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“We certainly didn’t want ‘14 to go by without a huge experience for America from us,” Mr. Burnett said. “‘Son of God‘ is something we started on even before 'The Bible' series. It’s the way it should be seen: A big feature film experience.”

Noting the modest budget and mostly unknown cast for “Son of God,” Mr. Plate of Hamilton College said, “I think it will appeal to those who already profess Christianity but won’t make much splash outside those circles. ‘Noah‘ and ‘Exodus’ will prove much more big sellers and many nonbelievers will attend.”

Still, Mr. Gibson’s “Passion,” which featured a cast of mostly unknowns and required subtitles because its script was in Aramaic, the long-dead language of the era, brought in more than $370 million with its $30 million budget.

Mr. Detweiler said Hollywood has “consistently underestimated” the size and adventurous nature of the faith-friendly audience, and “Son of God” will be the latest test of that segment.

“When we live through a decade of very anxious times, I think we’ve found that people’s interest in ancient and transforming stories endures,” he said. “New technologies allow for fresh retellings of a powerful, ancient text like the Gospel. Jesus has proven to be a remarkably portable person who’s rediscovered by each generation in new ways.”

Regardless of how well “Son of God” plays on the big screen, Miss Downey said, she and her husband have an order for a 12-hour miniseries called “A.D.” that “will reset the story at the Crucifixion and follow the remaining disciples and beginnings of the early church.” They expect the show to begin airing in autumn 2015.