The Bible has long been a rich source of story ideas for filmmakers and recently released movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings and Noah suggest that the biblical epic genre is far from exhausted. 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.
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. Since many of the movies based on biblical stories were made decades apart, we ordered the films on this list based on total domestic box office grosses adjusted for ticket price inflation. As noted by Box Office Mojo, “Inflation-adjustment is mostly done by multiplying estimated admissions by the latest average ticket price. Where admissions are unavailable, adjustment is based on the average ticket price for when each movie was released.”
Keeping those adjustments in mind, here are the top five most successful 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, just edging out Noah for the No. 5 spot on this list.
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 $484.5 million when adjusted for ticket price inflation, according to Box Office Mojo. Although The Passion of the Christ is not the most successful biblical film in terms of adjusted gross, it should be noted that it is easily the biggest moneymaker on this list in terms of unadjusted dollars.
While extended sequences of graphic violence and charges of anti-Semitism made this a highly controversial film, The Passion of the Christ is widely credited with reigniting major studio’s interest in the biblical film genre. The Passion of the Christ was nominated for three Academy Awards and currently has a 49% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. The Robe (1953)
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. According to Box Office Mojo, The Robe brought in a total unadjusted domestic gross of $36 million, or $531.4 million in gross adjusted for ticket price inflation.
2. Ben-Hur (1959)
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 includes several scenes with Jesus, including his crucifixion.
Ben-Hur was a huge box office success and dominated the 1960 Academy Awards with 11 Oscar wins. According to Box Office Mojo, Ben-Hur achieved a total unadjusted domestic gross of $74 million, or approximately $795.7 million in gross when adjusted for ticket price inflation.
1. The Ten Commandments (1956)
The most successful 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 adjusted for ticket price inflation. 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 over $1 billion in adjusted gross. According to Box Office Mojo, The Ten Commandments is the sixth-highest-grossing movie ever when gross is adjusted for ticket price inflation.
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