A Movie About the Ten Commandments Is Smashing Box Office Records in Brazil

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What do you get when you mix evangelical Christianity, conservative politics, and a surging media empire? The biggest box office hit in Brazilian cinema history. The box office phenomenon in question happens to be a Brazilian take on the classic biblical story of Moses, Os Dez Mandamentos (The Ten Commandments), which is curiously just a repurposed telenovela edited down to feature size for a much-hyped theatrical premiere in late January. Before the film officially hit theaters less than two weeks ago, box offices reported a jaw-dropping three million tickets presold, beating out its closest competitor Star Wars: The Force Awakens by well over two million tickets.

In its telenovela form back in spring-summer 2015, Os Dez Mandamentos was a runaway success for Rede Record, the TV network that put up nearly $230,000 for each of the soap’s 150 episodes. Bolstered by a booming evangelical market that now accounts for about a quarter of Brazil’s population, Os Dez Mandamentos blew away competing novelas from Brazil’s number one network, Globo, and even bumped Rede Record up from the number three to the number two network in the country.

Rede Record is owned by evangelical pastor, billionaire, and founder of the Church of the Universal Kingdom, Edir Macedo, who took advantage of his network of churches to urge parishioners to check out the series. The network also happens to have close links with Brazil’s conservative Partido Republicano (PRB), making for a perfect storm of values-oriented content that gives a surprising look into the conservative dimensions of contemporary Brazilian society.

The novela’s feature film incarnation apparently includes some unreleased material and a “never before seen ending” to make it seem at least superficially different. While the TV source material is by all accounts equivalent to a big-budget superproduction, a glance at the trailer suggests the film still looks a whole lot like a telenovela, complete with heavy-handed lighting, dismal visual effects, and plenty of melodramatic sobbing. Of course, that’s never stopped your tía from watching her novelas, but we can only imagine how that all goes over on the big screen. Luckily, there are at least 3 million Brazilians we can ask to find out.