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, Jr.. 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 developed by Chaim Rosenzweig 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 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.
Aboard the plane, it is revealed that Rayford is having an affair with fellow flight attendant Hattie Durham, and are planning their own getaway in London, presumably the real reason he agreed to the emergency flight.
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 New York City. 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, Steele's daughter 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. Realizing his wife and son also disappeared in the vanishing, he breaks down, then he begins to read his wife's Bible. He and Buck are forced to stay in Steele's house because of a military-enforced curfew.
Chloe returns home and reunites with her father. Soon Chloe goes downstairs and discovers Buck sleeping on the couch, who asks her about a pilot her father told him about, Kenneth Ritz. Knowing the pilot, Chloe drives Buck to him in her mom's Jeep Grand Cherokee and goes to look for her and her younger brother after dropping him off. Steele finds her in at her brother's elementary school and suggests looking at the church since that's where they were the happiest and spent most of their time, but she argues that she was happiest when he was around. Rayford expresses his wonders if everything they believed in was true, but Chloe refuses to listen.
After Chloe returns home, Rayford goes to their neighborhood church and finds pastor Bruce Barnes, who is lamenting about his phony career; he always knew God's word and preached it well, but ends up learning the hard way the difference between knowing and believing, realizing that his life was a lie. He then begs God for another chance, and Steele, walking in on Bruce's plea of forgiveness, assures him that God already has as he also begs God for salvation alongside him. They later watch a videotape left by the senior Pastor Vernon Billings, 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.
Steele returns home to tell Chloe about his faith, but she is only annoyed. Rayford convinces her to watch Pastor Billings' tape, explaining Irene and Raymie's disappearances. Later Hattie comes to Rayford's house to say goodbye to him before her new job, but Rayford, newly reformed by Christ, tells her that their affair was a mistake and attempts to tell her about his newfound faith, but she rejects him of it. Chloe, having overheard the conversation, confronts her father about his secret affair, but he assures her that he's realized his mistakes and is going to continue in his newfound faith in Christ. He assures her that her mother, brother and all other believers are being spared for an upcoming catastrophic event, but she still isn't convinced.
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 Jonathan Stonagal and Joshua Todd-Cothran are trying to bankrupt the UN to obtain the whole world's land and the Eden project 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.
Bruce shows Buck the tape, and they look to the Bible to see how all the events involving Stonagal and Cothran's plans to bankrupt the UN are leading up to the catastrophic reign of the antichrist. Buck, however, does not believe it, and goes to the UN to warn the Chaim. Steele attempts to stop him by warning him that without faith in God, he will be left susceptible to the deception. Bruce further reasons him as they both know that God is tugging at his heart and was not at the church by accident, further urging Buck not to ignore Him. Buck ignores their advice and goes to the UN anyway. After his departure, Steele and Chloe, having finally decided to accept God, pray for him.
At the UN, Buck warns both Chaim and Nicolae Jetty Carpathia. They listen to him, and Nicolae plans to host a meeting to expose Stonagal and Cothran, but not before they reveal plans to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Realizing that everything Bruce told him is true, Buck finally accepts God and asks him to show him the way. At the meeting, God helps Buck realize that Nicolae is the Antichrist when he reveals his plan for world domination. When Stonagal and Cothran protest, Nicolae exposes their plans to betray him and shoots the both of them. Using his supernatural powers, Nicolae easily manipulates and brainwashes everyone at the meeting that Stonagal actually murdered Cothran before himself, except for Buck, who is under God's protection. After the meeting Buck asks Hattie and Chaim what they saw, but realizes they were all brainwashed when they each reply seeing the murder-suicide.
The film ends with Buck returning to the church and reuniting with Rayford, Chloe and Bruce, preparing to start the Tribulation Force, as Buck narrates how the events the Bible predicted is now unfolding, and how the years of the antichrist will be the worst that mankind has ever seen, and all they need is to put their faith in God.
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.