Sister Act

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Sister Act
The backs of a row of nuns wearing white habits. Standing out, a nun in a black and white habit wearing sunglasses and red high heeled shoes.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEmile Ardolino
Written byPaul Rudnick
Produced byTeri Schwartz
CinematographyAdam Greenberg
Edited by
Music byMarc Shaiman
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • May 29, 1992 (1992-05-29)
Running time
100 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$31 million[2]
Box office$231.6 million[3]

Sister Act is a 1992 American musical crime comedy film directed by Emile Ardolino and written by Paul Rudnick (as Joseph Howard). It stars Whoopi Goldberg as a lounge singer forced to join a convent after being placed in a witness protection program. It also features Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makkena, Mary Wickes, and Harvey Keitel.

Sister Act was one of the most financially successful comedies of the early 1990s, grossing $231 million worldwide against a $31 million budget. The film spawned a franchise, which consists of the 1993 sequel Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and a musical adaptation, which premiered in 2006. A third film is in development for Disney+.[4][5]


In 1968, Deloris Wilson is a young Catholic school student, who does not take her studies seriously and greatly embarrasses her nun teachers while showing an affinity for music.

Twenty-four years later, in 1992, Deloris is a lounge singer in Reno, Nevada, performing as Deloris Van Cartier, in a club owned by her married gangster boyfriend Vince LaRocca. She then receives a shallow gift from Vince, and attempts to return it, only to witness Vince executing an informant. When he sets out to murder her as well, Deloris goes to the police for further assistance. Police lieutenant Eddie Souther places her in witness protection, and brings her to Saint Katherine's Parish, in a run-down neighborhood in San Francisco, for her to hide out in their struggling convent.

Both Deloris, and the head nun of St. Katherine's, Reverend Mother, object to this arrangement, but Lt. Souther, and Monsignor O'Hara, the parish priest, convince them to go along with it, with the added deal that the police will pay the failing convent a good sum of money. Disguised as "Sister Mary Clarence", Deloris initially has difficulty dealing with the rigid and simple convent life but she befriends the other nuns, including the optimistic Sister Mary Patrick, the elderly deadpan Sister Mary Lazarus, and the shy, young Novice Sister Mary Robert. One night, after a poorly attended Sunday Mass—with a lackluster performance from the convent choir led by Mary Lazarus—Deloris decides she needs a break, and she sneaks out to a bar, followed by Mary Patrick and Mary Robert. They are caught by the Reverend Mother, who orders Deloris to join the struggling choir. With her singing experience, Deloris is elected their director and transforms the choir.

At the next Sunday Mass, Deloris leads the much-improved choir in a traditional hymn of "Hail Holy Queen", then shifts into a combined gospel and rock and roll interpretation. Although Reverend Mother is infuriated, Monsignor O'Hara congratulates the choir for their unorthodox performance as new people were attracted to the service. Convinced by Deloris, he allows the nuns to clean the church and the neighborhood. Their singing and efforts to revitalize the neighborhood attract media attention, and the parish thrives.

Souther chastises Deloris for nearly being exposed on national television as Vince has placed a bounty on her head. She assures him she will try to keep a lower profile, and Souther attends a Mass. The nun's choir continues to amaze parishioners and visitors, especially with a rendition of "My Guy" – rewritten and performed as "My God".

O'Hara informs the convent that Pope John Paul II, having heard of the choir's success, will visit the church. Deloris tells Reverend Mother that Vince's upcoming trial means she will soon leave; the Mother reveals she has resigned as abbess, believing she is no longer useful to the convent as her authority was undermined. Deloris tries to convince her to stay and keep the parish thriving as it is, but the Mother retorts that she believes herself too old-fashioned and incapable of doing so.

Souther discovers a corrupt detective in his own department who has given Deloris's location to Vince and rushes to San Francisco to warn her. Vince's men kidnap her and Mary Robert, but Deloris helps Mary Robert to escape. Afterward, Reverend Mother reveals to the nuns that Sister Mary Clarence is Deloris Van Cartier and explains why she had been hiding in their convent. They decide to rescue Deloris, requesting a helicopter pilot to fly them to Reno.

Vince orders his men to kill Deloris, but they cannot bring themselves to shoot her while she is dressed in a nun's habit. Arriving at Vince's casino, the nuns find her after she escapes from Vince's men. They become trapped in the casino lounge, and Deloris prepares to sacrifice herself. Vince is hesitant but prepares to shoot her. His hesitation is just long enough for Souther to shoot Vince in the arm and arrest all three.

