Hollywood has a new favorite destination for source material: The Bible. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah was an international hit, and Ridley Scott’s upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings has become one of the winter’s most anticipated movies. With big-screen adaptations of Bible stories about characters including David, Mary, Cain and Abel and Pontius Pilate all in the works, the trend looks like it’s just getting started.
Most of the films sound pretty promising, but just in case producers need a little extra inspiration, we’ve put together this list of Bible stories that should be made into movies, along with preferred directors and some lead cast members.
Ruth: Far From Home
Director: Joe Wright
Joe Wright’s sense of sweeping romance and sensibility helped make Pride and Prejudice less of a stuffy period piece and more of a timeless meditation on love, morality and politics. The same knack would be needed for the story of Ruth, which is a story about love, death, family and, ultimately, redemption. Bring hankies to this one!
Jonah and The Whale: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
A man on the run from God. A whale with an appetite for prophets. The fate of a city that hangs in the balance. The story of Jonah has all the makings of a Hollywood adventure. Unlike some epics—like David or Moses that span decades of time—the Old Testament tale would actually fit pretty well into a three-act blockbuster: 1) Jonah runs from God’s calling and is thrown overboard during a storm. 2 ) Jonah is swallowed by a whale and spends three days contemplating his decisions. 3) Jonah saves Nineveh with his message of repentance. Also, how cool would Peter Jackson’s fantasy-inspired special effects be? Seeing the massive whale—much less the insides of the whale—the exotic city of Nineveh and maybe even a Tolkien-esque Leviathan (“His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth. Strength resides in his neck; dismay goes before him.” Job 41:22-23) on the big screen would be worth the adaptation. The best part, though, is the story’s anti-Hollywood ambiguous ending, in which Jonah and God are left still arguing, and audiences still thinking about the message.
Elijah vs. Ahab: The Dawn of Justice
Director: Christopher Nolan
There are few biblical rivalries as epic as Elijah and Ahab. Their relationship has all the makings of a Bible blockbuster: There are supernatural showdowns (400 prophets of Baal against one man), an evil villain influencing the king (Ahab’s wife Jezebal), a resurrection (the widow’s son) and one of Scripture’s great mentor/apprentice relationships (Elijah and Elisha). It would also have one of the most memorable final scenes in Bible movie history, with chariots of fire coming down from heaven, pulling Elijah into the afterlife on a tornado. All that’s needed is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night-style seriousness and affinity for big action sequences.
Esther: The Girl on Fire
Director: David O. Russell
Let’s see. Plucky heroine? Check. Rags to riches tale? Check. Global crisis narrowly averted by last minute heroics? Check plus. Russell’s gift for balancing wild drama with political intrigue would serve well here, and there are plenty of options for great marketing tie-ins.
Paul: The Man Comes Around
Director: David Fincher
Hollywood loves a redemption story. The biblical account of how Saul, a persecutor of the early church, became Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, is the ultimate villain-to-hero lesson. Along with his dramatic road to Damascus supernatural conversion, there’s also some interesting relationship subtext (his mentoring of Timothy; his church leader in-fighting with Peter), that a director like Fincher (the man behind acclaimed dramas including The Social Network, Fight Club and debut episodes of House of Cards), could have a lot of fun exploring. (Bonus: He could probably get Trent Reznor on board to do the soundtrack.)
The 300(00): Mighty Men of Valor
Director: Zach Snyder
If there’s any Bible character that could serve as the inspiration for a 300-like Zach Snyder epic, it’s Joshua. The spy-turned leader (along with, at one point, “30,000 mighty men of valor”), led Israel into a series of fierce battles across the Holy Land. Along with the Sunday school staple Battle of Jericho (in which the walls crumbled after a trumpet-fueled sound attack), God even helped pause time (“The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.” Joshua 10:13) so Joshua could keep the fight raging in Gibeon.
Many Colors: A Film about Joseph
Director: Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola loves making stylized movies about interesting people dealing with being thrust into strange circumstances (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette). In other words, she’d be perfect to adapt the story of Joseph. Sold into slavery by his envious brothers and later imprisoned under the accusation of sexual assault–only to rise to a position of power in Egypt after becoming a reader of dreams–Joseph’s amazing story is the stuff of Hollywood epics. Plus, with the colorful set pieces (like his awesome coat that got him into all the trouble in the first place), exotic locations (Potiphar’s estate, the palaces of ancient Egypt) and trippy dream sequences, Coppola could create another visual masterpiece.
Fleece: The Gideon Story
Director: Steve McQueen
Director Steve McQueen has become one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed young filmmakers for his films that take unflinching looks at people in desperate situations (12 Years a Slave, Shame, Hunger). The story of Gideon isn’t just about a warrior who used cunning to defeat his enemies; it’s a character study about a man consumed with self-doubt and forced to fully rely on God. So much so, it even took God three times of performing a miraculous sign (using a fleece and water) to convince Gideon he was worthy, and even then Gideon attempted to assemble an army so big he couldn’t be defeated. But as Sunday school students remember, God whittled the troops from tens of thousands down to just 300 to prove who was in control. Sure, the film would have some action, but the story of Gideon isn’t about battle. It’s about human nature. At the bare minimum, we’re looking at four Oscar nominations.
Adam & Eve: Garden State
Director: Zach Braff
He’s a lonely animal lover with a heart of gold. She’s the new girl in town with some zany ideas about how to shake things up. But their screwball hijinks go too far, and nothing will ever, ever be the same. This movie will cost $47 million to make and will solely be funded by a Kickstarter campaign in which backers receive old Scrubs DVDs, a fig leaf and a new downloadable song from The Shins.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.