The Postman (film)

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Not to be confused with Il Postino: The Postman.
The Postman
Postman ver3.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kevin Costner
Produced by Kevin Costner
Steve Tisch
Jim Wilson
Screenplay by Eric Roth
Brian Helgeland
Based on The Postman 
by David Brin
Starring Kevin Costner
Will Patton
Larenz Tate
Olivia Williams
James Russo
Tom Petty
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Stephen Windon
Edited by Peter Boyle
Tig Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • December 25, 1997 (1997-12-25)
Running time
177 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $80 million[2]
Box office $17.6 million[2]

The Postman is a 1997 American epic post-apocalyptic adventure film directed, produced, and starring Kevin Costner, with the screenplay written by Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland, based on David Brin's 1985 book of the same name. The film also features Will Patton, Larenz Tate, Olivia Williams, James Russo, and Tom Petty. It's set in a post-apocalyptic and neo-Western version of the United States in the then near-future of the year 2013—all part of a fictionalized history of the United States of America—fifteen years after an unspecified apocalyptic event, which has left a huge impact on human civilization and erased most of all technology.

The film—like the book—follows the story of an unnamed nomadic drifter (played by Costner) who—after escaping from a "neo-fascist" militia—stumbles across the uniform of an old United States Postal Service letter carrier and soon unwittingly inspires hope through an empty promise of aid from the "Restored United States of America". It was filmed in Metaline Falls and Fidalgo Island, Washington, central Oregon, and Tucson, Arizona.

Released on Christmas Day of 1997 from Warner Bros. Pictures, The Postman was a major critical and commercial failure, and received five Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor and Director (both for Costner), and for Worst Screenplay and Worst Original Song (for the entire song score).


In an alternate history year of 1998, an unspecified apocalyptic event known only as "The Doomwar"—which involved the collapse of society and a nuclear war—erased almost all technology, sending the continents back to the Dark Ages. In this new world, pockets of survivors in more rural areas have formed small settlements and villages to maintain some semblance of civilization, while others have joined the militias and warlords that prey on the survivors. With no working motorized vehicles as the oil supplies are gone, horses are the standard for travel and bartering has replaced currency.

Fifteen years later, in post-apocalyptic 2013, an unnamed nomadic survivor (Costner) enters the Oregon flatlands, trading performances of Shakespearean plays for food and water. The nomad stops at a town to restock and learns of the predominant militia, known as the Holnists. Run by General Bethlehem (Will Patton), the militia arrives at the town demanding food, water and a selection of men that ends up including the nomad. The nomad escapes by jumping into a river and later takes refuge in a dead postman's mail Jeep. With a bag of mail and the dead postman's uniform, he arrives at Pineview, Oregon, claiming to be a postman from the newly restored U.S. government. Accepting a letter addressed to a member of the town as proof, they give the Postman food and a place to live in the abandoned post office.

The Postman inspires a teenager named Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate), whom the Postman swears into the postal service, making Mercury the first postman of Pineview. The Postman is approached by Abby (Olivia Williams) seeking a "bodyfather" to impregnate her due to her husband's (Charles Esten) infertility. Pineview's sheriff is skeptical about the Postman's stories about the rebuilt society, telling him to get out of town. Meanwhile, the townspeople have left a pile of mail at the door of the post office. As the postman prepares to leave Pineview, he receives a horse from the residents and a letter from the sheriff for his sister.

During a raid of Pineview, General Bethlehem learns of the Postman and his tales of restored government. Afraid that he will lose his power if the word is spread around, Bethlehem burns the American flag and post office. When refused permission to have sex with Abby, the general kills her husband and kidnaps her. The Postman surrenders during a battle with the town of Benning, Oregon. Abby captures a gun and fires on Bethlehem as he orders the execution of the Postman. The two escape into the surrounding mountains, with the Postman sustaining a serious wound to the chest, temporarily reducing his ability to travel.

