"Left Behind" Misses Revenue Goal, Gets Mixed Reviews

Producers of the movie Left Behind missed their goal of making the film the number-one-ranked movie in America in the first weekend of February.

According to box office figures on Entertainment Weekly's Web site, Left Behind ranked No. 17 in weekend grosses for Feb. 2 through 4. It generated $2.2 million, compared to The Wedding Planner, which ranked first with $10.8 million.

Left Behind resembles science fiction and is about end-times. The movie is based on the best-selling evangelical novel with the same name and written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

The movie opens with a massive military attack on Israel that is mysteriously thwarted. Soon millions of believers vanish, leaving behind their clothes, cars and pets. The unfolding plot involves the United Nations, a journalistic investigation and several "professions" of faith.

With few predictable exceptions, movie reviewers have given Left Behind a thumbs down.

Conservative Christian Ted Baehr hyped the movie on his Web site movieguide.org. He said Left Behind "is crafted with a careful touch" and has a "strong Christian worldview that presents the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a powerful, winsome way."

Baptist Press said Left Behind "does a great job of holding the viewers' attention--not to mention capturing their imaginations."

Acknowledging that the movie had "some minor flaws," BP said it "could be one of the most important films ever made."

"The producers of this suspenseful and insightful action movie are commissioning viewers to get out the Good News to the world--before it's too late," BP said.

Reviewing the movie for Focus on the Family, Steve Isaac wrote, "My own feelings about the film are as mixed as its reviews." He said, "Left Behind does fall closer to the 'b' line than the 'a.'"

Another evangelical reviewer offered a more critical appraisal and questioned the movie's dispensational propaganda.

Michael G. Maudlin, executive director of editorial operations for Christianity Today International, wrote, "The particular end-times scenario shown in 'Left Behind' is only 100 years old, and it is theologically embraced by only a minority of evangelicalism's professional theologians and Bible scholars."

He wrote, "'Dispensationalism,' as this end-of-the-world plot is called, was hatched at the turn of the century by J. N. Darby, and has never won its battles in academic circles, but in direct appeals to the laity."

In a column for beliefnet.com, Maudlin added, "despite being a minority position among their own theologians, most lay evangelicals think of the rapture, because of its savvy media saturation, as a doctrine as old and as sacrosanct as the Trinity."  

Many non-religious movie reviewers have ignored the film. One said it was "Cheesy. Silly. Moronic. Dull. Plodding. Torturous."

James Berardinelli wrote that Left Behind was "an exceedingly poorly made motion picture" and "as a feature film, it's an abject failure."

"Left Behind's problems are almost too numerous to catalog, and they have nothing to do with its religious underpinning," wrote Berardinelli on his Web site, reelviews.net.

Writing in the New York Times, Stephen Holden said, "the film isn't remotely frightening, and the high-school-level acting doesn't help."

"As for basic credibility, 'Left Behind' proudly belongs to the don't ask, don't explain, connect no dots school of storytelling," Holden wrote.

Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.

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