The film was released on December 12, 2014 by 20th Century Fox. It received generally negative reviews from critics and earned $268 million against its $200 million budget. The film was dedicated to Ridley's brother Tony Scott, who died in August 2012.
In 1300 BC, Moses, a general and accepted member of the Egyptian royal family, prepares to attack the Hittite army with Prince Ramesses. A High Priestess of Sekhmet (the war goddess) divines a prophecy from animal intestines, which she relates to Ramesses' father, Seti I. He tells the two men of the prophecy, in which one (of Moses and Ramesses) will save the other and become a leader. During the attack on the Hittites, Moses saves Ramesses' life, leaving both men troubled. Later, Moses is sent to the city of Pithom to meet with the Viceroy Hegep, who oversees the Hebrew slaves. Upon his arrival, he encounters the slave Joshua, who is a descendant of Joseph, and Moses is appalled by the horrific conditions of the slaves. Shortly afterwards, Moses meets Nun, who informs him of his true lineage; he is the child of Hebrew parents who was sent by his sister Miriam to be raised by Pharaoh's daughter. Moses is stunned at the revelation and leaves angrily. However, two Hebrews also overhear Nun's story and report their discovery to Hegep.
Seti dies soon after Moses' return to Memphis, and Ramesses becomes the new Pharaoh (Ramesses II). Hegep arrives to reveal Moses' true identity, but Ramesses is conflicted about whether to believe the story. At the urging of Queen Tuya, he interrogates the servant Miriam, who denies being Moses' sister. When Ramesses threatens to cut off Miriam's arm, Moses comes to her defense, revealing he is indeed a Hebrew. Although Tuya wants Moses to be put to death, Ramesses decides to send him into exile. Before leaving Egypt, Moses meets with his adopted mother and Miriam, who refer to him by his birth name of Moishe. Following a journey into the desert, Moses comes to Midian where he meets Zipporah and her father, Jethro. Moses becomes a shepherd, marries Zipporah and has a son Gershom.
Nine years later, Moses gets injured during a rockslide. He comes face to face with a burning bush and a boy called Malak, who serves as a representative of the God of Abraham. While recovering, Moses confesses his past to Zipporah and reveals what God has asked him to do. This drives a wedge between the couple, because Zipporah fears he will leave their family. After he arrives in Egypt, Moses reunites with Nun and Joshua, as well as meeting his brother Aaron for the first time. Moses returns to confront Ramesses, demanding the Hebrews be released from servitude. Ramesses refuses to listen, insisting that to free the slaves would be economically impossible. Upon Moses threatening Ramesses' life, Ramesses orders the death of Moses, executing random Hebrew families until he is found. Using his military skills, Moses trains the slaves in the art of war. The Hebrews start attacking the Egyptians, prompting Ramesses to raid slave villages. Malak appears to Moses and explains that ten plagues will affect Egypt. All the water in the land turns to blood, and the Egyptians are further afflicted by the arrival of frogs (lice omitted in this telling) and flies. The plagues of the death of livestock, boils, hail and thunder, locusts, and darkness then affect the country. While conversing with Malak, Moses is horrified at learning the tenth plague will be the death of all firstborn children. The Hebrews protect themselves by covering their doors with the blood of lambs, as instructed by Moses. Ramesses is devastated over his son's death and relents, telling Moses and the Hebrews to leave.
