A Thief in the Night (film)

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A Thief in the Night
A Thief in the Night poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDonald W. Thompson
Produced byDonald W. Thompson
Written byJim Grant
StarringPatty Dunning
Mike Niday
Colleen Niday
Maryann Rachford
Thom Rachford
Duane Coller
Russell S. Doughten, Jr.
Clarence Balmer
CinematographyJohn P. Leiendecker, Jr.
Edited byWes Phillippi
Release date
1972 (1972)
Running time
69 min.
CountryUnited States

A Thief in the Night is a 1972 evangelical Christian film written by Jim Grant, directed and produced by Donald W. Thompson. The film stars Patty Dunning as Patty Myers, the main character and protagonist, along with Thom Rachford, Colleen Niday, and Mike Niday in supporting roles. It is the first installment in the Thief in the Night series about the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ. The film is set during the near future, focusing on Patty, a young woman who was not raptured and who struggles to decide what to do in the face of the Tribulation.


Russell Doughten and Donald W. Thompson, two Iowa-based filmmakers, formed Mark IV Pictures in 1972 to produce A Thief in the Night.[1]:577-578 Thompson had been working in radio.[2]:69 Doughten had worked with Good News Productions on The Blob in 1958,[3] and had produced other films in Iowa through his production company Heartland Productions.[4]:7-8

The film was produced in 1972 for a budget of $68,000. It earned roughly $4.2 million during its first decade of release, the majority of which came from audience donations. It was "one of the first films to take on Fundamentalist apocalyptic narratives within a fictional motif."[5]:116


In medias res, Patty Meyers wakes up to a radio broadcast announcing the disappearance of millions around the world. The radio announcer suggests this may be the Rapture of the Church spoken of in the Bible. Patty finds that her husband has also disappeared. The United Nations sets up an emergency government system called the United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency (UNITE) and declares anyone who does not receive the Mark of the Beast identifying them with UNITE will be arrested.

Several flashbacks occur to times in Patty's life before the rapture. The story begins with three friends who will have different destinies: Patty and her two friends who have different approaches to Christianity. One considers Jesus Christ her savior while the other, Diane, is earthly minded. Patty considers herself a Christian because she occasionally reads her Bible and goes to church regularly. However, her pastor is shown to be an unbeliever. She refuses to believe the warnings of her friends and family that she will go through the Great Tribulation if she does not put her faith in Christ. Meanwhile, her husband, who has been attending another church, has accepted Jesus. The next morning, Patty wakes to find that her husband and millions of others have suddenly disappeared.

Patty is conflicted and refuses to trust Christ yet also refuses to take the mark. She desperately tries to avoid UNITE and the mark but is eventually captured. Patty escapes, but after a chase she is cornered by UNITE on a bridge and falls from the bridge to her death.

Patty wakes up and realizes it has all been a dream. She is relieved, but her relief is short-lived when the radio announces that millions of people have in fact disappeared. Horrified, Patty frantically searches for her husband only to find he is missing too. Patty realizes that the Rapture has actually occurred and she has been left behind.


  • Patty Dunning as Patty Myers
  • Mike Niday as Jim Wright
  • Colleen Niday as Jenny
  • Maryann Rachford as Diane Bradford
  • Thom Rachford as Jerry Bradford
  • Duane Coller as Duane
  • Russell Doughten as Rev. Matthew Turner
  • Clarence Balmer as Pastor Balmer
  • Gareld L Jackson as UNITE Leader
  • Herb Brown as UNITE Officer
  • Herb Brown, Jr as UNITE Officer
  • Betty D Jackson as Wedding Guest

Biblical references[edit]

The film's title is taken from 1 Thessalonians 5:2, in which Paul warns his readers that "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night."

The film presents a pre-tribulational dispensational Futurist interpretation of Christian Eschatology and the Rapture popular among U.S. Evangelicals, but is generally rejected by Roman Catholics,[6] Orthodox Christians,[7] Lutherans, and Reformed Christians.[8] According to Dean Anderson of Christianity Today, "the film brings to life the dispensational view of Matthew 24:36-44."[9] (See also: Views of Eschatological Timing)

In the film, everyone must receive the Mark of the Beast in order to buy or sell. The film's producers used three rows of a binary number six ("0110") written on their forehead or hand to represent the number 666 which is a common interpretation of Revelation 13:16-18.


The film's title track I Wish We'd All Been Ready was composed by singer/musician Larry Norman. It was performed in the film by The Fishmarket Combo.[9] The song also became the anthem of the Jesus movement.[2]:411


A Thief in the Night has been translated into three languages and subtitled in others. In 1989, Randall Balmer wrote that the film's producer, Russell Doughten estimated that 100 million people had seen the film.[2]:62 More recently, Dean Anderson writing for Christianity Today says it has been seen by an estimated 300 million.

It was a pioneer in the genre of Christian film, bringing rock music and elements of horror film to a genre then-dominated by family-friendly evangelicalism.[9] Randall Balmer has stated that, "It is only a slight exaggeration to say that A Thief in the Night affected the evangelical film industry the way that sound or color affected Hollywood."[2]:65 MIT professor of film and media Heather Hendershot says, "Today, many teen evangelicals have not seen A Thief in the Night, but virtually every evangelical over thirty I've talked to is familiar with it, and most have seen it... I have found that A Thief in the Night is the only evangelical film that viewers cite directly and repeatedly as provoking a conversion experience."[10]:187-188

The film has been described as traumatic for children, who made up a significant part of its original audience, and criticized for using scare tactics to produce religious conversions.[11] According to Hendershot, "Evangelicals who grew up in the 1970s or early 1980s often cite Thief as a source of childhood terror." This is partly due to depictions in the film of characters who believe themselves to be saved but are not, and are instead left behind.[10]:187

A quarter century later, the authors of the Left Behind series of books and films have acknowledged their debt to Thief. Indeed, even the title Left Behind echoes the refrain of Norman's theme song for A Thief in the Night, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready," in which he sings, "There's no time to change your mind, the Son has come and you've been left behind."[9]



  1. ^ Balmer, Randall (2002). Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0-664-22409-1. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Balmer, Randall (2014). Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey Into the Evangelical Subculture in America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-936046-8. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  3. ^ Albright, Brian (2012). Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews. McFarland & Company. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-7864-7227-7. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  4. ^ Knepper, Marty; Lawrence, John (2014). The Book of Iowa Films. ISBN 978-0-9904289-1-6. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  5. ^ Edwards, Jonathan J. (2015). Superchurch: The Rhetoric and Politics of American Fundamentalism. Michigan State University Press. ISBN 978-1-62895-170-7. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  6. ^ Guinan, Michael D. (October 2005), "Raptured or Not? A Catholic Understanding", archived from the original on February 26, 2014, retrieved February 8, 2021CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  7. ^ Coniaris, Anthony M. (September 12, 2005), The Rapture: Why the Orthodox Don't Preach It, Light & Life Publishing, archived from the original on November 9, 2012, retrieved February 8, 2021
  8. ^ Schwertley, Brian M., Is the Pretribulation Rapture Biblical?, Reformed Online, archived from the original on March 11, 2013, retrieved February 8, 2021
  9. ^ a b c d Anderson, Dean A. (March 7, 2012). "The original "Left Behind"". christianitytoday.com. Christianity Today. Archived from the original on April 16, 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Hendershot, Heather (2010). Shaking the World for Jesus, Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-32679-5. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  11. ^ "Iowa's "A Thief in the Night": Not Just a Horror Flick". iowapublicradio.org. Iowa Public Radio. December 13, 2012. Retrieved February 8, 2021.

External links[edit]