|Directed by||Richard Kelly|
|Written by||Richard Kelly|
|Music by||Michael Andrews|
|Box office||$7.5 million|
Donnie Darko is a 2001 American science fiction psychological thriller film written and directed by Richard Kelly and produced by Flower Films. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Stu Stone, Daveigh Chase, and James Duval. Set in October 1988, the film follows Donnie Darko, a troubled teenager who narrowly escapes a bizarre accident and has visions of Frank, a mysterious figure in a rabbit costume who informs him that the world will end in just over 28 days. Frank begins to manipulate Donnie to commit several crimes.
Development began in late 1997 when Kelly had graduated from film school and started writing scripts. He took an early idea of a jet engine falling onto a house with no one knowing its origin and built the story around it. Kelly insisted on directing the film in person and struggled to secure backing from producers until 2000, when Barrymore's Flower Films agreed to produce it on a $4.5 million budget. Filming took 28 days in the summer of 2000, mostly in California. The soundtrack features a cover of "Mad World" by Tears for Fears by American musicians Gary Jules and Michael Andrews, which went to No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart for three weeks.
The film premiered on January 19, 2001 at the Sundance Film Festival, followed by a limited theatrical release on October 26. Due to the film's advertising featuring a crashing plane and the September 11 attacks having transpired a month and a half before, it was scarcely advertised, which affected its box office performance; it grossed just $517,375 in its initial run. Despite this, Donnie Darko received positive reviews and was listed No. 2 in Empire's "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time", and No. 53 in Empire's "500 Greatest Movies of All Time". After reissues, it went on to gross $7.5 million worldwide. In March 2002, the film was released on home video, earning $500,000 in sales and gained a cult following. Kelly released Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut in 2004. The film was adapted into a stage production in 2007 and a sequel, S. Darko, followed in 2009 without Kelly's involvement. In 2021, he announced that work on a new sequel is in progress.
On October 2, 1988, in the small town of Middlesex, Virginia, intellectual but troubled teenager Donald J. "Donnie" Darko has been experiencing bouts of sleepwalking and wakes up on a road before cycling home. Later that night, led by a mysterious voice, he sleepwalks out of his home. Once outside, he meets a figure in a monstrous rabbit costume whom Donnie comes to refer to as Frank who tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Donnie wakes up the next morning on a local golf course and returns home to discover a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. His older sister Elizabeth tells him the FAA investigators do not know its origin.
Over the next several days, Donnie continues to have visions of Frank. His parents, Eddie and Rose, consult with his psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman. She believes he is detached from reality and that his visions of Frank are "daylight hallucinations" due to paranoid schizophrenia. Frank begins to influence Donnie's actions through his sleepwalking episodes, including causing him to flood his high school by breaking through a water main with an axe. Donnie also meets a girl named Gretchen Ross, who has recently moved into town with her mother under a new identity to escape her violent stepfather. Dr. Thurman hypnotizes Donnie at his next therapy session, but it ends with him discussing his sexual fantasies involving Christina Applegate while he unzips his pants, causing Thurman to end the session prematurely. Later, Donnie goes to a clearing and shoots bottles while his friends discuss the sexual components of Smurfs. While there, Donnie and his friends spot a seemingly senile old woman, who stands in the road in front of her house and is almost run over. A few days prior to this, Donnie is in the car with his father Eddie who is driving and he almost runs her over as well. Donnie steps out of the car to check on her, and the old woman whispers in his ear: "every living creature on Earth dies alone". Donnie later brings this up in one of his therapy sessions, admitting he doesn't want to be alone. The old woman is nicknamed Grandma Death by the locals, she stands in the road everyday and checks her empty mailbox frequently, despite never getting any mail.
Gym teacher and Christian fundamentalist Kitty Farmer attributes the act of vandalism to the influence of the short story The Destructors, assigned by dedicated English teacher Karen Pomeroy. Kitty begins teaching "attitude lessons" taken from local motivational speaker Jim Cunningham, but Donnie rebels against these, leading to friction between Kitty and Rose who both have young daughters in the same dance troupe.
