There are many reasons why filmmakers continue to make movies based on biblical stories. The Bible’s familiar stories feature larger-than-life characters, plenty of action, and time-tested storylines.
However, from the film producer’s perspective, the primary reason why films based on biblical stories continue to be made is that these films are consistently able to make money.
Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of the biblical story of Noah opened last Friday with a respectable $15.2 million domestic take, according to Box Office Mojo. Son of God, a biblical drama based on the story of Jesus, raked in $25.6 million during its opening weekend in February and has grossed $56.7 million so far, per Box Office Mojo’s numbers.
However, Aronofsky’s Noah may not be the highest-grossing biblical epic of 2014. Ridley Scott, known for directing blockbusters like Alien and Gladiator, will be releasing his own biblical epic, Exodus: Gods and Kings, in December, according to IMDb. The film tells the biblical story of the Israelites’ exodus out of Egypt and stars Christian Bale as Moses.
With the recent resurgence of big-budget biblical epics, we thought this would be an opportune time to take a look at some of the most successful films in this genre.
Here is a list of the top five highest-grossing movies based on biblical stories.
5. "The Prince of Egypt" (1998)
Based on the biblical story of Moses, The Prince of Egypt was a highly-successful animated feature produced by DreamWorks Animation studio. Several prominent movie stars lent their voice talents to this film, including Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, and Martin Short. As noted by IMDb, the film won an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 1999 Academy Awards, and it currently holds a 79 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. According to Box Office Mojo, The Prince of Egypt pulled in a total unadjusted domestic gross of $101.4 million.
4. "The Passion of the Christ" (2004)
This Mel Gibson-directed film about the final hours of Jesus’s life was a major box office success with a total unadjusted domestic gross of over $370.7 million, or $498.5 million when adjusted for ticket price inflation, according to Box Office Mojo. Although sequences of graphic violence and story elements based on Catholic devotional writings made this a highly controversial film, The Passion of the Christ is widely credited with reigniting the major studios’ interest in the biblical film genre.
3. The Robe
Starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, and Michael Rennie, this Henry Koster-directed movie tells the story of a Roman soldier named Marcellus who acquires Jesus’s robe through a dice game at Jesus’s crucifixion. Like several other biblical epics, The Robe constructs a narrative around a peripheral character from a biblical story. As noted by IMDb, the film won two Academy Awards and later spawned a sequel, 1954’s Demetrius and the Gladiators. According to Box Office Mojo, The Robe brought in a total unadjusted domestic gross of $36 million, or $546.5 million in inflation-adjusted dollars.
This William Wyler-directed film is just one of several highly-successful biblical epics to feature Charlton Heston. Heston stars as Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who encounters Jesus. Although the story is not derived directly from the Bible, it is set in New Testament-era Jerusalem and features several scenes with Jesus, including Jesus’s crucifixion. The film was a huge box office success and garnered eleven Academy Awards. According to Box Office Mojo, Ben-Hur achieved a total unadjusted domestic gross of $74 million, or approximately $818.3 million when adjusted for ticket price inflation.
1. The Ten Commandments
The highest-grossing biblical epic of all time is also the only film on this list to crack the top-ten list of all-time highest-grossing films. Directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille, The Ten Commandments tells the biblical story of Moses from his birth to his death. The film features multiple Hollywood stars, including Charlton Heston as Moses, Yul Brynner as Ramses, and Anne Baxter as Nefretiri. The film was highly popular at the time of its release and pulled in $65.5 million in unadjusted gross or nearly $1.1 billion in adjusted gross. According to Box Office Mojo, The Ten Commandments is the sixth-highest-grossing movie ever when its gross is adjusted for ticket price inflation.