Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Emile Ardolino|
|Written by||Joseph Howard|
|Music by||Marc Shaiman|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc.|
|Box office||$231.6 million|
Sister Act is a 1992 American comedy film directed by Emile Ardolino and written by Joseph Howard, with musical arrangements by Marc Shaiman. 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. The film spawned a franchise, which consists of a 1993 sequel, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, and a musical adaptation, which premiered in 2006. A remake of Sister Act is in the works.
In the film's prologue, Deloris Wilson is a young student at a Catholic school; she seems more focused on music groups and being the class clown than her studies. As an adult, she is a lounge singer at a nightclub in Reno, Nevada, performing under the name Deloris Van Cartier. One night, she witnesses her mobster boyfriend Vince LaRocca execute his chauffeur as a rat. Lieutenant Eddie Souther persuades her to go into a witness protection program with Saint Katherine's Parish, a convent in a run-down San Francisco neighborhood, as her safe house. The stoic Reverend Mother finds Deloris uncouth, but Monsignor O'Hara, the neighborhood priest, persuades her to accept her.
Deloris, given the name Sister Mary Clarence as part of her cover, struggles to adapt to austere convent life. However, she befriends several of the nuns, including jolly Sister Mary Patrick, meek Sister Mary Robert, and the elderly deadpan Sister Mary Lazarus, who works as choir director. After Mary Clarence is chastised for sneaking out to a bar, the Reverend Mother assigns her to join the convent choir, who are known to be dreadful, to keep her out of trouble. On her first day, Mary Clarence is elected by Mary Lazarus to become the choir director, after its members learn she has a background in music.
With Sister Mary Lazarus’ help, she helps to rearrange the choir and trains them to become better singers. When the choir perform at Mass one Sunday, they sing "Hail Holy Queen" beautifully in a traditional manner, before shifting into a gospel and rock-and-roll-infused interpretation of the hymn. Although the Reverend Mother is infuriated, O'Hara congratulates the choir's unorthodox performance for bringing in people, including teenagers, off the streets and into the church. This leads Mary Clarence to convince him to have the nuns head outside and clean up the neighborhood. The choir continue to amaze parishioners and visitors with their music, including a performance of "My Guy" (appropriately rewritten as "My God"), and soon help to transform the neighborhood. This, however, makes Souther slightly annoyed at Deloris for nearly exposing her location on national television because of the nuns' work.
Eventually, the convent learns from O'Hara that Pope John Paul II is coming by the church to see the choir himself, as part of his visit to the United States. Believing herself to be no longer required, the Reverend Mother decides to hand in her resignation because of Mary Clarence's work unintentionally undermining her authority. This shocks Deloris, having discovered she will have to leave soon as Vince's trial comes closer. Souther soon arrests a police detective within his own department, upon discovering he was on Vince's payroll and had uncovered information on Deloris' location. Rushing to San Francisco to warn Deloris that her cover is blown, Souther arrives just as Vince's men abduct her.
When the nuns learn of the kidnapping, the Reverend Mother reveals the truth of Mary Clarence's real identity. Upon hearing them feel at a loss without her help in the choir, she decides to have them come with her and risk their lives to save her. Arriving at Vince's casino, the group searches for Deloris and find her, after she manages to escape from Vince and his men once again. The group quickly attempts to confuse the mobsters while sneaking out Deloris, but end up becoming trapped in the casino lounge. Not wishing to risk the group's lives, Deloris prepares to sacrifice herself, and even Vince and his men have difficulty bringing themselves to shoot Deloris while she's in a nun's habit. The delay is long enough for the police led by Souther, to arrive and arrest Vince and his men. Despite being annoyed at the risk and other things Deloris did to the convent, the Reverend Mother thanks her for what she has done and decides to remain at the convent to continue her work. Returning to San Francisco, the choir, led by Deloris, sing "I Will Follow Him" to packed audience in the refurbished Saint Katherine's, receiving a standing ovation from all, including the Pope.
- Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence
- Isis Carmen Jones as Little Deloris Wilson
- Maggie Smith as Reverend Mother
- Kathy Najimy as Sister Mary Patrick
- Wendy Makkena as Sister Mary Robert (singing voice: Andrea Robinson)
- Mary Wickes as Sister Mary Lazarus
- Bill Nunn as Lt. Eddie Souther
- Harvey Keitel as Vince LaRocca
- Robert Miranda as Joey
- Richard Portnow as Willy
- Rose Parenti as Sister Alma
- Joseph Maher as Monsignor O'Hara
- Jim Beaver as Clarkson
- Jenifer Lewis as Michelle
- Charlotte Crossley as Tina
- A.J. Johnson as Lewanda
- Lois de Banzie as Immaculata
- Max Grodénchik as Ernie
- Joseph G. Medalis as Henry Parker
- Michael Durrell as Larry Merrick
- Toni Kalem as Connie LaRocca
- Eugene Greytak as Pope John Paul II
- Guy Boyd (uncredited) as Detective Tate
- Choir nuns
- Ellen Albertini Dow
- Carmen Zapata
- Pat Crawford Brown
- Prudence Wright Holmes
- Georgia Creighton
- Susan Johnson
- Ruth Kobart
- Susan Browning
- Darlene Koldenhoven
- Sheri Izzard
- Edith Diaz
- Beth Fowler
Screenwriter Paul Rudnick pitched Sister Act to producer Scott Rudin in 1987, with Bette Midler in mind for the lead role. The script was then brought to Disney. However, Midler later turned down the role, fearing that her fans would not want to see her play a nun. 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. With the movie no longer resembling his original script, Rudnick asked to be credited with a pseudonym in the film, deciding on "Joseph Howard."
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 converted to give the area a ghetto look.
Though the order of the nuns in the film is hinted at being 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). Members of the real-life Order, however, no longer wear their traditional habit.
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 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.
- "The Lounge Medley" ("(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave"/"My Guy"/"I Will Follow Him") — Deloris & The Ronelles
- "The Murder" (instrumental)
- "Getting Into the Habit" (instrumental)
- "Rescue Me" — Fontella Bass
- "Hail Holy Queen" — Deloris & The Sisters
- "Roll With Me Henry" — Etta James
- "Gravy For My Mashed Potatoes" — Dee Dee Sharp
- "My Guy (My God)" — Deloris & The Sisters
- "Just a Touch Of Love (Everyday)" — C+C Music Factory
- "Deloris Is Kidnapped" (instrumental)
- "Nuns to the Rescue" (instrumental)
- "Finale: I Will Follow Him ('Chariot')" — Deloris & The Sisters
- "Shout" — Deloris & The Sisters & The Ronelles
- "If My Sister's in Trouble" — Lady Soul
- The singing voice for the character of "Mary Robert" was performed by vocalist Andrea Robinson.
The film received two Golden Globe nominations:
American Film Institute recognition:
The film was a box office success, grossing $139,605,150 domestically and $92,000,000 in foreign countries, effectively grossing $231,605,150 worldwide, becoming the eighth-highest-grossing film worldwide in 1992. It sat at the #2 spot for four weeks, behind Lethal Weapon 3, Patriot Games and Batman Returns in succession.
Controversy and lawsuit
On June 10, 1993, actress Donna Douglas and her partner Curt Wilson in Associated Artists Entertainment, Inc., filed a $200 million lawsuit against Disney, Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, their production companies, and Creative Artists Agency claiming the film was plagiarized from a book A Nun in the Closet owned by the partners. Douglas and Wilson claimed that in 1985 they had developed a screenplay for the book. The lawsuit claimed that there were over 100 similarities and plagiarisms between the movie and the book/screenplay owned by Douglas and Wilson. The lawsuit further claimed that the developed screenplay had been submitted to Disney, Goldberg, and Midler three times during 1987 and 1988.
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.”
In November 2011, a nun named Queen Mother Dr. 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 rights to the movie after she wrote a three-page synopsis. She is suing for "breach of contract, misappropriation of likeness and unjust enrichment."  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. In early February, 2013, the New York Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, awarding no damages to Blakely.
The Region 1 DVD was released on November 6, 2001; however, the disc has no anamorphic enhancement, similar to early DVDs from Buena Vista. 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".
The all-region Blu-ray including both films was released on June 19, 2012, with both films presented in 1080p. The 3-disc set also includes both films on DVD with the same bonus features as previous releases.
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. It broke records, grossing $1,085,929 to become the highest grossing show ever at the venue. The production then moved to the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, where it ran from January 17 to February 25, 2007.
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. 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. The musical received four Laurence Olivier Awards nominations including Best Musical. On October 30, 2010 the show played its final performance at the London Palladium and transferred to Broadway.
The musical opened at the Broadway Theatre on April 20, 2011, with previews beginning March 24, 2011. Jerry Zaks directed the Broadway production with Douglas Carter Beane rewriting the book. Patina Miller, who originated the role of Deloris in the West End production, reprised her role, making her Broadway debut. She was later 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). The musical received five Tony Award nominations including Best Musical.
The musical closed in August 2012 after playing 561 performances.
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