Everyone loves lists. Top Tens, Billboard Top 200, Bottom Ten, Top 100, etc. It is inherent and ingrained in our human nature to take the chaos around us and put it in some sort of orderly fashion. Every Tuesday, Josh lists his Top 5 movies based on an actor, genre, director, theme, holiday, sandwich or general whimsy and posts it for your consumption and discussion. If you want to submit your own list you can email Josh at J.A.Crabb22@gmail.com with the subject line, “RWT Top 5 Tuesday”, give a short 50-100 word description of the theme and your choices, you could end up seeing your list right here!
TOP 5 HIGHEST GROSSING BIBLE MOVIES
Coming this weekend to a theater near pretty much everyone, the new Bible epic from Ridley Scott, Exodus: Gods and Kings, has been highly anticipated and generated much excitement/controversy among Christians and movie-goers alike. Christian Bale has called Moses, “schizophrenic and barbaric” as well as a “terrorist” and Ridley Scott has been criticized for “white-washing” the film and not included ethnic actors, a criticism leveled at pretty much every American movie based on the Bible. In honor of this movie hitting theaters this Friday and during the Holiday season and making a bunch of money, let’s countdown the highest grossing movies based on a narrative in the Bible.
As a note, please know that movies that are set during Biblical times or might have some biblical elements to them were not included. So movies like Ben-Hur, the Narnia movies, God’s Not Dead, and so on were not included on this list since they are not movies based on biblical narratives. Also, movies that varied wildly and were more artistic (i.e. The Last Temptation of Christ, Life of Brian, etc.) were also disqualified from this list. Without further ado, let’s jump in with a movie that came out a number of Christmas’ ago but was probably the least criticized of all these films.
Honorable Mention: The Nativity Story – Domestic Gross: $37,629,831 – You can’t go wrong with Oscar Isaac as the young father of Jesus. The movie actually premiered at the Vatican, and was a highly anticipated and touted movie. It received mixed reviews but is generally a good depiction of the Nativity story. It came out around the Christmas season (shocking, I know) and had a decent run at the box office with a fairly minimal amount of worldwide gross. It’s interesting when a whole movie is made out of what is usually a small, one scene beginning of most movies about Jesus. It is cool to have a movie purely about the Nativity, but it was really a straight up visual re-telling of the story we get every Christmas. What is really great about this movie is not the depiction of Mary (which has been the subject of reverence from Catholics) but what this movie has to say about Joseph. He is shown to be a good man and a faithful follower of God, which is what we could deduce but do not have really any written words beyond the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew. Check this one out if you get the chance. It could be a really great visual presentation of the Christmas story for your kids this Christmas.
5) Son of God – Domestic Gross: $59,700,064 – The year 2014 is being touted as the year of the Bible epic, but I’m sure in the future we will look at this year as the dawn of the Bible epic. Son of God was the adopted full length movie from The Bible miniseries that aired on The History Channel earlier in 2014. Using the momentum from The Bible miniseries, Son of God rode the opening weekend and the Easter holiday to a fairly significant domestic box office haul. Honestly, it was not really that special and did not break any new ground that many movies have done previously. I did not like the representation of Jesus as sort of a good-natured hipster and it’s ties to the Bible miniseries made me really not want to see it. I think the biggest and most important contribution this movie has made in 2014 is to continue the conversation on Jesus in the movies and what we can expect going forward. It is tricky business to put Christ in the movies and anything short of executing it to perfection will result in the movie being tossed aside or burned in the streets. We’ll get back to this conversation in a couple spots up.
4) The Ten Commandments – Domestic Gross: $65,500,000 – Honestly, with adjusted box office numbers, this movie should be #1. With the adjusted numbers for inflation it has earned an almost unheard of amount of $2 billion worldwide. It is no wonder it has been so engrained in our collective cultural consciousness. I’m pretty sure very single person has seen this movie and most good kids my age had their parents watch it with them every Easter. Growing up in the Crabb household, we watched this movie and King of Kings over the Easter Weekend. And then we watched the Matrix. It was always a pretty epic weekend.
