The Butterfly Effect
|The Butterfly Effect|
Theatrical release poster
|Music by||Michael Suby|
|Cinematography||Matthew F. Leonetti|
|Editing by||Peter Amundson|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Running time||114 minutes
120 minutes (Director's cut)
The Butterfly Effect is a 2004 American science-fiction psychological thriller film that was written and directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, starring Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart. The title refers to the butterfly effect, a popular hypothetical example of chaos theory which illustrates how small initial differences may lead to large unforeseen consequences over time.
Kutcher plays 20-year-old college student Evan Treborn, with Amy Smart as his childhood sweetheart Kayleigh Miller, William Lee Scott as her sadistic brother Tommy, and Elden Henson as their neighbor Lenny. Evan finds he has the ability to travel back in time to inhabit his former self (that is, his adult mind inhabits his younger body) and to change the present. Having been the victim of several childhood traumas aggravated by stress-induced memory losses, he attempts to set things right for himself and his friends, but there are unintended consequences for all. The film draws heavily on flashbacks of the characters' lives at ages 7 and 13, and presents several alternate present-day outcomes as Evan attempts to change the past, before settling on a final outcome.
The film received a poor critical reception, but was nevertheless a commercial success, producing gross earnings of $96 million from a budget of $13 million. The film won the Pegasus Audience Award at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Science Fiction Film at the Saturn Awards and Choice Movie: Thriller in the Teen Choice Awards.
Evan Treborn frequently suffers from blackouts, often at moments of high stress. As a young child (played by Logan Lerman) and adolescent (played by John Patrick Amedori), Evan suffered many severe sexual and psychological traumas. These traumas include being coerced to take part in child pornography by neighbor George Miller (Eric Stoltz) (father of Kayleigh and Tommy); being nearly strangled to death by his institutionalized, mentally ill father, Jason Treborn (Callum Keith Rennie), who is then killed in front of him by guards; causing various accidents (including the killing of an infant) while playing with dynamite with his friends; and seeing his dog being burned alive by Tommy.
Seven years later, while entertaining a girl in his dorm room, he realizes that when he reads from his adolescent journals, he can travel back in time and is able to redo parts of his past. His time traveling episodes account for the frequent blackouts he experienced as a child. However, there are consequences to his revised choices of early actions that propagate forward in time to his present life. For example, editing his personal time-line leads to alternate futures in which he finds himself, variously, a college student in a fraternity, an inmate imprisoned for murdering Tommy, and an amputee. His efforts are driven by the desire to undo the most unpleasant events of his childhood which coincide with his mysterious blackouts, including saving Kayleigh from being molested by her father and from being tormented by her brother Tommy.
The actions he takes, and enables others to take during his blackouts, change the timeline in each new future where he awakes. As he continues to do this, he realizes that, even though his intentions are good, his actions have unforeseen consequences. Moreover, the assimilation of dozens of years' worth of new memories from the alternate timelines causes his brain damage and severe nosebleeds. Ultimately, he decides that his attempts to alter the past end up only harming those he cares about, and realizes that the main cause of everyone's suffering in all the different timelines is himself.
At the conclusion of the film, Evan purposely travels back in time one final time to the day he first meets Kayleigh as a child. He intentionally upsets her so that she will choose to live with her mother, in a different neighborhood, instead of with her father when they divorce. She and her brother are therefore never subjected to a destructive upbringing and go on to be successful in life, at the cost of Evan's acquaintance with her.
An alternate ending, shown as the main ending on some versions of the DVD, concludes with Evan going back to the day he was due to be born, where his mother is in labor in the hospital. He then proceeds to knot his umbilical cord, causing him to die before birth. This seemingly saves those close to him from their original fates. His mother is later shown having another child, a daughter, with her husband, suggesting he never became institutionalized.
