Arachnophobia (film)

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Arachnophobia (film) POSTER.jpg
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
Directed byFrank Marshall
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Don Jakoby
    Al Williams
Music byTrevor Jones
CinematographyMikael Salomon
Edited byMichael Kahn
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • July 18, 1990 (1990-07-18)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$22 million[1]
Box office$53.2 million

Arachnophobia is a 1990 American black comedy horror film directed by Frank Marshall and starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman. It was the first film released by The Walt Disney Studios' Hollywood Pictures label, as well as being the directorial debut of Marshall. The film's story centers on a newly discovered Venezuelan spider being transported to a small California town that produces a new species of deadly spiders, which begin killing the town's residents.

Shooting took place in Venezuela and California and the film was released in the United States on July 18, 1990. It was a modest commercial success, gaining $53.21 million at the box office and received generally positive reviews from critics.


In the Amazon rainforest, entomologist Dr. James Atherton hopes to discover new species of insects and arachnids. In a Venezuelan tepui, he captures an aggressive new species of spider, which is revealed to be lacking sex organs, thus, making it a drone or soldier - atypical in spiders. A fertile non-drone male of the same species bites nature photographer Jerry Manley, who has a massive seizure from the venom and dies. The scientists bring his body back to the United States, blaming his death on a fever - unaware the spider has crawled into the coffin.

Manley's desiccated corpse arrives at the funeral home in his hometown of Canaima, California. Escaping outside, the spider is picked up by a crow and bites the bird, which falls dead outside the barn of Ross Jennings, a family physician who has just moved from San Francisco to take over the practice of the retiring town doctor and, like his son, suffers from arachnophobia.

Ross faces a lack of patients after the elderly town doctor Sam Metcalf changes his mind about retiring. The Amazonian spider mates with a female domestic house spider and makes a nest in Jennings' barn, producing hundreds of infertile drone offspring with their father's lethal bite.

Ross' first patient, Margaret Hollins, dies after being bitten by one of the new spiders. Ross has doubts about Metcalf's diagnosis of a heart attack. Metcalf accuses Ross of malpractice, as Ross had taken Margaret off blood pressure medication Metcalf prescribed. A spider kills high school football player Todd Miller just after Ross performed a routine team checkup, earning him the nickname "Dr. Death". The next victim is Dr. Metcalf, who is bitten and dies in front of his wife.

With Metcalf dead, Ross becomes Canaima's town doctor. Knowing Metcalf was bitten by a spider and that a minute amount of an unknown toxin was detected in his body, Ross suspects deadly arachnids could be infesting the town.

Ross and county coroner Milt Briggs orders Hollins and Miller exhumed and perform autopsies on the victims and confirm Ross' suspicion that the deaths were caused by spider bites. Ross calls Atherton, the country's leading expert on spiders, and asks him to aid his investigation. Skeptical, Atherton sends his assistant Chris Collins, who becomes convinced there is a deadly strain of spiders in Canaima. Ross and Chris manage to catch one of the spiders. When Chris mentions the new species Atherton discovered, Ross realises that one of the Venezuelan spiders "hitched a ride in Manley's coffin".

Atherton joins Ross, Chris, Milt, Sheriff Lloyd Parsons, and exterminator Delbert McClintock in Canaima, and they discover the spiders have a short life expectancy. Atherton tells them the spiders are soldiers, sent out to eliminate potential threats for the lead male spider, "the general". He learns that the general produced a queen, which it likely mated with to produce a second nest, guarded by the queen, which could produce fertile offspring, possibly culminating in their worldwide dispersal. The group sets out to destroy both nests and kill the queen and the general.

Deducing that one nest is in his barn, Ross sends Delbert to destroy it. Delbert finds Atherton dead, bitten by the general after disturbing the web. Ross and Chris discover the spiders have killed mortician Irv Kendall and his wife Blaire. Chris gets the Jennings family out of their infested house, but Ross falls through the floor into his wine cellar, revealed to be the spiders' second nest guarded by both the queen and the general.

