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The Chosen Leads the Way: The Top 5 Bible Adaptation Stories of 2023

Updated: May 31

2023 was the biggest year for biblical adaptation in recent history. Even as mainstream movies and streaming services struggled, The Chosen and other Christian films and shows (especially those based on biblical stories) reached new heights of success and popularity. These signs suggest that we are indeed entering into the renaissance of biblical adaptation, which I began to anticipate late in 2022. Below I've selected the top 5 stories that demonstrate how the momentum of biblical adaptation has grown in 2023.


Jonathan Roumie at the filming of The Chosen Season 4
Jonathan Roumie at the filming of The Chosen Season 4

Bible Video Games that are Faithful and Fun?

Bible video games are not a new phenomenon. Christians have been attempting to create video games that interact with biblical stories almost since the medium came into existence. And yet none of these attempts have achieved a level of widespread respect and popularity. Unfortunately, many Bible video games feel like either a cheap rip-off of mainstream titles or a boring exercise in edu-tainment. But 2023 saw the launch of two major projects that have the potential to establish biblical video games as a viable genre.


The first of these projects is GateZero, a story-rich adventure game that allows players to immerse themselves in the world of 1st century Israel and witness the ministry of Jesus. Earlier in 2023, I had the chance to discuss GateZero with Arve Solli, the head of Bible X, the company behind the project. Arve shared with me how GateZero began as a simple simulator, designed to help youth explore the 1st century temple, but soon morphed into something much bigger and more ambitious. If you like open-world adventure games like the Legend of Zelda series (or if you have a gamer in your household), you can check out the free demo of GateZero on STEAM.


Have a younger child? 2023 also saw the launch of TruPlay Games, an entire video game platform designed to engage children with experiences that are fun, beautiful, and full of truth. While many of TruPlay’s games exist within the fictional universe of Rhym, its catalog also includes games and content connected more directly to Scripture - and more are sure to come.


Animated Bible Adaptations Make a Come Back

One of the most popular Bible adaptations of all-time was an animated feature: Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt. Although some biblical stories to render into an animated film (at least, one for children), there are many stories that are ripe for the medium. Now, in the wake of the massive success of The Chosen, a new wave of animated projects is drawing near.


Perhaps the most important of these is the David film. I’ve been watching the David production for over a year and it looks like we’ve still got more time to wait. But now we have more to wait with. In November, the David team began releasing short prequel episodes. You can now watch the first two for free on the Angel platform.


David isn’t the only animated project in the works at Angel. This year, the studio announced several new projects, including a Bible-inspired fantasy anime, Gabriel and the Guardians. From the looks of it, GatG will explore angels, watchers, and nephilim-giants, drawing on texts like Genesis, Daniel, and (the Apocryphal) Book of Enoch.


Outside of Angel, Cru recently announced that it will be creating an animated version of the Jesus Film, an adaptation of the gospels that Cru has used to evangelize thousands of people all across the world. The animated Jesus Film will use much of the dialogue from the original, but will engage in more complex visual story-telling. It’ll almost certainly be a useful tool for future evangelism - and for those who want a Bible film that doesn’t take quite as many creative liberties as The Chosen does.


Going Old Testament on the Box Office

The life of Jesus takes up only a small portion of the Bible, and yet it is the subject of the plurality of biblical adaptations. There are many reasons for this: Old Testament stories are generally more expensive to produce and potentially harder to market. Still, there are dozens of Old Testament stories simply begging for a modern adaptation. That’s what makes the outstanding box office success of His Only Son worth noting.


His Only Son follows the journey of Abraham and Isaac toward Mount Morijah, where Abraham has been commanded to sacrifice his son. Although I wasn’t a big fan of the film itself, I’m thankful for its success, which will almost certainly pave the way for more Old Testament adaptations in the future.  Even though it was made on a shoestring budget (about $250,000), it drew in over $13 million at the worldwide box office - a massive return on investment that will inspire studios and producers to invest in similar projects.


Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac in His Only Son
Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac in His Only Son

A Strange New Respect for Christian Media

The past few years have been rough on the entertainment industry. The disruptions caused by COVID in addition to the deluge of content available through streaming services have forced many theaters to close their doors. At the same time, the streaming world is also struggling - as it becomes increasingly clear that the financial model for many services is unsustainable. To make matters worse, mainstream media was hit by a double strike of both writers and actors - the first double strike in decades.


In this context, the success of Christian films and shows is particularly noteworthy. Before Barbenheimer blew the top off of the box office, Sound of Freedom was the success story of the summer, with a return of about $250 million on a budget of less than $15 million. It wasn’t the only big winner this year. Jesus Revolution made over $50 million worldwide on a budget of only $15 million. And, of course, Season 3 of The Chosen was an immense success, bringing in more viewers than ever - and over $5 million in ticket sales during the Finale’s short run in theaters.


All of this success has drawn the attention of the mainstream media. While some of the mainstream attention has been critical (of Sound of Freedom in particular), most has reflected a growing admiration for The Chosen and the new wave of Christian films and shows. As interest in Christian media continues to grow, mainstream studios and producers will recognize the value of investing more in biblical adaptations. Indeed, many studios have reportedly already begun to create or expand  divisions dedicated to Christian entertainment. All of this momentum creates an immense amount of opportunity for Christian media - but also a number of pitfalls.


A Divine Opportunity for The Chosen Season 4 

This summer, the double strike of the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild brought Hollywood to an absolute standstill and cost the entertainment industry billions of dollars. As mainstream Hollywood suffered, however, production of The Chosen continued, thanks to a waiver that the series received from SAG-AFTRA because of its status as an independent production. Without the waiver, the strike could have cost The Chosen millions of dollars and completely crippled the show financially. Instead, the strike has opened up an immense opportunity for the show.


By shutting down production for months, the dual strikes have totally scrambled the release schedule for Hollywood and television. The limited supply of new content in theaters and on streaming will encourage new viewers to try The Chosen. It will also encourage fans to show up when the show is released in theaters. I suspect this is why the creators of The Chosen have embraced an unprecedented strategy. Earlier this Fall, they announced that all of Season 4 would be released in theaters in February, before being released online later in the Spring. 


Having established an immense amount of credibility among both Christian and mainstream outlets, The Chosen is poised to have its most popular season yet. And, judging based on what we’ve seen in the teaser and official trailer, it looks like Season 4 has the potential to live up to the hype.


The opportunity for a successful fourth season is good news on its own. But the opportunity is even bigger. Reports suggest that The Chosen franchise is going to be developed into a larger cinematic universe. A big turnout for Season 4 make it even more likely that The Chosen will expand into spin-off shows and films.


The Chosen Season 4 Poster
The Chosen Season 4 Poster

Any important news that I failed to highlight? Want to share your opinions about some of these stories? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!



 

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