Thanking Deloris for her actions, Reverend Mother decides to remain as abbess of the convent. Returning to San Francisco, the choir, led by Deloris, sing "I Will Follow Him" to a packed audience in a refurbished Saint Katherine's, receiving a standing ovation from all, including Reverend Mother, the Pope, Monsignor O'Hara, and Souther. Deloris continues to guide and coach the choir as a touring musical group.[6]


Choir nuns


St. Paul's Catholic Church in San Francisco, used in the film as Saint Katherine's

Screenwriter Paul Rudnick pitched Sister Act to producer Scott Rudin in 1987, with Bette Midler in mind for the lead role. The script was brought to Disney.[7] However, Midler turned down the role, fearing that her fans would not want to see her play a nun.[7] Eventually, Whoopi Goldberg signed on to play the lead. As production commenced, the script was rewritten by a half dozen screenwriters, including Carrie Fisher, Robert Harling, and Nancy Meyers.[8] With the movie no longer resembling his original script, Rudnick asked to be credited with a pseudonym in the film, deciding on Joseph Howard.[7]

The church in which Deloris takes sanctuary is St. Paul's Catholic Church, located at Valley and Church Streets in Noe Valley, an upper-middle-class neighborhood of San Francisco. The storefronts on the opposite side of the street were redressed to give the appearance of a run-down neighborhood. Filming took place from September 23, 1991 (1991-09-23) to December 20, 1991 (1991-12-20).[9]

Though the order of the nuns in the film is said to be a Carmelite one by Sister Mary Patrick, their religious habit is similar in appearance to that of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis (minus the cross).[10] Members of the real-life Order, however, no longer wear their traditional habit.[11]


The film's soundtrack was released by Hollywood Records on June 9, 1992, in conjunction with the film, and contained the musical numbers performed by actors in the film itself, pre-recorded songs that were used as part of the background music, and instrumental music composed by Marc Shaiman for the film. The soundtrack album debuted at #74 and eventually reached #40 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart[12] where it charted for 54 weeks. The album received a Gold certification from the RIAA for shipment of 500,000 copies on January 13, 1993.[13] The album was certified platinum in Australia.[14]

  1. "The Lounge Medley" ("(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave"/"My Guy"/"I Will Follow Him") — Deloris & The Ronelles
  2. "The Murder" (Instrumental)
  3. "Getting into the Habit" (Instrumental)
  4. "Rescue Me" — Fontella Bass
  5. "Hail Holy Queen" — Deloris & The Sisters
  6. "Roll With Me Henry" — Etta James
  7. "Gravy for My Mashed Potatoes" — Dee Dee Sharp
  8. "My Guy (My God)" — Deloris & The Sisters
  9. "Just a Touch of Love (Everyday)" — C+C Music Factory
  10. "Deloris Is Kidnapped" (Instrumental)
  11. "Nuns to the Rescue" (Instrumental)
  12. "Finale: I Will Follow Him ('Chariot')" — Deloris & The Sisters
  13. "Shout" — Deloris & The Sisters & The Ronelles
  14. "If My Sister's in Trouble" — Lady Soul
  • The singing voice for the character of Mary Robert was performed by Andrea Robinson.


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[14] Platinum 70,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[15] Gold 50,000^
Germany (BVMI)[17] Gold 500,000[16]
United States (RIAA)[18] Gold 500,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


Whoopi Goldberg figure at Madame Tussauds London

Critical response[edit]

The film received a generally positive reception from critics, holding a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Looking for a sweet musical comedy about a witness to a crime hiding out from killers in a convent? There's nun better than Sister Act."[19] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 stars out of a possible 4. He wrote that Goldberg and Wickes both offered humorous performances, but the film overall "plays like a missed opportunity" due to slow pacing and trouble integrating the organized crime scenes into a comedy film.[20] Metacritic gave the film a score of 51 based on the 23 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[21] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[22]

Box office[edit]

The film was a box-office success, grossing $139.6 million in the U.S. and $92 million in other countries, effectively grossing $231.6 million worldwide, becoming the eighth-highest-grossing film worldwide of 1992. It sat at the #2 spot for four weeks, behind Lethal Weapon 3, Patriot Games, and Batman Returns in succession.[3]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
American Comedy Awards Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) Whoopi Goldberg Won
Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Kathy Najimy Won
Maggie Smith Nominated
Mary Wickes Nominated
Artios Awards[23] Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film Casting – Comedy Judy Taylor, Lynda Gordon, Geoffrey Johnson, Vincent Liff and Andrew Zerman Nominated
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Top Box Office Films Marc Shaiman Won
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Whoopi Goldberg Won
Golden Globe Awards[24] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Whoopi Goldberg Nominated
Golden Screen Awards Won
Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Movie Actress Whoopi Goldberg Won
Movieguide Awards Best Movie for Mature Audiences Won
MTV Movie Awards Best Female Performance Whoopi Goldberg Nominated
Best Comedic Performance Nominated
Best Breakthrough Performance Kathy Najimy Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Motion Picture Won
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Whoopi Goldberg Won
People's Choice Awards Favorite Comedy Motion Picture Won[a]

