Even as Left Behind: The Movie released in theaters on 874 screens nationwide February 2, a lawsuit filed in July 2000 by the book series coauthor Tim LaHaye against movie company Namesake Entertainment/Cloud Ten Pictures was no closer to resolution.

According to Joe Goodman, producer at Namesake, at the heart of the suit is control over the successful Left Behind: The Kids series. A contract for the option on all motion picture, television and allied rights for the first two books in the series, Left Behind and Tribulation Force , as well as certain rights to subsequent books in the series, was negotiated in 1997, when only the two books had been published and Tyndale House Publishers figures showed a combined 500,000 units sold. Series coauthors LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins agreed to be paid $350,000 for the first theatrical picture as well as various bonuses and provisions for additional payments if Namesake made a second movie from Tribulation Force .

Originally envisioned as a single book in 1995, Left Behind has stretched to a projected 12-book series. To date, sales of the books, audios and children's book tie-ins have exceeded 34 million units, and the most recent adult book, The Mark , hit #1 on almost every major hardcover fiction list. Tyndale is considering a three-million-copy printing for book nine, Desecration , which will be released this October. Jenkins told PW he is currently in talks with Tyndale about writing a prequel and a 13th book "sequel" to follow book 12, The Glorious Appearing , slated for publication in June 2004.

Goodman and Peter Lalonde, CEO at Cloud Ten, said both of their attorneys have been told by LaHaye's attorney that if they give up the rights to the children's series granted to them in the 1997 contract, the lawsuit will be dropped. That series currently numbers 14 installments, with a planned 36 by 2004, and has sold almost five million copies. An amended complaint also asks that Namesake/Cloud Ten not claim rights for optioning other existing Left Behind books, both published and unpublished.

Mostly silent is coauthor Jenkins, who, along with agent Rick Christina, "has worked diligently to resolve the lawsuit," Goodman told PW . In February, Jenkins was ordered by a U.S. District Court in California to "enjoin" the case, according to Jenkins's chief of staff, Tim MacDonald, who told PW that Jenkins plans to plead "religious reasons" and be excused from becoming a plaintiff.

Depositions filed in the suit point to money and image as the central issues. LaHaye and Jenkins had planned a September 2000 release of a Left Behind: The Kids video series when they ran into contract problems with Namesake/Cloud Ten. Goodman said Namesake is willing to concede "millions of dollars" in potential revenue generated by the kids' books and movies and videos in order to reach an agreement with LaHaye. But he said Namesake is unable to give up the television rights because of a series based on the books that they currently have in development with PAX, tentatively slated to air in 2002. "It came down to Tim not accepting anything less than 100% control of the kids' books," Goodman told PW .

Christopher Rudd, attorney for LaHaye, disputed this, arguing that LaHaye tried to reach an agreement with the movie companies, but each time, "they moved the goalposts." He counters that Namesake/Cloud Ten offered four different agreements that all parties agreed to, then LaHaye pulled out each time before the agreements could be signed, a contention that appears to be supported by court documents.

Although the lawsuit was filed before LaHaye saw the film, the quality of Left Behind: The Movie seems also to be a sore point. Rudd said LaHaye was "induced to choose Namesake/ Cloud Ten over someone more capable of doing a big-budget film," and that representations about the size of the budget were not true. Jenkins told PW that while he liked the film as a "Christian video," it was the dream of both authors to see it compete in the secular marketplace as well as the books do. "I'm enough of an optimist to hope that it will," Jenkins said. "But I don't see it." Lalonde told PW that Jenkins had told Cloud Ten, "I liked it a lot, and am happy to be able to say so," about the film.

LaHaye told PW , "We signed up for a big-screen movie that would win a million people to Jesus—we did not sign up for a video." Yet, in an unusual release sequence, Namesake/Cloud Ten released Left Behind: The Movie on videocassette on October 31, 2000—almost five months before the theater release. The video has already sold 2.8 million units, mostly in the Christian market.

The video release was rife with allegations of foul play in the Christian market, as retailers who saw the movie show up at warehouse clubs and discount outlets claimed Cloud Ten had promised channel exclusivity until the theater release, as well as other special considerations. Cloud Ten maintains that when they sold the movie to Christian retailers at CBA International in New Orleans last July, general merchandisers such as Wal-Mart and Costco were not interested in the video. The general merchandisers later decided to order the video in large amounts, according to Bryon Jones, v-p of entertainment at Cloud Ten. The Christian Booksellers Association investigated claims that Cloud Ten promised exclusivity to the Christian retail channel, but said in a November 17 statement that it was unable to find a retailer who could back up the verbal claims with a promise in writing. CBA retailers were also upset with the discounts they received, which they believe were less than their general-market counterparts. Cloud Ten did admit they sold to general-market dealers at a deeper discount than CBA retailers, but retroactively changed the discount to reflect an extra 5% for Christian stores.

Lalonde insists the lawsuit will not hold up production of the second movie, Tribulation Force. But LaHaye told PW , "Whether the second movie will happen or not will be settled by the court."