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Captain Fantastic (film)

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Captain Fantastic
Captain Fantastic poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMatt Ross
Produced by
Written byMatt Ross
Music byAlex Somers
CinematographyStéphane Fontaine
Edited byJoseph Krings
  • Electric City Entertainment
  • ShivHans Pictures
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 23, 2016 (2016-01-23) (Sundance)
  • July 8, 2016 (2016-07-08) (United States)
Running time
118 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[2]
Box office$22.8 million[3]

Captain Fantastic is a 2016 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Matt Ross and starring Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, and Steve Zahn. The story centers on a family forced by circumstances to reintegrate into society after living in isolation for a decade.

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2016.[4] It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.[5][6] It was theatrically released on July 8, 2016 by Bleecker Street.[7] It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten independent films of 2016[8] and Mortensen was nominated for the Golden Globe, the BAFTA Award,[9] and the Academy Award for Best Actor.[10]


Ben Cash, his wife Leslie, and their six children live an isolated existence on ten acres in the mountainous Washington wilderness. They are former left-wing anarchist activists disillusioned with capitalism and American life, who choose to instill survivalist skills and left-wing politics and philosophy in their children.

They educate them to think critically, and train them to be physically fit, athletic, and self-reliant without dependence on modern technology. They are raised to coexist with nature, and they celebrate Noam Chomsky's birthday instead of Christmas. The children are accustomed to reading many forms of college-level literature, and, while showing high aptitude and intelligence beyond their years, they are socially awkward as they have not been socialized with the outside world.

Leslie is hospitalized, away from her family and near her parents for bipolar disorder and eventually commits suicide, leaving Ben to raise the children on his own. He learns that Leslie's father, Jack, plans to hold a traditional funeral and burial, although Leslie was a Buddhist who wished to be cremated. They argue over the phone, and Jack threatens to have Ben arrested if he attends the funeral. He initially decides not to go and prevents his children from doing so, but then changes his mind, leading his children on a road trip into life outside the wilderness.

The family briefly stays at Ben's sister Harper's. She and her husband try to convince Ben the children should attend school to receive a conventional education; in response, Ben quizzes Harper's children and his children on various topics, illustrating that his children are better educated and embarrassing Harper and her husband. Ben arrives at Leslie's funeral with their children and irreverently reads her will, which instructs her family to cremate her and flush her ashes down a toilet. In response, Jack has Ben forcibly removed from the church.

During their road trip, some of Ben's children start to doubt him and his parenting skills. Rellian accuses him of failing to treat Leslie's mental health. Bodevan accuses him of not equipping them for the real world, showing him acceptance letters from several top Ivy League colleges, which Leslie had helped him apply to. Rellian tells Ben he wants to live with their grandparents, who want custody of all the children. When Vespyr tries to "free" Rellian from their grandparents, she falls from the roof and narrowly avoids breaking her neck. Ben, shocked and guilty, allows Jack to take his children. Although they have bonded with their grandparents, they quietly decide to follow Ben when he departs.

The children wish to honor Leslie's final wishes, and convince Ben to help them. Exhuming her corpse, they burn it on a funeral pyre, flushing her ashes down an airport toilet. Bodevan then leaves the family to travel through Namibia, while the rest settle into a more "real world" life on their farm. The final scene shows the family eating breakfast around the kitchen table with their father, waiting for the school bus to arrive.



The idea of the movie started for Matt Ross as he began questioning the choices he and his wife were making as parents. From there, he wondered what would happen if he were "completely present" in his children's lives while noting that modern technology had made that difficult.[11] In making the film Ross also took autobiographical bits from his own life, notably being raised in what he terms as "alternative-living communities" growing up.[11]

Viggo Mortensen was cast in February 2014.[12] That June, it was announced that George MacKay, Annalise Basso, Samantha Isler, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks and newcomer Charlie Shotwell had also been cast.[13] Much of the rest of the cast joined that July and August.[14][15]

Principal photography on the film commenced in July 2014, in Western Washington,[16][17] with additional photography in Portland, Oregon.[18]


In July 2014, eOne Entertainment acquired international distribution rights to the film.[19] In August 2014, it was announced that Bleecker Street would distribute the film in the United States.[20] The film had its world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2016.[4][21] The film was released on July 8, 2016.[7] The film was aired in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, with Matt Ross winning the Best Director prize.[22]


Box office

Captain Fantastic grossed $5.9 million in the United States and Canada and $15.4 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $21.3 million,[3] against a production budget of $5 million.[2]

Critical response

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 83% based on 225 reviews, with an average rating of 7.13/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Captain Fantastic's thought-provoking themes—and an absorbing starring turn from Viggo Mortensen—add up to an above-average family drama with unexpected twists."[23] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 72 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[24] It received a ten-minute standing ovation at Cannes.[25]

Alonso Duralde of TheWrap gave the film a positive review, saying, "The movie really belongs to Mortensen, who allows Ben to be exasperating, arrogant, and impatient but also warm, loving, and caring. He's a tough but adoring father, a grieving widower and a passionate defender of his wife's final wishes, and Mortensen plays all these notes, and more with subtlety and grace".[26] Peter Debruge of Variety gave the film a positive review, saying "Boasting half a dozen impressive youth performances alongside a leading role that takes full advantage of Mortensen's own sensitive, back-to-nature spirit, Captain Fantastic easily ranks among the most polished and relatable of this year's Sundance offerings."[27]

