saw this father and a young kid, they were praying. And I stood for like two hours there. By the time I left, they were still praying,” Morgado told GMA. “And I realized whatever I was about to do would be connecting more with that kid than his father. We live in a visual world now. Kids can learn a lot by seeing things rather than reading it. So I really understood the responsibility.”

“I grew up as a Christian and I always think of Jesus as someone right next to us, you know, someone really close, and I never actually saw that onscreen in a way that could be identified,” Morgado said. “So I actually tried to go that way and build this relationship of one-on-one with the viewer.”

Ticket sales are over 500,000 for Son of God as of Wednesday February 20th.  At an average ticket price from $5.00-9.00 that puts pre-sales at between $2.5-$4.5 million.

The release date is not coincidental.  Son of God opens close to 10 years to the day since the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (February 25, 2004).  Passion made over $83 million its opening weekend and eventually earned over $499 million.

Unlike the controversial Gibson movie the only controversy Son of God has generated is the cutting of Satan from the film. Several bloggers noted in a side by side comparison that Mohamen Mehdi Ouazanni, the actor who played Satan in The Bible mini-series bared a slight resemblance to President Obama.  The Obama/Satan comparsion became so viral that producers Burnett and Downey each issued statements supporting the President and deriding those who choose to see “false connections” there.  

“For our movie, Son of God, I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus. I want his name to be on the lips of everyone who sees this movie, so we cast Satan out. It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the devil is on the cutting-room floor,” Downey noted to THR.

“This movie is designed to be seen in communities,” Burnett told The Hollywood Reporter about Son of God. “Therefore, it’s the perfect venue for church groups to band together and watch Son of God in a community. That’s what’s really happening.”

Son of God is only the first of three Bible based movies to come this year. 

Next up is Noah already generating controversy for its portrayal of Noah as an action hero and environmental crusader.  Director Darren Aronofsky and the studio have been having a running feud (since then amicably resolved) over who has final cut on the epic.   The movie coming out March 28th will present Aronofsky’s vision of The Flood tale.  

After that is Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses.  In a nod to Bale’s previous role as The Dark Knight and Scott’s avowed agnostic views expect a darker version of the Bible story with a very radical and unique view of how God is presented and seen.   Exodus opens December 12th. 

Movie-wise 2014 should be a year of Biblical proportions.

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