Box Office: Can the ‘Son of God’ Flock Be Born Again With ‘Noah'?

The staying power of Mark Burnett's Bible saga could impact the Russell Crowe epic

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey shined a light on a potentially huge and under-served faith-based audience for Hollywood with this weekend's stunning $26 million opening of “Son of God,” the big-screen version of their History Channel miniseries “The Bible.”

But it's hard to see the big opening by “Son of God” as a great thing for “Noah,” Paramount's big-budget Biblical saga starring Russell Crowe that opens in three weeks. “Son of God” plainly tapped into the Christian market, but whether “Noah” can do that to anywhere near the same extent, particularly on the heels of Burnett's film, is a different question.

It's possible. The family crowd that turns out for animated films does so on a regular basis, so why couldn't Christian moviegoers? Judging by the first-week numbers and exit polling, however, “Son of God” struck a major chord that could be difficult to match. One encouraging sign: 76 percent of the people who bought tickets to “Son of God” on Fandango said that they were planning to see “Noah.”

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“I think that the audience is big enough — and under-served enough — that there's room for another movie to come along and do OK,” said vice-president and senior analysts Phil Contrino. “Paramount is marketing ‘Noah’ as an epic, and that's going to help,” he said.
“There's still nearly a month to go, and it has that conversation going — how faithful to Scripture is it, that sort of thing — and people are going to be curious,” he continued.

The two Bible-based movies could hardly be more different.

“Son of God” is a passion project and cost relatively little — Burnett bankrolled the miniseries for $22 million. It stars unknown Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as Jesus, and was written and directed by Christopher Spencer. Working with distributor Fox, which has the home entertainment rights to “The Bible,” Burnett and Downey skipped the traditional marketing and instead went directly to Christian and Jewish groups in a grassroots pack-the-theaters campaign. Burnett leaned on major national pastors like T.D. Jakes and Rick Warren to mobilize the faithful, and it worked.

Also read: Paramount Adds Explanatory Note to ‘Noah’ After Pressure by Religious Group

The effects-heavy “Noah” has the feel of a blockbuster. It has Darren Aronofsky directing, Crowe as the boat builder, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson co-starring and a $130 million production budget. Paramount has  reached out to religious groups — and even the Pope — but is targeting a much broader audience and has mounted a major marketing push that included a Super Bowl commercial. It's too early for specific projections, but the studio probably would take an opening comparable to that of “Son of God” and look to make its biggest scores abroad, where it will be shown in 3D.

We won't know until March 28, one week after Easter when “Noah” lands in theaters, which is one week ahead of “Captain America: Winter Soldier.”

That gives “Son of God” a three-week window to capitalize. But the staying power of “Son of God” is more uncharted territory, as was its opening, which confounded analysts, most of whom saw it doing roughly half of what it took in over the three days.

“When a movie over-performs like this you have to wonder if it's more front-loaded, because the audiences sure seemed to rush out to see it,” Contrino said. “But just like with the opening, I wouldn't be shocked if it surprises us.”

Burnett, who prior to its opening proclaimed that “Son of God” would be seen by “a billion people,” didn't get there this weekend. But he was always taking the long view.

Relativity International will be rolling out “Son of God” in more than 60 foreign markets, starting with launches near Easter in Latin America, where “Semana Santa” is a huge cultural event.

Also read: ‘Son of God': Jewish Leader Hopes Bible Film Will Be ‘Antidote’ to ‘Passion of the Christ’

Burnett's currently working on Chinese- and Spanish-language versions of “Son of God,” not for international markets, but for foreign-speaking enclaves of true believers in the U.S. Hispanics made up 22 percent of the first weekend audience.

In addition to the theatrical runs, Burnett and those involved are counting on “Son of God” having a long shelf life as a teaching tool in churches and Christian learning centers all over the world.

That was one of the reasons the Anti-Defamation League's national director Abe Foxman was so enthusiastically supported the film; he felt it put the role of the Jews in Christ's life and death in the proper historical perspective, as opposed to the last religious movie to make a major impact, Mel Gibson's 2004 blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ.”

So don't count Burnett out on that billion people bet.


  • David Sams

    I appreciate the reporter's thoughts; however, the bigger obstacle that Noah is going to run into is “Heaven Is For Real,” another faith-based film starring Greg Kinnear. It comes out on Easter weekend. This movie is based on the best-selling Christian book that has sold 10 million copies on the past few years. That's huge. There are some 30 faith-based movies coming out in the next 12 months. Is the market large enough to support them? The answer is: we shall see. However, one thing is for certain, a long-term church marketing strategy is key. Christian radio makes a big difference. For example, Mark and Roma hosted KeepTheFaith, the #1 syndicated radio show in America, every day last week–leading up to the debut of the movie. KeepTheFaith is heard by millions of people, including nearly 400,000 people every 15 minutes. And, it airs in all kinds of markets, not just the Bible belt. In LA it airs in morning drive, M-F, as well as most of the day on Sunday. That's huge. So, Mark and Roma knew what they were doing. The major studios are going to have to go to Bible Seminary in order to get this market…or find some people who know what they are doing to tap into this huge and influential market.

  • Sage on the Hudson

    “But just like with the opening, I wouldn’t be shocked if it surprises us.”

    As opposed to not being surprised if you were shocked, Phil?

    Well, I guess if the Bible can be incoherent and contradictory, so can “senior analysts.”

  • Egg Man

    “Noah,” Paramount’s big-budget ”cli fi” saga starring Russell Crowe, is going to appeal to climate activists worldwide, the movie is a wake up call on global warming and climate change, a true cli fi movie, a la ”The Day After Tomorrow” and TIME magazine sees it this way already I think. Todd, NOAH is not aimed at or competing with religious movies; it is a serious alarm bell wake up call about the fate of humankind and has nothing to do with superstitious gods or legends. Time to grow up, america. Jesus was a fake messiah, as all jewish messiahs were, and he was not the first. God himself or herself does not even exist. The British guy with this son of god movie is barking up an old supertitious tree and is part of the old stuff. NOAH will usher in a new world of cli fi cinema. watch. stop counting money and start looking that 400 ppm stats for c02. we are doomed, doomed, cut this religious beeswax before its too late. oops, i forgot, already too late ….so better get religions and pray. me? i am going to watch NOAH with glee!

  • Egg Man

    CLI FI is genre term for climate fiction movies and novels, as coined by climate activisits a few years ago. see npr and time mag and upcoming new york times newspape. forget sci fi and forget god movies, cli fi is the real McCoy now. get ready.

  • 20pizzapies

    Noah compared to Son Of God is comparing apples and oranges .[silly assumptions aside]