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Mormon cinema (informally Mollywood, a portmanteau of Mormon and Hollywood) usually refers to films with themes relevant to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The terminology has also been used to refer to films that do not necessarily reflect Mormon themes but have been made by Mormon filmmakers.
Mormon cinema films might be considered distinct from LDS Church movies like Legacy and Testaments, since they are commercial and not produced for teaching or proselytizing LDS doctrine. Mormon cinema is usually produced and directed by Latter-day Saints. The films typically have LDS themes and are often marketed especially toward Latter-day Saints, though there has been an effort to "cross over" into more mainstream themes.
Films about Latter-day Saints are nothing new. The LDS Church sponsored the production and release of the feature-length films One Hundred Years of Mormonism (1913) and The Life of Nephi (1914). Films about Mormons, especially lurid pulp fiction-inspired tales of hypnotic missionaries and Western pioneer stories, were a staple of the early silent, black and white film era. With films made primarily by LDS filmmakers for an LDS audience, the Mormon cinema movement is distinct from the broader use of Mormon characters in mainstream Hollywood films. The Mormon cinema movement began around 1999, when Richard Dutcher's company, Zion Films, released God's Army commercially. The film, which was produced on a budget of $300,000, grossed about $2.5 million at the box office and many more millions of dollars worth of video purchases. Observing the market success of God's Army, many other LDS studios began producing films targeted at Latter-day Saint audiences.
Although God's Army dealt with the overtly religious subject of LDS missionaries, and many LDS comedies are sometimes incomprehensible to people outside the LDS Church, a growing trend moves toward making LDS-themed movies more broadly accessible. The acclaimed World War II movie Saints and Soldiers is perhaps the most successful crossover LDS film to date. More accessible films have been thought by some as likely to ensure larger potential markets. However, "accessibility" has not necessarily translated into greater box office earnings or critical acclaim than achieved by the more "insider"-oriented LDS Cinema films.
LDS comedies in particular have been panned by critics, who have branded most efforts thus far inaccessible and unfunny to those outside the intended market. Such movies have frequently been perceived as overly reliant upon the audience's extensive knowledge of LDS practices and LDS cultural norms.
One aspect of the culture of LDS cinema is heightened concern over MPAA film ratings. Many Mormons feel disinclined to view movies rated R, so LDS film producers risk greatly diminished revenue for exceeding a PG or PG-13 rating. One PG-13 film, The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1, gained its rating for depicting a decapitation that occurs in the Book of Mormon. Producers defended the scene as essential. Some critics[who?] leveled a common complaint about the MPAA – that it awards a higher rating to movies not produced by the major film studios. Nonetheless, producers re-edited the movie to earn a PG rating for DVD distribution. Another film, Saints and Soldiers received an R-rating prior to film festival screening. Producers edited the movie to receive PG-13 for commercial distribution.
Selected notable companies
- Money or Mission (2006) – Will a young man choose to serve?.
- Brigham Young (1940) – Follows the story of Brigham Young after Joseph Smith's death.
- Bad Bascomb (1946) – Two outlaws hide out in a Mormon wagon and one of them befriends a little girl.
- Wagon Master (1950) – Forced out of Crystal City, a group of Mormons head west in search of the promised land.
- Paint Your Wagon (1969) – Two unlikely prospectors share the same wife in a Californian mining town.
- Messenger of Death (1988) – A film about an attempt by a water company to start a family feud among fundamentalist Mormons to take the family's land for the company.
- God's Army (1999) – The first general release, modern Mormon cinema film, about LDS missionaries; directed by Richard Dutcher.
- God's Army 2: States of Grace (2005) – A sequel to God's Army, by Richard Dutcher
- Brigham City (2001) – A murder mystery, also by Dutcher.
- The Other Side of Heaven (2001) – Not by an LDS studio. Although special pains were taken to remove overt LDS references, it is often counted as LDS cinema because it was brought to fruition by an LDS producer, and is based on John H. Groberg's experiences in Tonga as a LDS missionary, as documented in his memoir In the Eye of the Storm.
- The Other Side of Heaven 2: The Fire of Faith (2019) – Sequel to The Other Side of Heaven.
- Handcart (2002) – tale of the Martin handcart company
- The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey (2003) – An ambitious film about the Book of Mormon, which was the fourth highest-grossing movie in LDS cinema.
- The Best Two Years (2003) – An LDS missionary's experience in the Netherlands, based on the play The Best Two Years of My Life.
- Saints and Soldiers (2004) – A World War II movie that has muted LDS overtones and significant mainstream appeal.