The Postman and Abby hide in an abandoned cabin, where Abby tells the Postman she is pregnant with his child. When spring finally arrives, the two cross the range and run into a young girl who claims to be a postal carrier. She reveals that Ford Lincoln Mercury organized a postal service based on The Postman's story and now he established communications, creating a quasi-society. They help towns and settlements to communicate and inadvertently spread the fictional tales of a restored government, which brings hope to the other towns which are in the process of rebuilding. Bethlehem orders the execution of the postal carriers, causing an escalation in the fighting. The Postman receives help from a Vietnam War veteran, who teaches him guerrilla warfare tactics.

The postal carriers, mostly teenagers pitted against a better-equipped enemy, incur mounting casualties. The Postman orders everyone to disband. Writing a last letter to be delivered to Bethlehem, he states that the postal service is over and that the restored government is gone. Ford volunteers to deliver the message, knowing that he will be killed afterward. Bethlehem reads the letter and is disappointed that he won without a fight. He orders the execution of Ford and another postal carrier. However, much to his shock, the other carrier reveals to be from California. Bethlehem realizes that the idea has spread so far over the wastelands that it is now impossible to stop. Ford is kept as a hostage, while the other courier is killed.

The Postman, Abby, and a small group of postal carriers travel to Bridge City. Built on an old dam wall, it is one of the few peaceful sanctuaries that had also been getting mail from other post offices and is now one of the cities in the postal network. The settlement is run by a national celebrity from before the war (Tom Petty). Seemingly trapped between the dam and Bethlehem's scouts, the enclave leader helps the Postman to escape on a cable car to find volunteers for an army to fight Bethlehem's forces.

In a recitation of King Henry V's speech prior to the Siege of Harfleur, the Postman spurs himself to war and to rally troops. Bethlehem and his army meet the postman's army across a field. Knowing the casualties would be great if the armies were to battle, the Postman challenges Bethlehem for Holnist leadership. He invokes "Law 7", learned during his time in the Holnist army, which states any member can challenge the leader and, if victorious, take leadership.

After seeing the recognizable brand and hearing a familiar phrase from the Postman, Bethlehem realizes that the Postman and "Shakespeare" are the same man. Bethlehem accepts the challenge and is defeated by the Postman, but does not accept his loss or the Postman's subsequent offer to build a new, peaceful world. Overcome by rage and desire for power, Bethlehem tries to shoot the Postman but is killed by his former first officer. The officer surrenders himself and the rest of the militia follows. With the war over, the militia, who actually hated Bethlehem but they were afraid to leave, join the Postman and his carriers. Upon settling in Bridge City, he continues to rebuild the post offices to communicate with other towns.

Thirty years later, in 2043, the Postman's daughter Hope (Mary Stuart Masterson), now a young woman, speaks at a statue unveiling as tribute to her late father in St. Rose, Oregon. Seeing modern clothing and technology, it shows that The Postman's actions have rebuilt the United States, and possibly the other nations of the world. The statue of the Postman on horseback bears the inscription, "He delivered a message of hope embraced by a new generation." One of the observers is the boy whom the Postman almost missed, who is now a man saying, "That was me."



The Postman (Music from the Motion Picture)
Film score by James Newton Howard
Released December 23, 1997
Label Warner Sunset/Warner Bros.
  1. "Main Titles"
  2. "Shelter in the Storm"
  3. "The Belly of the Beast"
  4. "General Bethlehem"
  5. "Abby Comes Calling"
  6. "The Restored United States"
  7. "The Postman"
  8. "Almost Home" – Performed by Jono Manson
  9. "It Will Happen Naturally" – Performed by Jono Manson
  10. "The Next Big Thing – Performed by Jono Manson
  11. "This Perfect World" – Performed by John Coinman
  12. "Once This Was the Promise Land" – Performed by John Coinman
  13. "I Miss My Radio" – Performed by Jono Manson and John Coinman
  14. "Come and Get Your Love" – Performed by John Coinman
  15. "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" – Performed by Amy Grant and Kevin Costner


