Left Behind: The Movie reaped $2.1 million during its February opening weekend, making it the nation's No. 1 independent film. By late March, the celluloid version of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' phenomenally popular fictional account of the Rapture had earned more than $4 million.

Meanwhile, the Left Behind videotape, released in October before the production came to theaters, was chosen "Best-Selling Video of the Year for an Independent Studio" at the Video Software Dealers Association's home entertainment awards program during January in Las Vegas. Three million copies had left the shelves by the end of the year.

Such numbers, while impressive for most evangelistic films, are decidedly ho hum by Hollywood standards. But it's not the numbers so much as the quality of the film that has disappointed Tim LaHaye.

LaHaye filed suit against Namesake Entertainment and Cloud Ten Pictures in July 1999, claiming breach of contract. LaHaye seeks to have the original contract voided so that he can control the film rights to sequels and children's video spinoffs.

LaHaye's attorney, Christopher Rudd, says the producers did not make the blockbuster they had promised, thereby limiting the movie's mass-market appeal.

"This lawsuit is not about money," Rudd told Christianity Today. "Dr. LaHaye is in a place in his life where money is not the issue. [He] wanted to provide a really strong Christian message."

The suit says the producers told LaHaye that the movie's production budget would exceed $40 million, although there is no language in the contract to that effect. Publicity, marketing, distribution costs, and production costs came to just $17.4 million.

"We made no promises to make a $40 million movie," says Bryan Merryman, an attorney for Namesake Entertainment.

Peter Lalonde, CEO of Cloud Ten, called LaHaye's expectation of a gospel blockbuster "so unrealistic as to be absurd." LaHaye and Jenkins negotiated the film rights between June 1996 and April 1997, before the end-times novels became a publishing phenomenon.

"Tim LaHaye made a decision in April 1997 based on the way things were then," Merryman said. "It was a fair deal."

According to the contract, Cloud Ten owns the rights to future Left Behind films. Lalonde says that if he were to give back those rights, LaHaye would drop the suit.

Lalonde furnished Christianity Today with a letter in which LaHaye writes to a third party, "I desperately want this to be a successful movie, but not until we have a signed agreement that they surrender all rights to the children's videos which, as you know, were never intended to be part of our original agreement."

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LaHaye's attorney disputed that characterization, saying that the process has moved far beyond that point.

LaHaye continues to work with Jenkins on the book series. The first eight of a projected 12 titles have sold 6 million copies.

Meanwhile, Namesake and Cloud Ten have requested that the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California make a reluctant Jenkins join LaHaye's suit. Jenkins has refused.

Related Elsewhere

Religion News Service, The Dallas Morning News, World magazine, Charisma News Service, CBN News, Crosswalk.com have also reported on the Left Behind lawsuit.

A press release from Cloud Ten last week asserted that "despite [LaHaye's] protestations to the contrary, it is about the money."

The Omega Code, another end-times film, was also the target of a lawsuit.

Earlier Christianity Today coverage of the Left Behind series and film includes:

Weblog: At the Box Office, LeftBehind Gets … Well, You Know (Feb. 5, 2001)

Horror Stories for Christians | Believers dream again of a breakthrough film. Left Behind is not it. (Dec. 6, 2000)

Film Forum: Of Characters Banished to Hell and Raptured to Heaven | What Christian film critics are saying about Left Behind: The Movie and other current releases. (Nov. 16, 2000)

Left Behind Has Been Very, Very Good to Tyndale | Success leaves publisher wondering how to best steward the company's increase. (Oct. 17, 2000)

Cameras Rolling | Bestseller Left Behind's big-screen debut set for 2001. (July 14, 2000)

Christian Fiction Gets Real | New novels offer gritty plots and nuanced characters—but can they find a market? (May 11, 2000)

Christian Filmmakers Jump on End-times Bandwagon | Bestseller Left Behind is slated for the big screen (Oct. 25, 1999)

Apocalyptic Sales Out of This World (Mar. 1, 1999)

The Bible Study at the End of the World | Recent novels by evangelical leaders say more about popular American Christianity than about the end times (Sept. 1, 1997)

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