When it comes to reviews for "Left Behind," the apocalyptic rapture film starring Nicolas Cage, movie critics and the general public have notably diverged in their assessments.
While 70 percent of the more than 10,000 theater-goers who reviewed "Left Behind" on Rotten Tomatoes liked it — giving it at least 3.5 out of 5 points — just 2 percent of critics agreed.
"The audiences are overwhelmingly supportive," Paul Lalonde, who wrote and produced the film, told TheBlaze Wednesday. "The negative reviews from the Christian audience tend to be [that] it's not exactly like the book and there's not enough gospel in it."
Lalonde said that he and the filmmakers decided to walk a tightrope in ensuring they kept a strong biblical message in the plot line, while still appealing to secular movie-goers — a difficult feat that he has addressed in detail in the past.
But what's most interesting to note is that the overarching differences observed between critics' reviews and the public's reaction are oddly similar to the "Moms' Night Out" dynamic seen earlier this year; as you may recall, critics dismissed that movie as "anti-feminist" and "borderline dangerous."
In the case of "Left Behind," reviews entitled "Left Behind Is Biblical in Its Silliness" and "Left Behind is Sinfully Boring," among others, have peppered the Internet in recent days. And while reviewers couldn't be less interested or impressed, many viewers have taken an entirely different view.
Considering the disconnect, it's only natural to wonder what's at play. Is the disparity rooted in critics' disdain for these films, a difficulty in understanding biblical themes, poor cinematic quality, the notion that some Christians don't believe in the rapture — or a mixture of factors?
Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of MovieGuide.org, a Christian entertainment group, opted for the latter explanation.
"I think the critics are intentionally vicious," he told TheBlaze. "They're waiting for a Christian movie to rip to shreds and ['Left Behind'] was the perfect fodder."
Baehr, who has spent decades working, teaching and reviewing in Hollywood, said that he believes there is some strategic motivation for critics who attack Christian films like "Left Behind."
That said, he didn't pin all of the blame on these so-called "sharks." Baehr said that, while he believes the film is "decent" and "watchable," it suffers from "lazy filmmaking."
Still, he appreciates the Christian conversation about biblical themes that "Left Behind" is starting,
"We gave it three stars," he said of the film's MovieGuide rating. "It's not particularly my epistemology, but we gave it a lot of credit."
Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer, a group that examines the habits of Christian consumers, told TheBlaze in a statement that, though he believes "Left Behind" is an average Hollywood film by secular standards, it's a major step in the right direction.
"It’s on par with movies of a similar budget and scope, however, in the growing market for faith based entertainment products, its better than average," he said.
As for the critics, Stone said that they raise some valid points about the movie, but that these individuals simply don't understand faith.
"We can see, from the critic’s perspective, that many valid points were raised. But the critics aren’t buying the movie tickets, and most don’t understand the faith factor," he said. "Seen through the eyes of a Faith Driven Consumer, this is a movie that fills a deep void in the market — a Christian genre film with known actors and a big movie feel."
Lalonde said that he was disappointed by some of the reviews and that he had hoped for more support from the faith community — but that the overarching response has been monumentally positive from those who have seen the movie.
And that's translating into some positive developments.
"We've had 100 percent of the theaters stay on for a second week and we've added some more screens from theaters asking for the movie," he said.
It's unclear why there's such a divide between Hollywood critics and the general public, though the division is certainly one to continue watching as Christian filmmakers work to improve their quality, scope and reach into new and uncharted territory.
"Left Behind," which released nationwide October 3, is based on the popular book and DVD series by the same name, and stars Nicolas Cage as pilot Rayford Steele and Chad Michael Murray as journalist Buck Williams.
Editor’s Note: TheBlaze was on set for the filming of “Left Behind” and faith editor Billy Hallowell appears briefly in the film, but was not compensated for his role. This story is part of an ongoing series surrounding the production and theological themes present in the storyline.