The Passion of the Christ (2004) was the highest-grossing independent film of all time, and after the tepid success of Risen this year, Mel Gibson and Braveheart (1995) screenwriter Randall Wallace reportedly think there’s a market for a sequel focused on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“The Passion is the beginning and there’s a lot more story to tell,” Wallace told The Hollywood Reporter, confirming that a sequel is in the works. A religion major at Duke University, he added, “I always wanted to tell this story.” Wallace most recently co-wrote the 2014 film Heaven is For Real.
While The Passion stunned audiences worldwide and became a household name in the evangelical community, it focused on the suffering of Jesus, and only hinted at the Resurrection to come. This was not a weakness on the film’s part — it powerfully told the story of one of the central events in Christianity — but it did leave room for a sequel.
“The evangelical community considers The Passion to be the biggest movie ever out of Hollywood, and they kept telling us that they think a sequel will be even bigger,” Wallace said. Ironically, a sort of sequel just came out — in February!
This year has already seen a film focused on Jesus’ resurrection, Risen (2016) with Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton. Risen told the story through the eyes of a Roman Centurion — an apt decision, considering the well-remembered tale of the Centurion on the cross who declares, “truly, this was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).
Risen stayed true to the biblical story, adding the intrigue of a manhunt for Jesus culminating in evidence for the most consequential miracle in Christian history. Gibson was not involved, however, and the film only made $46 million worldwide. While this more than doubled the movie’s cost ($20 million), it’s a rather paltry sum compared to The Passion‘s $612 million (from a $30 million budget).
While critics disliked The Passion (it has a paltry 49 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), they liked Risen little better (52 percent), despite its lighter tone. Since news of a sequel to Mel Gibson’s best-known film broke last week, users on Twitter have criticized Gibson and Wallace for trying to profit off of the story of Jesus.
But The Passion is controversial for reasons beyond money. Reviewers criticized the “excessive” violence in the film, and while it was very gruesome, Gibson pointed out that he wanted the movie to be extreme, so the world could see the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice. Gibson argued that the actual crucifixion was even more violent than the film, and many scholars have agreed.
Next Page: Was The Passion of the Christ anti-Semitic?
Perhaps more difficult to dismiss were claims that the film was anti-Semitic, and critics alleged that it blamed the Jews for Jesus’ death. On this, scripture is clear — some Jews in Jerusalem did push for Jesus’ execution, as he was a bigger threat to them than to the Romans. But fewer Jews were involved in the push to execute Jesus than in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and all of his disciples themselves were also Jews.
Furthermore, Christian liturgy has treated the Jews calling for Jesus’ execution as a symbol for each Christian’s own sinfulness. Jesus Christ died on the cross to redeem mankind from our sins, and while killing the Son of God was the greatest sin, Christians consider ourselves guilty of it as well. After all, the disciples abandoned Jesus in his hour of need, a mistake about which Peter in particular wept bitterly.
The resurrection might be an even more fitting subject for a film, and the filmmakers behind The Passion would be wise to consider it. While the sacrifice and death of Jesus is central to Christianity, his resurrection is perhaps even more important, as it vindicated his claim to be the Son of God and gave his disciples hope that they, too, would be resurrected. It was this vindication and this hope that drove them to preach the gospel, in the face of persecution and horrible deaths.
While Wallace confirmed a sequel to The Passion is in the works, a representative of Mel Gibson declined to comment on the filmmaker-actor’s involvement in such a film.
Rumors swirled in May when Gibson attended the graduation ceremony at Liberty University, to do an advance screening of Hacksaw Ridge, a film which releases in November and focuses on World War II Army medic Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. (Wallace co-wrote Hacksaw Ridge.) There, Gibson expressed interest in making a sequel but was not specific about his involvement.
No studio or financial backing has been lined up for the project, which is in the early script stage. Wallace told The Hollywood Reporter that there are several financiers interested in investing. He insisted, however, that “it’s too early to talk money,” partially because “this is such a huge and sacred subject.”