During the exodus from Egypt, the Hebrews follow Moses' original path through the desert and towards the Red Sea. Still grieving for his son, Ramesses decides to go after the Hebrews with his army. After making their way through a dangerous mountain pass, Moses and the Hebrews arrive at the edge of the sea, uncertain about what to do. Out of despair, Moses flings his sword into the sea, which begins to recede. Ramesses and his army pursue the Hebrews, but Moses stays behind to confront them. The Red Sea reverts to its normal state, drowning the majority of the Egyptians (crossing the Red Sea). Moses survives and makes his way back to the Hebrews. Ramesses is revealed to have survived, but he is distraught over the destruction of his army. Moses leads the Hebrews back to Midian, where he reunites with Zipporah and Gershom. At Mount Sinai, after seeing Malak's displeasure at the Hebrews' construction of the Golden Calf, Moses transcribes the Ten Commandments. Years later, an elderly Moses riding with the Ark of the Covenant sees Malak walking with the Hebrews through the desert.Christian Bale as Moses – The adoptive son of Bithiah, the son of Amram and Jochebed, brother of Aaron and Miriam, the husband of Zipporah and father of Gershom, and the descendant of Levi (son of Jacob and Leah)
Joel Edgerton as Ramesses II – The son of Seti I and Queen Tuya, and the husband of Nefertari
John Turturro as Seti I – The father of Ramesses II, the son of Ramesses I (Paramessu) and Queen Tuya's husband
Aaron Paul as Joshua – The son of Nun, and a descendant of Joseph (a son of Jacob and Rachel) and his son Ephraim
Ben Mendelsohn as Hegep
María Valverde as Zipporah – The wife of Moses and the mother of Gershom, and a daughter of Jethro
Sigourney Weaver as Tuya – the mother of Ramesses II and Seti I's wife
Indira Varma as High Priestess
Ben Kingsley as Nun – Joshua's father, and a descendant of Joseph (a son of Jacob and Rachel) and his son Ephraim
Hiam Abbass as Bithiah – The adoptive mother of Moses, Seti I's sister, Ramesses II's aunt, daughter of Ramesses I (Paramessu)
Kevork Malikyan as Jethro – Zipporah's father, and Moses' father-in-law and Gershom's grandfather
Anton Alexander as Dathan – The son of Eliab, and a descendant of Reuben (a son of Jacob and Leah)
Golshifteh Farahani as Nefertari – The wife of Ramesses II
Tara Fitzgerald as Miriam – The sister of Moses and Aaron, only daughter of Amram and Jochebed, and a descendant of Levi
Dar Salim as Khyan
Ghassan Massoud as Paser, Ramesses II's Grand Vizier
Isaac Andrews as Malak – The mysterious little boy who serves as a manifestation of the God of Abraham.
In June 2012, Ridley Scott announced that he was developing an adaptation of the Book of Exodus, tentatively titled Moses. On March 27, 2014, the studio changed the title of the film from Exodus to Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Some controversy concerning biblical accuracy and content in the writing of the script arose over statements from Ridley Scott that he would be looking to natural causes for the miracles, including drainage from a tsunami for the parting of the Red Sea. According to Scott, the parting of the Red Sea was inspired by a tsunami believed to have been triggered by an underwater earthquake off the Italian coast around 3000 BC. This, combined with statements from Christian Bale about Moses, whom he portrayed ("I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life"), raised criticism. Those who voiced their concern included author Brian Godawa saying, "It's accurate to portray Moses as an imperfect hero, so Christians won't take issue with that, but to be so extreme as to call him one of the most barbaric people in history, that sounds like he's going out of his way to distance himself from the very people you’d think he wants to appeal to." Another was the CEO of Faith-Driven Consumer, Chris Stone, saying about Bale's comments "There's nothing in the biblical history that supports that. It's an indication that there will be a tremendous disconnect between Bale’s interpretation and the expectations of the market" and suggesting that Christians will not go to cinemas to see the film.
On March 15, 2013, Deadline.com reported Scott wanted Christian Bale to star in the film; in August he confirmed the role to be Moses himself. On the same day, Joel Edgerton joined the cast to play Ramses and production was set to begin in September. The studio announced the casting calls in Spain's Almería and Pechina for 3,000 to 4,000 extras and with another 1,000 to 2,000 extras on the island of Fuerteventura. On August 27, Aaron Paul joined the film to play Joshua. Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and John Turturro were then still in talks about joining the cast.
