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FaceOff poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Woo
Produced by
Written by
Music by
Edited by
Distributed by
Release date
  • June 27, 1997 (1997-06-27)
Running time
133 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million[2]
Box office$245.7 million[2]

Face/Off is a 1997 American action film directed by John Woo, written by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, and starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. Travolta plays an FBI agent and Cage plays a terrorist, sworn enemies who assume each other's physical appearance.[3]

The first Hollywood film in which Woo was given major creative control, Face/Off earned critical acclaim for its acting performances (especially Cage and Travolta), stylized action sequences, John Powell's musical score, emotional depth, originality, humor, direction and stunts. It is often cited as Woo's best Hollywood film. A commercial success, the film earned $245 million worldwide making it the 11th highest-grossing film of 1997. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Sound Effects Editing (Mark Stoeckinger and Per Hallberg) at the 70th Academy Awards.

A sequel is currently in the works.[4]


FBI Special Agent Sean Archer survives an assassination attempt by freelance terrorist and homicidal sociopath Castor Troy, but the bullet penetrates Archer's chest and strikes his son Michael, killing the boy.

Six years later, Archer's vendetta against Troy culminates in his team's ambush of Troy and his younger brother and accomplice Pollux at a remote desert airstrip. Troy goads Archer with knowledge of a bomb located somewhere in Los Angeles set to go off in a few days, but he is knocked into a coma before Archer can learn more. Pollux, in custody, affirms that the bomb is real, but refuses to reveal its location. At the suggestion of his partner Tito Biondi and Special Ops specialist Hollis Miller, Archer reluctantly secretly undergoes a highly experimental face transplant procedure by Dr. Malcolm Walsh to take on Troy's face, voice, and appearance. Archer is taken to the same high-security prison where Pollux is being held, and slowly convinces Pollux that he is Troy, gaining information on the bomb's location. Meanwhile, Troy unexpectedly awakens from his coma and discovers his face missing. He calls his gang, and they force Dr. Walsh to transplant Archer's face onto him. Troy then kills Dr. Walsh, Biondi, and Miller, the only three who knew of the transplant.

At the prison, Archer prepares to tell Biondi of the location but is surprised when Troy appears instead, with Archer's face. Troy goads Archer that no one knows of the transplant, and that he will take over Archer's life. Pollux is freed when he willingly tells Troy-as-Archer of the bomb's location, and Troy disarms the bomb in a dramatic fashion. Troy-as-Archer earns admiration from the FBI office and becomes close to Archer's wife Eve and daughter Jamie, whom Archer had been neglecting while chasing down Troy.

Meanwhile, Archer-as-Troy escapes after staging a riot and retreats to Troy's headquarters posing as Troy. There, he meets Sasha, the sister of Troy's primary drug kingpin, and her son Adam, who reminds Archer of Michael. Archer discovers that Adam is Troy's son. Troy learns of Archer's escape and hastily assembles a team to raid his headquarters. The raid quickly turns into a bloodbath, killing numerous FBI agents and several members of Troy's gang, including Pollux. During this Archer, Sasha, and Adam are able to escape. Archer's supervisor, Director Victor Lazarro, blames Troy-as-Archer for the numerous slayings. Troy, furious over Pollux's death, kills Lazarro, making it look like a heart attack. Troy-as-Archer is promoted to acting director as plans are made for Lazarro's funeral. Archer finds safety for Sasha and Adam. He then approaches Eve, and convinces her to test Troy-as-Archer's blood to prove his identity. Convinced of her husband's identity, Eve tells Archer that Troy will be vulnerable at Lazarro's funeral.

