The movie "Noah" topped box office expectations over the weekend with a $44 million showing despite outcry from Christian and Muslim groups alike that the epic doesn't follow the biblical story closely enough.
Some critics say it could have drawn an even larger audience by staying true to its story.
The numbers for the Russell Crowe blockbuster, while putting "Noah" in first place, pale when compared to the 2004 opening weekend for the Mel Gibson-directed "Passion of the Christ," Deadline
reports. And Fox's more biblically correct "Son of God" remains popular as the Easter holiday approaches, bringing in an estimated $60 million.
The budget for "Noah," which features star-director Darren Aronofsky and co-stars such as Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, and Ray Winstone, was $125 million, compared to a $10 million budget for "Son of God." However, movies with a religious-based plot — even if the movies stray from the teachings of the Bible, as critics complain "Noah" does — are enjoying remarkable staying power this year.
"God's Not Dead,"
a drama about a college freshman challenged to defend his faith by an argumentative philosophy professor, ended up in the top five box office showings over the weekend, racking up $8.7 million in its second week out and pushing its total to $21.6 million.
Megan Colligan, president of domestic marketing and distributimatterson for Paramount, said "Noah" is a film that "gets people thinking . . . spiritual, but also is very entertaining. What Darren [Aronofsky] accomplished isn’t easy to replicate, but it's definitely a genre that artists and studios will be thinking about."
Faith Driven Consumer,
which tracks the commercial viability of major Hollywood films courting faith audiences, said studios are targeting about 46 million "faith-driven" movie viewers, who spend about $1.75 trillion annually at the movies, with religious-based offerings this year.
"'The Passion of the Christ' blended high production values with a strong adherence to the core biblical message and narrative," Faith Driven Consumer founder Chris Stone said in a press release Monday.
"By contrast, 'Noah,' a film with a $125 million production budget and the promotional backing of one of the world’s leading studios, grossed only an estimated $44 million.
"This film, which deviates far enough from the biblical message and narrative as to render the original story largely unrecognizable, has clearly failed to garner the broad support of faith-driven consumers. What kind of records could 'Noah' have shattered if the film's tone and story had resonated with faith-based audiences as they did with 'The Passion'?"
Studios are lining up more religion-based movies to find out, Deadline reports. Sony's "Heaven Is for Real," based on a 2010 best seller by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent, will be coming out in two weeks.
On Mother's Day weekend, Affirm Films, which typically aims toward evangelical Christians, will release "Mom's Night Out" after bringing in $43.9 million in 2011 with "Soul Surfer."
In October, a Nicolas Cage action flick, "Left Behind," will be released about a commercial airline pilot flying after the Rapture.
The next big-budget Bible-based film will come in December with "Exodus," with Batman star Christian Bale playing Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
Fox distribution head Chris Aronson said it is difficult to tell if such religion-themed movies will be moneymakers because they often depend on how much is spent and on how creatively they are marketed.
"There are plenty of examples of faith-based films that have been smartly marketed and targeted to a faith-based audience that have been successful," he said. "It proves that there is an appetite for it, but I think that credibility is an issue as well . . . you can’t pull the wool over the faith-based audience's eyes, because they will see it and reject it."
"Son of God" is meeting with approval, said Aronson, because TV producer "Mark Burnett and [actress] Roma Downey had ultimate credibility because they went directly to the opinion makers in the faith-based community and showed that they had the goods . . . What this shows is that there is an appetite for these types of movies, and that there is a particular segment of the population that is being terribly under-served, and if you give them the product they want to see, they will come."
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