- - Thursday, December 11, 2014

The first episode of this particular min-series was seen by 13.1 million viewers, the largest cable television audience in 2013 at the time. Subsequent episodes of the mini-series continued the blockbuster ratings. After being released in other countries, the mini-series had more than 100 million cumulative views. The mini-series? The Bible television series based on the Bible. Mark Burnett a well known television producer with 112 Emmy nominations in his career and with current television shows Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice, Shark Tank, the People’s Choice Awards and his wife Roma Downey, who had starred in the very successful Touched By An Angel television series decided to produce this mini-series on “The Bible” after having watched Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 version of The Ten Commandments for the first time after childhood.

The Bible has always been a best seller in the movies and on television from the earliest days when some of the earliest movies were representations of Jesus. These representations were straightforward primitive movies (they called them “recordings” in those early days) of various live “passion plays.” A passion play is a dramatic presentation of the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. These passion plays were some of the longest movies made at the time they were made. They were so successful that they eventually convinced the nickelodeon operators that there was an audience not just for shorts, but also for longer, feature length movies. Thus, in part, the modern movie was birthed out of the overwhelming success of the passion plays.

In 1897, two American theatrical producers, Marc Klaw and Abraham Erlanger, filmed a passion play in Horitz, Bohemia. In 1898, R.G. Hollaman and A.G. Eaves photographed a passion play on the roof of a New York skyscraper. The length of the movie was 2,100 feet or 20 minutes. A narrator took the place of captions. Also in that year, the Oberammergau Passion Play was photographed by a Mr. Hurd, an American representative of the first major French filmmakers, the Lumiere brothers, and a French passion play was filmed for the Musee Eden.

The Augustinian Fathers set up the “Bonne Cinema” in Paris to produce good movies. They used churches as a normal place for projecting films until Pope Pius X decreed at the end of 1912 that “even religious films were not to be projected in churches, in order that the sacred character of the buildings should be safeguarded.” Therefore, showings of the filmed passion plays were banned in the churches (starting with the cathedrals in Paris).

One of the earliest biblical films was Samson and Delilah, produced in 1903 by the French company Pathe. The legendary Hollywood producer Cecile B. DeMille did a silent version of The Ten Commandments in 1923 and then repeated it in color film in 1956 where it was the most successful of 1956 and the second-highest grossing film of the 1950s. According to the Guinness World Records, it was the seventh most successful film of all-time when the box office gross is adjusted for inflation. The promotion of the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments included a partnership with the Fraternal order of Eagles to place the Ten Commandments of the walls of courtrooms and in schools around America and to erect monuments.

The 2004 film The Passion of the Christ on the last 12 hours of Jesus‘ life caught the attention of Hollywood when it grossed $370 million domestically and set the record for the highest-grossing independent film of all time.

There were also fictional stories related to the Bible such as MGM’s 1926 Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ which was later remade in 1959 in a highly promoted feature film. Other popular award winning films more recently have included Chariots of Fire.

Overall, there have been over 100 films based on Hebrew Scriptures that were made both by Hollywood and the Italian film industry and somewhat lesser number of films for the New Testament. However, producers of film for the movies and television keep coming back to producing movies on the Bible because the Bible on film is a best seller. There is a huge pipeline currently of films based on the Bible that will be released soon.

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