The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made a successful entrance into Hollywood last weekend when the its first box-office film, “Meet the Mormons,” debuted in more than 300 theaters nationwide.
The film was ranked No. 10 nationwide in box office sales after the first 24 hours and sold out in cities such as New York City, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Dallas, Phoenix and various locations in California, according to Mormon Newsroom.
“With respect to this weekend and the competition that it had around it, ‘Meet the Mormons’ was clearly a David amid the Goliath,” said director Blair Treu.
The LDS Church-sponsored movie shows snapshots of the lives of six LDS Church members around the world, giving viewers a glimpse of the diversity of its membership and showing them how normal Mormons really are.
Treu listed two reasons why he thinks the movie was successful.
“First, it’s an entertaining movie,” he said. “It’s a good movie, that’s the reality. Second, the key thing is word of mouth…(and) the tremendous support that we had, and it looks like we’ll continue to have from the LDS community and their excitement to share it with their friends.”
Although the film catered to those who are not members of the LDS faith, the interest of the church’s own members contributed to its success.
“(I) loved it,” said Melinda Cummings, a BYU graduate and Latter-day Saint from Leesburg, Virginia. “Our theater was sold out, and it totally sounded like an LDS chapel beforehand; everyone was meeting and greeting.”
“I really loved the movie,” said Allie Erler, a member of the Church and a BYU—Idaho graduate from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. “I think it gave a great portrayal of LDS members and how we all come from different places and backgrounds. It showed people that Mormons don’t all come from Utah.”
Erler saw the movie at Provo’s Wynnsong theater on Friday night and said she was surprised when she arrived to see a long line.
“When we bought our tickets to ‘Meet the Mormons,’ the guy told us that the line started around the corner of the theater,” Erler said. “I felt like I was in line to see the next Harry Potter movie.”
Their positive responses echo the couple thousand user reviews on Rotten Tomatoes’ website, with 91 percent of users saying they liked the movie and many calling it “heartwarming,” “uplifting” and “inspirational.”
However, some have presumed the main goal of the movie is to teach non-Mormons more about the faith, which was not necessarily accomplished.
“The film operates under the assumption that the average Joe associates Mormonism more with ‘Sister Wives’ than Mitt Romney, so the film will be an eye-opener only for subscribers to such stereotypes,” said Los Angeles Times critic Martin Tsai in his review on Rotten Tomatoes.
In some theaters, only Mormons met the Mormons during opening weekend.
“It was ok. I felt like they might have been thrown into theaters at the last minute,” said Marcus Journey, a BYU—Idaho graduate from Shreveport, Louisiana. “The only people in our theater were people from our ward and stake. So it was literally Mormons (the audience) being introduced to other Mormons (those in the film) who had specifically been chosen to share their story with the intent of sharing their beliefs with those not of our faith.”
Many Latter-day Saints did use the movie as an opportunity to spread the gospel.
Steve and Nancy Boyd, both LDS Church members from Cherry Hills, Colorado, saw the movie Friday night and immediately invited two nonmember friends to see it with them the following night.
“I thought it was a nonthreatening and interesting way to share what Mormon people are like,” Nancy Boyd said. “When I first invited my friend she said, ‘Oh, the musical, we’re going to the Book of Mormon musical. I said, ‘No, but (it’s) probably because of that musical … this is an official Church movie, so we get to have our point of view heard too.'”
Steve Boyd also felt positively about the movie. “It gives very good insight to the Church without being preachy in any way,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that we felt comfortable bringing friends to, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Albert Savage, also from Colorado, found out about the movie from his LDS wife, who suggested they see it.
“We were looking for good entertainment and figured this would be a good idea,” he said. “Mormons are always good entertainment.”
While the movie received a variety of praise and criticism, the overall perception of the film was positive. So far the film has earned more than $2.5 million at the box office nationwide, with all net proceeds being donated to the American Red Cross.
“When the Red Cross woke up Monday morning I’m sure they were pretty happy,” Treu said.
He said it will be interesting to see the box office results as the week goes by. Because many viewers are Latter-day Saints who typically don’t attend movies on Sundays, the weekend box office amount was a little skewed. But while Mondays are typically dark days at the box office, he expects the number of people attending “Meet the Mormons” for family home evening will make up for the people who didn’t attend on Sunday.
“We’re thrilled,” he said. “It’s been a long road to this point, and this weekend was key. As a result of what happened this weekend, it opens up a world of initial options to us in terms of how the movie will be distributed.”