When you think of holiday movies, chances are your mind drifts to high-grossing Christmas flicks. Easter movies might not have fans flocking to theaters in quite the same fashion as their Christmas counterparts, but you’d be remiss to leave them out of the cinematic celebrations.
Whether it’s egg-hiding rabbits or spiritual introspections, a handful of Easter-centric movies have earned blockbuster status. On April 7, “The Case for Christ” — a cinematic adaptation of athiest-turned-Christian Lee Strobel’s best-selling book of the same name — looks to join the ranks of these Easter money-makers.
Will the faith-based tale fill the filmmakers’ pockets with more than jellybeans and chocolates? If its success is anything close to the following Easter movies’ box office performances, then the answer will be a hopping “yes!”
‘The Passion of the Christ’
Upon its release in 2004, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” became a cultural phenomenon, inspiring roadshow screenings, church field trips, and a fair bit of controversy to boot. The religious Easter movie also picked up three Oscar nominations amid the frenzy.
Starring Jim Caviezel, the film tells the story of Jesus’ last 12 hours on the day of his crucifixion. “Passion” raked in approximately $370.8 million domestically, making it the 31st most successful domestic film of all time. It pulled in more than $241.1 in international markets.
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‘The Ten Commandments’
In some ways, director Cecil B. DeMille’s epic “The Ten Commandments” is the “It’s a Wonderful Life” of Easter films. And just like the classic Jimmy Stewart performance every December 25, “Commandments” can be found playing on televisions across America on Easter Sunday.
The biblical film was a success from the start, blasting out of the gates as the highest-earning live-action film of the 1950s. In 1956, all that took was a lifetime domestic gross of $65 million, which equates to approximately $580 million today.
‘Jesus Christ Superstar’
Easter is all about chocolate, the story of resurrection and rock operas. At least, that’s what 1973’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” — a movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical about Jesus’ life as the first “celebrity” — would have you believe.
“Superstar” earned a modest, yet-respectable $24.5 million at the U.S. box office, or roughly $134 adjusted for inflation. If you’re weary of the aforementioned chocolate and certain bunny rabbits commercializing your holiday, consider adding this one to your rotation. As Roger Ebert put it, “Superstar” took “a piece of commercial shlock and turned it into a Biblical movie with dignity.”
Speaking of bunnies and dubious dignity, “Hop” — as its title might suggest — moves us away from religious Easter movies and into Russell Brand-voiced adolescent Easter rabbits with aspirations of rock n’ roll fame. (Seriously.)
Surprisingly, this uber-obscure formula worked out pretty well for the 2011 animated feature, which also starred James Marsden and “The Big Bang Theory” actress Kaley Cuoco. “Hop” pulled in a decent $108 million at the domestic box office and $183.9 million worldwide. As an Easter movie for kids, it’s no “Passion,” but it is the 11th highest-grossing April opening in movie history.
‘The Prince of Egypt’
Back in 1998, competing with Disney on the animated feature front was serious business. When DreamWorks set out to do just that with its animated retelling of the story of the Hebrew prince Moses finding his place as a chosen leader, the studio’s strategy was simple: Animate the movie beautifully and pack it to the gills with star power.
Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin and Martin Short all lent their vocals to this Easter film. The A-list cast certainly helped the flick shepherd in a solid $101.4 million domestically and $218.6 million globally. Having musical powerhouses Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston belt out the film’s song “When You Believe” might also explain the film’s success.
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Everything about director William Wyler’s 1959 version of the story of a Jewish prince’s quest for freedom is epic. The film is three-and-half hours long, its chariot race is one of the most iconic set pieces in cinema history, and Charlton Heston — who plays the title character — is the living embodiment of the word “epic” himself. Between this film and “Commandments,” Heston is also essentially the unofficial Patron Saint of religious Easter movies.
The box office returns for “Ben-Hur” live up to its larger-than-life reputation, too. Adjusted for inflation, “Ben-Hur” lands at No. 14 on the highest grossing domestic movies of all time list. In 1959 money, it made $74 million in the U.S. alone.
‘Rise of the Guardians’
“Rise of the Guardians” is a holiday-themed take on “The Avengers” that features Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy together as fighting animated superheroes.
On a budget of $145 million, “Rise” made a worrisome $103.4 million domestically. Factor in worldwide gross, though, and that figure jumps to an impressively lucrative $306.9 million. The film is fun, lightweight fare to add to your kids’ Easter to-do list, and it’s probably the only time you’ll ever get to hear Hugh Jackman — best known for his portrayal of the mutant Wolverine — voice the Easter Bunny.
‘The Last Temptation of Christ’
Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” is certainly not an Easter movie for children. This highly personal meditation on the life of Christ, which depicts Jesus as a man torn by his own divinity, is instead an Easter movie for grown-ups wishing to ponder the holiday’s redemptive themes.
And the production was a bit of a redemption, too. Though not a financial mega-hit by any means, “Last Temptation” made close to $8.4 million in the U.S. Considering it was shot on a very un-Scorsesse-like budget of just $6 million and faced the ire of both picketers and conspiracy theorists, that’s a bonafide success story.
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