Frank asks Donnie, who in turn asks his science teacher, Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff, if he believes in time travel. Monnitoff gives Donnie some information on the topic, but later cuts their sessions short out of fear of losing his job, but not before giving Donnie The Philosophy of Time Travel, a book written by a former nun called Roberta Sparrow who has since become Grandma Death. Later, while watching football, Donnie notices bubbly columns emerging from the chests of people around him that show Donnie where the person will move, matching illustrations from Sparrow's book. A bubble appears on his chest and he follows it to his parents' closet where he finds and takes a gun.
Kitty arranges for Cunningham to speak at a school assembly, where Donnie insults him while offering his own advice to other children who had voiced their fears to Cunningham. He later finds Cunningham's wallet and address. While on a date with Gretchen at the local cinema, Donnie envisions Frank with one of his eyes shot out. Frank suggests Donnie set Cunningham's house on fire, which he does. Firefighters discover a hoard of child pornography there. Cunningham is arrested, and Kitty, who wishes to testify in his defense, asks Rose to take her place as chaperone for their daughters' dance troupe on its trip to Los Angeles.
With Rose and their little sister Samantha in Los Angeles, and Eddie away for business, Donnie and Elizabeth hold a Halloween costume party to celebrate Elizabeth's acceptance to Harvard. At the party, Gretchen arrives distraught as her mother has gone missing which she assumes was caused by her stepfather, and it is implied that she and Donnie have sex for the first time. When Donnie realizes that Frank's prophesied end of the world is only hours away, he takes Gretchen and two other friends to find Sparrow. Instead, they find two high school bullies, Seth and Ricky, trying to rob Sparrow's home. Donnie, Seth, and Ricky fight in the road in front of her house, just as she returns home. Donnie's two friends and the bullies flee when an oncoming car runs over Gretchen, killing her. The driver is Elizabeth's boyfriend, Frank Anderson, wearing the same rabbit costume from Donnie's visions. Donnie shoots him in the eye with his father's stolen gun, and walks home carrying Gretchen's body.
Donnie returns home as a vortex forms over his house. He takes one of his parents' cars, loads Gretchen's body into it, and drives to a nearby ridge that overlooks town. There, he watches as the plane carrying Rose and the dance troupe home from Los Angeles gets caught in the vortex's wake, which rips off and catches one of its engines. Events of the previous 28 days rewind. Donnie wakes up in his bedroom, recognizes the date is October 2, and laughs as the jet engine falls into his bedroom, crushing him. Around town, those whose lives Donnie would have touched wake up from troubled dreams. Gretchen, who in this timeline had never met Donnie, bikes by the Darko home the next morning and learns of his death. She and Rose exchange glances and wave as if they know each other but cannot remember from where.
- Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko
- Holmes Osborne as Eddie Darko
- Maggie Gyllenhaal as Elizabeth Darko
- Daveigh Chase as Samantha Darko
- Mary McDonnell as Rose Darko
- James Duval as Frank Anderson
- Arthur Taxier as Dr. Fisher
- Patrick Swayze as Jim Cunningham
- David St. James as Bob Garland
- Jazzie Mahannah as Joanie James
- Jolene Purdy as Cherita Chen
- Stuart Stone as Ronald Fisher
- Gary Lundy as Sean Smith
- Alex Greenwald as Seth Devlin
- Beth Grant as Kitty Farmer
- Jena Malone as Gretchen Ross
- Seth Rogen as Ricky Danforth
- David Moreland as Principal Cole
- Noah Wyle as Prof. Kenneth Monnitoff
- Drew Barrymore as Karen Pomeroy
- Kristina Malota as Susie Bates
- Marina Malota as Emily Bates
- Carly Naples as Suzy Bailey
- Tiler Peck as Beth Farmer
- Patience Cleveland as Roberta Sparrow ("Grandma Death")
- Katharine Ross as Dr. Lillian Thurman
- Lisa K. Wyatt as Linda Connie
- Rachel Winfree as Shanda Riesman
- Jack Salvatore Jr. as Larry Riesman
- Lee Weaver as Leory
- Phyllis Lyons as Anne Fisher
- Ashley Tisdale as Kim
- Jerry Trainor as Lanky Kid
The film originated in late 1997 when Kelly, aged 23, had graduated from USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles. While earning money as a client's assistant at a post-production house, he thought about his future and decided to write his first feature-length script. The task frightened Kelly at first because he did not want to produce something that was poor in quality. It was not until October 1998 when Kelly felt the time was right to write a script and wrote Donnie Darko in 28 days, the same time period as the film. The time of year influenced Kelly to set the film around Halloween.