The Sydney Morning Herald and Christian Today reported that the casting of white actors in the lead roles was being protested. Four white actors were cast to play the lead roles (Hebrew and ancient Egyptian characters): Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses II, Sigourney Weaver as Queen Tuya, and Aaron Paul as Joshua. The Sydney Morning Herald also reported the online community's observations that the Great Sphinx of Giza in the film has a European profile. Christian Today reported that an online petition was under way. It also compared Exodus to the 1956 film The Ten Commandments with its all-white cast and said, "The racial climate, number of black actors, and opportunities provided to them were very different in 1956, however." Some Twitter users called for a boycott of the film.
More so, Forbes' Scott Mendelson said that the film didn't need to be "whitewashed" and stated that "Even if we accept the argument that Moses had to be played by a world-renowned movie star and that in all likelihood that meant a white actor, I do not accept the idea that the rest of the main cast needed to be filled out with Caucasian actors of varying recognizability."
Scott responded that without the casting of big-name actors, the film would never have been made, by saying "I can't mount a film of this budget...and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such...I'm just not going to get financed", and that those seeking to boycott the movie on such grounds should "get a life."
Shooting of the film began in October 2013 in Almería, Spain. Additional filming was scheduled at Pinewood Studios, England. Shooting began on October 22 in Tabernas, Almería (Spain) as the first and main location was Ouarzazate (Morocco), and in Sierra Alhamilla. The Red Sea scene was filmed at a beach on Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. Shooting lasted 74 days.
VFX supervisor Peter Chiang supervised the film's visual effects. He said that "Ridley wanted to convey the sense that everything could be natural phenomenon, like an eclipse or tsunami, not just someone waving a stick at the sea."
It took more than 1,500 visual effects shots to digitally bolster the ranks of the Hebrews and to help authentically render plagues of hail, locusts and frogs, although 400 actual real life frogs were used on the set. Around 30 to 40 people accompanied Bale while crossing the Red Sea, the rest being computer generated, along with the 180-foot wave, the horses and the chariots; there were 400,000 humans depicted in all. In close-ups of people fleeing across the sea bed, the filmmakers used the beach's real waters. For the hailstorm scene, the film's special effects team built special cannons that would fire polymer balls that would bounce and shatter with the same characteristics as an ice ball. About 30 such cannons were used in the film. For the distant hail, computer simulation was used.
In an interview for Access Hollywood, Scott claimed there was a "final" cut of the film that was 4 hours, implying that the version released in theaters was reduced by 90 minutes.
On July 8, 2014, it was announced that Alberto Iglesias would be scoring the music for the film with additional music by Harry Gregson-Williams.
The film was released on the first weekend of December 4 and 5 in 6,462 screens and in markets such as South Korea, Mexico, Hong Kong, India. Nationwide release in North America was on December 12 in 3,503 theaters. It was released in the United Kingdom on December 26. The film was released in conventional 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D.
Unlike other biblical epics, Exodus was not censored by Egypt's Ministry of Culture. Exodus was instead banned in Egypt. The Egyptian culture minister described it as "a Zionist film", and said it was banned because of "historical inaccuracies", such as creating a false impression that Moses and the Jews built the pyramids. In Islam, Moses is considered to be a prophet of Allah, but the country's top religion institution, Al-Azhar, did not object to the contents of the movie, as it had with the 2014 film on Noah.
In Morocco, the state-run Moroccan Cinema Centre (CCM) initially approved the film's screening, only for officials to ban it on the day before its premiere because of the personification of the voice of God. After some of the film's dialogue had been edited, the film was subsequently approved for screening.
The film was also denied release in the United Arab Emirates. Authorities said they had found "many mistakes" in the story. The director of Media Content Tracking at the National Media Council explained: "This movie is under our review and we found that there are many mistakes not only about Islam but other religions too. So, we will not release it in the UAE".
The film was also banned in Kuwait.
Exodus: Gods and Kings grossed $65 million in the U.S. and Canada and $203 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $268.2 million. The film earned $8.7 million on its opening day (including previews) in the USA. The film topped the box office during its opening weekend with $24.1 million which was significantly lower than the opening of Noah ($43.7 million), another biblically-inspired film of 2014.
