The Nicolas Cage Movie With A Depressing Rotten Tomatoes Score Of 0%

To understand "Left Behind," one must understand a version of Christianity not widely practiced by many people outside certain pockets of the United States. In some American Evangelical churches, they preach of the coming Rapture, when all of the Christians on Earth — including the dead ones — will be bodily scooped up by God and transported into Heaven. The idea of a Rapture is taken from an interpretation from the Book of Thessalonians which didn't enter into the Christian lexicon until about the 1830s, making it a very recent development. When Evangelical churches began to become popular in the United States in the 1950s, a stripe of fundamentalist theology began embracing the Rapture as a prophecy that was almost immediately nigh. 

On December 31, 1995, Baptist minister Jim LaHaye and author Jerry B. Jenkins published the Rapture-themed book "Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days" to much ballyhoo. "Left Behind" envisioned the Rapture on a practical level, picturing what it would look like back on Earth after all the good Christians were scooped up and taken away. The book follows several characters looking on in horror as the world falls apart for all the people unworthy of ascension. Intended for a Christian audience, one can't help that "Left Behind" wasn't written as an expression of smugness; let us look on in pity at the poor dopes who weren't Christian enough to get into Heaven. 

"Left Behind" spawned 15 sequels, 40 YA novellas, six movies, a comic book, and a video game. It remains a cornerstone in Christian media.

In 2014, perhaps bafflingly, actor Nicolas Cage appeared in the first theatrical version of "Left Behind," playing a pilot named Rayford Steele. As of this writing, it has a 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 70 reviews

South of Heaven, Left Behind

Both Christian and mainstream audiences already knew about "Left Behind" by 2014, as there had already been three direct-to-video "Left Behind" movies starring Kirk Cameron. The first "Left Behind" movie came in 2000, two years before Cameron co-founded the ultra-Evangelical ministry The Way of the Master with Ray Comfort and Todd Friel. To a lot of mainstream audiences, the three Cameron films — "Left Behind: The Movie" (2000), "Left Behind II: Tribulation Force" (2002), and "Left Behind: World at War" (2005) — were something of a joke, a limp attempt to make the old-world squareness and closed-minded dogma of 1950s Evangelical churches seem as cool as a post-apocalyptic thriller. 

The 2014 film, made for a budget of $16 million, featured Cage, but also notable stars Lea Thompson, Chad Michael Murray from "One Tree Hill," and "American Idol" competitor Jordin Sparks. One might also spot Quinton Aaron from "The Blind Side" and Martin Klebba from, well, all your favorite action and fantasy movies. 

The Rapture has specific rules in the "Left Behind" movies. Christians are bodily transported into Heaven, leaving behind their clothes and all inorganic materials. Those Raptured while driving will leave their cars to crash into the closest wall. The Rapture is likely where authors of Marvel Comics got the idea for Thanos' "snap" from "Avengers: Infinity War." Those left behind are all guilty of minor non-Christian infractions such as divorce, haughtiness, or merely arguing the case for atheism. Even preachers are left behind, as one of them confesses he doesn't believe what he preached. 

Once the Rapture occurs, however, there is little room for theology, as the remainder of the film becomes something of a plane disaster thriller.

Evangelical Pity Party

Rayford Steele finds that his co-pilots have been Raptured, as have many pilots, causing numerous air collisions and crashes. Rayford has to find a way to land his plane safely with his co-pilot missing, and will have to reach out to his daughter Chloe (Cassi Thompson) who is on the ground in New York. She'll end up clearing a makeshift runway for her father on a road that's still under construction. The plane crash sequence from "Left Behind" is straight out of an Irwin Allen-produced disaster movie from the 1970s. 

The theology of "Left Behind" is dodgy enough to begin with, and its intentions are impure. It seeks to shame nonbelievers into converting by showing the Hell of Earth that will be wrought should they be left behind in the Rapture. It also seeks to indulge the little self-satisfaction from Christian viewers who assume they will be Raptured, allowing them to cast their vain pity on all those pesky non-Christians destined for punishment. 

More than anything, though, "Left Behind" is cheap. One might assume that the bulk of the $16 million budget went to Cage, the film's biggest star, leaving nothing for decent cameras, good editing, or interesting visual effects. "Left Behind" is ugly, sluggish, and dramatically doltish. Like a stone with a Bible verse written on it, "Left Behind" thuds into people's laps. 

Cage said in 2014 interviews that he was interested in "Left Behind" because his brother, Marc Coppola, was a Christian Pastor and he was interested in exploring his brother's faith. Cage was raised Catholic, although it is unclear if he still practices. One might say that his religion is acting.

"Left Behind" was followed by the 2023 sequel "Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist" starring and directed by Kevin Sorbo.