Russ Doughten
Russ Doughten

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Christian filmmaker Russ Doughten Jr., best known for the 1970s’ end-times thrillers A Thief in the Night and A Distant Thunder, died Monday at his home in Carlisle, Iowa, after a lengthy cardiac-related illness. He was 86.

Known as the “Father of the Modern Christian Movie,” the founder of Russ Doughten Films was behind more than 150 projects that led to more than 6 million decisions for Christ.

“Our founder, good friend and mentor has gone home to be with the Lord,” said a Facebook post on the Russ Doughten Films page this week. “We here at Russ Doughten Films will miss him, and we will strive to uphold his vision of spreading the gospel through films.”

Also the founder of the now-defunct Mark IV Pictures and Heartland Productions, Doughten started making evangelistic movies in the 1950s. Nearly all of his films were shot in his home state of Iowa.

Although he worked on secular films, most notably as producer and director of the 1958 sci-fi/horror classic The Blob, Doughten made his mark with the Thief in the Night series, which dramatizes the rapture of the church and the struggles of a small band of believers against an increasingly hostile worldwide Antichrist dictatorship.

Doughten appeared in all four films—A Thief in the Night (1972), A Distant Thunder (1978), Image of the Beast (1980) and The Prodigal Planet (1983)—as the Rev. Matthew Turner, a survivalist who has an elaborate chart of the end-times events, but does not fully believe in the Bible.

The National Religious Broadcasters presented Doughten with the Milestone Award in 2002 for 50 years of achievement in communicating the gospel through movies.

He also established Mustard Seed International, a ministry that seeks to spread the gospel through translated films. A funeral service will be held Saturday at the Carlisle Missionary Baptist Church. Condolences can be offered online at

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