Outside North America, the film was released in 10 markets on December 4–5 and earned $23.1 million from 6,462 screens on its opening weekend. The following week it earned $17.8 million from 27 international markets coming at second place at the box office behind The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The film went No. 1 in 13 markets. In its third week, the film added $30.9 million from 39 markets and was still halted at #2 behind The Battle of the Five Armies.
The highest openings came from Russia ($8 million), Brazil ($6.68 million), South Korea ($6.2 million), Mexico ($5.4 million), France ($5.35 million), the UK ($4.25 million), Spain ($3.7 million) and Germany ($3.64 million). At the end of its theatrical run, Russia proved to be the most successful country with $14.2 million followed by the U.K., Ireland and Malta with $11.4 million and Australia with $7 million.
Exodus: Gods and Kings received negative reviews from critics. It received praise for its acting performances and technical achievements, but was criticized for its pacing, thin screenwriting, lack of character development, and overall feeling of emptiness. The film veered creatively from the Old Testaments and New Testaments of the Bible and Scott's honesty about his own atheist beliefs didn't help appeal to a potential audience of believers. The film has a "rotten" score of 27% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 183 reviews, with an average rating of 4.9 out of 10. The critical consensus states, "While sporadically stirring, and suitably epic in its ambitions, Exodus: Gods and Kings can't quite live up to its classic source material." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 52 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Stephen Farber of The Hollywood Reporter gave a positive review and said, "Scott did a great job reviving the Roman sand-and-sandals epic when he made the Oscar-winning Gladiator. This Egyptian saga is not quite in the same league, but it confirms the director's flair of widescreen imagery. Exodus has the added kick of 3D technology, and it has enough eye-popping set pieces to please adventure fans." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was positive of the film and said, "Exodus is a biblical epic that comes at you at maximum velocity but stays stirringly, inspiringly human." Reagan Gavin Rasquinha of The Times of India gave the film 4 out of 5 stars and said, "Exodus: Gods and Kings is 'spectacle' with a capital 'S' and in more ways than one, definitely epic." Catherine Shoard of The Guardian gave 3 out of 5 stars and said, "It’s impossible not to feel some awe at the spectacle, but more shocks would have helped see you through the two-and-a-half hour running time." Phillips Hawker of The Sydney Morning Herald gave a mixed review and awarded the film 3 out of 5 stars, saying, "Exodus: Gods And Kings... lacks Gladiator's full-on intensity and committed central performances, however; it's a mixture of the grand and the bland, and when it's not spectacular it's a little plodding." Justin Chang of Variety said, "Some may well desire a purer, fuller version of the story, one more faithful to the text and less clearly shaped by the demands of the Hollywood blockbuster. But on its own grand, imperfect terms, "Exodus: Gods and Kings" is undeniably transporting, marked by a free-flowing visual splendor that plays to its creator’s unique strengths: Given how many faith-based movies are content to tell their audiences what to think or feel, it’s satisfying to see one whose images alone are enough to compel awestruck belief." Jim Vejvoda of IGN said, "Director Ridley Scott gets lost in the desert at times in Exodus: Gods and Kings, his epic, but not entirely effective take on the story of Moses' journey from Prince of Egypt to Hebrew leader."
On the negative side, Scott Mendelson of Forbes criticized the film for being too "dark" and "gritty," saying that the film lacked in humor or excitement, offering little nuance and little artistic interpretation beyond hitting the expected goal posts. He added, "Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is a terrible film. It is a badly acted and badly written melodrama that takes what should be a passionate and emotionally wrenching story and drains it of all life and all dramatic interest." Pete Hammond of Deadline.com in his review said, "Ridley Scott [can] do a plague well, and here, he gets to do 10 of them. But is this oh-so-familiar tale still fresh enough to get people into theaters in the droves needed to make back the very high production values that we see on screen?" Alonso Duralde of The Wrap also gave a negative review and said, "If you're going into Exodus: Gods and Kings thinking that director Ridley Scott is going to give the Moses story anything we didn't already get from Cecil B. DeMille in two versions of The Ten Commandments, prepare to be disappointed."