Imagine meteorites with blazing trails of flames falling from the sky, lumbering rock giants made up of volcanic boulders, and tsunami waves crashing over all of earth with a colossal ferocity. Sounds like a typical Hollywood epic? These are actually elements in Darren Aronofsky’s biblical blockbuster, Noah (2014).

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Riding the wave of scripture-based films

The film traces the tale of how Noah (played by Russell Crowe) builds an ark to protect his family and himself from a catastrophic flood. Raking in nearly US$2 million in Singapore, it yielded an even more remarkable sum of over US$359 million worldwide. But the film industry isn’t done with the Bible yet.

Following in Noah’s footsteps, Hollywood is preparing the release of 3 more movies based on the Good Book. Openingthis December is Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, a story based on the leadership of Moses as he brought the Israelites out of Egypt. The Redemption of Cain, which has been in production since last July, is based off Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve,  from the book of Genesis. As for Mary, Mother of Christ, it has been dubbed the prequel to Mel Gibson’s magnum opus, The Passion of the Christ (2004), and will be launched in 2015, with Will Smith tentatively at the helm.


Christian Bale in Ridley Scott’s Exodus

Biblical movies aren’t new to audiences. The earliest ones such as Samson and Delilah (1903) were produced soon after motion pictures became popular.

Cinematic adaptations of Bible stories kept appearing with many other adaptations, starting with The Ten Commandments (1923), followed by The Prince of Egypt (1998) and The Nativity Story (2006), all of which enjoyed comfortable box office success. Today’s adapted flicks have bigger budgets, heavily star-studded casts and are generous with the digital effects.

A Holy Grail for movie concepts?

But of all places, why are filmmakers searching the gospel for screenplays?

The answer?  Those screenplays sell – like hotcakes on a cold, theologically apocalyptic day.

Smart filmmakers and producers know their audience and marketplace,” says local film writer-producer Justin Deimen, 28. “People spend money to watch and immerse themselves in what they believe in and what they would like others to believe in.”

Assistant editor of Persistent Productions, Mark Chua, 22, puts his two cents in, “On the one hand, artistic, [or] maybe even secular interpretations and presentations of biblical stories would attract and score points with the militantly secular, atheistic [or] liberal group. Yet, on the other hand, the premise of the film and the film itself would attract interest, whether well or ill-intentioned, from the conservative or generally religious group.”

“This is not even mentioning the middle group of casual cinema-goers who weekly, catch the latest blockbusters,” he continues, “In this way, biblical adaptations already do not count as a specific type of film. They are indistinguishable from Transformers.”


Take a story spun around the Bible, throw in a few A-list actors and a ton of special effects, and you get an epic, action-filled blockbuster in the same league as The Avengers or Spider-Man.

Blockbuster movies such as Transformers, The Avengers and Spiderman have spun off sequels and attracted audiences due to their heavy use of special effects and action.

Evidently, that’s what the viewers want. Noah grossed a total of US$43.7 million (S$55 million) during its opening box weekend in North America, making it Aronofsky’s highest opening weekend to date.


Restrictions and unrealistic portrayals 

Despite this, the screening of Noah was blocked in Muslim countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Malaysia and Indonesia on the grounds of religion.

“I understand the need for drama and stuff, but Noah is ridiculous,” voices Matthew Wong, 21. “It gives people a warped perception of God and of Noah. To me, the filmmakers are simply spinning their own film with ideas from the original biblical account.”

According to Wong, Noah portrayed “weird creatures”, like the rock giants that broach mythical realms, “[and] people who don’t exist”.

Nanyang Polytechnic student Jonathan Chow, 19, pointed out, “The film did start with a ‘warning’ that it is a creative adaptation. After all, Hollywood flicks aren’t meant to depict “documentary-style accounts of the stories”.

This scripture-to-screen trend has both supporters and detractors, and it will be impossible to placate both. For now, it seems that the profit-driven industry will continue to churn out biblical adaptations as long as audiences continue to flock to the theatres.

So, don’t be fooled the next time you see a movie trailer with jaw-dropping special effects – it might just be the next box-office hit in the form of biblical epic.


UrbanWire’s pick of 3 upcoming movies of biblical proportions

1. Exodus: Gods and Kings


Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Christian Bale, Aaron Paul, Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver

Storyline: A retelling of the biblical story of Moses and his quest to free the Israelites from slavery. The trailer shows a glimpse of the special effects extravaganza viewers can expect, which includes the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea.

Fun fact: This does not seem to be the last biblical film for Scott, who has been involved in talks for a movie on another biblical character, David.


2. Mary, Mother of Christ


Director: Alister Grierson

Cast: Odeya Rush, Peter O’Toole, Ben Kingsley, Julia Ormond

Storyline: This film traces the life of Mary through the ages of 13 to 27. It shows her story from her youth to her struggles as a young mother caring for her child, Jesus, up to the age of 12 years old.

Fun fact:The film, seen as a prequel to the Passion of the Christ, is also filmed at the same location – the Italian town of Matera.


3. The Redemption of Abel and Cain

Director: Will Smith (tentative)

Cast: Unreleased

Story: Despite Sony Pictures giving it the green light to start production in 2013, much of the film’s plot is still under wraps. However, vampires are expected to make an appearance in Abel and Cain’s story of sibling rivalry.

Fun fact: Originally named The Legend of Cain, the initial script was written by Will Smith’s brother-in-law, Caleeb Pinkett.


All figures were taken from Box Office Mojo (Worldwide Gross)

Photographs courtesy of the Internet Movie Database