Church members have some solid credibility in Hollywood, with classics like Napoleon Dynamite and more recent successes such as The Twilight Saga, Ender's Game, The Maze Runner, and Austenland all based on novels written by LDS authors. Here are 11 famous movies you might not realize have LDS connections.
1. Star Wars (1977)
Some spiritual aspects of Star Wars were influenced by LDS film producer Gary Kurtz. A Los Angeles native, film producer Kurtz was born on July 27, 1940. His collaboration with George Lucas and Lucasfilm began in 1973 with the film American Graffiti, which was a huge box office hit. He then went on to influence many of the spiritual aspects of Star Wars and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, as the producer. He also produced The Dark Crystal and Return to Oz.
2. Captain Phillips (2013)
Church member Mike Perry spent 45 years on the seas, becoming a Merchant Marine in 1995 after retiring from the Navy as a lieutenant commander. He was a crew member on the merchant ship Maersk Alabama when it was attacked off the coast of Somalia in 2009.
The harrowing story was portrayed on the big screen in the movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks. Actor David Warshofsky plays Perry in the film.
Perry risked his life by subduing one of the pirates and helping disarm him. That pirate was eventually used as a bargaining chip by the ship's captain, Richard Phillips, who was captured along with another crewmember in the first minutes of the attack.
Perry told the press, “I didn't pattern myself after Chuck Norris or Jackie Chan,” referring to his actions on the ship. “The only thing that got me ready for this was the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
3. Schindler's List (1993)
Church member Gerald Molen's role as head producer of Schindler's List earned him an Academy Award. Starting his career as the transportation coordinator of Republic Studios in 1957, Molen slowly worked his way up the ranks. By 1985 he was the unit production manager for The Color Purple, working with Steven Spielberg. His first role as producer came with the 1987 movie Batteries Not Included, and a year later he acted as co-producer in Academy Award winning Rain Man, in which he also made a cameo as Raymond Babbit's guardian, Dr. Bruner.
Molen's most recent release is a documentary about fellow Mormon Timothy Ballard. When Molen learned of Ballard’s incredible efforts to rescue children from sex traffickers, he knew he had to capture the story for the big screen.
“We want to create awareness of this problem. I’m excited to help in the little way that I can,” Molen says.
With hidden cameras rolling on every rescue mission, Molen’s film crew captured powerful footage of the operations that not only makes for a compelling documentary but provides irrefutable evidence that leads to the conviction of child traffickers.
“The footage we shoot becomes an evidence package to help prosecute criminals,” says co-producer and director Darrin Fletcher.
“There’s no doubt when the judge sees that evidence. It seals the deal.”
“We’ve felt a hand on our shoulder guiding us the entire time,” says Chet Thomas, co-producer and director. “There’s a reason for this beyond a movie or a television series.”
Watch the official trailer below or visit theabolitionistsmovie.com for more information.
4. An American Tail (1986)
Don Bluth is perhaps the biggest name in feature-length animation since Walt Disney. In fact, his 1986 movie An American Tail became the highest grossing non-Disney produced animated feature. "Somewhere Out There," the theme song to the movie, also won two Grammy Awards: Song of the Year and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television.
Bluth served a mission to Argentina and graduated from BYU. His other films include The Rescuers (1977), Pete's Dragon (1977), The Secret of NIMH (1982), The Land Before Time (1988), and All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989).
5. Somewhere in Time (1980)
Jane Seymour’s character, Elisa McKenna, is based off of the real-life career of LDS actress Maude Adams, the most popular actress of the American theater during the early 1900s.
Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden (November 1, 1872 – July 17, 1953), known professionally as Maude Adams, was an American actress who achieved her greatest success as the character Peter Pan, first playing the role in the 1905 Broadway production of Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. Adams's personality appealed to a large audience and helped her become the most successful and highest-paid performer of her day, with a yearly income of more than one million dollars during her peak.
Often described as shy, Adams was referred to by Ethel Barrymore as the "original 'I want to be alone' woman." She was known at times to supplement the salaries of fellow performers out of her own pay. Once while touring, a theater owner doubled the price of tickets knowing Adams's name meant a sold-out house. Adams made the owner refund the difference before she appeared on the stage that night.
6. The next Star Trek movie (2016)
Screenwriter and Latter-day Saint JD Payne is part of the writing team for the next Star Trek movie, the untitled sequel to Star Trek Into Darkness (2013).
“At its core, Star Trek has always been about adventure, exploration and wonder, with an optimistic sense of the future, and all its possibilities. It’s a massive playground; we’re so excited to be diving in on it,” Payne told LDS Living.
