By James Hirsen, Special for USDR
In a media world that has largely become more and more antagonistic toward religion, an interesting trend appears to be emerging in the entertainment business.
A number of films, some of which are currently in various stages of production, contain content that is appealing to faith-oriented individuals, particularly those who are committed to Christianity.
Entertainment industry studios have been witness to the high profit margins experienced by faith-based movie fare such as “Son of God,” “Heaven Is for Real,” and “God’s Not Dead,” all of which exceeded expectations last year.
However, those who engage in film watching but who are adherents to the Bible are wary following the disrespect and lack of authenticity that was displayed in movies such as Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” and Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which likewise were 2014 releases.
A rather high profile film set to be released in the near future, which has a group of prominent A-listers involved in its production, is “Apostle Paul,” with Hugh Jackman in the lead role.
According to Holy Scripture, Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, experiences an epiphany after his encounter with Jesus Christ on a journey from Jerusalem to Damascus. Although not one of the original twelve, Paul becomes an apostle himself and is transformed into one of the most prolific evangelists and enormously important figures in Christian history.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are co-producers of “Apostle Paul” along with Jackman. One of the major studios, Warner Bros., has taken on the project.
The question remains whether or not the film, which at its core focuses on one of the most significant New Testament figures, will be fairly represented. Damon and Affleck are remembered by many in the Christian community for their part in portraying fallen angels Bartleby and Loki in Kevin Smith’s 1999 film “Dogma,” which was viewed as insulting to Christians, particularly Catholic Christians. The Catholic League considered the film blasphemous.
Jackman was raised by a religious Christian father, who often took young Hugh to see the inimitable preacher Billy Graham. Not presently a practicing Christian, Jackman is a self-described student of transcendental meditation.
As reported in the entertainment trade publication Variety, Sony Pictures has slated a Christian-themed drama called “Miracles from Heaven,” which will feature Jennifer Garner in a starring role. The studio achieved box-office success with “Heaven Is for Real,” and consequently is well positioned to market another faith-based film. “Heaven Is for Real” stands out as one of the most successful movies released by Sony last year.
“Miracles from Heaven” is based on a book written by Christy Beam in which a young girl who is suffering from a rare digestive disorder experiences a miraculous cure after she survives a serious accident. The film is scheduled to begin production in the summer of 2015
A remake of the classic 1959 Charlton Heston film “Ben Hur” is set to hit theaters in February 2016. Paramount Pictures and MGM will co-produce the “Ben-Hur” remake along with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who also produced two miniseries on the Bible as well as the movie “Son of God.” The film will follow the same plot as the original and use the same source material, which is a novel written by Lew Wallace and published in 1880 titled “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.” The story deals with a Jewish prince at the time of Jesus who is enslaved by the Romans and eventually becomes a Christian.
During a recent cast member visit to the Vatican, Pope Francis extended a blessing to actor Rodrigo Santoro, who portrays Jesus in the film.
In March 2016, just prior to Easter, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” a movie adaptation of a novel of the same name, which was written by Ann Rice, will be released by Focus Features. The film focuses on the childhood of Jesus, beginning with the time Christ’s family left Egypt to return to Nazareth.
Sean Bean of “The Lord of the Rings” franchise is set to star in the film. The script is co-written and directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh. His wife Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh has co-written the adaptation. (The two comprise the same team that brought to the public the movie “The Stoning of Soraya M.”)
Additional faith-based films are currently in development by other major Hollywood personalities. “Mary,” referred to by insiders as a prequel to Mel Gibson’s 2004 “The Passion of the Christ,” stars Julia Ormond and Ben Kingsley. The movie is reportedly scheduled for release by Lionsgate with a goal of a year-end 2016 debut. The film is written by screenwriter and film finance expert Mary Aloe.
Additionally, Will Smith has been developing a movie on “Cain and Abel.” A highly regarded script titled “Pontius Pilate,” which was previously under development at Warner Bros. and had the star power of Brad Pitt attached to it, is making the rounds and will reportedly land at Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8, a company funded in partnership with Fosun Group and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
When it comes to faith and cinema, things in Hollywood sure seem to be looking up.