Kelly set out to write something "ambitious, personal, and nostalgic" about the 1980s which "pushed the envelope by combining science fiction with a coming-of-age tale." Kelly summarised the script was to be "an amusing and poignant recollection of suburban America in the Reagan era." He recalled a news story that he had read as a child, which he later called an urban legend, about a large piece of ice falling from the wing of a plane and crashing through a boy's bedroom, who was not there at the time and thus escaped death. Kelly used this to develop an initial idea of a jet engine falling onto a house and no one could determine its origin and built the rest of the script from there. At one point Kelly considered replacing the jet engine with a piece of ice, like he had read. Kelly was adamant to set the film in 1988, thinking it would be fresh to explore the era and depict a society that he had not seen in a film before. Later he admitted that he felt pressured to make the setting more contemporary. However, he could not figure out how to make the story work in such a setting and retained the original setting. The first draft had Donnie originally wake up at a shopping mall, rather than a golf course. Kelly got ideas for Donnie's experiences of paranoid schizophrenia from researching the topic online. He considered such a broad disorder that is difficult to define was "a great way to ground a supernatural story" in a scientific sense. The first draft was around 145 pages. Upon reading it, producer Sean McKittrick recalled he "had never read anything like this before" and helped refine the script while making the story understandable enough.
There are some autobiographical links with Kelly and the film; he said there is "plenty of me" in Donnie's character. Kelly grew up in Midlothian, Virginia, also a suburban town, where a local woman named Grandma Death would stand by the road and constantly open and close her mailbox. Kelly also incorporated the moment he almost ran over a homeless person while driving, arguments with his school teachers over the curriculum, and his personal experiences with sleepwalking into the narrative. Kelly had Frank as a rabbit from the beginning, but he was unsure whether the character originated from a dream or his longtime interest in the animal novel Watership Down by Richard Adams. The novel was to be taught in Karen's English class after the school had censored Graham Greene from her curriculum, but it was a subplot that was abandoned in the theatrical version, but included in the director's cut.
Kelly knew that the film's complicated story would be difficult to pitch to producers without a script, so he had producers read it before discussing it with them further. While pitching the script Kelly and McKittrick insisted that Kelly direct the film, which affected its chances at being picked up. McKittrick said Donnie Darko was "the challenging script in town that everybody wanted to make, but was too afraid". Kelly recalled 1999 being a year of "meeting after meeting", only to be rejected and declared the film "dead" at this point.
Development progressed when agents at the Creative Artists Agency took an interest in the script and signed Kelly on. This led to further meetings with several prominent individuals, including Francis Ford Coppola, Ben Stiller, William Horberg, and Betty Thomas. Kelly's meeting with Coppola was particularly influential, as Coppola drew his attention to one of Karen's lines after she is fired – "The kids have to figure it all out these days, because the parents, they don’t have a clue" – and Kelly recalled: "He slid the binder down the big table and very dramatically said: 'That's what your whole movie's about right there.'" The film progressed further in 2000 when actor Jason Schwartzman had read the script and wished to play as Donnie. Vince Vaughn was offered for the role of Donnie but he turned it down as he felt he was too old for the role. Mark Wahlberg was also approached for the role but he insisted that he should play Donnie with a lisp. Kelly said this moment "legitimized me as a director", which led to Barrymore accepting the part as Karen, having considered the script "so extraordinary." Barrymore had formed the production company Flower Films with Nancy Juvonen, and arranged a meeting with Kelly in March 2000 on the set of Charlie's Angels (2000). Barrymore and Juvonen suggested that Flower Films fund its production; Kelly accepted and the film received a $4.5 million budget. Kelly later called the sum the "bare minimum" to make the film.
