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The Crazy History of Dogma

Courtesy of Lionsgate

In 1999, Kevin Smith’s fourth film, Dogma, was released to the general public. The film was well received by critics and audiences, with some Kevin Smith fans ranking it high on his list of films. It made $44 million at the box office and according to Kevin Smith, was Lionsgate's most successful film for many years until The Hunger Games came out in 2012. This success, however, was not without bumps in the road, and the film is hard to find both online and on home media. Why is that? How is a successful, well-liked film difficult to get access to?

How Dogma Came to be

Dogma was one of Smith’s early ideas for a film. At the time, it was called God until around the time Clerks came around. At the end of the credits of Clerks, it said “Jay and Silent Bob will return in Dogma.” The first draft was completed in 1994, but was sidelined because Smith and his producers wanted to wait to take on a big film. Smith worked on Mallrats and Chasing Amy as his next two films while tweaking the script for Dogma. The main character was originally going to be a high school jock, but was later changed. Ideas like another Apostle named Rufus made it to the final product.

Dogma was bigger than any of Smith’s previous three films. Joining the cast would be Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Alan Rickman, and Chris Rock, as well as Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith returning as Jay and Silent Bob from Smith’s previous films. The film was about two fallen angels named Bartleby and Loki, played by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, finding a loophole to get back into heaven through a New Jersey church. By doing so, they would erase existence. To prevent this, the Metatron, played by Alan Rickman, appoints Bethany, an abortion clinic counselor who still goes to church, played by Linda Fiorentino, but losing her faith, to stop them with the help of two prophets in the form of Jay and Silent Bob.

Outrage From Groups

Dogma faced controversy from many religious groups, including the Catholic League. The Catholic League called Dogma blasphemy. The film’s original December 1998 release date got delayed to 1999. The film was originally going to be distributed by Miramax, which was owned by Disney at the time. Due to the growing backlash and Disney CEO Michael Eisner feeling uncomfortable with it, Miramax passed on the rights, and Lionsgate distributed the film. Protests emerged from these groups. Smith himself attended a protest and was even interviewed at a protest, with the reporter not knowing it was the director himself. Smith received at least two death threats.

Despite the protests and bumps in the road, Dogma did very well. Critics gave the film good reviews, and audiences loved it. On a $10 million budget, the film made $44 million worldwide. The film didn’t mock God or stereotype Catholics in a negative light. It even sparked interesting conversations on religion in the film, as well as entertaining audiences with satire. Despite the success and praise, it’s a hard-to-find movie.

Rights to the Film

Dogma was released on home media in May 2000. The last home media release for Dogma was in 2008 on Blu-Ray. Nowadays, prices for a physical copy of Dogma are crazy expensive online. The film is not on any streaming services and cannot be rented or purchased digitally. People would likely believe the reason why is because it still faces backlash from some Catholic groups, but it’s not. During an event talking to fans, Smith talked about it and said the film’s rights are still held by Harvey Weinstein from a deal that happened before streaming. There were also no new deals with Lionsgate or Sony, who was the distributor of Dogma on VHS and DVD, so no new Dogma DVDs and Blu-Rays got made.

According to Variety, Weinstein, who founded Miramax, sold the film to himself so it would still come out before Lionsgate was a distributor. Weinstein already did this with another film Disney was hesitant to release back in 1995, Kids, with his company Shining Excalibur. The same year Dogma was released on Blu-Ray, Smith and Weinstein had a fallout due to the poor box office of Smith’s film that year, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. It caused Weinstein to no longer produce films for Smith and the two men did not talk to each other for almost a decade.

In 2017, Weinstein called Smith about future Dogma related projects. Smith had an interest in going back to Dogma himself. The talks didn't get far. A week later, The New York Times broke the story that Weinstein was accused by several women of sexual misconduct, and the #MeToo Movement began. It turned out that Weinstein was calling to see if Smith was the source that broke the news to the New York Times, as former Miramax executive John Gordon said Weinstein called everyone once or still associated with him. Weinstein also wanted to sell the rights to Dogma for $5 million. Kevin Smith was disgusted by what Weinstein did, regretting having so many of his movies tied to Weinstein. Smith pledged to donate the money he earned from movies produced by Weinstein to women in film.

Despite loving his movie, Smith refuses to give Weinstein money to get it back. He also compared Weinstein to the devil, saying Weinstein owns his movie about angels. Smith would only buy the rights to Dogma back at a reasonable price and a guarantee that the money would not directly go to Weinstein, who is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence. Smith’s offers were reportedly too low. The events and references of Dogma are mentioned in other View Askewniverse movies, and Matt Damon appeared in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot as the angel Loki again.

Overall, Dogma remains a hard-to-find movie over 23 years later. The film is still the most successful in Smith’s View Askewniverse. It’s unknown at this point if Smith will ever get the rights back from the Weinstein Company, and even if he does, if Smith will ever make a sequel to the film. Smith said he would like to do a sequel, but who knows if he will still be interested in making one by the time he could likely get the rights back. Regardless, Dogma has a special place in the hearts of Kevin Smith fans.

What do you think about the roller-coaster ride Dogma and Kevin Smith have gone on? Do you think Smith will ever get the rights back? Have you seen Dogma? Let us know in the comments below.

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