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“Left Behind: The Movie” reportedly reaped $2.1 million during its February opening weekend, making it the nation’s No. 1 independent film. By late March, the celluloid version of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ phenomenally popular fictional account of the Rapture had earned more than $4 million. Meanwhile, the “Left Behind” videotape, released in October before the production came to theaters, was chosen “Best-Selling Video of the Year for an Independent Studio.” Such numbers, while impressive for most evangelistic films, are decidedly ho hum by Hollywood standards. But it’s not the numbers so much as the quality of the film that has disappointed Tim LaHaye.

LaHaye filed suit against Namesake Entertainment and Cloud Ten Pictures in July 1999, claiming breach of contract. LaHaye seeks to have the original contract voided so that he can control the film rights to sequels and children’s video spinoffs. LaHaye’s attorney, Christopher Rudd, says the producers did not make the blockbuster they had promised, thereby limiting the movie’s mass-market appeal. The suit says the producers told LaHaye that the movie’s production budget would exceed $40 million, although there is no language in the contract to that effect. Publicity, marketing, distribution costs, and production costs came to just $17.4 million.

“We made no promises to make a $40 million movie,” says Bryan Merryman, an attorney for Namesake Entertainment. Peter Lalonde, CEO of Cloud Ten, called LaHaye’s expectation of a gospel blockbuster “so unrealistic as to be absurd.”

LaHaye and Jenkins negotiated the film rights between June 1996 and April 1997, before the end-times novels became a publishing phenomenon. Merryman said,

“Tim LaHaye made a decision in April 1997 based on the way things were then. It was a fair deal.”

According to the contract, Cloud Ten owns the rights to future Left Behind films. Lalonde says that if he were to give back those rights, LaHaye would drop the suit.

In a five-page statement Lalonde said:

“Perhaps we were wrong to hold our peace for so long, but the damage that is being done to Christian filmmaking is simply too great to stand back any longer.” He said that LaHaye’s “personal, malicious, win-at-any-cost attack” was “one of the ugliest acts I have seen one Christian commit against another.” He was “shocked and saddened.”

It also disclosed what it said was communication between LaHaye and his agent in which LaHaye threatened “WWIII” if rights to a video series of the spin-off children’s series were not returned.