Falling Down

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Falling Down
A poster depicting an older man standing on a concrete platform, wearing a business outfit, holding a briefcase and a shotgun. Above, in black letters, it reads: "Michael Douglas". Below, in large white letters over a red background, it reads: "Falling Down". Beneath that, with the film credits, it reads in small white letters: "A Joel Schumacher Film". In the background are skyscrapers and a smog filled sky.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Schumacher
Written byEbbe Roe Smith
Produced by
CinematographyAndrzej Bartkowiak
Edited byPaul Hirsch
Music byJames Newton Howard
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release dates
  • February 26, 1993 (1993-02-26) (United States)
  • June 4, 1993 (1993-06-04) (United Kingdom)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[1]
Box office$96 million[2]

Falling Down is a 1993 American action film[3] directed by Joel Schumacher, written by Ebbe Roe Smith and released by Warner Bros. in the United States on February 26, 1993.[4] The film stars Michael Douglas in the lead role of William Foster, a divorced and unemployed former defense engineer. The film centers on Foster as he treks on foot across the city of Los Angeles, trying to reach the house of his estranged ex-wife in time for his daughter's birthday. Along the way, a series of encounters, both trivial and provocative, causes him to react with increasing violence and make sardonic observations on life, poverty, the economy, and commercialism. Robert Duvall co-stars as Martin Prendergast, an aging Los Angeles Police Department sergeant on the day of his retirement, who faces his own frustrations even as he tracks down Foster.


William Foster is stuck in traffic on a hot day. After his air conditioning fails, he abandons his car and begins walking home across L.A., carrying his briefcase.

At a convenience store, the Korean owner refuses to give change for a telephone call. Foster begins ranting about the high prices. The owner grabs a baseball bat and demands Foster leave. Foster takes the bat and destroys much of the merchandise before leaving. Shortly thereafter, while resting on a hill, he is accosted by two gang members, who threaten him with a knife and demand his briefcase. Foster attacks them with the bat and takes their knife.

The two gang members, now in a car with two friends, cruise the streets and find Foster in a phone booth. They open fire, hitting several bystanders but not Foster. The driver loses control and crashes. Foster picks up a gun, shoots the one surviving gang member in the leg, and then leaves with their bag of weapons. Foster encounters a panhandler and gives him the briefcase, which only contains his lunch.

At a fast-food restaurant, Foster attempts to order breakfast, but they have switched to the lunch menu. After an argument with the manager, Foster pulls a gun and fires into the ceiling accidentally. After trying to reassure the frightened employees and customers, he orders lunch, but is annoyed when the burger looks nothing like the one shown on the menu. He leaves, tries to call from a phone booth, then shoots the booth to pieces after being hassled by someone who was waiting to use the phone. After Foster calls "home" again and states his intention to attend his daughter Adele's birthday party, his ex-wife Beth notifies the police because she has a restraining order and fears he might become violent.

Sergeant Prendergast, who is on his last day before retirement, insists on investigating the crimes. Interviews with the witnesses at each scene lead Prendergast to realize that the same person may be responsible. Foster's “D-FENS” vanity license plate proves to be an important lead, because Prendergast remembers being in the same traffic jam as Foster earlier that day. Prendergast and his partner, Detective Torres, visit Foster's mother, who is surprised to learn that Foster lost his job. They realize Foster is heading toward his former family's home in Venice, California and rush to intercept him.

Foster passes a bank where a black man is protesting after being rejected for a loan application. The man exchanges a glance with Foster and says, "Don't forget me," as he is escorted away by police. Foster stops at a military surplus store to buy shoes. The owner, a white supremacist, diverts Torres's attention when she comes in to ask questions. After Torres leaves, he offers Foster a rocket launcher and congratulates him for shooting "a bunch of niggers" at the Whammy Burger. When Foster expresses distaste for the store owner's racism, the man pulls a gun and attempts to turn him over to the police, but Foster stabs him with the gang member's knife, then shoots him dead. He changes into army fatigues and boots, takes the rocket launcher, and leaves.

