Boxing Helena

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Boxing Helena
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJennifer Chambers Lynch
Screenplay byJennifer Chambers Lynch
Story byPhilippe Caland
Produced by
  • Philippe Caland
  • Carl Mazzocone
Edited byDavid Finfer
Music byGraeme Revell
Main Line Pictures
Distributed byOrion Classics
Release date
  • September 3, 1993 (1993-09-03)
Running time
105 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.8 million[2]

Boxing Helena is a 1993 American mystery thriller-horror film directed by Jennifer Lynch, and starring Sherilyn Fenn, Julian Sands and Bill Paxton.[3] The film garnered notoriety prior to its release after notorious legal battles with Madonna and Kim Basinger, both of whom backed out of the leading role of Helena. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1993, where it received critical praise. After receiving an NC-17 rating by the MPAA, the film was given an R-rating on appeal and released in the United States in September 1993, but received critical backlash and was a financial failure.


The movie follows a surgeon whose growing obsession with a woman leads him to amputate her limbs and hold her captive in his home after she suffers a car accident.

Nick Cavanaugh is a lonely Atlanta surgeon obsessed with a woman named Helena, with whom he had one intimate experience. Nick is in love with her while Helena holds disdain for him. After she suffers a high grade tibial fracture in a hit-and-run motor vehicle collision in front of his home, he kidnaps and treats her in his house surreptitiously, amputating both of her legs above the knee. Later, he amputates her arms above the elbow after she tries to choke him.

Though Helena is the victim of Nick's kidnapping and mutilation, she dominates the dialogue with her constant ridiculing of him for all of his shortcomings. Then it turns out that all this was a dream. Helena wakes up in the hospital, with all her limbs intact.


  • Sherilyn Fenn as Helena[4]
  • Julian Sands as Dr. Nick Cavanaugh
  • Bill Paxton as Ray O'Malley
  • Kurtwood Smith as Dr. Alan Palmer
  • Art Garfunkel as Dr. Lawrence Augustine
  • Betsy Clark as Anne Garrett
  • Nicolette Scorsese as Fantasy Lover/Nurse
  • Meg Register as Marion Cavanaugh
  • Bryan Smith as Russell
  • Marla Levine as Patricia
  • Kim Lentz as Nurse Diane
  • Lloyd T. Williams as Sam the Clerk


Producer Philippe Caland initially came up with the idea, but wanted a woman to write it, and so approached Lynch after she gave a poetry reading.[5] At first Lynch didn't take to the concept, reportedly telling him "Well, that sounds kind of terrible."[5] However Caland was eventually able to convince her to work on it. In writing Lynch was inspired by some elements from her own childhood, stating to Vice that her being born with club feet, and her grandmother owning a Venus De Milo replica, influenced her insight into the characters,[5] explaining:

It always struck me the way people looked at the Venus. They didn't see her as broken, they saw her as beautiful. And it really made a huge impact on me. I thought I was broken and that maybe someday someone would find me beautiful. So this idea of a damaged boy who was in an obsessive situation who would try to recreate from his own view the one thing that didn't hit him or abandon him was this armless, beautiful woman. And therefore in a dream recreate this obsessive thing where we take from one another until we are the size and shape that we think the other person should be for us.[5]

Madonna was originally supposed to play the starring role, but shortly before filming was to begin in January 1991 she dropped out, causing the production on the film to be halted.[6] The next month, in an attempt to salvage the situation, Lynch met with Kim Basinger about starring in the title role and while she agreed, closer to the new filming date she began requesting what The New York Times referred to as "major script revisions", which according to producer Mazzocone amounted to making Helena "less of a bitch". After the production failed to make the changes to Basinger's satisfaction she also quit the picture.[6]

Legal battles involving both stars then ensued.[7] Eventually Basinger was the subject of an adverse jury verdict for over $8.1 million.[8] This caused Basinger to enter bankruptcy. The verdict was then set aside on appeal in 1994,[9][10] but the actress later settled for $3.8 million.[11][12]

Meanwhile, Sherilyn Fenn, who had previously worked with Lynch's father on Twin Peaks, was chosen for the title role of Helena in December 1991.[6] By this time a third major star, Ed Harris, had also backed out of the film due to the ever-increasing delays, telling The New York Times, "I needed to get on with my life."[6]


The score heard during the scene where Helena showers in a fountain, while a party crowd watches, was originally composed by Graeme Revell and based on the "Love Theme" used sparsely elsewhere in the film, with vocals by Bobbi Page. At the producers' request, "The Fountain Song", written and performed by Wendy Levy, replaced Revell's score in the DVD and subsequent releases.


