This is a list of films that prominently feature the Mormon culture, either through a history film taken from the Church's past or in modern times with a look at the very distinct Mormon Culture that has emerged.
And of course Mormon characters have existed in films in one way or another, but these films are about those movies that feature Mormons and/or the culture as a primary subject.
Early Days of Cinema
As can be expected for a church with such a reputation, Mormons have been featured as early as the silent films. Many of these were biased and sought to promote the rumors running around, such as a man on a train trying to get each of his five wives a drink of water. Or one in England that featured a man in dark clothing and sunglasses creeping upon a woman and trying to get her to read pamphlets.
But one of the most respected early films was made in 1940, Brigham Young
(also known as Brigham Young, Frontiersman
). A biography of the second Mormon Prophet, it was one of the first films to depict him and the Church from a neutral, non-slanderous perspective. Vincent Price
was cast as the first Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith, and the film went through the early days to Young leading the people to Utah. While it did take the usual liberties with history
, Heber J. Grant, the Prophet at the time of the film's release, approved of it, believing it would make friends.
Church Produced Films
In the 1960's and 1970's the LDS Church began experimenting with using the media to help teach church history as well as appeal to the youth. Various videos made explicitedly for the Church Education System have been routinely updated over the years, and evident with the increasing quality of production. But there have been several films produced which were meant to tell a solitary story and shown to general audiences. These movies for a time were available to be seen only at vistor centers at specific temples around the world, but have since become available on video or DVD as the following films were made.
- Johnny Lingo (1969) — Taking place on an unspecified Pacific island in the early twentieth century, the titular character has returned from a profitable trading expedition to choose a wife. There are any number of vain, flirtatious young ladies ready to marry him, as well as fathers excited to receive the cows Johnny will trade for his wife. Johnny chooses Mohanna, the homeliest girl on the island. He pays the absurdly high price of eight cows for her, making everyone believe that "it is one of two things. Either he is crazy, or he is blind!" As it turns out, Johnny knew that Mohanna's only problem was low self-esteem, and that a woman's true beauty comes from her own sense of self-worth. Serving as Greek Chorus is the local American shopkeeper, and there are plenty of great lines to amuse viewers of any faith. Can be viewed on YouTube here.
- Legacy (1993) — This was a period piece centering on the fictional protagonist of Eliza as her family joins the church in the times of Joseph Smith. It features the specific events of Church history mostly in the background: mobs forcing them out of their homes, family troubles as her brother doesn't believe in the church and eventually travelling the plains of the midwest to Utah. The main story is of her faith and going from a little child to having a family of her own. Can be viewed on YouTube here.
- The Testaments: Of One Fold and One Shepard (2000) — A story concerning characters made for the film but set just before a major event of The Book of Mormon, the arrival of Jesus Christ to the people in the Americas. The story focused on a family and specifically one son, Jacob, who struggles with his faith when he is given a position of wealth and influence as a assistant to a prominent (and corrupt) businessman. Can be viewed on YouTube here.
- Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration (2005) — A thorough biography of the Mormon Prophet, celebrating 200 years since his birth. The story goes through all the major portions of his life: the First Vision of God and Jesus Christ, his marriage to his wife Emma, the people who betrayed him to the mobs, building three cities and his eventual martyrdom at Carthage Jail. Can be viewed on YouTube here.
- Meet the Mormons (2014) — A documentary exploring six different LDS families from across the globenote and how their faith shape their lives – basically “I'm a Mormon”: The Movie. Originally intended for the Legacy Theater, the film was given a wide theatrical release instead. It's currently the highest grossing LDS film in the genre's history, although critics weren't too kind to the film.
The LDS Church also owns through its investment arm Excel Entertainment, a distributor of independently produced Mormon films.
Movies Made By Mormons
In 2000 a young filmmaker named Richard Dutcher took a dramatic leap forward in regards to how Mormons are depicted by unabashedly releasing a movie dedicated to showing the life of the missionaries people see on the streets. Basing much of it off of his own experiences as a missionary in Mexico, God's Army
was a surprise independent film hit. This is turn gave rise to a new slew of Mormon filmmakers who sought to depict other aspects of Mormon culture to the movie-going community.