The new movie is certainly going to be something special and beautiful, if Payne’s hints are any indication. “Star Trek is unique in that it often grapples with complex ethical and moral dilemmas. We’d love to create a situation like that where you really could be a person of any background and come down on both sides of how you should respond, where you can walk out and say, ‘You know, I really don’t know what I would do. What would you do? What’s right to do?‘ and get the audience to really engage.”
The movie is set to come out in 2016 (July 8th, to be exact)—the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s initial TV release. With a laugh, Payne says, “So no pressure, right?”
7. Cocoon (1985)
Wilford Brimley was born in Salt Lake City, but his family moved to California. In the 1950s, his family belonged to the Santa Monica Stake. He entered films in the 1960s as a cowboy stuntman. He achieved star status in the 1980s with such films as The Thing (1981), Hotel New Hampshire (1984), The Natural (1984) and Cocoon (1986). For a time, he worked as the commercial spokesperson for the Quaker Oats company. LDS audiences might know him best from Brigham City. Currently, he can be seen on television as the spokesperson for Liberty Medical Diabetic Supplies.
8. Willow (1988)
If you ever feel intimidated because of physical or mental limitations, just look to the inspiring life of Billy Barty, the 3-foot-9-inch actor you probably saw in Willow (or dozens of other movies in which he appeared). Barty, who died in 2000, grew up believing in himself and others, perhaps due to his parents’ belief in him. He is famously quoted as saying: “My parents never told me I was small, so I never knew any better. They had to sign for me to play football and basketball, but they never said, ‘No, you can’t. You’re too small.’”
Barty began acting at the young age of three and made his mark in the film business, appearing in films and television shows from 1927 to 2001, the year after his death. Barty appeared in over 200 films in the 70 years of his career including vaudeville, television, commercials, stage roles and nightclub appearances. He is perhaps the most recognizable of all little people.
9. The Ten Commandments (1956)
There are two LDS men connected to this classic movie: artist Arnold Friberg and actor/singer Jesse Delos Jewkes.
Director Cecil B. DeMille hired Friberg after Swedish publisher Herman Stolpe showed him Friberg's paintings. DeMille was so impressed with The Finger of the Lord (Friberg's depiction of the Brother of Jared in amazement of the finger of God) that it became the inspiration for Moses's costume in the burning bush scene. Friberg received an Academy Award nomination for his work on the film. Jewkes, known for his amazing bass voice, was chosen to perform the uncredited voice of God in the film.
Jewkes sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the 1920s and was a featured basso profundo soloist with the Choir. He performed in radio, operas, Vaudeville, and other theater productions, eventually making his way to Hollywood just as the film industry was beginning to experiment with sound in movies. He appeared in several short films and steadily built a career that landed him in major productions alongside legends like Bing Crosby, Betty Grable, and Red Skelton.
10. Forrest Gump (1994)
In the 1994 blockbuster Forrest Gump, there is a scene where Tom Hanks's character receives a Medal of Honor for his service in Vietnam. In the film, Tom Hanks's head was superimposed over actual footage of a man named Sammy L. Davis receiving the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson. Known today as "the real Forrest Gump," Davis joined the Church a few years ago.
11. Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)
Born in 1960 on a cattle ranch in the tiny town of Cokeville, Wyoming, Stewart Petersen was just 14 years old when he landed his first starring role as Billy Coleman in the beloved family tale Where the Red Fern Grows. Though he had never previously considered acting, Petersen was intrigued when his uncle, who was producing the movie, prompted him to audition for the part.
Petersen went on to star in six other family features over the next seven years, including Against a Crooked Sky (1975) and a portrayal of the young Joseph Smith in The First Vision (1976). But by the end of his teens, Petersen grew weary of the limelight. He enjoyed the experience of making films, but not the notoriety that accompanied it, so he opted for a more ordinary life.
Petersen served a mission in the Netherlands and attended school, playing football at Ricks College and joining the wrestling team at Brigham Young University, where he studied business management. He returned to Cokeville in 1989, where he and his wife Chemene have raised his six children in the quiet, predominantly LDS community.
A dramatic true story that took place in Petersen's hometown is the subject for another major movie releasing in June: The Cokeville Miracle.
On May 9, 1986, David and Doris Young took an elementary school hostage for several hours before detonating a bomb inside a classroom where every teacher and student in the school was being held. In the wake of the madness, Ron Hartley, whose children were inside the classroom, must fight skepticism and unbelief as he hears eyewitness accounts from the students of miraculous, heavenly intervention during the crisis.
See the film on June 5 in select theaters is Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. You can also get a screening of the film in your own town. Visit tugg.com and request a screening for at least 60 people. It's the perfect film for a ward or stake activity. Don't miss out on this beautiful, faith-promoting film!