While it strays from the biblical text in very obvious ways, much to the chagrin of all the haters on Exodus: Gods and Kings, it is a pretty faithful adaptation and is absolutely iconic. Be honest, you know that you imagine Moses looking like Charlton Heston when you read the Pentateuch and Pharaoh looks like Yul Brynner. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of the Bible looks like a Cecil B. DeMille movie in my imagination/dreams. If you’re a part of the younger generation you might not have ever seen this movie and if you haven’t I encourage you to see it. Not only is it an incredible Bible movie, it is a cinematic masterpiece from one of movie’s prolific and bombastic ever directors, Cecil B. DeMille (Cleopatra, The Greatest Show on Earth).
3) Noah – Domestic Gross: $101,200,044 – Before there was the controversy of Exodus: Gods and Kings, there was the controversy of the Darren Aronofsky’s diluvian narrative, Noah. Now, this movie certainly strays from any Christian or even Jewish understanding of the text, but it is still really great. I suggest that you not take my word for it, but read and listen to the Reel World Theology podcast on Noah, as well as The Storymen and MovieByte podcasts that feature Reel World Theology’s very own Mikey Fissel. Check those out and JR Forasteros’ review for a real lowdown on this movie. I have yet to see this movie, much to my shame, but it is on my list of movies this month, so fear not RWT reader my opinion will soon matter!
2) The Prince of Egypt – Domestic Gross: $101,413,188 – I honestly almost forgot to include this movie in here. It’s amazing that the story of Moses translates so well to the big screen. DreamWorks Pictures first traditionally animated movie is one of my personal favorite animated movies. Completely ground-breaking at the time of its release as far as animation and boasting some of the best songs from that year in the movies (it won an Oscar for best original song), the movie kept its longevity and outgrossed a lot of competition, while never actually capturing the top spot in a box office weekend. It came out to wide praise and is one of the few movies, like the Nativity movie, to avoid major criticisms when it was released. Maybe because it’s a musical? Maybe because you can animate ethnic diversity while still having Val Kilmer play God and Moses? Who knows, but what really matters is that it is a good movie and worthy of the second position on here. Let’s hope this is not the last animated movie based on a Bible narrative to make a mark on the culture (VeggieTales movies don’t count).
1) The Passion of The Christ – Domestic Gross: $370,782,930 – The big daddy, the top dog, the head honcho of Bible movies and controversy. There was nothing quite like the craziness and evangelical fervor around Mel Gibson’s 2005 The Passion of the Christ. Controversial for its graphic depiction of the crucifixion and gaining an R-rating, as well as a perceived anti-Semitic tone (which, unfortunately, based on Gibson’s views may be true), the movie was incredibly polarizing as well as disturbing.
Gibson sought no outside funding or distribution before starting production on the film, and it was ground-breaking in setting up a lot of the precedent for how a lot of Christian movies market themselves. Evangelicals rallied around this film and advertised it at their churches, para-church ministries, and small groups (I remember going through the small group Bible study companion that went along with the movie). Gibson held screenings before the wide release of the movie with evangelical audiences and had the backing of well-known evangelicals like Jim Dobson, Chuck Colson, Rick Warren, Lee Strobel, Pat Robertson, among others. The film exploded opening weekend with over $85 million made and it went on to be the highest grossing rated-R film of all-time. It was an absolute phenomenon at its time.
It’s rare that I remember a movie not named Star Wars so vividly, but I saw this movie at the Rogers cinema in Stevens Point, Wisconsin in college at the midnight showing. It was packed full of college students, as we arranged a special showing to bring friends and any student that could fog a mirror as part of our evangelistic outreach with Campus Crusade for Christ (now called CRU). It was an incredibly emotional experience, and I remember crying quite openly over the graphic depiction of Christ’s crucifixion, but also some of the non-Passion scenes. What I remember most from that movie is that in the middle of the passion it had Jesus saying the words from Luke 6:27-34 about loving your enemies. That image and the weight of Jesus saying in the movie has never left me and it is still one passage of the Bible that resonates with me and conjures up images of that night at the movie theater. I might not watch the movie now, but it will forever have an important place in the formation of my love for Christ.