Since the early days of film, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been utilizing the tool to create features and visual aids that share the religion’s doctrine and stories. In the 2000s, however, something different happened with LDS cinema, and, in a way, it became a film genre unto itself. For better or for worse, movies by Mormons, about Mormons and starring Mormons became a cultural sensation. Through the years since then, there have been funny films, inspirational films, films that teach a lesson and even those that are downright ridiculous.
After sifting through dozens of the aforementioned films and taking input from a pretty wide sampling of people, here is a list of five of the BEST LDS-themed films of all time, followed by five of the WORST, you know, the ones that just make you shake your head.
Chime in and let us know what you think! What are your favorites? Which do you think are the worst?
And if you're interested in up-and-coming films related to the LDS Church, well, you're still in luck: Wednesday marks the kick off of the annual LDS Film Festival, set to run through March 2 at the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem.
The Best: ‘The Best Two Years’
“The Best Two Years” had some of the highest votes for the best LDS-themed film, probably because it’s a pretty even mix of inspiration, comedy and faith-promoting drama.
The film, released in 2003, tells the story of LDS missionaries in the Netherlands, as they struggle with the Dutch language, cultural differences, problems at home and just how difficult missionary work can be. The film stars K.C. Clyde, Kirby Heyborne, David Nibley, Scott Christopher and Michael Flynn. Oh, and did I mention it has a great soundtrack with music by Michael McLean?
The Best: ‘17 Miracles’
The film “17 Miracles” is newer to the LDS Cinema scene, and came at a point where the genre was veering from slapstick or more “cheesy” films into some serious, motivational glimpses into the early LDS church. In no certain order, the film portrays a series of 17 incredible miracles encountered by the Mormon pioneers as they made their way to the Salt Lake Valley.
The Best: ‘The Other Side of Heaven’
“The Other Side of Heaven,” which debuted in theaters in 2001, brings some pretty impressive star power to a missionary tale, with leads including Chris Gorham as John Groberg and Anne Hathaway as Jean Sabin. The film is based on the actual accounts of John Groberg during his time as a missionary in Tonga. Struggling with language, cultural barriers, physical hardship and some humbling but hilarious adventures, Groberg learns what it really means to be a servant of the Lord. As a bonus, there’s a pretty sweet love story involved as well.
The Best: ‘Saints and Soldiers’
If you’ve only seen the first “Saints and Soldiers,” you’re missing out on some pretty epic sequels. The film series began in 2003 with the original “Saints and Soldiers” and has continued with “Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed” in 2012 and “Saints and Soldiers: The Void” in 2014. The original film, starring Corbin Allred, Alexander Niver, Kirby Heyborne, Lawrence Bagby and Peter Asle Holden, is loosely based on events that took place during the Battle of the Bulge, and more specifically those that happened following the Malmedy massacre. A story of faith, courage and devotion to both God and country, “Saints and Soldiers” is a popular pick for best LDS-themed film.
The Best: ‘The Saratov Approach’
Released in theaters in 2013, “The Saratov Approach” is a pretty dramatic retelling of the real-life experience of two missionaries who are kidnapped and held for ransom while serving their missions in Russia. Corbin Allred stars as Elder Tuttle with Maclain Nelson as Elder Propst, two elders who must rely on God to save them when there seems no escape. The story displays small miracle after small miracle, including what unfolds with the elders’ families during the time of their abduction.
Honorable mentions (based on popular vote)
“Charly” – Based on the emotional, tear-jerking book by Jack Weyland (released in 2002)
“God’s Army” – A stirring story about faith and missionary work (released in 2000)
“Johnny Lingo” – A touching tale about self-worth and an “eight cow wife” (released in 1969, remade in 2003 – both versions are available for online streaming)
“Meet the Mormons” – A recent documentary on the lives of various church members (released in 2015)
“Single’s Ward” – The cheesy Mormon film that really started it all (2002)
The Worst: ‘The Book of Mormon Movie’
Isn’t it usually said that the book is always better than the movie? That couldn’t be much more true than when considering “The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey.” Released in 2003, the movie, according to our votes, was a little difficult for many to stomach. To cut to the plot, the film tells the story of the prophet Lehi, his wife Sariah and their sons, Laman, Lemuel, Nephi and Sam. Lehi has prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and is advised by the Lord to take his family and leave. The film follows the storyline of the book pretty closely, from the family’s flight into the wilderness, to the brothers returning for the scriptures and their eventual travels over the sea. The effects and acting, however…
The Worst: 'Brigham City'
Though “Brigham City” was created by Richard Dutcher, the same guy that brought about “God’s Army” (one of the most highly voted good films), it’s safe to say things went a little downhill from there. As the name suggests, the film is set in Brigham City, where a killer is threatening the peace and unity the small community usually enjoys. It’s up to Sheriff Wes Clayton, the city’s key lawman and a church bishop to uncover the truth and serve justice, while some of the town’s deepest secrets bubble to the surface.
The Worst: ‘Church Ball’
A firm member of the “cheesy Mormon movie” genre, this 2006 foray into the realm of church basketball was well-received by some, and not-so-well received by a wide many others. The film revolves around the character of Dennis Buckstead (Andrew Wilson), who has been called by Bishop Linderman (Fred Willard) to not only whip some non-basketball players into shape on the local church team, but to find a way to get them to the Basketball Championship, because no team should lose 20 years in a row. You can let your imagination take you from there.
The Worst: ‘The Home Teachers’
We’ve all had “those” home teachers, right? That’s the premise of the 2004 film “The Home Teachers,” which could be considered either wildly hilarious or pretty awful. In the film, Nelson Parker (Jeff Birk) is the ultimate, on-the-ball home teacher, while his companion, Greg Blazer (Michael Birkeland) is mostly an unwilling accomplice. The two get into all sorts of unsavory shenanigans (including total home destruction), all in the name of getting their assignments completed on the last day of the month.
The Worst: ‘Sons of Provo’
The 2004 mockumentary “Sons of Provo” hearkens back to the days when boybands ruled the radio waves, answering the question, “What if there was an LDS boy-band?” Everclean, consisting of Will Swenson (an aerobics instructor), Kirby Heyborne (a scrapbook specialist) and Danny Tarasevich (a student of eastern philosphy), are quite the boy band sensation when it comes to Mormon pop music, and they’ve got a whole album of classy, squeaky-clean hits to prove it. But being in a boy band comes with its struggles and successes, and this film documents it all.