Tim Doughten Shares How Thief in the Night Changed Everything for Christian Film

Christian Cinema recently acquired the digital rights to the films of Russ Doughten, whose evangelistic films have been reaching audiences in powerful ways since the 1950s. All of Doughten’s films were created to “reach their viewers with a better understanding of the life and purpose of Jesus Christ, and to encourage them to repent of their sins, receive His forgiveness and His gift of Eternal Life.” To hear more about Doughten and films like A Thief in the Night, Christian Cinema caught up with Doughten’s youngest son, Tim, who serves as Director of Doughten Films since his father’s death in 2013.

Sixty-year-old Tim Doughten has been in and around the movie industry since his father first became interested in launching into it himself. As a child and teenager, he acted in his father’s films, participating in forty-some feature-length films. But to understand why film matters to the Doughten family, the story must originate with Russ Doughten himself.

“One of the most significant films my dad was involved in was The Blob, where he was actually responsible for casting Steve McQueen,” Tim recounted. “He came away with this desire to make movies, and moved our family to California to do so, but he couldn’t get into the industry there. So for seven years, we lived in California and he taught high school drama.”

“We moved back to Iowa where my parents were raised, and where I grew up. He started Heartland Films, and made the theatrically-release film The Hostage (John Carradine’s father’s last film). As an independent producer, he had trouble getting treated well by the distribution companies. They made a second film Fever Heat about dirt track racing with Nick Adams in it who was quite well known, but it was his last film. They determined they couldn’t make films because they couldn’t get a good deal releasing them.”

Heartland Films turned to the movie theater business, running theaters in Iowa, including the nicest Cinerama theater in Des Moines. Then the senior Doughten met Don Thomson, and Thief in the Night was born.

Tim Doughten remembers that the Rapture was so big that it seemed like a solid niche to launch a new evangelistic film. But he shared that he believed his father was motivated by one thing, with genre being a means to that end.

“His real goal was to bring people to Christ. I think he saw Thief in the Night as a way to wake people up. It doesn’t really dive into it, but it takes the Rapture, presents it to you, and asks if you’re ready for it. The rest of the end times films came because of the popularity of the first one.”

Now, Russ Doughten Films owns the films made by three groups, Heartland Productions, Mark IV Pictures, and Olive's Film Productions, allowing those films to still have a ministry. The repertoire includes the end times films as well as children’s movies like Sammy and films about marriage and divorce like All The King’s Horses. But staying true to the Doughten way, each film presents the message of salvation at least three times.

Surveying the landscape of Christian films, Doughten said he believed his father would be thrilled to see so many Christian films being made by a diversity of companies. “There were only two when Dad started making films, but Thief in the Night opened up a whole new market and made it possible for other films to be made,” he said. “Still, the most important thing I think about these films is that there were over three hundred million decisions made because of Thief in the Night – it's amazing that making a film could have that kind of impact.”

While the company owns the script to the fifth installment in the end times series, Armageddon, and several other scripts, Russ Doughten Films remains focused on making the films more widely available. For the Doughtens, they see these films as tools that can still do a job -- presenting the good news of Jesus Christ that all might be saved.

The complete list of Russ Doughten films available here at Christian Cinema via Digital on Demand includes:

A Thief In The Night (1972)

Survival (1975)

All the King’s Horses (1977)

Sammy (1977)

Nite Song (1978)

Thief In The Night II: A Distant Thunder (1978)

Heaven's Heroes (1980)

Thief In The Night III: Image of the Beast (1980)

Face in the Mirror (1982)

Thief In The Night IV: The Prodigal Planet (1983)

Coach (1983)

The Healing (1984)

The Shepherd (1984)

The Paradise Trail (1986)

Home Safe (1987)

Blood On The Mountain (1988)

A Stranger In My Forest (1988)

Ride The Wind (1988)

Test Of Faith (1989)