The continued success of big-budget films with Christian themes like Miracles From Heaven, War Room, Heaven is For Real, and Son of God, and TV miniseries like The Bible continue to follow the trail cut by The Passion of the Christ 14 years ago.
Match the most powerful story with the most powerful story-telling medium and you have a shot at success. When Hollywood or New York takes a great story with deep spiritual connections and personal meaning, and does the work to let Christians know their film exists, the audience shows up. That’s true of any identifiable market: faith, ethnic, sports, or lifestyle. If they build it, and build it well, Christians will come. In fact, interest in faith and family values from the Bible have broad appeal, not just to Christians. Year after year, the industry research done by my colleague Dr. Ted Baehr at MovieGuide conclusively shows that this content not only has broad appeal, but tends to generate the most revenue.
This is not a new revelation for Hollywood, but in these “progressive” days, faith and family values had fallen out of fashion, and were a bit left behind by the Hollywood and New York communities. It’s no surprise that the greatest story ever told can make for great film and television, both in terms of actual story content and in values presented through stories like The Blind Side, Sarah Drew’s gritty portrayal of Dr. April Kepner on Grey’s Anatomy, or even on The American Bible Challenge hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, which debuted in 2012 to become GSN’s highest-rated program of all time.
But what you might be surprised to know is that according to the New York Times, the most-watched film in all of history is not a big-budget studio film with star-power names attached. It is a Christian film. Yes, you read that right. The #1 most-watched film of all films ever produced is a movie called JESUS.
The feature-length film JESUS, rated G and sometimes called The JESUS Film, first released theatrically by Warner Brothers in 1979 with a “massive” rollout in only 250 theaters. Over the last 35 years, JESUS has been translated into more than 1,400 languages and seen by more than 6 billion people worldwide. It has been recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Translated Film” in history.
Making a successful film about a beloved historical figure is flat out difficult. This is true for any story, not just Biblical people and stories. With the last 10+ years of successful films proving beyond a shadow of doubt that there is an audience for exclusively faith-based stories, and sometimes a blockbuster audience, we have seen more major studio portrayals of Biblical people and stories. Some of the most gifted filmmakers of our time like Darren Aronofsky (Noah) and Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings) have had varying degrees of success with faith-based adaptations.
But when people have come face-to-face with JESUS, when they see him smile and hear him speak in their own language, with their own accent, they have overwhelmingly responded.
The team at The JESUS Film Project believes that movies offer the most dynamic way to hear and see the greatest story ever lived. Films bring story to life in ways that transcends the written word. The power of film is magnified further in oral cultures, where written communication is scarce. When people see the life of Jesus portrayed on screen, it is life-changing. Even in societies where the written word is prevalent, films are surely cultural flashpoints.
JESUS is a factual, historical, non-denominational presentation of the story of Jesus taken directly from the Gospel of Luke. According to critics and church leaders, JESUS is the most accurate portrayal of the life of Christ ever put to film.
In 1979, JESUS premiered in 250 U.S. theaters. The following year, the film had its first international showing in Hindi to 21 million Indian viewers. By 1984, film translations had reached 100. In 1985, a non-profit called “The JESUS Film Project” was founded to continue creating new translations and to expand the number of JESUS Film teams who could travel the world to show the film.
By 1993, JESUS had been viewed by a half-billion people. Just four years later, the film reached one billion viewings and was translated into a 400th language. Dramatic audio and radio versions were also developed. In 1999, they hit the 500 translation milestone, and The Story of Jesus for Children was produced. By 2001, JESUS had been shown in every country around the globe.
In 2007, the 1,000th translation of JESUS was completed. That same year, a new film Magdalena: Released from Shame premiered at the United Nations in New York, and in 22 countries around the world.
For the 35th anniversary of the film in 2014, JESUS was remastered for HD and updated with a new musical score, updated sound effects and dialogue, and new visuals. Work was also in process on Version 2.0 of the Jesus Film Media app, which made it easier for people to find videos of Jesus in their own language. That year, The JESUS Film Project set a new goal to reach 5 billion people by 2025. They have already reached that goal.
For the first time, JESUS has just released for streaming and video-on-demand through all of popular services including iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Microsoft, and Christian Cinema. If you haven’t seen JESUS, it’s time to catch up. If you have, here’s a new opportunity to have your friends over and enjoy JESUS together in the comfort of your home.
No film in the entire history of film has reached more people, touched more hearts, and changed more lives than JESUS.
• Scott A. Shuford goes to the movie theater by night and works by day as the Chief Engagement Officer of FrontGate Media. The IAC and WebAward winning firm has served on the marketing campaigns for close to 100 Christian films. Scott has been featured in The Daily Beast, ADWEEK, and other publications, and as a speaker for at the International Christian Visual Media Conference, Visual Storytelling Network, Comic-Con International and more.
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