- The Work and The Glory (2005) – Based on Gerald Lund's LDS and historical fiction series The Work and the Glory.
- The Work and The Glory II: American Zion (2005) – sequel
- The Work and The Glory III: A House Divided (2006) – sequel
- Return with Honor: A Missionary Homecoming (2006) – A missionary's near death experience and aftermath.
- The Errand of Angels (2008) – The experiences of a female LDS missionary from Idaho serving in Austria.
- Emma Smith: My Story (2008) – The story of Joseph Smith's wife, Emma. Based upon the true story of her life.
- Forever Strong (2008) – Will rugby reunite a broken family?
- The Book of Jer3miah (2009) – Mystery theme movie with some Latter-day Saint twists.
- One Good Man (2009) – Man must choose between material success and family values.
- Christmas Oranges (2012) – A Christmas friendship tale.
- The Saratov Approach (2013) – Based on the true story of two missionaries kidnapped and held for ransom while serving LDS missions in Russia in 1998.
- Wayward: The Prodigal Son (2014) – After asking his father for his inheritance, a careless wanderer loses everything in life and tries to forgive what he's done.
- Freetown (2015) – based on the true story of a group of native Liberian missionaries traveling from Monrovia, Liberia to Freetown, Sierra Leone during a time of civil war in 1990.
- The Cokeville Miracle (2015) – based on the true story of the Cokeville Elementary School hostage crisis and the miraculous spiritual experiences that happened there.
- Just Let Go (2015) – based on the story of Chris Williams who forgives a young man after they each faced a devastating incident.
- Miracle Maker (2015) – Can the Miracle Maker save Christmas?
- Spirit of the Game (2016) – based on the true story of the Mormon Yankees, an American basketball team which played in exhibition games before the 1956 Summer Olympics.
- Singing with Angels (2016) – A woman turns for support to her time with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
- Love, Kennedy (2017) – Story of a young woman with a degenerative disease.
- Instrument of War (2017) – byu.tv production of a man who creates instruments in a POW camp.
- In Emma's Footsteps (2018) – Emma's struggles after the death of Joseph.
- Jane and Emma (2018) – the friendship of Jane Manning James and Emma Smith, wife of the prophet Joseph Smith.
- The Fighting Preacher (2019) – Willard and Rebecca Bean trying to buy the Hill Cumorah.
- Out of Liberty (2019) – the individuals surrounding Joseph Smith's captivity in Liberty Jail in 1839.
- Heart of Africa (2020) – Congolese-made film about a man runs from his past.
- Saturday's Warrior (1989) – popular release among Latter-day Saints of the De Azevedo and Stewart musical, directed by Bob Williams. De Azevedo released a remake of the movie in 2016.
- Out of Step (2002) – a young dance student leaves Utah for schooling in New York City. She falls in love with two different men and must choose between them.
- Charly (2002) – a movie, based on a book by the same name written by, Jack Weyland; about a man who has all of his life planned. His belief, and life. It all changes when a girl walks into his life and changes it.
- Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (2003) – a modern adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, set in Provo, Utah.
- Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-Day Tale (2007) – retelling of the tale set in modern America with Latter-day Saints.
- Melted Hearts (2009) – A returned missionary returns to look for his love.
- Promise of the Heart (2016)
A group of friends from Benemerito, the famous Mormon boarding school in Mexico City, come together for their ten-year high school reunion and talk about the only thing on everyone's minds: how is it possible that David has not ended up with Monique? </ref> https://deseretbook.com/p/a-promise-of-the-heart?variant_id=153048-dvd
Several comedies, mostly produced by Dave Hunter, have also been released. Because the humor of these films often relies on specifically Utah-centric Latter Day Saint culture, they tend to have a smaller audience than the other LDS subgenres, even among Mormon viewers.
- The Singles Ward (2002) – The title refers to an LDS congregation (ward) composed only of single adults. A comedy with romantic aspects.
- The R.M. (2003) – About the experiences of a returned missionary.
- The Best Two Years (2003) – LDS missionaries' experiences in the Netherlands, based on the play The Best Two Years of My Life.
- The Work and the Story (2003) – A mockumentary about LDS cinema when Richard Dutcher (fictionally) disappears. Written, produced and directed by Nathan Smith Jones; co-produced by Miriam Smith.
- The Home Teachers (2004) – Slapstick comedy about polar opposite home teachers that "fulfill" their responsibility on the last day of the month. "Home teaching" is the LDS practice of a home teaching companionship – a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood and a 14-year-old teacher or older – visiting and teaching families in their ward each month.