- Ashton Kutcher as Evan Treborn
- Amy Smart as Kayleigh Miller
- Elden Henson as Lenny Kagan
- William Lee Scott as Tommy Miller
- Melora Walters as Andrea Treborn
- Eric Stoltz as George Miller
- Ethan Suplee as Thumper
- Kevin Durand as Carlos
- Callum Keith Rennie as Jason Treborn
- Lorena Gale as Mrs. Boswell
- Nathaniel DeVeaux as Dr. Redfield
- Tara Wilson as Heidi
- Jesse Hutch as Spencer
- Jacqueline Stewart as Gwen
- John Patrick Amedori as Evan, age 13
- Logan Lerman as Evan, age 7
- Irene Gorovaia as Kayleigh, age 13
- Sarah Widdows as Kayleigh, age 7
- Kevin G. Schmidt as Lenny, age 13
- Jake Kaese as Lenny, age 7
- Jesse James as Tommy, age 13
- Cameron Bright as Tommy, age 7
Critical reception was generally poor. Roger Ebert wrote that he "enjoyed The Butterfly Effect, up to a point" and that the "plot provides a showcase for acting talent, since the actors have to play characters who go through wild swings." However, Ebert complained that the scientific notion of the butterfly effect is used inconsistently: Evan's changes should have wider reverberations. Sean Axmaker of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called it a "metaphysical mess", criticizing the film's mechanics for being "fuzzy at best and just plain sloppy the rest of the time". Mike Clark of USA Today also gave the film a negative review, stating, "Normally, such a premise comes off as either intriguing or silly, but the morbid subplots (there's prison sex, too) prevent Effect from becoming the unintentional howler it might otherwise be." Additionally, Ty Burr of The Boston Globe went as far as saying, "whatever train-wreck pleasures you might locate here are spoiled by the vile acts the characters commit."
Many critics enjoyed the movie. Matt Soergel, of The Florida Times-Union, rated it 3 stars out of 4, writing, "The Butterfly Effect is preposterous, feverish, creepy and stars Ashton Kutcher in a dramatic role. It's a blast... a solidly entertaining B-movie. It's even quite funny at times..." The Miami Herald said, "The Butterfly Effect is better than you might expect despite its awkward, slow beginning, drawing you in gradually and paying off in surprisingly effective and bittersweet ways," and added that Kutcher is "appealing and believable... The Butterfly Effect sticks to its rules fairly well... overall the film is consistent in its flights of fancy." The Worcester Telegram & Gazette praised it as "a disturbing film" and "the first really interesting film of 2004," adding that Kutcher "carries it off": "Written and directed by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, who co-wrote Final Destination 2, this is much more intelligent than their earlier film would suggest... The Butterfly Effect may be a little too unconventional to succeed with a mass audience, but filmgoers claiming they want 'something different' from Hollywood ought to take note."
According to the film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, The Butterfly Effect garnered mixed to average reviews, with the film receiving a 33% rating — classifying it as "Rotten". On Metacritic, it has a score of 30 (generally negative reviews) out of 100.
Box office 
Despite the critical failure, the film was a commercial success, earning $17,065,227 and claiming the #1 spot in its opening weekend. Against a $13 million budget, The Butterfly Effect grossed around $57,938,693 at the U.S. box office and $96,060,858 worldwide.
Awards and nominations 
- 2004 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (Saturn Awards)
- Best Science Fiction Film - nominated
- Pegasus Audience Award — Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber - won
- 2004 Teen Choice Awards
- Choice Movie: Thriller - nominated
Home media 
The film was released on DVD as the Infinifilm edition on July 6, 2004. This edition was released with the theatrical cut (113 minutes) on one side and the director's cut (120 minutes) on the other. The DVD also includes two documentaries ("The Science and Psychology of the Chaos Theory" and "The History and Allure of Time Travel"), a trivia subtitle track, filmmaker commentary by directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber, deleted and alternate scenes, and a short feature called "The Creative Process" among other things.
Alternate endings 
An alternate ending shows Evan and Kayleigh stopping on the sidewalk when they cross paths. They introduce themselves and Evan asks her out for coffee.
