Left Behind: The Movie is the first Left Behind film released to theaters, VHS, and DVD in 2000, starring Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson and Clarence Gilyard. It was directed by Vic Sarin. Left Behind is touted by its creators as the biggest and most ambitious Christian film ever made. It is based on the Left Behind series of books. In the words of star Janaya Stephens, "Left Behind is not the story about those who were called to Heaven, it's about those who were left behind."
Considering Left Behind: The Movie's chances in the secular marketplace, producer Peter Lalonde has jokingly stated, "It isn't a real movie until you blow something up!"
A young television journalist for the GNN network, Cameron "Buck" Willams, reports from Israel about a new technology with which food will grow almost anywhere. He calls this a miracle. Suddenly, Russian jets fly over, attempting to attack Israel. The entire squadron of jets is mysteriously destroyed.
The story shifts to Pilot Rayford Steele's who has been called in for an emergency flight from Chicago to London, thus forcing him to abandon his son's birthday party. Despite his wife's and his daughter's protests, he sets out on the flight, leaving his family behind. Buck, having decided to go to London for an investigation of the attack, boards Steele's plane.
During the flight some passengers awaken to realize that several of their fellow passengers are missing. Panic sets in as Steele and his crew try to contain this situation. Upon returning to the flight cockpit, they discover that Christians are mysteriously disappearing worldwide. He is forced to turn the plane back to Chicago.
Shortly after landing, Buck locates Steele and asks him to fly him to NYC. Steele refuses, saying that he has to be with his family. He asks Buck to go with him and they drive to his suburban home.
Meanwhile, Chloe is driving to her college exam when she encounters a large traffic accident. People are reporting driverless cars and children missing from their seats. While Chloe is inspecting the carnage, her car is stolen and Chloe is left stranded on the highway.
Steele returns home and discovers that his wife and son are missing. He and Buck are forced to stay in Steele's house because of a military-enforced curfew. Steele starts crying, then he begins to read his wife's Bible.
Chloe returns home and reunites with her father. Soon Chloe goes downstairs and discovers Buck sleeping on the couch. Chloe drives Buck to the Airport in her mom's Jeep Grand Cherokee and goes to look for her younger brother. Steele finally finds her in an elementary school and scolds her for running away without his permission.
After Chloe returns home, Steele goes to their neighborhood church and finds a pastor who knows Jesus from when they were kids but who has not been raised to heaven because of his lack of faith in His eternal love. He complains that he preached all his life but was never rewarded properly, and announces his intention to file a lawsuit against Him for compensation and damages.
Later, he begs God for another chance, and Steele, who knows much more than the pastor about such matters, assures him that God will. They watch a videotape left by another pastor, which tells us the true meaning of Rapture, in which all the believers are taken to heaven, while the rest are left behind to endure the tribulation.
When Buck gets to NYC and finds his contact has been killed, he takes a computer disc, and is almost shot by a sniper. Buck decodes the computer disc and finds that someone is trying to bankrupt the UN in order to control the world's food supply. After meeting with a UN member, a car bomb explodes and kills the UN member. Buck returns to the Steele house.
Steele tells Chloe about God and she says she believes. Buck, however, does not. He goes to the UN to warn the delegates. Steele attempts to stop him by saying "anything other than God will not work." Buck ignores Steele's advice and goes to the UN anyway. After his departure, Steele and his daughter pray for him.
At the UN, Buck warns the officials. They listen to him, but not after a meeting hosted by Nicholae. Nicolae shoots one member who disagrees and fakes the whole scenario. Before the meeting Buck finally accepts God and asks him to show him The Way. When God complies, he realizes that Nicolae is the Antichrist when he reveals his plan for world domination. His plans for rebuilding the temple of Israel are a logical first step to this end. Nicolae orders everyone at the meeting not to tell anyone else about the murder he has committed. Everyone agrees, having been brainwashed. After the meeting Buck asks Hattie and his friends in the UN to open their eyes but they have also been brainwashed.
Buck finally returns to the church, knocks on the door, and Chloe lets him in. Buck says the "seven years of peace" declared by Nicholae will be the seven worst years mankind has ever seen, and that faith is all we need.
Cloud Ten Pictures licensed the rights to the first two Left Behind novels from Namesake Entertainment, which had licensed them from the books' authors. Filming commenced in early May 2000 and continued for a total of 31 days.
An Ontario quarry was used for the scenes of Israel. Bowmanville Zoo's Mike Hackenberger commented, "Camels sell the look.... As a prop, camels are great. You can move 'em around, you can stick 'em there, and you see a camel on sand, you know it's desert. . . They might not fit through the eye of the needle, but without them, this movie would have been a disaster. There should be at least one camel in every movie."
Before Janaya Stephens took the role of Chloe Steele, it had been given to Lacey Chabert, who dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.
The World Trade Center was seen in a brief shot of the New York City skyline.
Some of the extras who played the saved were various Christian ministers, most notably John Hagee (who is featured on the airplane shortly before the mass disappearance, and who was also very instrumental in the movie's promotion) and T.D. Jakes (who appears as Pastor Vernon Billings in the video that the group watches, telling them what to expect). Christian music artists were also used as extras, such as Bob Carlisle and Rebecca St. James, who appear as workers in the Global News Network control room, and the Christian group Jake, who appear as police guards towards the end of the movie.
The film was widely criticized and received only a 12% positive rating among reviewers on the Rotten Tomatoes website. The Washington Post's Desson Howe, described it as "...a blundering cringefest, thanks to unintentionally laughable dialogue, hackneyed writing and uninspired direction. The more this movie tries, the worse it gets. Its sincerity ends up becoming a bulging bull's-eye for rotten-tomato throwers." One of the authors of the book series, Tim LaHaye (who along with Jerry B. Jenkins, refused to attach their names to the film) was outraged over this, as claimed he was promised a movie version on a $40 million budget and a two-hour adaptation, and sued Namesake and Cloud Ten for $10 million. Jerry Jenkins, however, refused to join as a plaintiff in the lawsuit and LaHaye's claims were eventually dismissed by the trial court. After an appeal by LaHaye reinstated some of the claims, the parties finally settled the case in July 2008. LaHaye dropped all claims against Namesake and Cloud Ten in exchange for an option to remake the films based on the first two books in the series.
The following scenes were deleted from the movie. They were filmed, but as of 2005 have not appeared on the DVD version yet.
- An extended version of the conversation between Cameron "Buck" Williams and Chloe Steele on their way to see Ken Ritz (supposedly revealing more about their thoughts as to the disappearances)
- Bruce Barnes' search for Pastor Vernon Billings' videotape concerning the Rapture.
Back in July 3, 2008, Tim LaHaye and Cloud Ten settled legal disputes on the film adaptations of the book series. Part of the agreement granted LaHaye an opportunity to remake the series and exercised the right in producing 2014's Left Behind. He has he said "My dream has always been to enter the movie theater with a first-class, high-quality movie that is grippingly interesting, but also is true to the biblical storyline -- and that was diluted in the first attempt. But Lord willing, we are going to see this thing made into the movie that it should be, and that all the world sees it before the real Rapture comes."
On October 1, 2010, the rights to the LEFT BEHIND film series were officially restored to Cloud Ten Pictures, but the film was mostly produced by the newly created Stoney Lake Entertainment.