Why Are End Times Movies So Popular?

Image: Courtesy of Stoney Lake Entertainment
Image: Courtesy of Stoney Lake Entertainment

Are Americans more enraptured with the Rapture than ever? Seth Rogen’s 2013 apocalypse comedy, This Is the End, poked fun at the concept, while the cinematic “reboot” of Left Behind, starring Nicolas Cage, takes it seriously. The bleak HBO drama The Leftovers, developed by Damon Lindelof (co-creator of Lost), explores what life would be like for those left behind after a Rapture-esque event.

The Rapture is a relatively recent idea in church history, as well as a minor theme in Scripture: Many Bible scholars argue that it’s not there at all, while descendants of 19th-century dispensationalists see it in passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17; 1 Corinthians 15:51–55; and John 14:2–3. But it has become a fixture in U.S. pop culture, showing up unexpectedly like a thief in the night.

Big-Budget Destruction
Pop apocalyptic—the larger genre of disaster movies and end-of-the-world scenarios—has been a big business for a long time. It flourished after World War II and during the cold war. Just as Amish romances have provided an evangelical-friendly niche within the larger genre of romance novels, Rapture media allowed Christians to carve out a space within the larger (and quite profitable) genre of apocalyptic. Whereas Amish romance provides a “safer alternative” to bodice-rippers, however, Christian Rapture fare often seems more intent on upping the terror factor than providing toned-down, family-friendly fun.

Take the 1941 evangelistic film The Rapture, produced by Charles Octavia Baptista. In 11 minutes, the film chillingly depicts the chaos to be wrought on earth when the Rapture occurs. The narrator predicts that “speeding trains will plunge unsuspecting passengers into a black eternity as Christian engineers are snatched from the throttle. Operations will be halted midway when believing surgeons are caught up to be forever with the Lord.”

Rapture terror hit a new high in 1973 with Thief in the Night. The film combined the tropes of low-budget horror (George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead had come out a few years earlier) with dispensationalist anxiety fueled in part by books like Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth. Produced by Russell S. Doughton (The Blob), the 69-minute film terrified audiences and spun off three sequels: A Distant Thunder, Image of the Beast, and The Prodigal Planet.

The Rapture renaissance we enjoy today is probably most indebted to Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’s 16-book Left Behind series (1995–2007), which has sold more than 63 million copies and launched three films as well as video games, parodies, and a 40-installment children’s series. The Nicolas Cage treatment of Left Behind is just the latest in a crowded pack of 21st-century Rapture movies. They include Cloud Ten Pictures’ Apocalypse franchise, Pure Flix Entertainment’s Revelation Road: The Beginning of the End, and the Carman-starring Final: The Rapture, which director Tim Chey said he made to “scare the living daylights out of adult nonbelievers.”

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Brett McCracken