At the ceremony, Archer finds that Troy has anticipated his actions and takes Eve hostage. Sasha arrives, and a gunfight ensues; Sasha manages to save Eve after taking a bullet. Archer promises a dying Sasha to take care of Adam and raise him away from criminal life. Troy flees the church with Archer pursuing him. Before killing two more federal agents, Troy briefly takes Jamie hostage, but she escapes by stabbing him with a butterfly knife that Troy had given her for self-defense. A speedboat chase ensues in which Archer forces Troy to shore by collision, then bests Troy in a melee fight. Troy mutilates his own/Archer's face to taunt and distract him, but Archer instead gains the upper hand and impales Troy with a spear gun, killing him. Backup agents arrive and address Archer by name, having been convinced by Eve of Archer's true identity.

After the face transplant surgery is reversed, Archer returns home, adopting Adam into his family and keeping his promise to Sasha.



Face/Off was a spec script which writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary optioned to Joel Silver and Warner Bros. in 1991. The option expired in 1994 and the project was purchased by Paramount Pictures. John Woo became attached in 1996.[5] The first actors who were envisioned by the writers to play Sean Archer and Castor Troy were Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger due to their oversized on-screen personas. John Woo instead hired John Travolta and Nicolas Cage to play those characters.[6] Michael Douglas served as an executive producer. Werb and Colleary have cited White Heat (1949) as an influence on the plot.[5]

With an $80 million production budget, Face/Off made heavy use of action set pieces including several violent shootouts and a boat chase filmed in the Los Angeles area. The boat scene at the end of the film was shot in San Pedro.[7]

Calling the brothers Castor and Pollux is a reference to Greek mythology; Castor and Pollux are the twins transformed by Zeus into the constellation Gemini.[8]


Face/Off: Original Soundtrack
Film score by
ReleasedJuly 1, 1997
ProducerHans Zimmer[9]
John Powell chronology
Face/Off: Original Soundtrack
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic1.5/5 stars[10]

The Face/Off soundtrack was released by Hollywood Records on July 1, 1997, the week following the film's release.[11]

All music is composed by John Powell, except as noted.

1."Face On" 4:57
2."80 Proof Rock" 4:29
3."Furniture" 7:12
4."The Golden Section Derma Lift" 3:15
5."This Ridiculous Chin" 6:51
6."No More Drugs for That Man"John Powell, Gavin Greenaway7:27
7."Hans' Loft"John Powell, Gavin Greenaway3:34
8."Ready for the Big Ride‚ Bubba" 3:53
Total length:41:42

Several pieces of music and songs were used in the film but not included in the soundtrack. These include:


Home media[edit]

Face/Off was released on Region 1 DVD on October 7, 1998. A 10th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD was released on September 11, 2007 and it was also released on the now-defunct HD DVD format on October 30, 2007 in the United States.[12]

The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in the United Kingdom on October 1, 2007 by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and was released in the United States on May 20, 2008 by Paramount Home Entertainment.[13]


Box office[edit]

Face/Off was released in North America on June 27, 1997 and earned $23,387,530 on its opening weekend, ranking number one in the domestic box office. It went on to become the 11th highest domestic and 14th worldwide grossing film of 1997, earning a domestic total of $112,276,146 and $133,400,000 overseas for a total of worldwide gross of $245,676,146.[2]

Critical response[edit]

The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes records that 92% of 86 critical reviews were positive, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "John Travolta and Nicolas Cage play cat-and-mouse (and literally play each other) against a beautifully stylized backdrop of typically elegant, over-the-top John Woo violence."[14] On Metacritic, the film received a score of 82 out of 100 from 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[15] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[16]

The role reversal between Travolta and Cage was a subject of praise, as were the stylized, violent action sequences. Critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four and remarked: "Here, using big movie stars and asking them to play each other, Woo and his writers find a terrific counterpoint to the action scenes: All through the movie, you find yourself reinterpreting every scene as you realize the 'other' character is 'really' playing it."[17] Rolling Stone's Peter Travers said of the film, "You may not buy the premise or the windup, but with Travolta and Cage taking comic and psychic measures of their characters and their own careers, there is no resisting Face/Off. This you gotta see."[18] Richard Corliss of Time said that the film "isn't just a thrill ride, it's a rocket into the thrilling past, when directors could scare you with how much emotion they packed into a movie."[19]

