Donnie Darko

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Donnie Darko
A collage of faces, in the shape of a head with rabbit ears.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Kelly
Produced by
Written byRichard Kelly
Music byMichael Andrews
CinematographySteven B. Poster
Edited by
  • Sam Bauer
  • Eric Strand
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 19, 2001 (2001-01-19) (Sundance)
  • October 26, 2001 (2001-10-26) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.5 million[2]
Box office$7.5 million[3]

Donnie Darko is a 2001 American science fiction psychological thriller film written and directed by Richard Kelly. 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. The film follows the adventures of the troubled title character as he seeks to find the meaning behind his doomsday-related visions.

Filmed over the course of 28 days, which matches the passage of time in the film, Donnie Darko was almost released straight-to-video.[4] It was screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2001, before receiving a limited theatrical release on October 26, 2001, by Flower Films. Due to the film's advertising featuring a crashing plane and the September 11 attacks that transpired a month before, the film was scarcely advertised. The film grossed just over $7.5 million worldwide on a budget of $4.5 million.[3]

Despite its initial lackluster box office performance, Donnie Darko received critical acclaim. Critics lauded the story, acting, and tone. It was listed No. 2 in Empire's "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time",[5] as well as No. 53 in Empire's "500 Greatest Movies of All Time".[6] It was released on VHS and DVD in March 2002. The film became a surprising success on the home video market, reportedly grossing over half a million in sales and developing a cult following.[7] A director's cut was released in 2004, on a two-disc special edition DVD.[8] A stage adaptation appeared in 2007, and a sequel, S. Darko, in 2009.

The film's soundtrack included a cover version of Tears for Fears's "Mad World" by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews which topped the UK Singles Chart for three consecutive weeks;[9] the song achieved lukewarm success in the United States, reaching No. 30 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.


On October 2, 1988, in the small town of Middlesex, Virginia, troubled teenager Donnie Darko sleepwalks outside led by a mysterious voice. Once outside, he meets a figure in a monstrous rabbit costume who introduces himself as Frank and tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Donnie wakes up the next morning on the green of 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, and his parents, Eddie and Rose, send him to psychiatrist Dr. Thurman. She believes he is detached from reality and that his visions of Frank are "daylight hallucinations", symptomatic of paranoid schizophrenia. Frank asks Donnie, who in turn asks his science teacher, Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff, if he believes in time travel. Monnitoff gives Donnie The Philosophy of Time Travel, a book written by Roberta Sparrow, a former science teacher at the school who is now a seemingly senile old woman living outside of town. Donnie also starts seeing Gretchen Ross, who has recently moved into town with her mother under a new identity to escape her violent stepfather.

Frank begins to influence Donnie's actions through his sleepwalking episodes, including causing him to flood his high school by breaking a water main. Gym teacher 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. Kitty arranges for Cunningham to speak at a school assembly, where Donnie insults him. He later finds Cunningham's wallet and address, and Frank suggests setting his house on fire. 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 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, and 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. Ricky and Seth flee when an oncoming car swerves to avoid her and 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 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 unwind. 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, rides 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, in a moment of déjà vu.


Jason Schwartzman was originally slated to play the titular character, but could not due to a scheduling conflict.[10]


Although the film was always meant to be set in 1988, Kelly admitted 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.[11] In an interview with BBC, Kelly said he "set out to write something ambitious, personal, and nostalgic about the late 80s".[12] Frank, the giant rabbit, was inspired by the novel Watership Down, which was to be taught in English class after the school had censored Grahame Greene, a plot point that was abandoned in the final version.[13] Newer information has shown the costume could also have been an inspiration from a dream Kelly had.[14]


Donnie Darko was filmed in 28 days which, by coincidence, virtually matches the time that transpires in the film from October 2, 1988, to the Friday or Saturday weekend party before Halloween on Monday, October 31, 1988.[2] The budget for the film was $4.5 million.[2]

It almost went straight to home video, but was theatrically released by Drew Barrymore's production company, Flower Films.[4]

Some scenes were shot in Bixby Knolls Virginia Country Club, in Long Beach, California, with many of the school sequences shot at Loyola High School. The "Carpathian Ridge" scenes were shot on the Angeles Crest Highway.[15]


In 2003, the piano-driven cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" featured in the film, as part of the end sequence, was a success for composer Michael Andrews and singer Gary Jules, topping the charts in the United Kingdom and Portugal.[16]

