Feature Films by LDS/Mormon Filmmakers and Actors
Weekend Box Office Report (U.S. Domestic Box Office Gross)

Weekend of January 5, 2001

Natl  Film Title                Weekend Gross
Rank  LDS/Mormon Filmmaker/Star   Total Gross Theaters Days
---  ----------------------------- -----------  -----  ----
46   Mysteries of Egypt                 45,002     14   907
     Scott Swofford (producer)      40,593,286
     Bruce Neibaur (writer/director)
     Reed Smoot (cinematographer)
     Sam Cardon (composer)
     Stephen L. Johnson (film editor)

48   Galapagos                          39,624      9   437
     Reed Smoot (cinematographer)    8,768,840

50   Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man   29,815     14   248
     Reed Smoot (cinematographer)    8,763,762

51   Wonder Boys                        21,376     13   152
     LDS main character: "Hannah"   19,315,014

73   Island of the Sharks                4,314      3   619
     Alan Williams (composer)        8,977,870

80   Panic                               3,127      1    38
     Brent White (film editor)          73,392

88   Mark Twain's America 3D             1,120      2   920
     Alan Williams (composer)        2,063,715

Year 2000 a Banner Year for
Mormons in Film and Television

Mormons in the year 2000 loomed large and were disproportionately successful at the movies, on television, and on cable. Mormon filmmakers and entertainers won major awards, hosted or starred in major shows, and broke box office records.

Independent Films

Perhaps the biggest news item in Mormon media was Richard Dutcher's groundbreaking film God's Army. Dutcher, whose previous films had been for HBO and PBS, wrote, directed and starred in this feature film about Mormon missionaries in Los Angeles. God's Army received widespread critical acclaim from California to New York, including an enthusiastic endorsement by Entertainment Tonight movie critic Michael Medved.

Audiences loved seemed to love it as well, making the film one of the top 10 independent films of the year. By the time God's Army finished it's U.S. theatrical run, it had grossed over $2.6 million at the box office, almost 10 times the $300,000 it cost to make. With foreign ticket sales and high demand for the video, the total take is expected to soon exceed $4 million.

Needless to say, investors were very pleased, and Dutcher easily gathered funding for his next feature, the murder mystery Brigham City, which wrapped up filming by the end of the year and is scheduled to hit theaters in February 2001.

God's Army was dubbed "the birth of Mormon cinema," which was only partially true. Certainly there have been many Mormon filmmakers making mainstream movies about topics other than Mormonism, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long made films. God's Army was simply the first independent feature film made by a Mormon filmmaker explicitly about Mormon topics.

In the year 2000 another Latter-day Saint filmmaker made headlines in the political pages rather than the entertainment section. Michael McNulty's investigative documentary Waco: A New Revelation documented allegations of a government coverup of various details surrounding the famous FBI/ATF disaster at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. This film was the major factor leading to a major new government investgation into the causes behind the fire that destroyed the Waco compound. McNulty (a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) had previously received an Academy Award nomination for his 1997 film Waco: Rules of Engagement and an Emmy for a shortened version that appeared on HBO.

Finally, the independent film SLC Punk!, set in Salt Lake City, was released on video in 2000. This independent film debuted in theaters in 1999; critics didn't care for it and few people saw it, but it is mentioned here for the sake of inclusiveness. The film was was directed by James Merendino and starred Matthew Lillard (who soon thereafter was cast as "Shaggy" in the year 2001 live action "Scooby Doo" film) and Jennifer Lien.

Major Studio Films

Other films by Mormon filmmakers drew even bigger audiences in the year 2000. These were less obviously about Mormonism, but clearly influenced by the religious and cultural background of the filmmakers.

The Latter-day Saint film which earned the most money this year was the science fiction satire Galaxy Quest, starring Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver. This unexpected sleeper hit raked in over $71 million and was a fan favorite. Based on an original spec story by Latter-day Saint playwrite David Howard (who also co-wrote the screenplay), Galaxy Quest went on to win the 2000 Hugo award for best science fiction film of the year, beating out other highly acclaimed films including The Matrix and The Sixth Sense.

Another box office success was Nurse Betty, directed by Neil LaBute, a practicing Latter-day Saint. Starring Chris Rock, Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear and Jim Carrey's real-life leading lady Rene Zelwinger, Nurse Betty earned over $23 million at the box office and was a controversial but critical success. LaBute's canon also includes In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors (both of which he wrote). His string of challenging and rule-breaking works inspired some critics this year to call him the "next Stanley Kubrick." Nurse Betty won a Golden Globe award in the Best Actress category.

LaBute also delighted and confounded critics this year with his off-Broadway play Bash: Latter Day Plays (also subtitled "a gaggle of saints"). Bash, LaBute's most Mormon-oriented work to date, starred Aly McBeal's Calista Flockhart as a Mormon New Yorker. Bash premiered on Showtime in the summer, exposing LaBute's dark style to an even wider audience, followed by further stage productions in Caifornia and other states.

On a lighter note, Latter-day Saint animation genius Don Bluth broke new ground with the animated science fiction spectacular Titan A.E.. Earning over $22 million at the U.S. box office, it failed to attract audiences as much as animated features from the Disney juggernaut. But Titan A.E. was a critical success and was given an enthusiastic "thumbs up" by Roger Ebert. Ebert later made Titan A.E. his video pick of the week on 12 November 2000.

Another critically successful film was Almost Famous, hailed as a sure pick for Oscar nominations. Although the film was not written or directed by (or about) Latter-day Saints, the film's main character was played by Salt Lake City native Patrick Fugit. He played the young Cameron Crowe, a teenage rock magazine writer for Rolling Stone. In January 2001, Almost Famous won the Golden Globe award for best musical or comedy film. The film received two Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress, and one for Crowe's screenplay. But, alas, no Oscar nod to newcomer Fugit. (Next year, maybe!)

On an even lighter note, comedian Rodney Dangerfield returned to the theaters with My Five Wives, a spoof about a man encountering polygamists from a Mormon splinter group Utah. The film also starred Andrew Dice Clay, Jerry Stiller, Saturday Night Live's Molly Shannon, and John Byner. Dangerfield got the idea for this movie from hearing about his wife's Mormon heritage. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ended polygamy over 100 years ago, of course, and most contemporary Mormons would not be unhappy that My Five Wives quickly disappeared from the box office radar.

Major Church-Produced Films

Films produced by the Church of Jesus Christ itself made big news in 2000 as well. The biggest news item in this regard was the release of The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd. Written, produced and directed by Oscar-winning Latter-day Saint filmmaker Kieth Merrill, Testaments replaced Legacy as the film shown at the free Joseph Smith Building theater in Salt Lake City. Testaments was widely praised by Church members as a spiritually powerful experience. It was a big budget period piece epic, with production values and sets comparable to major Hollywood films, easily making it the most expensive film ever produced by the Church of Jesus Christ. One of the most unusual aspects of the film, however, was its unprecedented use of a fictional story and characters set in Biblical and Book of Mormon times.

With Testaments showing in the Joseph Smith Building theater, Legacy moved into the newly constructed theater in the Conference Center. The year 2000 also saw the completion of a theater at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitor's Center, which also began showing Legacy. This pioneer-era epic was also released on video for the first time.