On his personal website,[3] author David Brin reveals that while the studios were bidding for The Postman, his wife decided during a screening of Field of Dreams that Kevin Costner should portray The Postman. Brin agreed that the emotions evoked by Field of Dreams matched the message he intended to deliver with his novel. A decade later, after learning Costner would be cast as the lead, Brin said he was "thrilled"—more so when Costner's interpretation of the Postman's character was similar to Brin's. Costner threw out the old screenplay (in which the moral message of the novel had been reversed) and hired screenwriter Brian Helgeland; Brin says the two of them "rescued the 'soul' of the central character" and reverted the story's message back to one of hope.[4]

In an interview with Metro before filming began, Brin expressed his hope that The Postman would have the "pro-community feel" of Field of Dreams instead of the Mad Max feel of Costner's other post-apocalyptic film Waterworld. Brin said that, unlike typical post-apocalyptic movies that satisfy "little-boy wish fantasies about running amok in a world without rules", the intended moral of The Postman is that "if we lost our civilization, we'd all come to realize how much we missed it, and would realize what a miracle it is simply to get your mail every day."[5]


The Postman received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics.

Stephan Holden of The New York Times criticized the movie for its "bogus sentimentality" and "mawkish jingoism".[6] Roger Ebert described The Postman as "good-hearted" yet "goofy... and pretentious". However, Ebert recognized the movie as a failed parable, for which he said the viewers "shouldn't blame them for trying".[7] On Siskel & Ebert, Ebert and Gene Siskel gave the film "two thumbs down", with Siskel calling it "Dances with Myself" (in reference to Costner's Oscar-winning film Dances with Wolves) while referring to the bronze statue scene.[8]

According to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 3 out of 32 film critics gave the film a positive review, with a "Rotten" score of 9% and an average rating of 3.8/10.[9] Metacritic gives the film a metascore of 29 out of 100 based on 14 reviews.

The film was subsequently released on VHS and DVD on June 9, 1998 and on Blu-ray Disc on September 8, 2009.

Box office[edit]

The film was also a notable failure at the box office. Produced on an estimated $80 million budget, it returned less than $18 million.[10][11]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Subject Nominee Result
Saturn Award Best Science Fiction Film Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Will Patton Nominated
Best Actor Kevin Costner Nominated
Razzie Award Worst Actor Won
Worst Director Won
Worst Picture Kevin Costner, Steve Tisch, and Jim Wilson Won
Worst Screenplay Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland, based on the book by David Brin Won
Worst Original Song The entire song selection Won


  1. ^ "THE POSTMAN (15)". Warner Bros. British Board of Film Classification. January 16, 1998. Retrieved August 31, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b The Postman at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ "". December 22, 2009. Retrieved January 27, 2010. 
  4. ^ Brin, David (1998), The Postman: An Impression by the Author of the Original Novel, retrieved January 15, 2012 
  5. ^ Stentz, Zack (June 12, 1997), "Brin on science fiction, society and Kevin Costner", Metro, retrieved August 3, 2007 
  6. ^ Holden, Stephen (December 24, 1997). "Movie Review: The Postman". The New York Times. Retrieved August 3, 2007. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 25, 1997). "The Postman". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 3, 2007. 
  8. ^ "Week of December 27, 1997" (1997). Television: Siskel & Ebert. Burbank: Buena Vista Television.
  9. ^ The Postman. Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
  10. ^ "The Postman (1997)". Box Office Mojo. January 23, 1998. Retrieved January 27, 2010. 
  11. ^ "'Titanic's' Voyage Is Steaming Ahead". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 3, 2012. 
  • Parish, James Robert (2006), Fiasco – A History of Hollywood’s Iconic Flops, Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 359 pages., ISBN 978-0-471-69159-4 
  • Turner, Barnard Edward (2005), Cultural Tropes of the Contemporary American West, Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen, pp. 267 pages., ISBN 0-7734-6219-8 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture
18th Golden Raspberry Awards
Succeeded by
An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn