"90 Minutes in Heaven," an inspiring faith-based film about one man's harrowing near-death experience and spiritual journey, has earned rave reviews for its themes of perseverance and hope amid difficult circumstances.
Released by Giving Films, a production company started in 2015 to address the need for more high-quality faith and family films-entertainment, "90 Minutes in Heaven" focuses on the true story of Pastor Don Piper as recounted in his bestselling memoir of the same title.
Declared dead on Jan. 18, 1989 after a head-on collision with a semi-truck, Don's soul went to heaven for 90 minutes, experiencing love, joy and life more real than he'd ever known.
"It was the most real thing that's ever happened to me," Piper recently told BeliefNet. "This (life on Earth) doesn't seem real. Even all that pain and all those surgeries pale - as traumatic and painful as they were - to the joy, the excitement and the bliss that is Heaven because we're with God."
Thanks to the prayers of another pastor, Don was brought back to life. However, the road to recovery was paved with painful surgeries, months of rehab, and emotional turmoil.
"Survival was going to be difficult," Piper says in his role as the story's narrator, "because heaven was so glorious."
During this time, Don relied on his faith to help him regain a semblance of his previous life and overcome tremendous challenges. With the support and prayers of his wife, Eva, their three children and close friends, he was able to recover spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Speaking to Charisma News, Eva recalled how those difficult months taught her to anticipate her future in heaven and find hope through prayer.
"Before Don's accident, I prayed for the right things, but not with the right heart. And when I was in his hospital room, I learned for the very first time how to cry out to God," she said.
"As the recovery went along, I found that I could talk to God at any time. You don't have to bow your head and close your eyes. Sometimes the conversation is long and sometimes it's short, but when you are honest and open with Him, He sends you the most amazing peace and comfort."
"90 Minutes in Heaven" stars Hayden Christensen (Star Wars, Jumper) and Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush, Superman Returns), and written and directed by Michael Polish (The Astronaut Farmer, Twin Falls) it is the first movie from Giving Films, where its profits will all go to help widows and orphans.
Michael W. Smith, a Grammy and Dove-award winning Christian singer and songwriter, also appears in a leading role in the film as family friend Cliff McArdle--Eva's support and encouragement when the accident news reaches her.
While some have questioned the authenticity of "Heaven tourism" claims after the The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven author admitted his story was fabricated, critics say Piper's story is different: "Piper struck me as a reliable witness," Christianity Today editor Mark Galli wrote. "Piper simply had the look and sound of sanity of someone who was telling the truth, whose word was his bond."
Released in only 878 theaters on September 11, the film made $2,160,911 in its first weekend release, with many critics praising its themes of faith, hope and persistence.
Writes Randall Murphree, editor of the AFA Journal, "This gripping drama is a strong story of extraordinary faith and perseverance. It touches on a man's views of heaven, but more importantly, it focuses on his long and grueling journey back to health and his family's fears and frustrations during that journey."
Adds Patrick Novecosky, editor of Legatus magazine, "A new era of faith-based films has captured the hearts of American filmgoers, and '90 Minutes in Heaven' is among the best of them. It's a soul-wrenching true story of the transforming power of prayer and God's unfathomable grace."