'Son of God': Churches, Religious Groups Snap Up Almost 500,000 Tickets in Weeks Before Christ Film Debut

Film charity Compassion International tells THR it bought 225,000 seats in 40 cities and Jerry Falwell's Liberty University is giving thousands of tickets away.

The Jesus Christ-focused film Son of God doesn't hit theaters until next week, but it's already a hit with churches and religious groups.

These faithful audiences have secured nearly half-a-million tickets to showings across the country, with some renting out theaters and even entire multiplexes for screenings.

Produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey and distributed by Fox, Son of God features a mix of old and new footage about the life of Jesus Christ from Burnett and Downey's hit History Channel miniseries, The Bible.

The world's largest Christian university, Liberty University, bought out an entire Regal multiplex near campus, where Son of God will be showing on all 14 screens on the film's opening day. A spokesman for the Jerry Falwell-founded school tells The Hollywood Reporter that Liberty's giving away tickets by the thousands and emailed more than 100,000 people in the university community to promote the film.

"We think it's an extraordinary product and for Christianity we think it's an historic moment," Liberty senior vp communications Johnnie Moore tells THR. "This is the first movie about the life of Jesus in 50 years. It would be beneficial to people all across the country to see this on the big screen."

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Relief group Compassion International has purchased 225,000 tickets for screenings in 40 cities across the country, including L.A., Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia and New York City. A number of theaters have been entirely bought out for some screenings of the film, a spokesman for Compassion tells THR.

Compassion International, which is the exclusive charity for the film in the U.S., is working with local churches, which have claimed and are distributing all of the tickets.

Just as many tickets have been scooped up by other church groups, bringing the number of advance ticket sales to nearly 500,000 through Wednesday, according to insiders. Using the average ticket price of $8.13, that means Son of God already has close to $4 million in box-office revenue, unless the tickets were bought at discounted prices.

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The country's largest theater chain, Regal Entertainment, also confirmed the high level of interest in the film, noting that hundreds of churches around the country have reserved their auditoriums for 100 or more guests.

There are at least 12 other instances of churches or religious organizations renting out entire theaters for specific screenings of the film. San Diego's Rock Church has arranged to have Son of God playing on all 19 screens at a local AMC theater this coming Wednesday, the church tells THR. Sacramento's Bayside Church, meanwhile, is also planning a multiplex-wide event that night, distributing 2,000 tickets for a showing on all 16 screens at a local theater.

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"This movie is designed to be seen in communities," Burnett tells THR. "Therefore, it's the perfect venue for church groups to band together and watch Son of God in a community. That's what's really happening."

Son of God opens exactly 10 years after Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ debuted in theaters, transforming into a blockbuster after opening to a record-breaking $83.8 million. Son of God isn't likely to reach that level, however, since it hasn't generated the same amount of controversy that Gibson's film did.

Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.