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Chaplin (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Attenborough
Screenplay by
Story byDiana Hawkins
Based on
Produced by
CinematographySven Nykvist
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Music byJohn Barry
Distributed byGuild Film Distribution (United Kingdom)[1]
TriStar Pictures (United States)
Release dates
  • December 17, 1992 (1992-12-17) (United Kingdom)
  • December 25, 1992 (1992-12-25) (United States)
Running time
145 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Budget$31 million
Box office$12 million (US/UK)

Chaplin is a 1992 biographical comedy-drama film about the life of English comic actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin. It was produced and directed by Richard Attenborough and stars Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Dan Aykroyd, Penelope Ann Miller and Kevin Kline. It also features Charlie Chaplin's own daughter, Geraldine Chaplin, in the role of his mother, Hannah Chaplin.

The film was adapted by William Boyd, Bryan Forbes and William Goldman from Chaplin's 1964 book My Autobiography and the 1985 book Chaplin: His Life and Art by film critic David Robinson. Associate producer Diana Hawkins got a story credit. The original music score was composed by John Barry.[2][3]

The film underperformed at the box office, grossing $12 million against a $31 million budget, and received mixed reviews from critics; Downey's titular performance, however, garnered critical acclaim and won him the BAFTA Award for Best Actor along with nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.



An elderly Charlie Chaplin reminisces during a 1962 conversation in Switzerland with George Hayden, the fictionalized editor of his autobiography.

In the Victorian era East End of London, Chaplin escapes his poverty-stricken childhood by immersing himself in the world of variety circuit. In 1894, after his mother Hannah loses her voice onstage, five-year-old Charlie takes her place. Hannah is eventually committed to an asylum after developing psychosis. Over the years, Chaplin and his brother Sydney gain work with variety producer Fred Karno, who later sends him to the United States. He begins a relationship with dancer Hetty Kelly and soon proposes to her. However, Kelly declines, reasoning she is too young. Chaplin vows to return when he is a success.

In America, Chaplin is employed by famous comedy producer Mack Sennett. He creates the Tramp persona, and due to the terrible directorial abilities of Sennett's girlfriend Mabel Normand, he becomes his own director. After Sydney becomes his manager, Chaplin breaks from Sennett to gain creative control over his films, with the goal of one day owning his own studio. In 1917, he completes work on his film The Immigrant and starts a two-year relationship with actress Edna Purviance.

Years later, at a party thrown by Douglas Fairbanks, Chaplin dates child actress Mildred Harris. He sets up his own studio and becomes "the most famous man in the world" before his 30th birthday. Chaplin tells Fairbanks that he must marry Harris because she is pregnant but later learns it is a hoax. Chaplin has a confrontation with J. Edgar Hoover about actor/directors and propaganda. This sparks a 40-year-long vendetta by Hoover.

Harris's divorce lawyers claim Chaplin's film The Kid as an asset. Chaplin and Sydney flee with the footage, finish editing it in a Salt Lake City hotel, then smuggle it back to Los Angeles.

The brothers arrange for their mother to join them, but Chaplin cannot cope with her worsened condition. In 1921, Chaplin attends the UK premiere of The Kid. He hopes to locate Hetty, but soon learns that she died in the influenza epidemic. Chaplin also discovers the British working class resent him for not joining the British armed forces during World War I as they did.

Back in America, Hoover digs into Chaplin's private life, suspecting him of Pro-Soviet sympathies. Chaplin is forced to consider the effect of "talkies" on his career. Despite the popularity of sound films, he vows never to make a talkie featuring the Tramp.

In 1925, Chaplin makes The Gold Rush and marries bit-part actress Lita Grey. However, he later says to George that he always thought of her as a "total bitch" and barely mentions her in his autobiography. Chaplin marries Paulette Goddard and feels a sense of guilt and sympathy for the millions unemployed due to the Wall Street Crash (Chaplin sold most of his shares the year before the crash). Chaplin decides to address the issue in Modern Times, but his dedication to this film results in the breakup of his marriage.

At an industry party, the partially Roma Chaplin refuses to shake hands with a visiting Nazi. Fairbanks comments that Chaplin resembles Adolf Hitler, inspiring him to create The Great Dictator. The film, which satirizes Nazism, is a hit worldwide and further enrages Hoover, who believes it to be anti-American propaganda.