The film is also recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Controversy and lawsuits[edit]

On June 10, 1993, actress Donna Douglas and her partner Curt Wilson in Associated Artists Entertainment, Inc. filed a $200 million lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company, Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, their production companies, and Creative Artists Agency claiming the film was plagiarized from the book A Nun in the Closet, owned by the partners. Douglas and Wilson argued that, in 1985, they had developed a screenplay for the book, which had been submitted to Disney, Goldberg, and Midler three times during 1987 and 1988. The lawsuit noted over 100 similarities between the movie and the book/screenplay as evidence of plagiarism.[26] In 1994, Douglas and Wilson declined a $1 million offer in an attempt to win the case. The judge found in favor of Disney and the other defendants. Wilson stated at the time, "They would have had to copy our stuff verbatim for us to prevail."[27]

In November 2011, a nun named Delois Blakely filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company and Sony Pictures claiming that The Harlem Street Nun, an autobiography she wrote in 1987, was the basis for the 1992 film. She alleged that a movie executive expressed an interest in the movie rights after she wrote a three-page synopsis. She sued for "breach of contract, misappropriation of likeness and unjust enrichment."[28] Blakely dropped the original lawsuit in January 2012 to serve a more robust lawsuit in late August 2012 with the New York Supreme Court, asking for $1 billion in damages from Disney.[29][30] In early February 2013, the New York Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, awarding no damages to Blakely.[31]

Home media[edit]

The Region 1 DVD was released on November 6, 2001; however, the disc has no anamorphic enhancement, similar to early DVDs from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.[citation needed] Special Features include the film's theatrical trailer; music videos for "I Will Follow Him" by Deloris and the Sisters, and "If My Sister's in Trouble" by Lady Soul, both of which contain clips from the film; and a featurette titled "Inside Sister Act: The Making Of".[citation needed]

The all-region Blu-ray including both films was released on June 19, 2012, with both films presented in 1080p. The three-disc set also includes both films on DVD with the same bonus features as previous releases.[32]


A musical based on the film played at The Broadway Theatre in Times Square, Manhattan, beginning in 2011.

The musical Sister Act, directed by Peter Schneider and choreographed by Marguerite Derricks, premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California on October 24, 2006, and closed on December 23, 2006.[33] It broke records, grossing $1,085,929 to become the highest grossing show ever at the venue.[34] The production then moved to the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, where it ran from January 17 to February 25, 2007.[35]

The musical then opened in the West End at the London Palladium on June 2, 2009, following previews from May 7. The production was directed by Peter Schneider, produced by Whoopi Goldberg together with the Dutch company Stage Entertainment, and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast, with set design by Klara Zieglerova, costume design by Lez Brotherston and lighting design by Natasha Katz.[36][37] Following a year-long search, 24-year-old actress Patina Miller was cast as Deloris, alongside Sheila Hancock as the Mother Superior, Ian Lavender as Monsignor Howard, Chris Jarman as Shank, Ako Mitchell as Eddie, Katie Rowley Jones as Sister Mary Robert, Claire Greenway as Sister Mary Patrick and Julia Sutton as Sister Mary Lazarus.[38] The musical received four Laurence Olivier Awards nominations, including Best Musical.[39] On October 30, 2010, the show played its final performance at the London Palladium and transferred to Broadway.[40]

The musical opened at the Broadway Theatre on April 20, 2011, with previews beginning March 24, 2011.[41] Jerry Zaks directed the Broadway production[42] with Douglas Carter Beane rewriting the book.[43] Miller, who originated the role of Deloris in the West End production, reprised her role, making her Broadway debut. She was replaced by Raven-Symoné, also making her Broadway debut. The original Broadway cast featured Victoria Clark (Mother Superior), Fred Applegate (Monsignor), Sarah Bolt (Sister Mary Patrick), Chester Gregory (Eddie), Kingsley Leggs (Curtis), Marla Mindelle (Sister Mary Robert) and Audrie Neenan (Sister Mary Lazarus).[44] The musical received five Tony Award nominations including Best Musical.[45]

The musical closed, in August 2012, after 561 performances.



  1. ^ "Sister Act (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. June 9, 1992. Archived from the original on September 26, 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  2. ^ "Sister Act". PowerGrid. The Wrap. Archived from the original on November 7, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Sister Act (1992) - Box Office Mojo".
  4. ^ Kroll, Justin (December 7, 2018). "'Sister Act 3': 'Insecure' Executive Producer, 'Star' Showrunner to Write Sequel". Variety.
  5. ^ Asmelash, Leah (July 15, 2023). "The '90s comedies you should be watching right now". CNN. Retrieved January 21, 2024.
  6. ^ "Sister Act: Where are they now?". Retrieved January 21, 2024.
  7. ^ a b c Rudnick, Paul (July 20, 2009). "Fun With Nuns". The New Yorker. pp. 37–41. Retrieved July 26, 2009.
  8. ^ "Sister Act (1992)". IMDb.
  9. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (December 1, 2019) [November 26, 2019]. "'Sister Act' transformed Noe Valley into a den of sin. Here's the back story". Movies & TV. Hearst Newspapers. San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications. Retrieved December 22, 2022.
  10. ^ "Image".
  11. ^ "Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis".
  12. ^ "Top 200 Albums - Billboard". Billboard. January 22, 2015.
  13. ^ "RIAA - Gold & Platinum Searchable Database - November 03, 2015". riaa.
  14. ^ a b Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010 (PDF ed.). Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing. p. 311.
  15. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Various Artists – Sister Act". Music Canada. Retrieved December 7, 2023.
  16. ^ Spahr, Wolfganf (September 17, 1994). "Movie Soundtracks Start Moving Units In Germany" (PDF). Billboard. p. 55. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved December 7, 2023.
  17. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (O.S.T. - Various; 'Sister Act')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie.
  18. ^ "American album certifications – Soundtrack – Sister Act". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved December 7, 2023.
  19. ^ Sister Act at Rotten Tomatoes
  20. ^ "Sister Act movie review & film summary (1992) | Roger Ebert".
  21. ^ "Sister Act Reviews". Metacritic.
  22. ^ "Cinemascore :: Movie Title Search". December 20, 2018. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  23. ^ "Nominees/Winners". Casting Society of America. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  24. ^ "Sister Act – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  25. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF).
  26. ^ Haring, Bruce (June 10, 1993), $200 mil suit targets 'Sister Act', Variety, retrieved January 2, 2012
  27. ^ Friend, Tad (September 1998), "Copy Cats: Hollywood Stole My Story!", The New Yorker, archived from the original on March 18, 2012, retrieved January 2, 2012
  28. ^ Gardner, Eriq (November 10, 2011), Harlem Nun Sues Disney, Sony Claiming They Stole 'Sister Act': File under, "Divine Inspiration.", The Hollywood Reporter, retrieved January 3, 2012
  29. ^ "Nun Sues Disney for $1B Over 'Sister Act'". TheWrap. August 31, 2012.
  30. ^ Shoard, Catherine (November 11, 2011). "Nun sues Disney for 'stealing Sister Act'". The Guardian. London.
  31. ^ New York Supreme Court Decision
  32. ^ "Sister Act: 20th Anniversary Edition - Two-Movie Collection (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (1992)". Amazon. Retrieved June 20, 2012.
  33. ^ Hernandez, Ernio."Sister Act — Musical Based on Film — Opens World-Premiere Run November 3" Archived July 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine,, November 2006
  34. ^ Sister Act Sets Pasadena Playhouse Record
  35. ^ "SISTER ACT the Musical listing"[permanent dead link],, accessed November 27, 2008
  36. ^ Gans, Andrew."Habit Forming: Whoopi Goldberg to Produce London Premiere of Sister Act" Archived January 7, 2009, at the Wayback Machine,, November 13, 2008
  37. ^ Official Website Archived September 14, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ Sister Act, A Divine Musical Comedy."Sister Act Cast is announced" Archived July 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine,, January 29, 2009
  39. ^ "Spring Awakening, Enron and Red Score Big in Olivier Nominations". Playbill. Archived from the original on February 11, 2010.
  40. ^ "West End's Sister Act to Vacate London Palladium Oct. 30; Future Plans Announced". Playbill. Archived from the original on October 18, 2012.
  41. ^ "Sister Act The Musical Will Open at the Broadway Theatre in April 2011". Playbill. Archived from the original on December 16, 2010.
  42. ^ BWW News Desk (July 8, 2010). "SISTER ACT Confirms Broadway for Spring 2011; Zaks to Direct".
  43. ^ "It's Official: Douglas Carter Beane Joins 'Sister Act' Team"., February 28, 2011
  44. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Victoria Clark, Fred Applegate, Chester Gregory Will Be Part of Broadway's 'Sister Act' " Archived February 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., February 1, 2011
  45. ^ "2011 Tony Nominations Announced; Book of Mormon Earns 14 Nominations". Playbill. Archived from the original on September 14, 2011. Retrieved May 6, 2011.

External links[edit]