More than 100 million people watched at least part of the 10-hour miniseries “The Bible” on the History channel last March. Now the producers are turning the television special into a feature film called “Son of God,” which opens in theaters Friday.
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church is one of many religious leaders urging churchgoers to become moviegoers.
“In fact, I told my church, ‘If you have to choose between church and movie, go see the movie this weekend,’” he told CBS News’ John Blackstone.
The movie, which depicts the life of Jesus, is the first big, religiously themed film from Hollywood in a decade.
Churches across the country have been buying up tickets and booking whole theaters for exclusive showings.
Warren told Blackstone he’s hoping to let Hollywood know that there should be more movies like “Son of God.”
“I tweeted it out today. I said, ‘Let’s send a message to Hollywood,’” he said. “Not every movie has to be a Bible movie, but when they do come out, let’s support that, for sure.”
Religious movies once seemed to be a mainstay of Hollywood, from “The Ten Commandments” to “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
A decade ago, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was controversial for its violence but brought in around $600 million at the box office. There hasn’t been a major religious movie made since.
“The relationship between Hollywood and religion has always been very fragile. If you’re making a big-budget film, you want to appeal to the masses, which means sometimes you’ll stray from the original text, which can anger people of faith,” said Rebecca Ford, a writer for The Hollywood Reporter. “But, if you only stick with the religious text, you’re not going to appeal to a wide audience and get those numbers at the box office.”
“Son of God” sticks closely to the story as told in the Bible. It was made by Mark Burnett, who created the TV hits “Survivor” and “The Voice,” and his wife, actress Roma Downey, who plays Jesus’ mother Mary in the movie.
“This film will reach a whole new generation, based upon it being very current, very 2014,” said Burnett. “In the past, some of these biblical movies have felt very kinda donkeys and sandals and like everybody stepped out of a dry cleaner’s.”
Downey said, “We have three teenagers ourselves at home, and when we were leaving for Morocco to begin filming they said to us, ‘Please don’t make the special effects lame.’”
Ford told Blackstone that the movie’s producers should not be worried about the religious community’s support.
“We definitely know that the religious community is supporting ‘Son of God.’ What the true test will be is if it can cross over and appeal to people who aren’t religious,” she said.
No matter how well it does at the box office, Warren does not expect Hollywood to embrace “Son of God.”
“It’ll be a miracle of biblical proportions if the Academy awards a Bible-based movie an Academy Award,” said Warren. “There’s just a natural antipathy, a natural antipathy, to Bible stories.”