After securing financial backing, pre-production accelerated and filming was booked for the summer of 2000 and scheduled to accommodate Barrymore, who had one week's availability. However, by July, Schwartzman had withdrawn due to scheduling conflicts. This led to an "exciting" period for Kelly who met several hopefuls, including Patrick Fugit and Lucas Black. Gyllenhaal, who was in Los Angeles auditioning for parts, was "mesmerised" by the script and recalled pulling over the side of the road to finish reading it. Filming was scheduled to start in one month, during which Kelly worked with Gyllenhaal to amend parts of his dialogue. Gyllenhaal was given "a lot of room" to incorporate his own ideas, including making his voice sound like "a child talking to its blanket" when he talks to Frank as he is a source of comfort for Donnie. Gyllenhaal also had the idea to have his real life sister Maggie star as Elizabeth Darko. Jolene Purdy's audition for Cherita was the first of her career. Kelly credits Juvonen for being instrumental for getting Wyle and Swayze on board.
Kelly recalled several people showing him drawings of what they thought Frank should look like, describing them like an Easter bunny. He wanted Frank to be "disturbing and animalistic." He produced initial sketches of Frank's face and presented them to production designer Alex Hammond, who then made front and side drawings of the mask and sketches of the full suit. The design was given to costume designer April Ferry who built a fur suit from scratch and hired a sculptor to create Frank's altered grin. Kelly insisted that Frank's face had to disturb people and create an intense response with the audience. The costume was first presented to the cast and crew at Loyola High School, shortly after filming began. Although Duval wore the suit for almost every scene, a director stepped in for the initial shoot. Kelly recalled, "Everyone just got quiet [...] like, this is really intense. So I knew it was working, and I felt the sense of relief."
Cinematographer Steven Poster agreed to be involved in the film after his initial meeting with Kelly, which saw the pair dissecting the script. Poster said "We read every word, every sentence, every page, every scene in the movie. I made him justify to me why he wanted that in the movie. I wanted him to be able to tell me what each scene was going to tell the audience." Despite the task creating arguments, the two knew what was needed to make the film when they finished.
Filming took place across 28 days, the same length of time as the film's events, in July and August 2000. Most of the film was shot in Long Beach, California. The golf course scenes were filmed at Virginia Country Club and the school scenes were shot at Loyola High School. The "Carpathian Ridge" scenes were shot on the Angeles Crest Highway. Kelly lost 20 lbs from the stress of filming to a tight schedule, plus the pressure of justifying himself to others that he could direct the film. Hammond bought the jet engine for $10,000. The scene where it falls onto Donnie's bedroom was done in one shot. The shell of it was rigged above the set and sent through using an air pressure gun. Poster remembered people telling Kelly that jet engines do not fall off planes, but during production in August 2000, a "dishwasher-sized engine part" fell from the engine of a Boeing 747 and landed on a beach. Swayze frosted his hair specifically for his part and the infomercial clips were filmed at his ranch.
The film was shot with a Panavision Panastar camera and in anamorphic format, which involves filming in widescreen onto standard 35 mm film. Despite its setbacks and the need to have twice as much light, Kelly was adamant. Poster suggested using Kodak 800 ASA film stock, which people said looked "terrible and grainy", but he convinced the producers that anamorphic would reduce the amount of work with low ceiling lights that were common in the locations used for filming as they would be cut from the shot. The anamorphic process required Swayze to kneel down for some scenes so he could fit in the image. Kelly's goal was to "seduce the audience" from the film's opening shot. Kelly was attentive to details and spoke to his transportation coordinator to ensure all cars in the film were era-specific. He wanted to avoid going "too kitsch" with the style and costumes and retain a conservative style of the Virginia suburb. The long shots at the school with "Head Over Heels" playing angered the production and line managers at first, who thought it was "an indulgent music video" that lacked dialogue and did nothing to advance the story. Upon viewing the finished sequence, they had changed their minds. Kelly choreographed the scene's action to the song before the rights to use it had been acquired. Sparkle Motion's performance scene was one of the more difficult shots for Poster, who used smoke to give the appearance that light is there and to achieve silhouettes of the girls on stage.
The film's soundtrack was composed by San Diego musician and songwriter Michael Andrews. Kelly knew that the film's limited budget prevented him from hiring either "Thomas Newman or Danny Elfman" to compose the score for the film, so he decided to look for a composer who happens to be someone "very young, hungry, and really talented." Andrews was recommended by Juvonen's brother, Jim.
