Russell Doughten

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Russell Doughten
Born(1927-02-16)February 16, 1927
Carlisle, Iowa, United States
DiedAugust 19, 2013(2013-08-19) (aged 86)
Carlisle, Iowa, United States
EducationDrake University, Yale University
  • Producer
  • Director
  • Writer
Years active1958–1988

Russell S. Doughten Jr. (February 16, 1927 – August 19, 2013) was an American filmmaker and producer of numerous short and feature-length Christian films. His film work is credited under numerous variations of his name: with or without the "Jr." suffix or middle initial, and sometimes using the informal "Russ" instead of "Russell". Nearly all of his Christian films were shot in various locales in his home state of Iowa.

Early career[edit]

Doughten studied drama at Drake University. He then taught high school for a number of years, after which he studied drama at Yale University. While on the East Coast, he began working for Good News Productions in Pennsylvania as a producer, director, editor, and writer. With Good News, he produced feature films, a children's gospel hour, and a Salvation Army recruiting film.[1]: 8 

Good News Productions partnered with Jack H. Harris and Valley Forge Films to make the 1958 sci-fi classic, The Blob. Doughten worked as Associate Producer on the film.[2]

In the mid-1960s, Doughten taught English and drama and supervised and directed student productions at South Pasadena High School in California. His former students report that he was exacting in demanding their best efforts, but they were proud of the results and the quality of the productions he directed and they regretted his departure in 1964 to return to film-making in Iowa.[citation needed]

Becoming disillusioned with Hollywood, Doughten returned to Des Moines, where he started his first production company, Heartland Productions in 1965. His early feature-length films were The Hostage (1966) and Fever Heat (1968).[1]: 8  He would eventually produce a total of eight feature films through Heartland.[3]

A Thief in the Night[edit]

In 1972, Doughten launched Mark IV Productions in partnership with co-founder Donald W. Thompson. They would produce 12 feature-length Christian films over a 12-year period, including the films that Doughten is best known for, the Thief In The Night series.[3]: 340  The series dramatizes the Rapture and Tribulation and the struggles of a small band of believers against an increasingly hostile worldwide Antichrist dictatorship.

The films in the series are:

Doughten appears in all four films as Reverend Matthew Turner, a survivalist who has an elaborate chart of the End Times events, but did not fully believe in the Bible until after the Rapture, even if not accepting Christ as his savior. With his long, graying hair usually worn in a ponytail and shaggy beard, he didn't look the part of the stereotypical Christian fundamentalist, a fact that is credited with earning him secular fans,[citation needed]as is his use of unusual camera angles and layered audio.

While there had been feature-length Christian films before, including the End Times film If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? directed by Ron Ormond in 1971, a sweeping, ambitious project like Thief—with three sequels telling one continuous story over the course of a decade—had never been undertaken even in Hollywood.[citation needed] Doughten's identification of the Antichrist not with Communism as Ormond had done, nor with Jack Chick's sinister view of the Vatican, but rather with a worldwide government that initially acts as a global peacemaker, i.e. the United Nations, is consistent with many other Biblical interpretations of the Tribulation.[citation needed]

While the films were clearly made on a low budget, and the dated 1970s fashions shown in the early films provide unintentional amusement today, there is no denying the series' influence among Christian fundamentalists. A Thief in the Night is said to be the most widely seen Gospel film in the world and has been influential in many conversions to Christianity.[citation needed] Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins cite Doughten's films as being the primary influence for their million selling Left Behind series of books and films. Doughten's films have been frequently shown in churches and on Christian television stations.

Later Years[edit]

Doughten continued to produce films through Heartland Productions even during the time the Thief franchise was continuing. Some of his later credits through Heartland were Sammy (1977), Nite Song (1978), Whitcomb's War (1980), and Face in the Mirror (1988).[1]: 84-86,88 

The volume of work Doughten produced through Heartland Productions, Mark IV Productions, and Russell Doughten Productions ranks him as the leading filmmaker in the history of Iowa.[4]

In 2001, Doughten was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the WYSIWYG Film Festival, and the National Religious Broadcasters Association presented him the Milestone Award for 50 years of achievement in presenting the gospel through film.[3]: 340 

Casting agent Kimberly Busbee referred to Doughen as "the godfather of independent film in Iowa." He was a regular attendee at Iowa's Wild Rose Independent Film Festival, and had mentored many indie filmmakers in Iowa.[1]: 39 

Doughten died from a cardiac-related illness on August 19, 2013.[5]


Year Title Notes
1958 The Blob Associate Producer, director (uncredited)
1960 Teenage Diary Writer, director
1967 The Hostage Producer, director
1968 Fever Heat Producer, director
1972 A Thief in the Night Executive producer, writer (story), actor
1974 Blood on the Mountain Executive producer, writer (screenplay/story)
1975 Survival Executive producer, writer (story)
1975 Happiness Is... Producer, writer (screenplay), director
1976 A Stranger in My Forest Executive producer, writer (screenplay)
1977 Sammy Producer, director
1977 Ride the Wind Producer, director
1977 All the King's Horses Producer, writer
1978 A Distant Thunder Executive producer, writer (screenplay/story), actor
1978 Nite Song Producer, director
1979 Paradise Trail Executive producer, writer (screenplay)
1980 Heaven's Heroes Executive producer, writer (screenplay)
1980 Whitcomb's War Producer, writer (story), director, actor
1980 Image of the Beast Executive producer, writer (screenplay/story), actor
1981 Brother Enemy Producer, director
1981 Home Safe Writer
1982 Face in the Mirror Producer, director
1983 The Healing Producer, director
1983 The Prodigal Planet Executive producer, writer (screenplay/story), actor
1984 The Shepherd Executive producer, writer (original story)


  1. ^ a b c d Knepper, Marty; Lawrence, John (2014). The Book of Iowa Films. Sioux City, Iowa: The Book of Iowa Films Press. ISBN 978-0-9904289-1-6. Retrieved February 16, 2021.
  2. ^ Albright, Brian (2012). Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 286. ISBN 978-0-7864-7227-7. Retrieved February 16, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Bigalke, Ron J. Jr., ed. (2003). Revelation Hoofbeats. Xulon Press. ISBN 978-1591608745. Retrieved February 16, 2021.
  4. ^ Knepper, Marty S.; Lawrence, John S. (2003). "Iowa Films, 1918-2002" (PDF). Annals of Iowa. 62 (1): 30–100. doi:10.17077/0003-4827.10655. Retrieved February 16, 2021.
  5. ^ "Russell Doughten, evangelical filmmaker, dies". Carlisle, Iowa: Associated Press. August 24, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2021.

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