Foster encounters a road repair crew who are not working and accuses them of doing unnecessary repairs to justify their budget. He pulls out the rocket launcher but struggles to use it, until a boy explains how it works. Foster accidentally fires the launcher, blowing up the construction site. By the time Foster reaches Beth’s house, she has already fled with Adele. He realizes that they may have gone to nearby Venice Pier, but Prendergast and Torres arrive before he can pursue them. Foster shoots Torres, injuring her, and flees with Prendergast in pursuit.

At the pier, Foster confronts his ex-wife and daughter. Adele is happy to see him, but Beth is frightened. Prendergast arrives and acknowledges Foster's complaints about being ill-treated by society, but does not accept that excuses his rampage. With Foster distracted, Beth throws his gun into the sea as Prendergast draws his revolver, insisting that Foster give himself up. With nothing left for him, Foster tricks Prendergast into shooting him dead. Having asserted himself, Prendergast decides to hold off retirement.




Falling Down was being shot on locations in Lynwood, California, when the 1992 Los Angeles riots began. By April 30, the riots were sufficiently disruptive to force filming to stop early that day.[5] Film crews produced more footage inside of Warner Bros. Studio, in Burbank, as the riots continued. By May 4, when the crew intended to resume in Pasadena, initial requests to do so were denied, causing delays.[6] Filming wrapped in late June 1992.[7] Production designer Barbara Ling said, "We mapped this so that you really were going across [Los Angeles] from Silver Lake down to mid-city to Koreatown."[8]

In an interview less than a week before Falling Down's release, screenwriter Ebbe Roe Smith gave his interpretation of what the movie was about. "To me, even though the movie deals with complicated urban issues, it really is just about one basic thing: The main character represents the old power structure of the U.S. that has now become archaic, and hopelessly lost. For both of them, it's adjust-or-die time ..."[9]


Foster's signature haircut was the idea of Joel Schumacher and the movie's hairstylist, Lynda Gurasich. Douglas commented on how it helped him get into the character of a veteran of the military or defense industry, "It gave me the feeling of the late '50s and the early '60s, and somehow my character you kinda have the feeling that he came from another time, or he wished or he hoped for another time when things made sense." Douglas would add concerning the character, "There's a lot of people who are a paycheck away from being on the streets and being out of work who did everything right, they've been responsible, they tried hard, [and] they don't know what went wrong! We won the war, where's it all at?"[10]


Box office[edit]

The film grossed $96 million against a $25 million budget. It took the top spot at the United States box office in its first two weeks of release (February 26–28 and March 5–7, 1993). Falling Down pushed the previous top movie, Groundhog Day, into the second place box-office spot for both those weeks.[11] It grossed $40.9 million in the United States and Canada and $55.1 million internationally.[12][2]

Critical reception[edit]

Falling Down holds an approval rating of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 55 reviews, with an average rating of 6.80/10. The site's consensus states: "Falling Down's popcorn-friendly take on its complex themes proves disquieting—and ultimately fitting for a bleakly entertaining picture of one man's angry break with reality."[13] However, the film also has a weighted average score of 56 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 21 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[14][15] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[16]


Contemporary reviews of Falling Down were generally mixed to positive.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "the most interesting, all-out commercial American film of the year to date, and one that will function much like a Rorschach test to expose the secrets of those who watch it."[4] Philip Thomas of Empire magazine wrote in his review of the film, "While the morality of D-Fens's methods are questionable, there's a resonance about his reaction to everyday annoyances, and Michael Douglas' hypnotic performance makes it memorable."[17] James Berardinelli wrote: "Falling Down is replete with gallows humor, almost to the point where it could be classified as a 'black comedy'."[18] John Truby calls the film "an anti-Odyssey story" about "the lie of the American Dream".[19] He adds, "I can't remember laughing so hard in a movie."[19] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "Falling Down encourages a gloating sense that we the long-suffering victims are finally getting our splendid revenge. The ultimate hollowness of that kind of triumph reflects the shallowness of a film all too eager to serve it up."[20]

Roger Ebert, who gave the film a positive review at the time of its release, wrote:

Some will even find it racist because the targets of the film's hero are African American, Latino, and Korean—with a few Whites thrown in for balance. Both of these approaches represent a facile reading of the film, which is actually about a great sadness, which turns into madness, and which can afflict anyone who is told, after many years of hard work, that he is unnecessary and irrelevant... What is fascinating about the Douglas character, as written and played, is the core of sadness in his soul. Yes, by the time we meet him, he has gone over the edge. But there is no exhilaration in his rampage, no release. He seems weary and confused, and in his actions he unconsciously follows scripts that he may have learned from the movies, or on the news, where other frustrated misfits vent their rage on innocent bystanders.[21]

The Washington Post writer Hal Hinson observed:

This guy is you, the movie suggests, and if not you exactly, then maybe the guy you're one or two bad breaks from becoming. At one time or another, we've all thought these thoughts, and so when this downtrodden, laid-off, teed-off L.A. defense worker gets out of his car on a sweltering day in the middle of rush hour and decides he's not going to take any more, it comes as no surprise", adding "as he did in Fatal Attraction and Wall Street, Douglas again takes on the symbolic mantle of the Zeitgeist. But in Falling Down, he and Schumacher want to have their cake and eat it too; they want him to be a hero and a villain, and it just won't work.[22]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film four stars out of five, writing:

There's no denying the power of the tale or of Douglas's riveting performance—his best and riskiest since Wall Street. Douglas neither demonizes nor canonizes this flawed character. Marching across a violent urban landscape toward an illusory home, this shattered Everyman is never less than real ... "I'm the bad guy?" he asks in disbelief. Douglas speaks the line with a searing poignancy that illuminates uncomfortable truths without excusing the character. Schumacher could have exploited those tabloid headlines about solid citizens going berserk. Instead, the timely, gripping Falling Down puts a human face on a cold statistic and then dares us to look away.[23]

Mick LaSalle said of the film in the San Francisco Chronicle:

A few times every year, Hollywood makes a mistake, violates formula, and actually makes a great picture. Falling Down is one of the great mistakes of 1993, a film too good and too original to win any Oscars, but one bound to be remembered in years to come as a true and ironic statement about life in our time.[24]

At the time of its release, Douglas's father, actor Kirk Douglas, declared, "He played it brilliantly. I think it is his best piece of work to date."[25] He also defended the film against critics who claimed that it glorifies lawbreaking: "Michael's character is not the 'hero' or 'newest urban icon'. He is the villain and the victim. Of course, we see many elements of our society that contributed to his madness. We even pity him. But the movie never condones his actions."[25]

Falling Down was released in theatres less than one year after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, during which Korean Americans and their businesses were targeted by rioters. The Korean American Coalition[26] and Korean Grocers Association[27] protested the film for its treatment of minorities, especially the Korean grocer. Warner Bros. Korea cancelled the release of Falling Down in South Korea following boycott threats.[28] The outcry by the Grocers Association led to Michael Douglas meeting with the organization's members at the Warner Bros. Studio because they "were there and they were pissed. So we had a conversation and I told them, 'Look, I'm very sorry, but there's a reason the screenwriter picked certain things to put in the film.'"[29] Unemployed defense workers were also angered at their portrayal in the film.[26]

The character of D‑FENS was featured on magazine covers, including the March 29, 1993 issue[30] of Newsweek magazine, and reported upon as an embodiment of the "angry white male" stereotype.[31]

Later opinions[edit]

On the 25th anniversary of the film's release in 2017, film critic April Wolfe of LA Weekly wrote that it "remains one of Hollywood's most overt yet morally complex depictions of the modern white-victimization narrative, one both adored and reviled by the extreme right". Wolfe said "Today, we might see D-Fens and the white supremacist as the infighting sides of the far right — one couches racism in coded words like "thug," while the other wants an outright ethnic cleanse. Ultimately, what both want is to return to their idea of a purer America, unburdened by the concerns of minorities and women". Wolfe suggested that Rupert Murdoch would "go on to bottle that fury and package it as patriotism" in creating Fox News.[32]