The film's opening sequence is set to "The Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen. The continuous shot of introduction of Donnie's high school prominently features the song "Head over Heels" by Tears for Fears. Samantha's dance group "Sparkle Motion" performs to "Notorious" by Duran Duran. "Under the Milky Way" by The Church is played after Donnie and Gretchen emerge from his bedroom during the party. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division also appears in the film diegetically during the party and shots of Donnie and Gretchen upstairs. Despite the film being set in 1988, the version played was not released until 1995. In the director's cut, the music in the opening sequence is replaced by "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS; "Under the Milky Way" is moved to the scene of Donnie and Eddie driving home from Donnie's meeting with his therapist; and "The Killing Moon" is played as Gretchen and Donnie return to the party from Donnie's parents' room.
The film's end sequence features a piano-driven cover of "Mad World" by English new wave group Tears for Fears, sung by American musician Gary Jules, a schoolfriend of Andrews. In 2003, the cover of "Mad World" was released as a single that was No. 1 in the United Kingdom for three weeks, during which it was the country's Christmas No. 1 of that year.
Donnie Darko premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on January 19, 2001. Kelly said it took around six months to secure a theatrical release; at one point, he was close to having it on the premium cable and satellite television network Starz. Donnie firing a gun became one of Kelly's biggest problems while finding a distributor, as the Columbine High School massacre from 1999 raised concerns of the film promoting teenage suicide. The licensed songs in the film also presented problems as they had yet to be paid for, causing a risk of them being removed for a wide release. Kelly was also advised to cut 30 minutes from the film. Despite the problems, Newmarket Films agreed to buy the film and organise a theatrical release in a service deal with IFC Films. Kelly involved Barrymore in the negotiations and recalled getting her to "beg" Newmarket for a deal, who had initially considered a straight-to-video release for it. Kelly credits Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas in securing the deal, after Memento producer Aaron Ryder arranged a private screening of Donnie Darko for Newmarket executives Chris Ball and Will Tyrer and encouraged the pair to distribute it.
With a deal secured, the crew spent the summer of 2001 revisiting the film; Ryder said it was to get the film "in the best possible shape we could", but recalled the difficulty in the task. This involved an additional day of shooting to clarify some plot holes, such as Ryder's suggestion of including shots of Frank in the "Mad World" sequence. Nolan and Thomas had advised Kelly to insert title cards throughout the film to break down the events leading up to October 30, 1988, which he did.
Donnie Darko was theatrically released from October 26, 2001 to its peak of 58 theaters across the US; its premiere was held at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The film grossed $110,494 on its opening weekend, ranking No. 34 on the box office. The film was released six weeks after the September 11 attacks and its trailer featured an accident involving an aircraft, which affected its chances of box office success. Kelly said the film was not "attractive to people in that emotional, very deeply traumatizing chapter in our history." Newmarket president Bob Berney said "the bleak mood and the timing" was the cause of the film's failure at the box office, and that critics failed to understand or accept the film for what it is. "The mood filtered through everything." When its theatrical run ended on April 11, 2002, the film had grossed $517,375. After reissues, it went on to gross $7.6 million worldwide, recouping its budget. Despite its initial poor box office showing, the film attracted a devoted fan base and gained a cult following. Following its release on home video in March 2002, the Pioneer Theatre in New York City began midnight screenings of Donnie Darko that ran for 28 consecutive months.
In October 2002, the film was released in the UK which generated renewed critical and commercial interest in the film. It sold 300,000 tickets within the first six weeks of its release, based mostly on word-of-mouth marketing, and grossed the equivalent of $2.5 million in its theatrical run. Its UK distributor Metrodome Distribution organised They Made Me Do It, an art exhibition that ran for 28 days at cafe bar Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes in Shoreditch, London. The project involved several graffiti artists given 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds to complete a work inspired by the film.
Kelly published The Donnie Darko Book in October 2003. Jake Gyllenhaal wrote the foreword, in which he comments on the confusing nature of the film. The book includes an interview with Kelly who discusses the process of making and marketing the film, and questions about his personal life. The full shooting script of the film is included, plus several pages from The Philosophy of Time Travel and photographs and concept sketches such as Frank's mask and slides from Cunningham's school presentation.