After electrocuting the queen, Ross battles the general while attempting to burn the second egg sac. Trapped underneath fallen debris as the general prepares to bite him, Ross overcomes his paralytic fear of spiders and flings the general into the fire. As the egg sac hatches, the general jumps out of the fire. Ross shoots it with a nail gun, sending the flaming spider into the egg sac and destroying the nest as Delbert rescues Ross. With the general, the queen and egg sac destroyed, and the drones either killed by Delbert or left to die due to their reduced lifespan, the spider threat is over.

The Jennings family moves back to San Francisco, where Ross' wine toast with his wife Molly is interrupted by an earthquake tremor.



Filmmaker Steven Spielberg was involved with Arachnophobia, with one of his earlier producers Frank Marshall directing for the first time. Spielberg and Marshall are both the executive producers of the film.[2] Amblin Entertainment also helped produce it.[3]

Marshall meant for the film to be like Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, and added, "People like to be scared but laughing, like a roller coaster. No one wants to be terrified."[4] The film also has similarities with the 1977 film Kingdom of the Spiders.[5] Producer Igo Kantor hinted in his Fangoria interview that Arachnophobia, which Spielberg produced, bears several similarities to Kingdom of the Spiders. "I thought it was a copy", Kantor stated, "but you don't go and sue Spielberg!"[citation needed]

Jamie Hyneman, of MythBusters fame, stated in Popular Mechanics[6] that Arachnophobia was one of the first movies he worked on and that he often relied on simple magnets for several of the effects.

The film made use of over 300 Avondale spiders, from New Zealand, which were picked for their large size, unusually social lifestyle, and because they are essentially harmless to humans. They were guided around the set by the use of heat and cold, but the large "general" and "queen" were articulated models. The movie was actually filmed in Southern Venezuela for the intro sequence and the jungle scenes, as well as Cambria, California. All the school scenes were filmed at Coast Union High School. Students and staff were used in the football scenes and group events. The locker room and players were the actual students and players from CUHS.[7]

To create the sound effects of spiders being stepped on or squished, Foley artists stepped on mustard packs or squashed potato chips.[8]

Release and reception[edit]

Arachnophobia was the first film released by Hollywood Pictures.[3] Advertisers were uncertain as to whether they should market the film as a thriller or a comedy. Therefore, television spots promoting the film billed it as a "thrill-omedy".[9]

Box office[edit]

Arachnophobia debuted at #3 behind Ghost and Die Hard 2 with $8 million in its first weekend. The film was a financial success,[10] grossing $53,208,180 domestically[11] and going on to gross an additional $30,000,000 in video rentals. This allowed Spielberg to be the fourth wealthiest entertainer of the year, having previously been the second wealthiest.[10]

Critical response[edit]

In his book, critic Leonard Maltin calls the film a "slick comic thriller" and approves of the acting, warning, "Not recommended for anyone who's ever covered their eyes during a movie."[2] Newsweek associated the film with B movies "about the small town threatened by alien invaders", and said it was well made but "oddly unresonant."[12] Roger Ebert said the film made audiences "squirm out of enjoyment, not terror", giving it three stars out of four.[13]

On the review website Rotten Tomatoes, 92% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 37 reviews, and an average rating of 6.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Arachnophobia may not deliver genuine chills, but it's an affectionate, solidly built tribute to Hollywood's classic creature features."[14]

The film drew protests from some people interested in spiders, as they believed the film tarnished the public image of spiders.[15]


Award Category Subject Result
Saturn Awards[16] Best Horror Film Won
Best Director Frank Marshall Nominated
Best Writing Don Jakoby Nominated
Wesley Strick Nominated
Best Actor Jeff Daniels Won
Best Supporting Actor John Goodman Nominated
12th Young Artist Awards[17] Most Entertaining Family Youth Motion Picture - Comedy/Horror Nominated
Best Young Supporting Actress Marlene Katz Nominated

Home media[edit]

The film was first released on VHS and Laserdisc in 1991. It was then released as a bare bones DVD in 1999. The film was released on Blu-ray on September 25, 2012.

