If there is one thing producer Mark Burnett proved with the February release of Son of God, it’s that he knows how to reach a Christian audience. His film, which relied primarily on footage shot from his successful Bible mini-series, has earned close to $60 million domestically – a gross achieved primarily from faith-based consumers encouraged to attend by their churches, which Burnett and producing partner/wife/actress Roma Downey courted enthusiastically.
Now the two devout Christians are joining up with Paramount/MGM on the remake of the 1959 film Ben-Hur, which is already slated to debut on February 26, 2016. From a script originally written by Keith Clarke (The Way Back), plus revisions by screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years A Slave), the film will revisit Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ and follows a falsely accused nobleman (originally played by Charlton Heston) who survives years of slavery to take vengeance on his best friend who betrayed him. Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) will direct.
The inclusion of Burnett and Downey suggests that Paramount doesn’t want to revisit its contentious interaction with the faith-based community that it experienced earlier this year with the release of Noah. While the Russell Crowe starrer has performed well theatrically, based primarily on strong international numbers, the studio raised the ire of the Christian community when word got out that Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of the biblical story veered considerably from the original text. Fearing a boycott on the film, the studio even issued a disclaimer prior to its release that “it was inspired by the story of Noah” and not a direct interpretation.
The addition of Burnett and Downey will likely quell any concern that this faith-based classic will be messed with in its latest incarnation. While Son of God didn’t score well with critics (many faulted it for being heavy-handed and lacking cinematic flourish) Christian audiences were satisfied that it didn’t mess with their original text. In fact, the group that went after Paramount earlier this year regarding Noah issued a rare statement praising the inclusion of Burnett and Downey.
“If faith-driven consumers were a core target for Noah, Darren Aronofsky was the wrong choice. Having left untold millions on the table with that film, Paramount appears to have learned from its mistakes and to be taking a completely new approach with the upcoming remake of Ben-Hur by signing producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey,” said Faith Driven Consumer Founder Chris Stone, the man behind the reinstatement of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robinson.
“Burnett and Downey… have a strong track record of success in understanding, respecting, and reaching Faith Driven Consumers. If Ben-Hur is managed like their previous projects – which are the model of how to do this right – it could be the next Passion of the Christ, which set the standard for Biblical box office performance.”