Mormons at the Movies

Brad returns with thoughts on Mormons and Movies.

With Mitt Romney becoming a likely candidate for this year’s presidential election, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is in the public psyche now more than ever. One can expect that the more publicity the Republican candidate receives, the more LDS beliefs or Mormonism will become themes explored in popular entertainment. Shows such as Big Love have already made waves exploring splinter groups, and Mormon characters have appeared in programmes such as House M.D. – But what of cinema?

The LDS church, like many religions, has a growing market of niche cinema made by Mormons for Mormons. And these films are, generally speaking, awful. What is really intriguing is how popular opinion of Mormonism has crept into major Hollywood productions over the years. Below is a list of 10 Hollywood feature films which received nationwide and often international release. I look at the LDS characters within these films, and how their membership to the Mormon Church affects their portrayal onscreen. Are they seen as the blood thirsty devil worshipers which were made popular in early 20th Century literature, or are they painted as genuinely righteous and kind hearted folk? Let’s have a look…

29 thoughts on “Mormons at the Movies

  1. Nice list. Why’d you leave off Napoleon Dynamite?

    There’s a British movie I saw on DVD called Millions, about a young boy who finds a bag full of cash and believes that God sent it to him (it falls out of the sky). He decides to use it for good deeds, and one of the good deeds is to shove a bunch of it through the mail slot of a door where the Mormon missionaries are living. The movie is sweet and cute, but the missionaries and the church aren’t portrayed very accurately.

  2. Yes, i totally forgot ‘Millions’. Good catch. It is a quaint little film, you are right.

    I left off Napoleon purely because as far as i can remember there is no direct reference to the characters being lds. But i could be wrong (i know the cast are).

  3. It’s never mentioned that anyone in Napoleon D is LDS, but the whole thing is very Mormon. I mean he goes to the DI to get his suit for the dance!

  4. My list is by no means exhaustive. So any others that people feel the need to discuss are welcome additions.

  5. This is an interesting list. I have a couple thoughts.

    First, the rankings seem interesting and seem based more on positive representation rather than accurate representation.

    Second, feature films appear to contain Mormon characters a lot less often than both scripted and reality television, but you see the same general trend, from vague sort of stock villain characters to more nuanced portrayals.

  6. i did consider rating it purely upon examples of accurate representation rather than depictions in terms of “good” and “bad”. But for the most part, the representations are irrelevant to the character’s beliefs. I did comment where i could (for example, Ocean’s 11, Orgazmo and Saints and Soldiers), however it felt more appropriate to comment on the more clear and obvious characteristics of their personality.

    You are very right about the trends. I wonder how much this was affected or is affected by public perception and/or lack thereof in regard to the LDS church?

  7. It’s funny about that movie where the guy was auctioning off his “rebellious” wife; I remember reading (I think in a trivia book) that that’s a medieval English practice for breaking up a marriage. Often the husband would arrange to “sell” his wife to her lover and all parties would be pleased. Heh. Here’s another little bit of data for you: the movie “The Witness,” where a character is hidden for his safety in a community of Amish, has a Mormon connection. Specifically, the French version has him staying with Mormons instead. Hah. Nice try, France, but no glass of wine for you!

  8. I’ve heard the same thing about “The Witness,” but in German. I’ve never actually watched it in German, so I can’t verify it.

    I do know that a lot of people in Germany think Mormons are Amish, though…

  9. I think the trend is typical of most minority representation in film. A similar curve can be found if you study other minority groups and how they’ve been represented in film over time. Obviously, if the members of the minority group are themselves the filmmakers then generally you see positive, if not, necessarily accurate or nuanced representation. This post illustrates that point.

    What I find fascinating from an academic standpoint is when Mormon filmmakers make films that don’t have characters explicitly identified as Mormons, or storylines that revolve around faith or Mormon history and the “Mormonness” still shines, or leaks through. Napoleon Dynamite is a good example, as if, Nacho Libre which has quotes like, “They think I do not know a buttload of crap about the Gospel, but I do!”

  10. I can’t believe you forgot Trinity is Still My Name where Trinity dates not one but two Mormon girls. (Admittedly it was a polygamist group) On the other hand the Mormons are all pacifists so clearly a different bunch from the Mountain Meadows Massacre group. That’s by far my favorite movie with weird portrayals of Mormons.

    With regards to the Oceans movies I think part of the joke was that the rest of the Mormons didn’t know these guys were criminals.