Barbara Shulgasser of the San Francisco Examiner called the movie "idiotic" and argued that "a good director would choose the best of the six ways and put it in his movie. Woo puts all six in. If you keep your eyes closed during a Woo movie and open them every six minutes, you'll see everything you need to know to have a perfectly lovely evening at the cinema."[20]

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing (Mark Stoeckinger and Per Hallberg) at the 70th Academy Awards, but lost to another Paramount film Titanic. Face/Off also won Saturn Awards for Best Director and Best Writing, and the MTV Movie Awards for Best Action Sequence (the speedboat chase) and Best On-Screen Duo for Travolta and Cage.

It has been labelled as part of the "holy trinity" of Nicolas Cage films, along with Con Air (1997) and The Rock (1996).[21][22]

Face/Off is said to have inspired Infernal Affairs. However, Infernal Affairs director Andrew Lau wanted to have a more realistic situation; instead of a physical face change, Lau wanted to have the characters swap identities.[23] The concept of "bian lian" or "change face", a technique traditionally used in Chinese opera, may have been used here to depict the fluid and seamless morph of Chen and Lau's characters' identities between the "good" and "bad" sides. Infernal Affairs in turn has spawned several adaptations, notably The Departed directed by Martin Scorsese which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.


Paramount Pictures announced in September 2019 plans to remake Face/Off with a new cast. David Permut will be executive producer, with Neal Moritz to produce and Oren Uziel to write.[24] In February 2021, it was reported that Adam Wingard would direct and the film would be a direct sequel to the original.[4]


  1. ^ BBFC. "Face/off". www.bbfc.co.uk. Retrieved January 2, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "Face/Off (1997)". Box Office Mojo. August 29, 1997. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  3. ^ Turan, Kenneth (June 27, 1997). "John Travolta and Nicolas Cage get under each other's skin--literally--in John Woo's return to form, 'Face/Off'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 6, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Fleming Jr., Mike (February 11, 2021). "'Face/Off' Facelift To Be Delivered By 'Godzilla Vs Kong' Director Adam Wingard At Paramount". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Christopher Heard. Ten thousand bullets: the cinema of John Woo. Los Angeles: Lone Eagle Publ, 2000. ISBN 1-58065-021-X
  6. ^ "Face/Off Production Notes". Retroramble.
  7. ^ "Face/Off". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  8. ^ http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-movies-plots-given-away-by-characters-names
  9. ^ "Face Off Original Soundtrack by John Powell". ARTISTdirect. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  10. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Review: Face/Off - John Powell". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  11. ^ "Face/Off Soundtrack CD Album". CD Universe. Retrieved March 11, 2014.
  12. ^ Perenson, Melissa J. (January 18, 2007). "New HD Disc Titles, New HD Disc Technology". PC World. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  13. ^ "Breaking: Paramount Unveils Blu-ray Launch Plans". High-Def Digest. April 29, 2008. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  14. ^ Face/Off at Rotten Tomatoes
  15. ^ Face/Off at Metacritic
  16. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 27, 1997). "Face/Off (review)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  18. ^ Travers, Peter (February 9, 2001). "Face/Off (review)". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  19. ^ Corliss, Richard (June 30, 1997). "One Dumb Summer: Reviews". Time. Retrieved November 20, 2008.
  20. ^ Shulgasser, Barbara (June 27, 1997). "Trading Faces". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  21. ^ https://screenrant.com/con-air-honest-trailer/
  22. ^ https://www.pdxmonthly.com/arts-and-culture/2020/01/hollywood-theatre-series-celebrates-the-best-of-nicolas-cage
  23. ^ "无间道的幕后花絮". www.1905.com (in Chinese). Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  24. ^ Fleming Jr., Mike (September 9, 2019). "Paramount Putting A New Face On Action Hit 'Face/Off'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 9, 2019.

External links[edit]