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The Battle of the Bible Films
Image: Niko Tavernise / Paramount Pictures
Russell Crowe in 'Noah'

It's not often that moviegoers can go to the multiplex and catch a film that begins with Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit. But this spring, many theaters are showing two films that start at the very beginning—of everything.

In Son of God, which came out in late February and grossed more than $56 million during its first month, the apostle John recites a slightly modified version of the first chapter of his Gospel. It emphasizes both Jesus' preexistence and his presence at specific Old Testament scenes. Each scene is illustrated with a clip from last year's hit History Channel miniseries The Bible.

Down the hall, the title sequence for Noah—which earned $44 million when it opened in late March—mixes the story of the Fall and Cain's murder of Abel with apocryphal elements such as a group of fallen angels known as the Watchers, who are described in the noncanonical Book of Enoch.

Those aren't the only Bible films hitting the big screen in 2014. In December, Ridley Scott, who revived the ancient epic in secular form with Gladiator, will put the finishing touches on Exodus: Gods and Kings, a 3D movie starring Christian Bale as Moses.

Together, the three films—produced by very different filmmakers with very different sensibilities—would seem to herald the return of a long-neglected genre. But the films themselves don't necessarily resemble Bible movies of the past, and it's not yet clear whether they will inspire more in the near future.

Films based on the Bible were very popular during the silent era, when dramatic realism took a back seat to iconography. They regained popularity during the postwar boom, reaching their peak with the 1959 film Ben-Hur and ...

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The Battle of the Bible Films
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In the Magazine

May 2014

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