Chaplin marries actress Oona O'Neill, who resembles Hetty. However, it is alleged that he is the father of the child of former lover Joan Barry. Despite a blood test proving that the child is not his, Chaplin is ordered to provide financial support after the blood test is declared inadmissible in court. With his reputation damaged, he stays out of the public eye for over seven years until producing Limelight. During McCarthyism, the Chaplins leave America together on a visit to Britain, but then the United States Attorney General revokes his re-entry permit.

In 1972, Chaplin is invited back to America to receive a special Academy Honorary Award. Despite being initially resentful after two decades in exile and certain that no one will even remember him, he is moved to tears when the audience laughs at footage from his films and gives Chaplin the Academy Awards' longest standing ovation ever.



In addition, the Academy Award tribute sequence at the end features footage of the real Chaplin.



Richard Attenborough acquired the rights to Charlie Chaplin's biography in 1988 and intended to make it with Universal Pictures.[4] According to Marc Wanamaker, who served as an advisor on the film, Attenborough had thought of making a miniseries at one point, to fully explore Chaplin's life.[5] Although Attenborough wanted Robert Downey Jr. for the part of Chaplin, studio executives wanted Robin Williams or Billy Crystal for the role.[6][7] Jim Carrey was also considered.[8] On David Letterman's Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, Downey Jr. revealed that Attenborough had also been interested in Tom Cruise for the role, but Cruise declined the offer.[9][10] The film had a four-hour cut that was later edited down to two and a half hours for release.[5]



Critical reception


The film received mixed reviews, lauded for its high production values, but many critics dismissed it as an overly glossy biopic.[11] Although the film was criticized for taking dramatic license with some aspects of Chaplin's life, Downey's performance as Chaplin won universal acclaim. Attenborough was sufficiently confident in Downey's performance to include historical footage of Chaplin himself at the end of the film.

According to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 59% of critics have given Chaplin a positive review based on 54 reviews, with an average rating of 5.7/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Chaplin boasts a terrific performance from Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role, but it isn't enough to overcome a formulaic biopic that pales in comparison to its subject's classic films."[12] At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 47 out of 100 based on 22 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[13] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an "A-" on a scale ranging from A+ to F.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times lauded Downey's performance, and deemed the film "extremely appreciative".[14] Todd McCarthy of Variety remarked that Chaplin's life was too grand to be properly captured in a film, criticizing the screenplay, but praised the casting and the film's first hour.[15]

Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two out of four stars, dubbing the film, "a disappointing, misguided movie that has all of the parts in place to be a much better one", but praised Downey and the production values.[16] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times felt Attenborough's filmmaking and Chaplin's life were ill-suited to each other, but said of Downey, "Lithe and lively and looking remarkably like the younger Chaplin, Downey does more than master the man’s celebrated duck walk and easy grace. In one of those acts of will and creativity that actors come up with when you least expect it, Downey becomes Chaplin, re-creating his character and his chilly soul so precisely that even the comedian’s daughter Geraldine, a featured player here, was both impressed and unnerved."[17]

Box office


The film grossed £1.8 million ($2.7 million) in the United Kingdom[18] and $9.5 million in the United States.[19]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actor Robert Downey Jr. Nominated [20]
Best Art Direction Art Direction: Stuart Craig;
Set Decoration: Chris A. Butler
Best Original Score John Barry Nominated
Artios Awards Best Casting for Feature Film – Drama Mike Fenton Nominated [21]
British Academy Film Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Robert Downey Jr. Won [22]
Best Costume Design John Mollo and Ellen Mirojnick Nominated
Best Make-Up Wally Schneiderman, Jill Rockow, and John Caglione Jr. Nominated
Best Production Design Stuart Craig Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers Awards Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Sven Nykvist Nominated [23]
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actor Robert Downey Jr. Nominated [24]
Most Promising Actress Marisa Tomei (also for My Cousin Vinny) Won
Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Richard Attenborough Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Robert Downey Jr. Nominated [25]
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Geraldine Chaplin Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture John Barry Nominated
London Film Critics Circle Awards Actor of the Year Robert Downey Jr. Won
Moscow International Film Festival Golden St. George Richard Attenborough Nominated [26]

Home media


The film was released on VHS and LaserDisc in June 1993[27] and later on DVD in 1997, and on LaserDisc by Live Home Video on July 5, 1998. A 15th-anniversary edition was released by Lions Gate Entertainment (who obtained the distribution rights to the film in the interim under license from the copyright holder, StudioCanal) in 2008. The anniversary edition contained extensive interviews with the producers, and included several minutes of home-movie footage shot on Chaplin's yacht. The box for this DVD mistakenly lists the film's running time as 135 minutes, although it retains the 143-minute length of the original theatrical release.[28]

The 15th Anniversary Edition was later released on Blu-ray on February 15, 2011.



