Will The Leftovers steal some of Left Behind’s thunder?

Fred Clark makes an interesting argument that hadn’t occurred to me before: If the secular Rapture drama The Leftovers premieres on HBO in June — just a little more than three months before the Christian Rapture reboot Left Behind comes to theatres in October — then the secular TV show could make it even more difficult than it already is for some people to take the Christian movie seriously.

Specifically, Clark zeroes in on the fact that The Leftovers is designed to get people asking the sorts of empathetic what-if questions that the Left Behind books and films have shown very little interest in. As Clark puts it:

The Leftovers looks interesting. Whether or not it turns out to be any good, it’s an HBO show, so it’s going to generate some buzz. People will be talking about it — and talking about the questions it raises — all through July, August and September. What would that be like? What would you do? How would you react? What would happen to …?

Those questions are going to be kicked around in all kinds of settings right up until the Oct. 3 release date of the new Left Behind movie. So the audience for that movie — even the insular, culturally isolated core of its pre-existing fans — is going to enter the theater having given some thought to those questions. That audience will enter the theater having given more thought to those questions than Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins ever did.

That mother’s voice from The Leftovers – her scream of “Sam!” — will set the bar for audiences’ expectation of what Left Behind shows as the aftermath and response to its Rapture. If the new movie is anything at all like the book it’s based on, those audiences are bound to be angrily disappointed.

I can think of one obvious objection to this argument: namely, that the TV show and the movie are aimed at two very different audiences.

Clark says even the “insular, culturally isolated” fans of the Left Behind franchise will be giving some thought to the questions raised by The Leftovers, but how many Left Behind fans will even be watching The Leftovers? (How many “insular, culturally isolated” evangelicals watch HBO to begin with?) And if they aren’t watching it, how much thought could they possibly give to the questions raised by the show?

Still, the fact remains: Christians don’t own this concept any more. The Rapture is going to be fleshed out by the broader popular culture in ways that will inevitably affect the Rapture stories told by Christians down the road, or at least, it will affect the way those stories are received. Could be interesting to see how that all works out.

In other news, HBO has posted a few new videos for The Leftovers that I hadn’t got around to blogging yet. I posted the first teaser last month. Here’s the second:

And here’s the trailer for the show, which includes the Not Safe For Work hints of nudity and language that you’d expect from an HBO show:


The show premieres on HBO June 29.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).