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'Meet the Mormons' surprises at the box office

"Meet the Mormons" features six diverse Mormons from around the world, including Carolina Muñoz Marin who has fought her way to the top of women’s amateur kickboxing in Costa Rica.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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When you think of Mormons, a few things might come to mind.

Perhaps Utah. Mitt Romney. A punchline in, "The Book of Mormon."

But you probably don't think of them as a box office hit.

The new documentary film, "Meet the Mormons," took in nearly $3 million over the weekend despite being screened in just 317 theaters.

It was created by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in part because the church, itself, knows it has an image problem.


Among the criticisms sometimes lobbed at Mormons -- they're ultraconservative, they supported California's Prop 8, they practice polygamy.

"We don't even blame you if that's what you think," says director Blair Treu, "because for the most part that's what you've been told through popular culture and through things like the play 'The Book of Mormon.'"

But the LDS Church hopes a movie like this could shed some light on who they think Mormons really are.

The film follows six different church members to explore their faith, from an African-American bishop in Atlanta to a Nepalese engineer in Kathmandu.

Showcasing a diverse array of people around the world of different ethnicities was on purpose: there are more Mormons outside the U.S. than inside the country, says Treu.

"That's why we felt it was important to actually not have, thank heavens, a bunch of white people that look like me," he says. 

The film is also a slick, upbeat PR campaign. Many of the stories trend high on "feel good," although some critics say the movie is more about propaganda than truth.

Also, it's up against Hollywood heavyweights like "Gone Girl." 

"It's a documentary, it's religious, it's faith-based. So it has a number of strikes against it," says Treu.

But he hopes that non-Mormons who are curious and watch a screening will walk away with a better perception of the LDS Church.