Even as Hollywood continues to churn out paranormal romances and fairy tale retellings, it’s time to brace ourselves for the next white-hot trend: Biblical epics.

The newest project to fall into this category is Pontius Pilate, an account of one of the most infamous villains of all time. In the Bible, Pilate presides over Jesus Christ’s trial. Although he’s reluctant to condemn Jesus, Pilate eventually sends him to the cross under pressure from Jewish leaders and an unruly crowd. Warner Bros. has just acquired the hot script, from Woman on Top writer Vera Blasi. More details after the jump.

Pilate has often been portrayed in an unequivocally harsh negative light, but Blasi’s screenplay sounds like a nuanced character-driven piece about a complicated man — so more along the lines of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, perhaps, than either Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ or Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. Here’s Deadline‘s description of the plot:

This script follows the evolution of Lucius Pontius Pilate from the sensitive son of a Roman Knight into a ferocious soldier whose warrior exploits make him a general and puts him on a political track under the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Promised a military governorship in Egypt, Pilate is instead assigned by Tiberius to become the prefect of Judea, at a time when Jerusalem was a cauldron of religious tensions between various factions of the Jewish faith. Pilate veers from the political fast track into the express lane to hell and historical infamy.

Rather than a straight ahead Biblical film, Blasi’s script reads almost like a Biblical era Twilight Zone episode in which a proud, capable Roman soldier gets in way over his head. His arrogance and inability to grasp the devoutness of the citizenry and its hatred for the Roman occupiers and their pagan gods leads him to make catastrophic decisions. All of this puts him in a desperate situation and in need of public approval when he is asked to decide the fate of a 33-year old rabbi accused by religious elders of claiming he is King of the Jews. Along the way, such Roman emperors including Caligula and Tiberius and New Testament figures like John the Baptist, Salome and Mary Magdalene are seen in a tale that culminates with Pilate’s fateful decision to allow Jesus Christ to be crucified.

The emphasis is mine, as I felt it worth highlighting the kind of story Blasi’s trying to tell. Deadline, which loved Blasi’s screenplay, also likens Pontius Pilate to Braveheart and Gladiator.

While narrative features aren’t expected to hew as closely to reality as documentaries are, Blasi’s done her research. The writer spent about a decade researching Pilate and the historical events surrounding him and estimates that her finished screenplay is about 80% fact and 20% “dramatic license.”

If that description intrigues you, the good news is that Warner Bros. is eager to fast-track this script. Mark Johnson and Lynn Harris are set to produce, and are already seeking out directors to helm the big-budget pic. It’s not Warner Bros.’ only Bible-based project; the studio also has the Moses film Gods and Kings, and the Seth Grahame-Smith adaptation Unholy Night brewing.

The budding religious epic trend hasn’t arrived at the multiplex yet, but it’s definitely coming down the pipeline. One of the first such films to hit will be Aronofsky’s Noah, which is already filming for a spring 2014 release. Also in development outside of Warner Bros. are Sony’s Cain and Abel movie with Will Smith, Ridley Scott’s Moses-based Exodus, and Paul Verhoeven and Roger Avary’s Jesus of Nazareth.

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