Hollywood success of biblical movies as a research topic

Biblical movies, like Noah, make for great research topics.

Biblical movies, like Noah, make for great research topics.

Hollywood has long made biblical movies: Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur (1959), and many more. A little research shows that these films were able to achieve success financially in Hollywood, particularly during the 1940s and 50s, but in recent years religious-based movies have proven to be more controversial and not as lucrative.

Christians stay away because the films don’t adhere closely enough to the Bible, while the non-religious can view the films as less entertaining than the latest action flick. Will Darren Aronofsky’s Noah the movie, which stars Russell Crowe and comes during a year of biblical movies, change that trend?

The film has faced a history of difficulties, according to a November 18, 2013, post on iCitations by Alana Joli Abbott, “The Bible in film: Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe bring Noah to the big screen,” and the box office will be its latest challenge. Take a look at these critical views of biblical films if you are looking for a good research paper topic in film studies or religion.

Hollywood vs. Christians?

The tales of morality, suffering and sacrifice contained in the Bible would seem to be perfect fodder for the film industry. Yet that has not been the case in Hollywood of late. Biblical movies all too often disappoint Christians’ expectations, and to non-believers, Biblical movies come across as propaganda.

The recent Russell Crowe turn as the Old Testament patriarch in Noah the movie is hoping to change the perception of biblical movies. In “What’s at stake in the ‘Noah’ controversy” posted on Moviefone March 25, 2014, Gary Susman talked about how the film has quickly become a test case for the film industry on whether they “can earn the trust of fundamentalist Christians (and whether it’s worth risking money and controversy even to try.” Susman systematically listed all of the players who have weighed in on whether or not Noah is religious enough.

Hearsay or cultural conversation?

Digging a little deeper and researching the controversy between popular culture and religion shows more of the divide between Hollywood and Christians. According to the director of Noah, Darren Aronofsky, there is much to the story of Noah that many people do not remember from their days in Sunday school.

As the movie moves beyond the basics of Noah building an ark and taking in animals, Christian moviegoers may balk. And even Muslims are upset about the film, because the story of Noah is included in the Koran, and it therefore violates the Islamic law that forbids depicting prophets.

Glenn Whipp discussed how the “Religious tide turns against ‘Noah’” in his March 28, 2014, article for the LA Times. Whipp wrote, “The same people who gripe that Hollywood never makes any faith-based movies are complaining because Hollywood has gone and made a religious movie, albeit one that might not be as literal-minded as they’d like.”

Creating biblical movies

So what is the answer in Hollywood? Should the film industry just walk away from biblical movies? Or is there another answer? Kevin McDermott wrote on June 25, 2013, for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of one possible solution in “Rick Santorum, in new role at studio, vows faith-based movies will ‘rival Hollywood’.”

The former presidential candidate has taken on a role as CEO of EchoLight Studios, a faith-based film company, and according to McDermott, is asking Christian conservatives to recognize “that modern popular culture is here to stay, and use that platform to produce Christian-themed films that will also have quality and popular appeal.”

Santorum has stressed that quality matters in biblical movies if they want to appeal to non-believers as well. In his opinion, previous efforts failed because they focused mostly on the message and less on the artistic quality of the production.

Ticket sales will soon tell if Noah the movie is able to persuade Christians that it is enough of a biblical movie to warrant their interest. The dollar figures will also indicate if non-believers are convinced that a religious story is action-packed enough to hold their attention.

Want to learn more about Christianity and the Bible? Check out Questia—particularly the section on religion and the arts. 

Should Hollywood try tackling biblical stories? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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