More than 50 years after The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur first unspooled in cinemas, today's religious epics have a much harder time winning over movie audiences.

With films now targeted to a much wider and more globally aware audience, there are myriad people to impress, satisfy and appease, as filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and the producers of his new film Noah have discovered.

Starring Oscar-winners Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly (previously seen together in 2001's A Beautiful Mind), Noah is a big-budget, action-packed retelling of the biblical tale about the ark-building prophet revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The fact that the filmmakers took artistic licence in revisiting the Old Testament tale has sparked controversy with different groups, including some conservative Christians in the U.S. as well as officials and movie censors in the Middle East.

From atheists to the extremely devout to action-seeking moviegoers, Noah has "a very large spectrum of people to try to make happy," Ryerson University professor and religion and media expert Joyce Smith told CBC News.

"Lots of people think they know the story because they've been told a children's version or seen pictures of cute comics… so even if they haven't read the scripture, that's what they think the story of Noah is about. But actually, it's brutal," she said.

"Lots of people die. Noah is, in many ways, the first doomsday 'prepper' — he's trying to save his family and as many creatures as possible from annihilation. That's serious stuff."

In the attached video, CBC's Deana Sumanac explores the difficult road filmmakers face in making religious epics today.