VHS and DVD releases by Hollywood/Buena Vista Home Video curiously omit the original poster art's spider from their cover design, however the Blu-ray now reinstates it.


Film score by
ReleasedJuly 18, 1990 (original release)
March 19, 1996 (re-release)
StudioEvergreen Recording Studios
LabelHollywood Records

Unusually, the video game version of Arachnophobia was also released in 1991, for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and DOS.[18]

A novelization of Arachnophobia was written by author Nicholas Edwards.[19] Hollywood Comics (an imprint of Disney Comics) released a comic book adaptation of the film, written by William Rotsler with art by Dan Spiegle. Notably, the characters in the comic adaptation bear little resemblance to the actors in the film.

An Arachnophobia soundtrack album was released in 1990. It included Trevor Jones's instrumental music from the film as well as dialogue excerpts and songs such as "Blue Eyes Are Sensitive to the Light" by Sara Hickman, "Caught in Your Web (Swear to Your Heart)" by Russell Hitchcock, and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett.

The European version of the album has the same cover art, but more score tracks, fewer songs and no dialogue. The two versions share 10 of the same tracks, but these are also not without their differences: several tracks are noticeably shorter on the European version like "Canaima Nightmare", which is nearly three minutes shorter; and another track has two different titles ("Cellar Theme" in America and "The Cellar" in Europe).[citation needed]

Possible remake[edit]

According to Geek Tyrant, director James Wan is currently in the process of developing a remake with Amblin Entertainment. Wan has directed numerous horror films including Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious, and The Conjuring, as well as blockbuster films including Furious 7 and Aquaman.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "AFI-Catalog". Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b Leonard Maltin, ed., Leonard Maltin's 2002 Movie & Video Guide. A Signet Book, 2001, p. 58.
  3. ^ a b Michael Walsh, "Less-than-terrific tension in this failed spider's web", The Province, Vancouver, British Columbia: July 22, 1990, pg. 85.
  4. ^ Kenneth Turan and New York Times, "The spiders are No. 1 on this set; Working with a herd of erratic arachnids poses special problems for human actors", Edmonton Journal, April 15, 1990, pg. D5
  5. ^ Kingdom of the Spiders/Fun Facts. The Deuce: Grindhouse Cinema Database, January 29, 2009; retrieved January 27, 2012.
  6. ^ Page 44, Nov 2006 issue
  7. ^ 18 Creepy Facts about Arachnophobia. Mental Floss.
  8. ^ Rick Gamble, "A stinging commentary", Expositor, Brantford, Ontario: April 22, 2006, pg. D7.
  9. ^ Bill Provick, "Arachnophobia fun- for those who can stand it", The Ottawa Citizen, March 16, 1991, pg. G7.
  10. ^ a b "Here are the top 40 money-making entertainers; Bill Cosby No. 1 at $60M a year", The Ottawa Citizen, September 18, 1990, pg. D7.
  11. ^ "1990 "Domestic Grosses", Box Office Mojo; accessed May 19, 2006.
  12. ^ D. Ansen, "A choice of chuckles", Newsweek, 23 July 1990, vol. 116, issue 4, p. 64.
  13. ^ Roger Ebert, "Arachnophobia", Chicago Sun-Times, July 18, 1990.
  14. ^ "Arachnophobia (1990)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on April 30, 2010. Retrieved April 8, 2020.
  15. ^ Jennie Punter, "HOPE 'THRILL-OMEDIES' DISAPPEAR AS FAST AS THIS FILM", The Whig-Standard, July 27, 1990, pg. 1.
  16. ^ "Past Saturn Awards". Archived from the original on 1 June 2007. Retrieved 8 June 2007.
  17. ^ "Twelfth Annual Youth in Film Awards". Young Artist Awards. Archived from the original on 23 April 2016.
  18. ^ ""Arachnophobia". MobyGames. Accessed 6 April 2007.
  19. ^ Arachnophobia,; accessed February 11, 2012.
  20. ^ "James Wan is Developing a Remake of ARACHNOPHOBIA For Amblin". GeekTyrant. Retrieved 2019-01-07.

External links[edit]