Richard Dutcher films
- God's Army (2000) — Focusing on the life of the fresh-faced missionary Elder Allen arriving in Los Angeles and being trained by the older missionary Elder Dalton (Richard Dutcher himself). Allen soon sees how the work is tough: knocking on doors, people you never met getting angry at you, no TV, no dating, etc. He has to understand his own faith if he is going to understand why he is out here in the first place.
Critically and financially, the film was successful. It showed the missionaries as being real people trying to do what they felt was right. It addressed many issues non-members have and even showed a fellow missionary leaving because he had lost his faith. Among church members (who were the primary demographic anyway) the film was also considered good, though it was criticized for Artistic License that got in the way of certain facts of church policies; missionaries must be physically healthy to serve, so one missionary with terminal cancer would not happen.
- Brigham City (2001) — This is a murder mystery story set in a rural and peaceful area of the title city (although not intended to be the actual Brigham City, UT.) Dutcher here plays the sheriff of the town who is also a Bishop in the community (the leader of a member congregation). Upon finding a murder victim, it turns the town upside down as everyone wonders if they are going to strike again and if enough prayer can protect them.
- States of Grace (2005) — A thematic follow-up to God's Army (it was originally known as God's Army 2: States of Grace), this time exploring an unrelated set of missionaries working in Los Angeles as they interact with a gang banger and a street preacher. Notable for crossing over more Christian elements and for having darker themes than its predecessor.
- Falling (2008) — Dutcher's last LDS film, and possibly the only one to be rated R. Here, he plays a burnt out stringer that suffers a crisis of faith when he records the murder of a gang member and sells it to the news outlets for a fortune, not realizing that he could've saved the victim's life. To make matters worse, the gang themselves seek out whoever exploited them in retaliation. Due to its subject matter, it has only received a very small release in a couple of theaters. The few people that have seen it consider the film to be Dutcher's masterpiece.
This production company was made and helped to bring forward a new series of Mormon-based films, most of them comedies poking fun at the cultural quirks of the church. One issue that the following series of films ran into was appealing to members outside of the church as there is so much internal terminology that no one unfamiliar (or even somewhat familiar) with the church would be able to crack.
- Singles Ward (2001) — A Ward in the church is a congregation divided by geographical boundaries, which can be modified so that members under similar circumstances (such as single adults) can attend church together. This film is all about the unique quirks of a singles ward—more specifically, a "YSA" (Young Single Adult) ward for singles under 30—which is often jokingly called the marriage farm because church doctrine is so dedicated to marriage and families.
- The R.M. (2002) — Fun with Acronyms, an RM stands for a Returned Missionary, who has gone for two years without concerns such as going to a job, going to school, dating... This is about one such missionary, who returns optimistic but finds himself in a very strange Fish out of Water experience where he has to adjust to normal life.
- The Best Two Years (2003) — Another missionary-based film, this time playing it a little safer on the subject material. This story instead focuses on a missionary who is on the last section of his mission in the Netherlands and running fairly low on steam. He is assigned a new missionary to train and they end up helping each other out far more than either expected.
- The Home Teachers (2004) — Another straight up comedy, Home Teaching in the church is a method to assign members to visit with other members to ensure that their needs are met. While the program is excellent and important, there is always some difficulty to get that once-a-month visit to the families you are assigned. This film is about the comical absurdities that happen to a pair of hapless home teachers in their efforts to visit all of their families.
- Suits on the Loose (2005) — A semi-missionary themed film, this time about a couple of criminals taking on the outfits of a few missionaries to escape pursuit and their adventures along the way.
- Mobsters And Mormons (2005) — A New Jersey mobster is caught by the FBI and coerced into being a witness. As a result he is placed into witness protection and his family is put into a suburb in Utah. Hilarity Ensues. The film also seeks to find a balance between "LDS in-jokes" and appeal to general audiences, a lot of the humor is more Culture Clash and Fish out of Water, which results in nuances of church organization and culture being explained naturally.
- Church Ball (2006) — Featuring Gary Coleman of all people, this is about the rivalry and Serious Business that occurs whenever you organize a sports tournament.
- The Singles 2nd Ward (2007) — A follow-up to the first Singles Ward, this time focusing on a secondary character from that film as he meets, begins romancing and becomes engaged to a newcomer to the ward. Part of the joke is the very quick turnaround from dating to marriage in Mormon culture, but overall the film features the side of non-members as her family struggles to deal with the quirks of a Mormon Marriage.
- The Other Side Of Heaven (2001) — Adapted from the acclaimed book by Mormon leader John H. Groberg about his mission experience in the Polynesian nation of Tonga in the 1950's. The film was produced by Gerald R. Molen (known for work with Steven Spielberg) and distributed by Disney. Easily the most accessible Mormon film due to its genericized religious themes (focusing mostly on Christianity and spirituality in general) and for its major players, among them being actors you might recognize like Christopher Gorham and Anne Hathaway.
- Handcart (2002) — Centers around a fictional romance during the actual rescue of the 1856 Martin Handcart Company.
- Pride and Prejudice (2003) — A modern adaptation of Jane Austen's book, it focuses on a group of BYU college singles and their complicated romantic relationships. While not having a major LDS focus, there are still a few Sunday church scenes. An Easter Egg in the DVD will unlock a few dialogue changes to make the LDS connection more obvious.
- Saints and Soldiers (2003) — A World War II picture, it details a random group of soldiers surviving a historical massacre and trying to regroup with the main forces, being short on supplies and avoiding enemy patrols. The movie doesn't contain any explicit reference to Mormons but one character is expressly stated to be Christian (from Snowflake, AZ) and served as a missionary in Germany before the war. The movie runs under the theme that War Is Hell and it causes a degree of religious antagonism between the Christian and another soldier operating as a Hollywood Atheist. A note of interest, the film aimed for a PG-13 rating and was originally given an R rating. After an appeal they got it down to PG-13 with no changes, which stirred up some issues regarding the rating system and how the MPAA is softer on big studio films over independent films.
- Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed (2012) — A prequel dealing with an unrelated group of soldiers, separated from their unit after an attack, as they try and set up an ambush against a German armor base with help from a French resistance team.
- Saints and Soldiers: The Void (2014) — A sequel focusing on yet another unrelated group of soldiers who must set aside their differences with a black Tech Sergeant in order to stop an array of German tanks from sabotaging the allies. That means giving the enemy a taste of its own medicine.
- Latter Days (2003) — A Queer Romance about a gay party boy in West Hollywood who accepts a dare to try to seduce one of the Mormon missionaries who moved into the apartment across the hall. One of them takes the bait, but things turn complicated when they start to genuinely fall in love.
- The Book of Mormon Movie: Volume 1: The Journey (2003) — An ambitious, yet critically panned adaptation of The Book of Mormon. This film covers the first two books of the scripture: 1st and 2nd Nephi. And no, there was no Volume 2.
- Day Of Defense (2003) — Supposedly based on a non-fiction book by A. Melvin McDonald. Two missionaries are thrown into a lawsuit against the community of a small Christian town simply for trying to convert the people. Many viewers consider this to be the absolute worst movie this small industry has to offer.
- Napoleon Dynamite (2004) — Not exactly a Mormon film per se, but many of the production team were LDS and recent graduates from BYU. There were some minor other signs such as the setting of Preston, ID (which has a densely Mormon population) and the girls all wear long skirts as part of the dress and modesty standards of the church.
- Return with Honor (2007) — A returned missionary has a near death experience from a traffic accident. During his time in limbo, God grants him 60 days to finish his life. Yes, that really happens.
- The Errand of Angels (2008) — Follows a sister missionary as she serves in Austria.
- One Good Man (2009) — A father's life gets more complicated than it already is when he is called to be his ward's bishop. He must overcome the stress and make the right decisions in life.
- 17 Miracles (2011) — Based on a True Story, follows the ill-fated Willie Handcart Company on their trek to Utah in 1856, detailing several of the miracles individuals experienced.
- The Saratov Approach (2013) — Two LDS missionaries serving in Russia are kidnapped and held for a $300,000 ransom. Based on a True Story that occurred in 1998.
- Once I Was A Beehive (2015) — A teenage girl, after losing her father, goes to a Bible-themed summer camp with her new cousin. Fitting in with the other Mormon girls proves to be a challenge.