One continuous sequence involving an introduction of Donnie's high school prominently features the song "Head over Heels", by Tears for Fears, Samantha's dance group, "Sparkle Motion", performs with the song "Notorious," by Duran Duran, and "Under the Milky Way," by The Church, is played after Donnie and Gretchen emerge from his room 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. The version included was released in 1995, although the film is set in 1988. The opening sequence is set to "The Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen]].[17]

In the re-released 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.[17]


The film had a limited release, opening October 26, the month following the September 11 attacks. It was subsequently held back for almost a year for international release. Kelly said it took almost six months to sell the film. "It almost went directly to the Starz network. We had to beg them to put it in theaters. Christopher Nolan stepped in and convinced Newmarket to put it in theaters."[18]


The Donnie Darko Book, written by Richard Kelly, is a 2003 book about the film. It includes an introduction by Jake Gyllenhaal, the screenplay of the Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut, an in-depth interview with Kelly, facsimile pages from the Philosophy of Time Travel, photos and drawings from the film, and artwork it inspired. NECA released first a six-inch (15 cm) figure of Frank the Bunny and later a foot-tall (30 cm) "talking version" of the same figure.

Home media[edit]

The film was originally released on VHS and DVD in March 2002. Strong DVD sales led Newmarket Films to release a "Director's Cut" on DVD in 2004. Bob Berney, President of Newmarket Films, has described the film as "a runaway hit on DVD", citing US sales of more than $10 million.[citation needed]

The film was released in the United States on Blu-ray on February 10, 2009, containing both versions. The movie was then re-released on July 26, 2011 as a four-disc, 10th anniversary edition, once again containing both versions in HD, and the theatrical version on DVD.

The film was released as a two-disc Blu-ray special edition in the UK on July 19, 2010, by Metrodome Distribution, featuring both Original and Director's Cut. It also included commentaries from director Kelly and actor Gyllenhaal, Kelly and Kevin Smith, and cast and crew, including Barrymore.

In December 2016, Arrow Films released a limited edition 4K resolution Blu-ray of the film in the UK, supervised and approved by director Kelly. This release includes both the Director's and Theatrical cuts and was accompanied by a Dual format Blu-ray and DVD release.[19] In the US, it was released in April 2017.

Director's cut[edit]

Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut was released on May 29, 2004, in Seattle, Washington, at the Seattle International Film Festival, and later in New York City and Los Angeles, on July 23, 2004. The tickets sold out within the day for the Seattle International Film Festival premiere, grossing nearly $33,000 over a five-day period.[20] This cut includes twenty 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,[21] 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 fictional book, The Philosophy of Time Travel, written by Roberta Sparrow, which Donnie is given and reads in the film.[22] 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.[23][24][25] 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.[23]


Box office[edit]

Donnie Darko had its first screening at the Sundance Film Festival, on January 19, 2001, and debuted in United States theaters on October 26, 2001, to a tepid response. During its opening weekend, it was shown on only 58 screens nationwide, grossing $110,494.[26] This may have been the result of the movie being released shortly after the September 11 attacks.[27] By the time the film's run closed in United States theaters, on April 11, 2002, it had earned just $517,375.[3][26] It ultimately grossed $7.6 million worldwide, just enough to recoup its budget.[3]

Despite its poor box office showing, the film began to attract a devoted fan base. It was originally released on VHS and DVD in March 2002. During this time, the Pioneer Theatre in New York City's East Village began midnight screenings of Donnie Darko that continued for 28 consecutive months.[16] In the United Kingdom, Donnie Darko sold 300,000 tickets within the first six weeks of its release, based mostly on word-of-mouth marketing.[28]

Critical reaction[edit]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 87% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 115 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. 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."[8] 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".[29]

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".[30] 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."[31] 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".[32] 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.[33]


Other awards
  • #14 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.[36]
  • #2 in Empire's "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time" list.[5]
  • #53 in Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time 2008 poll.[6]


A 2009 sequel, S. Darko, centers on Sam, Donnie's younger sister. Sam begins to have strange dreams that hint at a major catastrophe. Donnie Darko creator Richard Kelly has said he had no involvement in the sequel, as he does not own the rights to the original.[37] Chase and producer Adam Fields were the only creative links between S. Darko and the original film. The sequel received extremely negative reviews.[8][38] In a 2017 interview, Kelly said that he resents being asked about the sequel and that he'd never seen the film.[39]

Kelly said in interviews in 2017 that he has an idea for another film that would be set in the world of Donnie Darko, describing the project as "much bigger and more ambitious" than the original. He had not yet secured the financial resources to make the film.[39][40]