The official Donnie Darko website, donniedarko.com, which can still be found at http://archive.hi-res.net/donniedarko/ is an interactive experience and marketing tool for the film made by Hi-ReS!, a digital marketing firm. The website is riddled with puzzles and secrets and contains never-before-seen information about the universe of the film, including information about the fate of many of the characters after the film ends. James Beck has commented on the website's validity as a narrative in and of itself due to the website's introduction of new content while reinforcing themes from the movie like fluidity of time, exemplified by the website's lack of concern for the chronology of the movie. Beck further argues that the Donnie Darko website differs from most other promotional websites in that it treats the user not as an outside viewer, but rather as someone within the universe of the film, creating an experience rather than an advertisement.
The film has been released for home video several times. The first was in March 2002 on VHS and DVD formats, of which the latter included bonus material, including audio commentaries, trailers and TV spots, concept art, galleries, and a virtual guide through The Philosophy of Time. Berney declared the film "a runaway hit" on DVD, the sales in the US alone brought in over $10 million.
In 2009, the film was released on Blu-ray, containing the theatrical and director's cuts. This was released in the UK in 2010. A four-disc set was released in 2011 to commemorate its tenth anniversary. In December 2016, Arrow Films released a limited edition 4K resolution Blu-ray and DVD set in the UK that was supervised and approved by Kelly. This was released in the US in 2017.
In April 2021, Arrow Films released a two-disc Ultra HD Blu-ray box set containing both cuts in new 4K resolution restorations from the original negatives, supervised by Kelly and Poster. This set includes a poster, postcards, and a 100-page book.
The idea to produce a director's cut of the film originated in late 2003, when Kelly and Berney attended the first-anniversary screening at the Pioneer Theatre in New York City. Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut premiered on May 29, 2004 at the Seattle International Film Festival, followed by screenings in New York City and Los Angeles on July 23. The tickets sold out within the day for the Seattle International Film Festival premiere, grossing nearly $33,000 over a five-day period. This cut includes 20 minutes of extra footage and an altered soundtrack.
The director's cut DVD was released on February 15, 2005 in single- and double-disc versions, the latter being available in a standard DVD case or in a limited edition that also features a lenticular slipcase, whose central image alternates between Donnie and Frank depending on the viewing angle. Most additional features are exclusive to the two-DVD set: the director's commentary assisted by Kevin Smith, excerpts from the storyboard, a 52-minute production diary, "#1 fan video", a "cult following" video interviewing English fans, and the new director's cut trailer. The single-DVD edition was also released as a giveaway with copies of the British Sunday Times newspaper on February 19, 2006.
The DVD of the Director's Cut includes text of the in-universe book, The Philosophy of Time Travel, written by Roberta Sparrow, which Donnie is given and reads in the film. The text expands on the philosophical and scientific concepts much of the film's plot revolves around, and has been seen as a way to understand the film better than from its theatrical release. As outlined by Salon's Dan Kois from the book's text, much of the film takes place in an unstable Tangent Universe that is physically connected to the Primary Universe by a wormhole (the entrance to which is the Vortex seen at the end of the film) and which is an exact duplicate of it, except for an extra metal object known as an Artifact — which in this case is the jet engine. If the Artifact is not sent to the Primary Universe by the chosen Living Receiver (Donnie) within 28 days, the Primary Universe will be destroyed upon the collapse of the Tangent in a black hole. To aid in this task, the Living Receiver is given super-human abilities such as foresight, physical strength and elemental powers, but at the cost of troubling visions and paranoia, while the Manipulated Living (all who live around the Receiver) support him in unnatural ways, setting up a domino-like chain of events encouraging him to return the Artifact. The Manipulated Dead (those who die within the Tangent Universe, like Frank and Gretchen) are more aware than the Living, having the power to travel through time, and will set an Ensurance Trap, a scenario which leaves the Receiver no choice but to save the Primary Universe.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 86% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 118 reviews, with an average rating of 7.60/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "Richard Kelly's debut feature Donnie Darko is a daring, original vision, packed with jarring ideas and intelligence and featuring a remarkable performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as the troubled title character." Metacritic gives the theatrical version of the film a weighted average score of 71 out of 100 based on 21 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".