A negative review from The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw writes, "There's a meaty whiff of phony-baloney in this fatuous and tiresome movie, replete with forced emotional crises and wrong notes, topped off with an excruciatingly unearned, sentimental ending. It's a low-cal version of Peter Weir's 1986 movie The Mosquito Coast, starring someone who is essentially a cross between Charles Manson and Captain von Trapp."[28]

Sheila O'Malley of believes "It's the attitude of the film that's the problem" and it "could have used a lot more skepticism". While praising the cast, she writes that the film "treats the situation (and Ben) so uncritically and so sympathetically that there is a total disconnect between what is actually onscreen and what Ross thinks is onscreen".[29]


List of awards and nominations
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
AARP Annual Movies for Grownups Awards February 6, 2017 Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Nominated [30]
Academy Awards February 26, 2017 Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Nominated [31]
British Academy Film Awards February 12, 2017 Best Actor in a Leading Role Viggo Mortensen Nominated [32]
Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival July 31, 2016 Save Energy, Save Earth Film Award Captain Fantastic Won
Cannes Film Festival May 22, 2016 Un Certain Regard - Prize for Best Director Matt Ross Won [33]
Prix Un Certain Regard Captain Fantastic Nominated
Costume Designers Guild February 21, 2017 Excellence in Contemporary Film Courtney Hoffman Nominated [34]
Critics' Choice Awards December 11, 2016 Best Actor in a Comedy Viggo Mortensen Nominated [35]
Deauville American Film Festival September 11, 2016 Audience Award Captain Fantastic Won
Jury Prize Captain Fantastic Won
Grand Prix Captain Fantastic Nominated
Dorian Awards January 26, 2017 Unsung Film of the Year Captain Fantastic Nominated [36]
Evening Standard British Film Awards December 8, 2016 Best Supporting Actor George MacKay Nominated [37]
Florida Film Critics Circle December 23, 2016 Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Nominated [38]
Golden Globe Awards January 8, 2017 Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Viggo Mortensen Nominated [9]
Houston Film Critics Society January 6, 2017 Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Nominated [39]
Best Poster Captain Fantastic Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards February 25, 2017 Best Male Lead Viggo Mortensen Nominated [40]
IndieWire Critics Poll December 19, 2016 Best Actor Viggo Mortensen 8th place [41]
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival July 9, 2016 Audience Award Captain Fantastic Won
Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild February 19, 2017 Feature-Length Motion Picture – Contemporary Make-Up Akemi Hart and Karen McDonald Nominated [42]
Nantucket Film Festival June 27, 2016 Audience Award Captain Fantastic 2nd place
National Board of Review January 4, 2017 Top Ten Independent Film Captain Fantastic Won [43]
Online Film Critics Society January 3, 2017 Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Nominated [44]
Rome Film Festival October 22, 2016 BNL People's Choice Award Captain Fantastic Won
San Diego Film Critics Society December 12, 2016 Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Runner-up [45]
Satellite Awards February 19, 2017 Best Film Captain Fantastic Nominated [46]
Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Won[a]
Best Original Screenplay Matt Ross Nominated
Best Costume Design Courtney Hoffman Nominated
Seattle International Film Festival June 12, 2016 Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film Captain Fantastic Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards January 29, 2017 Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Viggo Mortensen Nominated [47]
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture The cast of Captain Fantastic Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association December 18, 2016 Best Actor Viggo Mortensen Nominated [48]



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  17. ^ Kahn, Dean (July 19, 2016). "Whatcom County has scenic role in new film, 'Captain Fantastic'". The Bellingham Herald. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  18. ^ Mohan, Marc (January 29, 2016). "The Week in Movies: Pac Northwest movies at Sundance 2016, Oscar-nominated shorts in Portland". The Oregonian. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
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  22. ^ ‘Olli Mäki,’ ‘Captain Fantastic’ Win Big in Un Certain Regard at Cannes.
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  28. ^ The Guardian
  29. ^ O'Malley, Sheila (July 8, 2016). "CAPTAIN FANTASTIC". Roger Ebert.
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  31. ^ Kakar, Utkarsh (June 16, 2017). "Oscars: 'La La Land' Ties Record With 14 Nominations". QuirkyByte. Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  32. ^ Ritman, Alex (January 9, 2017). "BAFTA Awards: 'La La Land' Leads Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  33. ^ "Hell or High Water at Cannes Film Festival". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved November 29, 2016.
  34. ^ Tschorn, Adam (January 12, 2017). "'La La Land,' 'Hidden Figures,' 'Nocturnal Animals,' 'The Crown' among nominees for Costume Designers Guild Awards". Retrieved January 12, 2017.
  35. ^ "La La Land Leads with 12 Nominations for the 22nd Annual Critics' Choice Awards". Critics' Choice. December 1, 2016. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  36. ^ Kilday, Gregg (January 12, 2017). "'Moonlight' Leads Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics' Dorian Award Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
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  38. ^ "'MOONLIGHT' LEADS 2016 FLORIDA FILM CRITICS AWARDS NOMINATIONS". Florida Film Critics Circle. December 21, 2016. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
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  40. ^ Warren, Matt (November 22, 2016). "2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations Announced!". Independent Spirit Awards. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
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  42. ^ Petski, Denise (January 11, 2017). "'Fantastic Beasts', 'La La Land' Among Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild Awards Nominees". Deadline. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
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External links