Another alternate ending is similar to the one shown in the film, except this time Evan, after hesitating, turns and follows Kayleigh. This ending was utilized in the film's novelization, written by James Swallow and published by Black Flame.
In the director's cut of the movie, Evan takes himself to where his mother was going in to labor, and strangles himself in her womb.
The Butterfly Effect 2 was released on DVD on October 10, 2006. It was directed by John R. Leonetti and was largely unrelated to the original film. It features a brief reference to the first film in the form of a newspaper headline referring to Evan's father, as well as using the same basic time travel mechanics.
The third installment in the series, The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations, was released by After Dark Films in 2009. This sequel follows the life of a young man who journeys back in time in order to solve the mystery surrounding his high school girlfriend's death. This film has no direct relation to the first two and uses slightly different time travel mechanics.
- Recognition of Ray Bradbury's influential story, A Sound of Thunder, appears on a pennant reading "Bradbury" in Evan's dorm room.
- The Butterfly Effect at Box Office Mojo
- Gruber, J. Mackye; Bress, Eric. "The Butterfly Effect: Shooting Draft". Internet Movie Script Database. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
- "FAQ for The Butterfly Effect"". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 7, 2013. "Question: 'Does Evan's condition cause the nose bleeds and brain damage?' Answer: 'Not directly. Every time that Evan jumps back into time and changes something, his history is 're-written', and when that happens, his brain undergoes instant structural changes to accommodate the new memories. His brain has to cope with years of memories that are crammed into his mind all at once, which can be compared to the weariness experienced after a night of intense learning for an exam, multiplied by a thousand or so. Additionally, Evan retains the old memories, so after several time jumps, his mind is packing more than 40 years' worth of memories, while his brain is only in its twenties. So the time jumps themselves are actually wearing his brain out, and not the ability to time travel per se. His father had done the same thing, which is what caused the brain damage and mental instability in him as well."
- Ebert, Roger. "Back and forth, and back again - Butterfly Effect causes the feeling of being jerked around." Chicago Sun-Times. January 23, 2004. p. 31. "This is a premise not unknown to science fiction, where one famous story has a time-traveler stepping on a cockroach millions of years ago and wiping out humanity. The remarkable thing about the changes in The Butterfly Effect is that they're so precisely aimed: They apparently affect only the characters in the movie." (Ebert, who knew science fiction, made surprising errors in referring to A Sound of Thunder, the Ray Bradbury story which gave rise to the term "butterfly effect": the time traveler steps on a butterfly, not a cockroach, hence the term butterfly effect, and does not wipe out humanity, but merely changes the results of an election. The source text, in other words, which is specifically based on the For Want of a Nail premise, shows that reverberations are limited, even provincial.)
- Axmaker, Sean (22 January 2004). "'Butterfly Effect' is wrapped in a cocoon of grim absurdity". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- Clark, Mike (22 January 2004). "Change is not so good for Kutcher in 'The Butterfly Effect'". USA Today. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- Burr, Ty (23 January 2004). "Kutcher falls flat in 'The Butterfly Effect'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- Soergel, Matt (January 23, 2004). "Time after time... Ashton Kutcher revisits his past, again and again". The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Florida). p. WE-5. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
- Ogle, Connie (January 23, 2004). "Kutcher Effective in Grown-Up Role". The Miami Herald. p. 9G. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
- Kimmel, Daniel M. (January 23, 2004). "Kutcher transforms into serious actor in dark Butterfly". Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts). p. C5. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
- "The Butterfly Effect (2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
- "Butterfly Effect, The Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2009-08-08.
- "'Butterfly Effect' floats to top of box office". AP. 25 January 2004. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- "Awards for 2004: Teen Choice Award". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
- "The Butterfly Effect (Infinifilm Edition) (2004)".
- Ashton Kutcher (Executive Producer). Happy Ending. New Line Cinema.
- Ashton Kutcher (Executive Producer). Open Ending (DVD). New Line Cinema.
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