- Baptists at Our Barbecue (2004) – Longfellow – consistently called "Longwinded" by the inhabitants – is a small town that is religiously divided equally between Baptists and Mormons. A newcomer becomes the tie-breaker. Rather than tilt the scales he decides to bridge the religious divide by organizing an all-faiths barbecue. Based on a novel by Robert Farrell Smith.
- Sons of Provo (2004) – Mockumentary about an LDS boy band named Everclean.
- Mobsters and Mormons (2005) – After testifying against his mob boss, Carmine "The Beans" Zindelli Pasquale and his family are put in the Witness Protection Program in "Happy Valley", Utah, resulting in significant culture clash.
- Church Ball (2006) – In the last year of a basketball league, a church team does not want to place last again. The storyline juxtaposes the desire to win at all costs with the expectation of sportsmanlike conduct in church sports.
- Believe (2007) – A mockumentary about multi-level marketing.
- Inspired Guns (2014) – Two Mormon missionaries begin teaching two members in the mafia in a case of mistaken identity.
- Once I Was a Beehive (2015) – A non-LDS girl attends Young Woman's camp.
- Trek: The Movie (2018) — a group of LDS teens participate in a reenactment of the handcart pioneers.
- The Legend of Johnny Lingo (2003) – follow on to the classic short film.
- Passage to Zarahemla (2007) – A time-travel adventure set in the rural area of Leeds, Utah wherein characters from modern times interact with Nephites and Gadianton robbers (tribes and groups mentioned in the Book of Mormon).
- 17 Miracles (2011) – Based on accounts of the pioneers of the Willie and Martin handcart companies struggling to survive to head to the Great Salt Lake Valley while a multitude of miracles occur.
- Ephraim's Rescue (2013) – Prequel/parallel to 17 Miracles. The story of Ephraim Hanks, who joins the LDS church and miraculously saves the Martin handcart company.
- 16 Stones (2014) – A young man and friends set out on a dangerous quest to retrieve the 16 stones of the Jaredites to prevent others from future mob persecution.
- 94 Feet (2016) – Rescue workers try to rescue some people trapped in a cave.
- American Mormon (2005) – A small film crew drove across the United States interviewing people about their perceptions of Mormons.
- New York Doll (2005) – A recovering alcoholic and recently converted Mormon, Arthur "Killer" Kane, of the rock band The New York Dolls, is given a chance at reuniting with his band after 30 years.
- American Mormon in Europe (2006) – Interviews with people in Europe about their perceptions of Mormons, and interviews with European church members.
- Happy Valley (2008) – Documentary about prescription and street drug abuse in Utah County, Utah.
- Silent Night (2012) – byu.tv film regarding creation of Handel's Messiah.
- Us and Them: Religious Rivalry in America (2013) – A documentary about a Mormon finding answers between his religion and Christianity feuding for the belief in God.
- Meet the Mormons (2014) – A documentary examining the very diverse lives of six devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (actually an official church production, but included here because it was shown in theaters).
- Believer (2018) – Documentary of Imagine Dragons' lead singer, the loveloud music festival, and Latter-day Saint LGBT's.
- Bonanza (1959-1973) – Season 8, Episode 4: "The Pursued" (1966).
- The Joseph Smith Papers (2008–2009) – Documentary television series which documented the creation of, and work involved in, Joseph Smith Papers Project.
- History of the Saints (2010) – Documentary television series which focuses on the history of the Latter-day Saints after the death of Joseph Smith, including their exodus to Utah.
- Hell on Wheels (2011–2016) – Western television series which focuses on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.