Andrew Johnson cited the film in Us Weekly, as one of the outstanding films at Sundance in 2001, describing it as "a heady blend of science fiction, spirituality, and teen angst". Jean Oppenheimer of New Times (LA) praised the film, saying, "Like gathering storm clouds, Donnie Darko creates an atmosphere of eerie calm and mounting menace—[and] stands as one of the most exceptional movies of 2001." Writing for ABC Australia, Megan Spencer called the movie "menacing, dreamy and exciting" and noted "it could take you to a deeply emotional place lying dormant in your soul". Roger Ebert gave the theatrical version of the film two and a half stars out of four, but later gave the director's cut three stars out of four.
Other critics like Sam Adams called the movie an apparent "big mess", citing incoherent plot, sloppy writing, and an uneven tone. Adams also took issue with the "seemingly irrelevant" but oft-referenced setting in a suburban America in the 1980s, claiming that it "serves as another example of the movie's struggle to find identity". Another review from the San Antonio Current lauds the build-up, citing vast build of mysteries with compelling characters, but claims the movie's ending "leaves much to be desired", calling it cheap and anti-climactic.
- 2001: Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko script won "Best Screenplay" at the San Diego Film Critics Society. Donnie Darko also won the "Audience Award" for Best Feature at the Sweden Fantastic Film Festival. The film was nominated for "Best Film" at the Sitges Film Festival and for the "Grand Jury Prize" at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards including Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay and Best Male Lead for Gyllenhaal.
- 2002: Donnie Darko won the "Special Award" at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films's 28th Saturn Awards. The movie also won the "Silver Scream Award" at the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival. Kelly was nominated for "Best First Feature" and "Best First Screenplay" with Donnie Darko, and Gyllenhaal was nominated for "Best Male Lead", at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film was also nominated for the "Best Breakthrough Film" at the Online Film Critics Society Awards.
- 2005: Donnie Darko ranked in the top five on My Favourite Film, an Australian poll conducted by the ABC.
- 2006: Donnie Darko ranks #9 in FilmFour's 50 Films to See Before You Die.
- Other awards
- #14 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.
- #2 in Empire's "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time" list.
- #53 in Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time 2008 poll.
A 2009 sequel, S. Darko, set seven years afterwards, centers on the now 18-year-old Sam, Donnie's younger sister. Sam is troubled by her brother's death and begins to have problems with sleepwalking, along with strange dreams that hint at an impending major catastrophe. The sequel received extremely negative reviews. Kelly said he had no involvement in the sequel as he no longer owns the rights to the original. In 2017, Kelly said that he resents being asked about the sequel and that he'd never seen it. Actress Daveigh Chase and producer Adam Fields were the only creative links between S. Darko and the original film.
In 2017, Kelly revealed that he had ideas for a new sequel that is "much bigger and more ambitious" than the original. In January 2021, he announced that "an enormous amount of work" had been done on the script. He was inspired to do so after meeting James Cameron in 2010, who found the film "disturbing" and had Kelly explain what happened to Donnie at the end of the film. Cameron suggested to Kelly that he continue working on the project, which made Kelly realise that "there was really something big, something epic that could be done."
In other media
Marcus Stern, associate director of the American Repertory Theater, directed a stage adaptation of Donnie Darko at the Zero Arrow Theatre, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the fall of 2007. It ran from October 27 until November 18, 2007, with opening night scheduled near Halloween.
An article written by the production drama team says the director and production team planned to "embrace the challenge to make the fantastical elements come alive on stage". In 2004, Stern adapted and directed Kelly's screenplay for a graduate student production at the American Repertory Theater's Institute for Advanced Theater Training (I.A.T.T./M.X.A.T.).
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- "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time". Archived from the original on April 28, 2006. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
- "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Archived from the original on October 15, 2012. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
- Scott Tobias (February 21, 2008). "The New Cult Canon: Donnie Darko". The A.V. Club. The Onion.
- "Donnie Darko (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
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- Official website
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- Donnie Darko at IMDb
- Donnie Darko at Rotten Tomatoes
- Donnie Darko at Metacritic
- Donnie Darko at AllMovie
- Donnie Darko at Box Office Mojo
- About the film
- Dan Kois (July 23, 2004). "Everything you were afraid to ask about "Donnie Darko"". Salon.com.
- DonnieDarko.org.uk (theory, script, Philosophy of Time Travel)
- Theory based on Philosophy of Time Travel at This Is Barry