It may not quite approach the stature of building an ark to withstand an epochal flood, but the box office success of Noah this weekend — which opened with an estimated gross of $44 million — is still something of a remarkable feat. No other overtly Bible-themed feature film has opened anywhere close to that amount since 2004’s The Passion of the Christ, doubly remarkable considering that director Darren Aronofsky’s $125 million adaptation of the Old Testament story faced serious opposition from Christian groups that objected to perceived liberties the film takes with the biblical text. The film pulled in another $51 million overseas, for a total worldwide gross of $95.1 million — a very healthy start for what was nowhere close to a sure thing.
The reason is simple: Short of the phenomenal success of Mel Gibson’s film 10 years ago, and the subsequent adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ Christian-fantasy hybrid book series The Chronicles of Narnia, it has been a very long time since a Christian-themed movie made a lot of money at the box office. For the last 15 years or so, independently financed and distributed Christian films like 1999’s The Omega Code and 2008’s Fireproof have found a relatively healthy audience in limited release, but their grosses have never topped $40 million, even when adjusting for inflation.