The soundtrack to Chaplin was released on December 15, 1992.

A newly expanded soundtrack with 35 tracks to celebrate the film's 30 anniversary was released by La La Land Records in 2023.[29][non-primary source needed]

Track listing
1."Chaplin - Main Theme"John Barry3:06
2."Early Days in London"John Barry4:18
3."Charlie Proposes"John Barry3:01
4."To California / The Cutting Room"John Barry3:45
5."Discovering the Tramp / The Wedding Chase"John Barry4:01
6."Chaplin's Studio Opening"John Barry1:58
7."Salt Lake City Episode"John Barry2:11
8."The Roll Dance"John Barry2:34
9."News of Hetty's Death / Smile"John Barry3:42
10."From London to L.A."John Barry3:21
11."Joan Barry Trouble / Oona Arrives"John Barry2:15
12."Remembering Hetty"John Barry2:57
13."Smile"Charles Chaplin2:06
14."The Roll Dance"John Barry1:47
15."Chaplin - Main Theme / Smile"John Barry4:46
16."Smile (Performed by Robert Downey Jr.)"John Barry3:38
Total length:49:26[30]


  1. ^ "Chaplin".
  2. ^ "Channeling Chaplin : It is the role of Robert Downey Jr.'s career--and he believes the Little Tramp is with him". Los Angeles Times. December 20, 1992. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
  3. ^ Diamond, Jamie (December 20, 1992). "FILM; Robert Downey Jr. Is Chaplin (on Screen) and a Child (Off)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
  4. ^ Pond, Steve (November 18, 1988). "Attenborough'S Chaplin Coup". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
  5. ^ a b ""Chaplin" (1992) - Post-Screening Discussion - Part 2: Richard Attenborough's Regrets". YouTube. June 26, 2020. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
  6. ^ Skipper, Ben (August 12, 2014). "The Nearly Roles Of Robin Williams: Joker, Hagrid, The Shining, Riddler". International Business Times. Retrieved August 14, 2015.
  7. ^ Evans, Bradford (March 31, 2011). "The Lost Roles of Robin Williams". Splitsider. Archived from the original on April 24, 2016. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
  8. ^ Evans, Bradford (March 17, 2011). "The Lost Roles of Jim Carrey". Splitsider. Archived from the original on August 8, 2015. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  9. ^ "Richard Attenborough told Robert Downey Jr that Tom Cruise would have played Charlie Chaplin better than him". The Independent. October 22, 2020. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
  10. ^ https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/robert-downey-jr-oppenheimer-batman-chaplin
  11. ^ "Chaplin (1992) : Film". DigiGuide. Dismissed on its release by many critics as a typically fluffy paean to Chaplin ... this sumptuous biopic may have a touch too much gloss, but it's anything but bland.
  12. ^ "Chaplin (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. January 8, 1993. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  13. ^ "Chaplin Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 23, 2019.
  14. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 25, 1992). "Review/Film; Robert Downey Jr. in Charlie Chaplin Life Story". The New York Times.
  15. ^ McCarthy, Todd (December 7, 1992). "Chaplin".
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Chaplin movie review & film summary (1993)". www.rogerebert.com.
  17. ^ "MOVIE REVIEWS : A Reverential 'Chaplin': Send in the Clown : Stately Pace at Odds With Subject's Slapstick Comedy". Los Angeles Times. December 25, 1992.
  18. ^ "UK films and co-productions". Screen International. January 14, 1994. p. 50.
  19. ^ "Chaplin". Box Office Mojo.
  20. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards (1993) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  21. ^ "1993 Artios Awards". Casting Society of America. Archived from the original on July 8, 2019. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
  22. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1993". British Academy Film Awards. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  23. ^ "Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film" (PDF). British Society of Cinematographers. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  24. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. January 2013. Archived from the original on April 10, 2021. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  25. ^ "Chaplin". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  26. ^ "18th Moscow International Film Festival (1993)". Moscow International Film Festival. Archived from the original on April 3, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  27. ^ McGowan, Chris (April 24, 1993). "Laser Scans". Billboard. p. 51.
  28. ^ "Combustible Celluloid film review - Chaplin (1992), Richard Attenborough, Robert Downey Jr., Moira Kelly, dvd review". Combustiblecelluloid.com. October 8, 2008. Retrieved September 7, 2010.
  30. ^ Chaplin Soundtrack TheOST. Retrieved December 30, 2013