Left Behind is the most popular religious video and movie in America just now. But would you like to know the other side of the story? It involves some of the leading rapturist writers and speakers in America.
In 1996, Joe Goodman walked into a religious bookstore, picked up a copy of a new book on the rapture, and looked inside. Left Behind was the first novel co-authored by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. LaHaye developed the ideas and Jenkins wrote the book.
At the time, the book had not yet reached the 100,000 sales mark (later it would become the first of a series of Left Behind rapture books), yet Goodman was fascinated by the plot and decided it would make an outstanding motion picture.
Goodman already had his own Namesake Entertainment, a Louisville, Kentucky, firm, which had earlier produced TV films for Disney and USA Network.
Within several months (in early 1997) he had secured the film rights, either to the book (LaHayes position) or to the book series (Goodman's contention).
But Goodman failed to find a Hollywood studio willing to make the movie. Knowing he had to make the film within three years or lose on a forfeiture clause, he visited Cloud Ten.
Cloud Ten Pictures was a Toronto, Canada, production company run by brothers Peter and Paul Lalonde, former Christian broadcasters.
The Lalondes were already in the end-times film business, having made a 1998 videotape, Apocalypse, and a 1999 film, Revelation.
Cloud Ten did most of the actual work in making the movie. Under the arrangement, Goodman and the Lalondes were co-producers. Cloud Ten signed up a cast and made the movie in Ontario with a budget, the Lalondes say, of $17.4 million, including marketing. The movie script told the essentials of what was in the book, although it veered somewhat.
In order to promote the book, Goodman and the Lalondes decided on an unusual and risky strategy. They released Left Behind: The Movie on videotape three months ahead of the apocalyptic thrillers scheduled box-office opening on February 2, 2001.
The objective was to stir up immense enthusiasm among evangelicals, who, in turn, would take their unchurched friends to see the movie. Part of the plan also included enlisting churches to sponsor theater screenings at $3,000 per screen, and fill the movie houses with non-Christians.
Well, that was the plan. But it got left behind.
Although warned that they had better not take such a risk, everything initially worked out well, for 3 million videos were sold within the first three months.
But when the movie opened in February, it appeared on 867 screens and only ranked 17th in box-office draw. In the first three weeks, according to published reports it only grossed $3.7 million. Yet the movie cost $17.4 million to produce. In comparison, The Omega Code was one of the top 10 national movies the weekend it was released.
(Are you wondering how all these movies appear in the eyes of God? Just read chapter 27, Modern Revivals, in the book, Great Controversy, and you will have your answer.)
But that is not the end of the story. Now the modern revivalists are suing one another over Left Behind!
In July 2000, Tim LaHaye, a former pastor and pro-family activist (and husband of Beverly LaHaye, head of Concerned Women for America), filed a breach-of-contract suit against Goodman's Namesake Entertainment. LaHaye alleges that Namesake promised to spend more than $40 million on the film, that it would feature big-name actors, that it would appear in all major media markets by January 1, 2000 (to capitalize on the millennium craze), and that LaHaye would help select the films director. He also accused Namesake of risking a valuable franchise on a foolish and unproven video-first marketing scheme.
There was also a blistering argument concerning whether the contract permitted Goodman to make more movies of the rest of the books in the series.
Namesake contends that it tried to make a big-budget film, and the contract gave it three year still April 2001 to produce the film.
The fighting waxed hotter. LaHaye said he should also have part ownership (and receive profits from) T-shirts, jewelry, and other religious items sold with the movie name on them. But Goodman says the money will help them turn out more religious films.
Another movie in the series, Tribulation, is scheduled for release in 2002, but LaHaye is determined, through the courts, to stop it.
In February 2001, a federal judge in Los Angeles rejected a motion by the makers of Left Behind: The Movie, which sought dismissal of LaHaye's lawsuit.
So North Americas leading Christian rapturists are busily fighting fellow rapturists in the courts. Will their infighting and court battles end before their expected rapture to heaven occurs?
Only time will tell. vf