    An other movie. The villains in Punch Drunk Love were supposed to be Mormon and lived in Provo. Of course exactly how they were Mormon was far from clear.

    It probably goes without saying but Angels in America probably deserves to be here too although I can’t recall if that was an HBO only movie or was released in theaters.

  11. Oh regarding Millions. Danny Boyle had a previous movie, A Life Less Ordinary where I *think* Obi Wan Kenobi plays a Mormon who kidnap Cameron Diaz and is helped by angels. (I never saw it nor Millions so I’m not the one to talk about them – I just remember reading about it. It takes place in SLC as well)

    In Forgetting Sarah Marshal, an other film I didn’t see, one of the main characters is a Mormon woman on her honeymoon.

  12. The Trinity movies are classic. Talk about a shoe box discovery.

    In The Strangers, an effective little horror movie starring Liv Tyler, its the Mormon missionaries, or at least a Hollywood version of them, who discover the victims at the end of the film.

  13. Also there’s a place called Fort Joe Smith that gets slaughtered by the alien bugs in Starship Troopers. There’s even an Angel Moroni on top.

  14. Forgetting Sarah Marshall does not have a Mormon couple in it. They drink alcohol on their honeymoon, so I’m guessing that means they are not Mormon.

  15. Weird as they are explicitly listed as Mormon. Jack Mormon? A director clueless about Mormons? Here’s the interview that was widely quoted.

    Jack McBrayer (Kenny the Page in 30 Rock) plays a supporting part in the movie and Kunis blames McBrayer for making her lose it on the set. “I think [he] is one of the most brilliant comedians. He is so f–king funny. Him and his wife play this young Mormon couple checking into the hotel, and I’m checking them in. You are going to die! Without giving too much away, they’re Mormons. They’re waiting to have sex. She’s really horny and he’s confused and stuff. She starts kind of hugging him sexually and he’s like, ‘Honey, what’s gotten into you?’ She goes, ‘Well, not you.’ Literally, for a good 12, 15 minutes, I could not stop laughing. That’s my favorite scene only because I was in hysterics. You know when you laugh, you cry? That’s where I was. I was in hysterical laughter. He is hysterical in this.”

  16. In high school I attended a Trapped by the Mormons / Incredible Brine Shrimp double feature at the Tower Theater. Trapped is the more famous and influential of the two, but I have an enduring love for that claymation brine shrimp.

    Are any of the characters in Ruben and Ed explicitly LDS? There is certainly a theme of mocking Utah’s MLMs.

    Also, is the terrorist from Contact that blows up the first transporter device a Mormon of some sort? Or is he just a preacher from Panguitch?

  17. Ruben and Ed is one of my all-time fave movies. I don’t remember any of the characters being LDS, but it’s been awhile since I’ve seen it.

  18. I don’t think the guy in Contact is supposed to be Mormon. But it’s been an awfully long time since I read the book.

  19. Clark, that’s a funny quote from Kunis, but I think she and/or others are just clueless because there’s nothing about them that says “Mormon” and the fact that the guy played by McBrayer hangs out in the bar drinking every night in an attempt to escape from his horny wife says “not Mormon” to me. Nothing on IMDB shows them to be a Mormon couple.

  20. Interesting as it’s a bit that shows up all over the internet now including wikipedia pages. (Do a google search for Mormon Forgetting Sarah Marshall)

  21. It looks like it all comes from that quote from Kunis. Someone must have decided that it was a Mormon couple and said that to her, but it doesn’t make any sense that they are Mormon.

  22. Nobody will ever see this but…

    I am catching up on 30 Rock and Jack just stated that his secretary Gabe is Mormon, and therefore too the week off for Leap Day.

  23. Wait, isn’t Gabe played by that indian dude? How many indian Mormons are there? And why would he need the week off for leap day?

  24. Yes, he is Indian. As for how that relates all I know is what Jack said, “Gabe took the week off for Leap Day. He’s Mormon, and you know how they are about Leap Day!”

  25. According to

    “There’s a little known LDS tradition that on Leap Day, ordinary members of the church can write fantasy press releases for the LDS newsroom.”

    Having seen Gentlemen Broncos, i can only imagine the results!

  26. “There’s a little known LDS tradition that on Leap Day, ordinary members of the church can write fantasy press releases for the LDS newsroom.”

    I’m so down with that.

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