Boxing Helena premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1993 and was theatrically released by Orion Classics in the United States on September 3, 1993, Entertainment Film Distributors in the United Kingdom on June 18, 1993, and Republic Pictures in other international territories.[13]

Box office[edit]

The film performed poorly at the box office,[14] grossing only $1,796,389 in the domestic box office.[2]


The film received negative reviews from critics upon release and was widely considered to be of poor quality,[15] despite garnering praise at Sundance. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 17% score based on 35 reviews, with an average rating of 3.68/10.[16] Metacritic reports a 26 out of 100 rating based on 14 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel was one of the few positive notices, giving the film three out of four stars.[17] John Simon of the National Review called Boxing Helena "the rottenest apple from the bottom of the cinematic barrel".[18]


The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival.[19] Lynch won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Director at the 14th Golden Raspberry Awards in 1994.

In popular culture[edit]

The film was referenced in the television series Gilmore Girls (S3:E7 “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?”), as well as "The Nanny" (S1:E22 "I Don't Remember Mama"). The film also inspired the song "Helena" by The Misfits from their album Famous Monsters and "Helena 2" from their album Cuts from the Crypt. [20]

The title of the film was used as the name of an episode of the sixth season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, when Will Smith's character takes boxing lessons from an attractive instructor named Helena.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BOXING HELENA (18)". British Board of Film Classification. April 2, 1993. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Boxing Helena (1993)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  3. ^ "'Boxing Helena' Director's Debut Plunges Her Into Gender Wars". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  4. ^ Fox, David J. (January 14, 1993). "Boxing Helena Rated NC-17". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d Webber, Jason. "More Than David's Daughter: An Interview with Jennifer Lynch". Vice. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d Thompson, Anne. "FILM; The Ins and Outs of 'Boxing Helena'". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  7. ^ Jane Birnbaum (May 22, 1992). "Unarmed And Dangerous: Jennifer Lynch loses Madonna, Basinger, gains Fenn for Boxing Helena". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 1, 2010.
  8. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (March 9, 1993). "Basinger Tells Court Why She Refused Script". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  9. ^ "Basinger Bankruptcy Puts Georgia Bank on the Block". Chicago Tribune. Bloomberg Business News. September 20, 1994. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  10. ^ Brennan, Judy; Boyer, Edward J. (September 23, 1994). "Damages Against Kim Basinger in Film Suit Voided: Courts: Appellate justices find the judge gave ambiguous instructions to jury in 'Boxing Helena' case. Verdict of $8.1 million threw film star into bankruptcy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  11. ^ "For Kim Basinger, the 'fire ball' is out – and Veronica Lake is in". Archived from the original on August 20, 2017. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  12. ^ Weinstein, Steve (August 29, 1993). "MOVIES : Shadow Boxing : 'Helena' director fears that with the heavily publicized baggage about Madonna and Kim Basinger accompanying the film, practically no one will see without prejudice the movie she, David Lynch's daughter, made". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  13. ^ Thompson, Anne (July 5, 1992). "FILM; The Ins and Outs of 'Boxing Helena'". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Fox, David J. (September 8, 1993). "Labor Day Weekend Box Office : 'The Fugitive' Just Keeps on Running". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  15. ^ Maslin, Janet (September 3, 1993). "Review/Film: Boxing Helena; A Kinky, Macabre Tale Of Erotic Fascination". The New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  16. ^ "Boxing Helena (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  17. ^ "Boxing Helena reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
  18. ^ Simon, John (2005). John Simon on Film: Criticism 1982-2001. Applause Books. p. 387.
  19. ^ Sundance Film Festival (1993) - IMDb
  20. ^ Helena by The Misfits - Topic on YouTube

External links[edit]