|The Best Two Years||2003||Halestorm Entertainment||K.C. Clyde, Kirby Heyborne, David Nibley, Cameron Hopkin, Scott Christopher, Michael Flynn||Scott S. Anderson||$400,000||$1,163,450|
|The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey||2003||Halestorm Entertainment||Noah Danby, Kirby Heyborne, Jacque Gray, Bryce Chamberlain, Jan Gardner, Ron Frederickson||Gary Rogers||$1,500,000||$1,680,020|
|Brigham City||2001||Zion Films||Richard Dutcher, Matthew A. Brown, Wilford Brimley, Carrie Morgan, Jongiorgi Enos, Tayva Patch||Richard Dutcher||$900,000||$852,206|
|Charly||2002||Jeremy Hoop, Randy King, Heather Beers||Adam Thomas Anderegg||$950,000||$813,685|
|Forever Strong||2008||Lonesome Highway Productions||Sean Faris, Gary Cole, Penn Badgley, Arielle Kebbel, Sean Astin, Neal McDonough, Olesya Rulin||Ryan Little||$719,556|
|God's Army||2000||Zion Films||Matthew A. Brown, Richard Dutcher, Jacque Gray, DeSean Terry, Michael Buster, Luis Robledo, Jeff Kelly, John Pentecost, Lynne Carr||Richard Dutcher||$300,000||$2,637,726|
|God's Army 2: States of Grace||2005||Zion Films||Lucas Fleischer, Jeffrey Scott Kelly, J.J. Boone||Richard Dutcher||$800,000||$203,144|
|The Saratov Approach||2013||Three Coin Productions, Saratov Films||Corbin Allred, Maclain Nelson, Nikita Bogolyubov, Alex Veadov||Garrett Batty||$||$2,146,999|
|Inspired Guns||2014||Pitch White Entertainment||Shona Kay, Dashieli Wolf, Jarrod Phillips, Rick Macy, Charan Prabhakar, Christian Busath, Alix Maria Taulbee||Adam White||$175,000|
|The Other Side of Heaven||2001||Walt Disney Pictures||Christopher Gorham, Anne Hathaway||Mitch Davis||$7,000,000||$4,720,371|
|The R.M.||2003||Halestorm Entertainment||Kirby Heyborne, Daryn Tufts, Will Swenson, Britani Bateman, Tracy Ann Evans, Merrill Dodge, Michael Birkeland, Maren Ord, Gary Crowton||Kurt Hale||$500,000||$1,111,615|
|Saints and Soldiers||2003||Excel Entertainment Group||Corbin Allred, Alexander Niver, Kirby Heyborne, Lawrence Bagby, Peter Aste Holden||Ryan Little||$780,000||$1,310,470|
|Saturday's Warrior||1989||Fieldbrook Entertainment||Erik Hickenlooper, Cori Jacobsen, Davison Cheney, Bart Hickenlooper||Bob Williams|
|The Singles Ward||2002||Halestorm Entertainment||Will Swenson, Connie Young, Kirby Heyborne, Daryn Tufts, Michael Birkeland, Lincoln Hoppe||Kurt Hale||$500,000||$1,250,798|
|The Work and the Glory||2004||Excel Entertainment Group||Sam Hennings, Brenda Strong, Eric Johnson, Alexander Carroll, Tiffany Dupont, Jonathan Scarfe||Russell Holt||$7.5 million||$3,347,647|
|Meet the Mormons||2014||Excel Entertainment Group & Intellectual Reserve, Inc.||Jermaine Sullivan, Ken Niumatalolo, Carolina Muñoz Marin, Bishnu Adhukari, Gail Halvorsen, Dawn Armstrong, Jenna Kim Jones||Blair Treu||$5,883,132 (all proceeds donated to the American Red Cross)|
- Hyde, Jesse (21 June 2003), "Let's hear it for Mollywood", Deseret News
- Hummel, Hummel (6 November 2005), "Mormon filmmakers hoping Utah can be a wholesome Hollywood", The Seattle Times (AP)
- "Films Made by Latter-day Saints - Box Office Receipts Compared". ldsfilm.com.
- "Coming Soon - Future home of something quite cool". happyvalleythemovie.com.
- "Meet the Mormons". Meet the Mormons.
- "Book of Mormon Movie (2003) - Box Office Mojo". boxofficemojo.com.
- "1984 Yearly Box Office Results - Box Office Mojo". boxofficemojo.com.
- Astle, Randy; Burton, Gideon O. (2007). "A History of Mormon Cinema". BYU Studies. 46 (2]): 12–163.
- Astle, Randy (2013). "Mormons and Cinema". In Hunter, James Michael (ed.). Mormons and Popular Culture: the global influence of an American phenomenon. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger (ABC-CLIO). ISBN 9780313391675. OCLC 776495102.
- Baggaley, Thomas (2004). "LDS Cinema Gets Better and Gets a Bum Rating". Meridian Magazine. Archived from the original on 2 February 2010.
- Halter, Ed (13 January 2004). "Missionary Positioning: Indie Mormon Cinema Attempts a Mainstream Conversion". The Village Voice.
- Elizabeth A. Harris (13 October 2019). "Lights. Camera. Prayer. A Mini-Hollywood Grows in Utah: Movies made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are an important part of a film and TV ecosystem in northern Utah. And there's not an R-rating in sight". The New York Times.
- Samuelson, Eric (2007). "Finding an Audience, Paying the Bills: Competing Business Models in Mormon Cinema". BYU Studies. 46 (2): 209–230.