Sister Act is a 1992 American musical comedy film directed by Emile Ardolino and written by Joseph Howard. Featuring musical arrangements by Marc Shaiman, the film stars Whoopi Goldberg as a Reno lounge singer who has been put under protective custody in a San Francisco convent of Poor Clares and has to pretend to be a nun when a mob boss puts her on his hit list. Also in the cast are Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makkena, Mary Wickes, and Harvey Keitel.
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|
One of the most financially successful comedies of the early 1990s, grossing $231 million worldwide, the film was rated #83 on Bravo's The 100 Funniest Movies list.
It spawned a 1993 sequel, entitled Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, and a musical adaptation that premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California, in 2006, and opened at the West End's London Palladium with previews from May 7, 2009. The musical then opened on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre in April 2011, with previews beginning March 24, 2011.
The film opens in 1968 at St. Anne's Academy, a California Roman Catholic school, where a young girl named Deloris Wilson (Isis Carmen Jones) is scolded by Sister Immaculata (Lois de Banzie) for wisecracking and disobedience. The setting then changes to the present day, where Deloris (Whoopi Goldberg) (now going by the surname Van Cartier) is a lounge singer in a 1960s-themed act called The Ronelles (a parody of The Ronettes), who sing at The Moonlite Lounge of the Nevada Club in Reno, Nevada, run by her boyfriend, the mobster Vince LaRocca (Harvey Keitel). After Deloris walks in on Vince having his chauffeur Ernie (Max Grodenchik) executed for betrayal, Vince orders his two henchmen Joey (Robert Miranda) and Willy (Richard Portnow) to kill her as well. Deloris flees Vince's casino to the local police station where Lieutenant Eddie Souther (Bill Nunn) suggests she testify against Vince if he can be arrested and tried, but for now, she should go into witness protection until the time comes.
Deloris is taken to St. Katherine's Parish in a seedy, run-down neighborhood of San Francisco, where Souther suggests she take refuge in the attached convent ("It'll be the best safe house for you --- it's the last place where Vince would ever think to look for you"). Both Deloris and the stoic Reverend Mother (Maggie Smith) object, but are convinced by Souther and Monsignor Bishop O'Hara (Joseph Maher) to go ahead with it. Deloris 'becomes' a nun – habit and all – under the hand of Reverend Mother, who gives her the religious name 'Sister Mary Clarence' to complete the disguise. Mary Clarence objects to following the strictures and simple life of the convent, but comes to befriend several of the nuns, including the forever jolly Sister Mary Patrick (Kathy Najimy), quiet and meek Sister Mary Robert (Wendy Makkena), and the elderly deadpan Sister Mary Lazarus (Mary Wickes), who is also the choir director. After sneaking into a nearby bar, Mary Clarence is chastised by Reverend Mother and put into the choir, which she has seen to be dreadful. The choir nuns, learning that Mary Clarence has a background in music, elect her to take over as choir director, which she accepts, and she rearranges them to make them better singers. At Mass one Sunday, the choir sings the "Hail Holy Queen" in the traditional manner beautifully before shifting into a gospel and rock-and-roll-infused performance of the hymn.
Reverend Mother is infuriated with Mary Clarence about the performance, and orders that Mary Lazarus once again become the director of the choir, but Monsignor O'Hara is thrilled with the performance as the unorthodox music brought people, including teenagers, in off the streets. Deloris convinces Monsignor O'Hara that the nuns should be going out to clean up the neighborhood. This they do, and the choir wows church visitors with their music, with Souther eventually attending a performance of "My Guy" (appropriately rewritten as "My God"). Eventually, O'Hara announces to the choir that Pope John Paul II (Eugene Greytak) is to visit the church to see the choir himself. Reverend Mother decides to hand in her resignation since her authority has been unintentionally undermined, but Mary Clarence offers to leave in her stead, to which the Reverend Mother disagrees.
Detective Tate (Guy Boyd), a police officer on Vince's payroll, finds out where Deloris is and contacts Vince, who sends Joey and Willy out to grab her. Souther confronts Tate, gets him arrested, and flies to San Francisco to try and warn Mary Clarence, but Vince's men abduct her.
The nuns, led by the Reverend Mother, risk their lives by going to Reno to save Mary Clarence. Meanwhile, she flees Vince and his men, leading to a chase around the casino until the nuns find her and try to sneak out. Vince, Joey and Willy confront the nuns, but they cannot bring themselves to shoot Deloris while she is in a nun's habit, and Reverend Mother proclaims Deloris is indeed a nun, to convince Vince. As Vince works up the courage to shoot her anyway, Souther bursts in and shoots him in the arm, and has the men arrested. Reverend Mother then thanks Deloris for everything she has done for them and agrees to remain at the convent.
The film ends with the choir, led by Deloris, singing "I Will Follow Him" before the Pope and a packed and refurbished St. Katherine's, earning a loud standing ovation from the audience, the Pope, Reverend Mother, Monsignor O'Hara and Lt. Souther. The end credits reveals that Deloris' secret life as a nun was sold to the media and has become a sensation. The ending of Deloris' "career" as a choir leader is revealed through magazines and album covers and Deloris has continued leading the choir as a famous group with published albums.
- Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris Van Cartier / Sister Mary Clarence
- Isis Carmen Jones as Little Deloris Wilson
- Maggie Smith as Reverend Mother Superior
- 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 Bishop 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
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 refuge 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. Members of the real-life Order, however, no longer wear their traditional habit.
The film's soundtrack was released 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 LawsuitEdit
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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- Box Office Information for Sister Act. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
- "Sister Act (1992) - Box Office Mojo". boxofficemojo.com.
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- "14 Faithful Facts About Sister Act". May 29, 2017.
- Rudnick, Paul (2009-07-20). "Fun With Nuns". The New Yorker. pp. 37–41. Retrieved July 26, 2009.
- "Sister Act (1992)". IMDb.
- "Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis". www.ssj-tosf.org.
- "Top 200 Albums - Billboard". Billboard.
- "RIAA - Gold & Platinum Searchable Database - November 03, 2015". riaa.
- Sister Act at Rotten Tomatoes
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF).
- Haring, Bruce (June 10, 1993), $200 mil suit targets 'Sister Act', Variety, retrieved January 2, 2012
- Friend, Tad (September 1998), Copy Cats: Hollywood Stole My Story!, The New Yorker, retrieved January 2, 2012
- 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
- "Nun Sues Disney for $1B Over 'Sister Act'". TheWrap.
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- New York Supreme Court Decision
- "Sister Act: 20th Anniversary Edition - Two-Movie Collection (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (1992)". Retrieved 20 June 2012.
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- Sister Act Sets Pasadena Playhouse Record broadwayworld.com
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- "It's Official: Douglas Carter Beane Joins 'Sister Act' Team". Broadwayworld.com, February 28, 2011
- Hetrick, Adam. "Victoria Clark, Fred Applegate, Chester Gregory Will Be Part of Broadway's 'Sister Act' ". Playbill.com, February 1, 2011
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