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90 Minutes in Heaven: Movie Review

Chris Carpenter


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In 10 years of general release, author Don Piper’s autobiographical book 90 Minutes in Heaven has sold more than seven million copies.  His story is a miraculous one, a tale of his astonishing recovery from a myriad of life-threatening injuries suffered in a horrific car accident.  But even more remarkable is that he was legally dead for 90 minutes before he began breathing again.  In the interim, Piper says he spent that time at the gates of Heaven.

Piper’s stubborn, persistent faith is on full display in the cinematic adaptation of his book as 90 Minutes in Heaven makes it’s way into theaters this weekend.  Directed by Michael Polish (The Astronaut Farmer), the movie takes viewers on an emotional journey of perseverance in the face of tragedy while providing a glimpse into what Heaven might really be like.


Don Piper was on his way home from a church conference in January of 1989 when an 18-wheeler truck struck and crushed him in his car.  First responders to the accident scene quickly declared Piper’s bloodied and mangled body dead after finding no pulse.  While his body lay beneath a tarp for 90 excruciating minutes, Piper’s soul was in Heaven experiencing a peace, love, and joy that he had never felt before.  Another pastor who came upon the accident scene pleaded with authorities to allow him to pray for the deceased Piper.  Shortly after interceding fervently for him, Piper stirred back to life, becoming nothing short of a miracle.  However, he wished this miracle never happened because he was forced to leave the comforts of Heaven to undertake a grueling recovery, one that included 34 different surgeries to repair his horrific injuries. At first, he tells no one about what he experienced at the heavenly gates. Through it all, Piper fights many emotional battles but never leaves his faith in God.  Serving as an anchor, his wife and children stand firmly at his side, helping him to overcome all the tremendous obstacles he faces on the road to recovery.


Unlike many Christian movies, 90 Minutes in Heaven certainly has its fair share of Hollywood star power.  Starring Hayden Christensen (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones) and Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns, 21), the duo portrays Piper and his wife Eva in performances that are credible for their respective characters.  While Christensen commendably tackles Piper’s many emotional battles on the road to recovery, it is Bosworth who shines.  The Superman Returns star delivers a compellingly complex performance that is equal parts passion, resiliency, and determination.

While 90 Minutes in Heaven opens strongly with an intensity-laced portrayal of the car crash and the events leading up to it, the movie soon falls into repetitive territory as virtually every scene depicted from that point forward is conducted from Piper’s hospital room.  Long gone is the glorious interpretation of Heaven that he experienced.  What viewers are left with is a broken man with a secret, several family visits, and a gaggle of hospital personnel working diligently toward his recovery.   However, the power of prayer is effectively demonstrated throughout the movie’s 121 minutes.

Viewers will undoubtedly be tickled with Dwight Yoakam’s (Sling Blade) comedic turn as a personal injury attorney.  Director Polish deftly uses Yoakam to inject a good dose of humor into the family’s otherwise dismal circumstances. In one scene, one can’t help but laugh out loud as Yoakam’s ambulance-chasing lawyer hands out business cards to strangers in a hospital cafeteria while meeting with Eva Piper. 
Acting veteran Fred Thompson (Law and Order) also lightens the movie a bit as a pastor friend of Piper’s who does his best to dispense folksy advice that is rooted in faith.  In addition, Christian music star Michael W. Smith (The Second Chance) returns to movie acting for the first time in ten years as the Piper’s close friend Cliff McArdle.

Some people will likely scrutinize the movie adaptation of 90 Minutes in Heaven for how Heaven is depicted.  Despite these doctrinal differences, it is very clear that director Polish firmly believes in Heaven by the way he presents the pearly gates to viewers.  His treatment of it is both tasteful and appropriate. 

As a defining exclamation point, the real life Don Piper appears at the end of the movie to preach for a few minutes about the glory of Heaven and share his desire that all people make a life-affirming decision in regard to where they will spend eternity.


Despite its pacing flaws, 90 Minutes in Heaven is an inspirational reminder that God can take any circumstance and use it for His glory.  The Piper’s story is one of great perseverance and unwavering faith that illustrates the power of perseverance and prayer.  It will certainly provide encouragement to those who need it.

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About The Author


Chris Carpenter is the program director for, the official website of the Christian Broadcasting Network. He also serves as executive producer for myCBN Weekend, an Internet exclusive webcast show seen on In addition to his regular duties, Chris writes extensively for the website. Over the years, he has interviewed many notable entertainers, athletes, and politicians including Oscar winners Matthew McConaughy and Reese Witherspoon, evangelist Franklin Graham, author Max Lucado, Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy and former presidential hopefuls Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Mike