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Box-Office Preview: Can 'Son of God' Crucify 'Non-Stop'?

UPDATED: The Christian film, based on Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's 10-hour miniseries, already has amassed $4.1 million in advance ticket sales and is the most immune to Sunday's Oscar ceremony.

Faith-based audiences will play a starring role at the North American box office this weekend as 20th Century Fox debuts Son of God, the first of several biblical epics scheduled for 2014. 

The film opens exactly a decade after Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ became an instant hit, opening to a massive $83.8 million on its way to earning $612 million worldwide. Son of God, lacking the controversy that Passion of the Christ sparked, isn't expected to match those numbers.

STORY: From 'Noah' to 'Son of God,' 2014 Is Jam-Packed With Bible-Based Movies

Son of God is an unusual offering. The movie, chronicling the life of Jesus Christ, was made using footage from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's hit 10-hour television miniseries The Bible (the married couple are devout Christians). Deleted scenes from the miniseries also are featured.

Generally, Hollywood studios can use pre-release tracking to predict a film's opening, or at least provide a range. However, Christian films aren't as easy to track, hence Son of God could open anywhere between $14 million and $30 million, according to box-office observers. If it comes in on the high end, it could beat Oscar weekend's other new entry, Liam Neeson action-thriller Non-Stop (Neeson also lends his voice to holdover The Lego Movie, which could feasibly beat both new films).

Of any film, Son of God is arguably the most immune to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, which can take a substantial bite out of the box office.

VIDEO: 'Non-Stop' Trailer: Liam Neeson Is a U.S. Air Marshal on a Hijacked Plane

Non-Stop, produced by Silver Pictures and distributed by Universal, is expected to open in the $19 million to $21 million range, a solid start. In the film, Neeson stars as a U.S. federal air marshal who runs into trouble on a flight from New York to London. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Non-Stop also stars Oscar nominee Lupita Nyong'o and Julianne Moore.

Burnett, Downey and distributor 20th Century Fox are hopeful that Son of God will strike a chord with faith-based moviegoers, a huge, underserved audience. They've heavily marketed the film to church groups and religious organizations, racking up an impressive $4.1 million in advance ticket sales. The question will be whether traffic remains strong throughout the weekend.

Son of God, opening on the eve of Lent, has a month to itself before Paramount debuts Darren Aronofsky's controversial Noah, starring Russell Crowe. And set to hit theaters at Christmas is Ridley Scott's Exodus, starring Christian Bale as Moses. Both Noah and Exodus are expected to play to a broader audience than Son of God.