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".[41] In 2004, Stern adapted and directed Kelly's screenplay for a graduate student production at the American Repertory Theatre's Institute for Advanced Theater Training (I.A.T.T./M.X.A.T.).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Donnie Darko (15)". British Board of Film Classification. May 13, 2001. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Richard Kelly (director) (2004). Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (DVD).
  3. ^ a b c d "Donnie Darko". The Numbers. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Snider, Mike (February 14, 2005). "'Darko' takes a long, strange trip". USA Today. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  5. ^ a b "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time". Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  7. ^ Scott Tobias (February 21, 2008). "The New Cult Canon: Donnie Darko". The A.V. Club. The Onion.
  8. ^ a b c "Donnie Darko (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
  9. ^ "IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD!". NME. January 4, 2004.
  10. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (March 31, 2017). "'Donnie Darko,' The Inside Story: Director Richard Kelly Reveals Francis Ford Coppola's Hidden Hand in Shaping the Movie". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  11. ^ Cranswick, Ami. "Exclusive Interview with Donnie Darko writer/director Richard Kelly". Flickering Myth. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  12. ^ Korsner, Jason (October 25, 2002). "Donnie Darko Interview". BBC. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  13. ^ Susman, Gary. "25 Things You May Not Know About 'Donnie Darko'". Moviefone. Archived from the original on December 22, 2017. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  14. ^ Coggan, Devan (April 7, 2017). "The behind-the-scenes story of Donnie Darko's creepy bunny suit". Entertainment Weekly.
  15. ^ Poster, Steven (Cinematographer) (2004). Donnie Darko Production Diary (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  16. ^ a b Brunett, Adam (July 22, 2004). "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut: The Strange Afterlife of an Indie Cult Film". Indie Wire. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  17. ^ a b Day, Matt (August 10, 2004). "Donnie Darko: Director's Cut". The Digital Fix. Archived from the original on October 8, 2016.
  18. ^ Schilling, Dave (November 14, 2016). "Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly: 'Sometimes films need time to marinate'". Retrieved January 26, 2017 – via The Guardian.
  19. ^ The Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD release arrived on December 12th
  20. ^ Valby, Karen; Flynn, Gillian (June 18, 2004). "AFTER DARK". Entertainment Weekly.
  21. ^ Commentary with Kevin Smith (2003). Donnie Darko Directors Cut. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-22124-6.
  22. ^ Text of The Philosophy of Time Travel
  23. ^ a b Kois, Dan (July 23, 2004). "Everything you were afraid to ask about "Donnie Darko"". Salon. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
  24. ^ "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut - CINEMABLEND". May 27, 2016. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  25. ^ Drucker, Mike (January 24, 2005). "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut". Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  26. ^ a b "Donnie Darko (2001)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  27. ^ James Davies. "Blu-ray Review: 'Donnie Darko: 2 Disc Ultimate Edition' (rerelease)". Archived from the original on February 20, 2011.
  28. ^ Leigh, Danny (29 July 2004). "The Rabbit Rides Again." The Guardian.
  29. ^ "Donnie Darko Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
  30. ^ Us Weekly, 2/21/2001, p. 36.
  31. ^ Andy Bailey (January 21, 2001). "PARK CITY 2001 REVIEW: Donnie Darko Plays with the Time of Our Lives". Indie Wire. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  32. ^ Megan Spencer (October 15, 2002). "Donnie Darko: triple j film reviews". Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  33. ^ Roger Ebert. "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  34. ^ "My Favourite Film". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on August 27, 2011. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  35. ^ Joanne Oatts (July 3, 2006). "C4 relaunches Film4 with '50 films to see before you die' countdown". Brand Republic. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  36. ^ "50 Best High School Movies". Entertainment Weekly. September 15, 2006. Archived from the original on August 15, 2012.
  37. ^ Chris Tilly (May 13, 2008). "Arcade Fire Open Box: Richard Kelly on film score and Darko sequel". IGN. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  38. ^ Josh Modell (May 13, 2009). "S. Darko". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  39. ^ a b Maçek III, J.C. (April 3, 2017). "Mainstream Darko: Director Richard Kelly on Building His Own Sandbox". PopMatters.
  40. ^ "Richard Kelly talks reissuing Donnie Darko and his plans for a "much bigger and more ambitious" sequel". Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  41. ^ Sarah Wallace (November 1, 2007). "Bringing the End of the World to Life". American Repertory Theatre.

External links[edit]

About the film