Churches Ready to Flock to Fox

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The upcoming movie Son of God could become one of the biggest surprises of 2014 for the 20th Century Fox film division of  21st Century Fox (FOXA) , as the film gets a huge boost from churches around the nation. The parallels to 2004's blockbuster The Passion of the Christ should get investors excited and lead to a possible buying opportunity.

Fox is a dominant media conglomerate that owns assets in television and movies.

Like The Passion of the Christ, Son of God is getting an early box office boost from pastors and churches across the nation. Reports are that at least 10 multiplexes have been bought out for the day before the movie's Feb. 28 opening.

Rick Warren, a popular pastor and author, has bought out eight theaters in Orange County. More importantly, he has challenged other pastors across the nation to do the same.

Son of God is adapted from the mini-series The Bible, which had strong ratings on the History Channel (DIS). Created by Roma Downey (the Touched by an Angel actress) and her husband Mark Burnett (of Survivor, Shark Tank, The Voice and Celebrity Apprentice), the show saw average viewership in the 10 to 15 million range for each episode. The finale, which aired on Easter Sunday 2013, saw 11.7 million live viewers. That placed it ahead of The Walking Dead during the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot the same night.

Strong viewership for The Bible, along with the success of Vikings and Pawn Stars, helped the History Channel reach the No. 1 share for adults age 25 to 54 and men age 25 to 54 for cable networks during the month of March.

In the spring of 2015, Downey and Burnett's Bible-themed sequel A.D. will head to NBC (CMCSA), which picked up the rights. On broadcast television, the show could do quite well and may reward NBC for luring the show away from the History Channel. Burnett also has strong ties with NBC through his hit shows The Voice and Celebrity Apprentice.

Back in 2004, The Passion of the Christ lit up the big screen with a huge domestic box office of $370.8 million. An additional $241.1 million in international box office gave the movie a total of $661.9 million worldwide. The movie still holds the No. 1 position for the "Christian" and "Controversy" genres, according to BoxOfficeMojo. It is the 25th-highest grossing movie in the domestic market to date.

The more impressive feat is that The Passion of the Christ remains the highest grossing "R"-rated movie of all time. In fact, The Passion of the Christ is well ahead of the next-highest "R"-rated movie, The Matrix Reloaded, which grossed $281.6 million in domestic markets.

The Passion of the Christ is the highest-grossing February open of all-time with $83.8 million. This is likely the reason why Son of God is being released in February as well. The movie should do well in its open and could carry momentum through the Lenten season leading up to Easter Sunday, which falls on April 20 this year. This gives the movie two solid months of potentially strong box office.

Box office may also reflect the "PG-13" rating that Son of God received. That opens up the movie to a wider audience and could find support from church youth groups.

The film may prompt investors to seek out movie theater companies, too. Stocks like Cinemark (CNK), AMC (AMC) and Regal Cinemas (RGC) could see a boost to an already exciting 2014 box office year. With huge blockbusters coming in 2015, now may be the time to get behind these high-yielding movie exhibitors. And both Regal and AMC have theaters in the Orange County region, where Rick Warren bought entire screens out.

Fox should have an easy winner on its hands here, and investors may be missing it. The movie is part of a weaker first quarter that has seen the releases of Devil's Due and The Monuments Men. Fox will also release Mr. Peabody and Sherman through a distribution deal with Dreamworks Animation (DWA) on March 7.

Son of God goes head-to-head against Non-Stop, starring Liam Neeson, but should have a strong opening box office total.

Analysts see revenue falling 16% in the first quarter to $7.99 billion and earnings per share remaining flat at $0.36. The company could come in well above these estimates if churches turn out for Son of God.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

Chris Katje has been fascinated with the stock market from a young age. That passion turned into a freelance writing career that began in 2008. Mr. Katje has seen his work appear on Seeking Alpha, the Motley Fool, The Street, and Variety. Chris's annual top ten stock picks list continues to beat the market and grow in popularity. You can follow Chris on Twitter (@chriskatje).

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