From the look of the heart-pounding trailer, the upcoming Dec. 12 film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” has everything movie audiences – regardless of their faith – could want.
A story based on one of the greatest tales ever told. Top-notch Hollywood production values. Sweeping, epic cinematography. Awe-inspiring pyramids and golden-clad armies, chariots and thundering hooves, grueling sword fights and terrifying plagues that leap from the screen with multimillion-dollar special effects.
To cap it off, it stars multiple Oscar-award winning actors and actresses, including the charismatic Christian Bale and legendary Ben Kingsley, and is directed by Ridley Scott, the three-time Oscar-nominated talent who also directed the 2001 Best Picture winner, “Gladiator.”
But as some sobering new statistics reveal, what movie audiences really want to know before they spend their money on a ticket … is whether the makers of “Exodus: Gods and Kings” are trying to pull another “Noah.”
The earlier film about the Flood, also boasting big-name talent and a blockbuster budget, took wild liberties with its biblical source material. By its director’s own admission, “Noah” was twisted into a tale far more about environmentalism than the judgment and mercy of God.
Consequently, Christian audiences – who make up the majority of film-goers in America – largely panned the movie, and “Noah” required international ticket sales to avoid losing tens of millions of dollars.
“Our research shows that accuracy is a key to attracting people of faith,” said certified brand strategist Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Global and Faith Driven Consumer. “Biblical accuracy and compatibility with the story they know and why that story exists is very important. Any time you stray from that, you limit and narrow your audience.
“And if you narrow your audience by eliminating a large group of people inherently interested in your story,” Stone told WND, “it’s going to affect your result.”
In fact, according to polling done by American Insights for Faith Driven Consumer, of the 77 percent of Americans who self-identify as “Christian” (according to Gallup), 80 percent said they would be likely to see “Exodus” if it accurately portrays the biblical account of Moses leading the Jewish people out of captivity, but 69 percent said they would be unlikely to see the movie if it strays.
Among all American adults, the poll found 73 percent would be likely to go if “Exodus” is faithful to the biblical account, but 67 percent said they’d likely stay home if it isn’t.
So far, the makers of “Exodus: Gods and Kings” haven’t done a good job of assuring audiences the movie is biblically accurate.
Earlier this month, Christianity Today reports, Christian Bale – who plays the part of Moses in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” – told reporters in Los Angeles he has a much more gritty vision of the biblical hero.
“I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life,” the actor said of Moses. “He’s a very troubled and tumultuous man who fought greatly against God, against his calling.”
Director Ridley Scott, who told the New York Times last year he’s an atheist, told Entertainment Weekly last week he looked to science, not miracles, to explain the amazing events recorded in Exodus.
“You can’t just do a giant parting [of the Red Sea], with walls of water trembling while people ride between them,” said Scott, who recalled scoffing at biblical epics from his boyhood like 1956’s “The Ten Commandments.” “I didn’t believe it then, when I was just a kid sitting in the third row. I remember that feeling, and thought that I’d better come up with a more scientific or natural explanation.”
According to ET, Scott dove into the history of Egypt, reading about the effects of an underwater earthquake off the coast of Italy.
“I thought that logically, [the parting] should be a drainage,” Scott said. “And that when [the water] returns, it comes back with a vengeance.”
Stone told WND quotes like these are trouble for the movie.
“If Bale’s point of view is that Moses was ‘schizophrenic and barbaric,’ that has to have impacted his portrayal,” Stone said. “If I see that as a Christian, as a faith-driven viewer, I will sense – as I did in ‘Noah’ – the subtleties of the shift between the biblical story and the Hollywood interpretation. It’s going to impact my interest in seeing it, or if I do see it, whether I like it or not and whether I share that in a positive light with others. Word of mouth is a significant driver of box office success.
“What I think is even more telling, although subtle, is Ridley Scott saying neither Moses nor God caused the parting of the Red Sea, but it was an earthquake,” Stone said. “The story of Exodus was a battle, not between Moses and Pharaoh, but between God and Pharaoh and his (little “g”) gods. This was a spiritual battle.
“But if you look at the trailer and what Ridley Scott has been saying, they’re making an epic, ‘good guy versus bad guy,’ big battle, mega blockbuster,” Stone continued. “Audiences of faith may look at it and think, ‘This is my story, but it doesn’t look anything like my story,’ and that’s going to cause Christians, Jews and Muslims to pause. The three major world religions may say, ‘That’s not my story.’ And that will be a problem for ‘Exodus.'”
Stone noted the surprise success of many faith films, like “God’s Not Dead,” “Heaven Is for Real” and even the original Hollywood shocker, “The Passion of the Christ,” was fueled not just by the wider Christian market, but by the enthusiasm and word of mouth of a more core subset of the market, those he calls “faith-driven consumers.”
Faith-driven consumers make up, according to American Insights polling, 17 percent of the adult population in the U.S. Among this group, 96 percent say their faith has a major influence on their entertainment choices. Faith-driven consumers, the stats reveal, are also more likely to recommend a movie than the wider Christian market and more likely to discourage others from watching a movie that conflicts with their values.
Significantly, 84 percent of faith-driven consumers rate how a movie reflects the Bible as “very important,” while only 51 percent of the wider Christian culture rates biblical accuracy the same.
Notably, Stone’s organization reveals, faith-driven consumers spend $2 trillion annually, a market share not to be ignored.
“If we had consulted with Scott Free Productions and 20th Century Fox on this,” Stone told WND, “we would have said, ‘You have the freedom to do what you want; it’s your project. But if you’re trying to maximize your return, this is what the audience said they want. You’re using a story that is central to the world’s major religions, and if you’re going to do this story, then do it so it appeals and doesn’t offend.’
“It’s no different than if I was doing a ‘Harry Potter’ movie,” Stone continued. “If I’m not true enough to the story to maintain the interest of the existing audience, then when I get to the theater, all I’m going to be left with are those who gravitated to my version. If you change it too much, if it’s not true to the story, then you lose those people.
“Gallup polling said 77 percent of American adults self-describe as Christian,” Stone concluded. “If you’re not targeting those people, who are you targeting? Seventy-seven percent is the vast majority.”