In 2012, Tasha Robinson of The A.V. Club was critical of the '90s film "that most stands out for me from that era, because it's such a ham-handed, wrong-headed, self-congratulatory attempt to encapsulate its era's spirit". Robinson added, "the film treats virtually everyone around him [D-FENS] as worthless, and presents his violence as the comedic payoff, turns it into a tone-deaf, self-pitying lament about the terrible persecution facing the oppressed majority in an era of political correctness and increasing multiculturalism." She finishes her short review with, "It's a profoundly hateful film disguised alternately (and erratically) as either tragedy or humor."[33] An earlier 2008 review on the site was positive, saying, "Heat used as a metaphor for simmering rage is nothing new, but few films execute sweaty psychosis as well."[34]


In other media[edit]

Falling Down has been the inspiration of musical artists such as Iron Maiden, Foo Fighters, Front Line Assembly, and Heart Attack Man. The Iron Maiden song "Man on the Edge" is a basic summary of Falling Down, beginning with describing the opening traffic jam, and ending with describing the birthday present Foster buys for his daughter. The Foo Fighters' song "Walk" has a music video that is a recreation of scenes from Falling Down. The Front Line Assembly album Millennium contains several samples from various scenes from Falling Down.[37] The Heart Attack Man song "Out For Blood" was inspired by the anger and frustration weaved through Falling Down which weaves through the rest of their album Fake Blood.[citation needed]

In the video game Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, a character resembling Foster recreates the rocket launcher scene in a cutscene, blowing up a construction site before walking away with a duffel bag.[38]

An episode of the animated series Duckman titled "A Room with a Bellevue" (episode six of season three), is loosely based on the plot of Falling Down. Duckman has to pick up his new suit from the dry cleaner to be presentable on his children's birthday, but huge traffic and the law are going to stop him.

Frank Grimes, a one-off character on The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy", is modeled after Foster, having the same flat-top haircut and white shirt and briefcase.[39]

The band Slipknot sampled the famous "Freedom of Speech" clip in two songs - some earlier versions of "Gently", and "Interloper".[citation needed]

In the song "I'm in It", Kanye West references the film when he raps "Time to take it too far now/Michael Douglas out the car now".[40][better source needed]


  1. ^ "Falling Down (1993)". IMDb. May 25, 1993. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Klady, Leonard (January 3, 1994). "Int'l top 100 earn $8 bil". Variety. p. 1.
  3. ^ "Falling Down (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  4. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (February 26, 1993). "Falling Down (1993) Review/Film; Urban Horrors, All Too Familiar". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "3 May 1992". Southern Illinoisan. p. 11. Retrieved October 11, 2016.
  6. ^ "Hollywood Film Crews Encounter Riot Delays". The Los Angeles Times. 1992-05-05. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  7. ^ "Surprise". Detroit Free Press. 23 Jun 1992. p. 25. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  8. ^ "Setting a Path Across L.A. With the Unhinged Antihero of 'Falling Down'". L.A. TACO. February 25, 2018. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  9. ^ Murphy, Ryan (February 21, 1993). "MOVIES : 'Falling Down' Writer Has Seen the Future: It's L.A." Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  10. ^ Tibbits, John C. Falling Down: Conversations About the Film. University of Kansas.
  11. ^ "Groundhog Day (1993)—Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  12. ^ "Falling Down (1993)". Box Office Mojo. May 25, 1993. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  13. ^ "Falling Down". Retrieved March 23, 2022 – via www.rottentomatoes.com.
  14. ^ "Falling Down" – via www.metacritic.com.
  15. ^ "Metacritic score". IMDb.
  16. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  17. ^ "Empire Online – Falling Down Review".
  18. ^ "Reelviews Movie Reviews". Reelviews.net. 1993-02-26. Retrieved 2013-08-18.
  19. ^ a b "Falling Down". Truby.com.
  20. ^ "Everyman Can't Keep From 'Falling Down'". Newspapers.com. The Los Angeles Times. 1993-02-26. p. 80 (F5). Retrieved 2022-04-16.
  21. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 26, 1993). "Falling Down". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  22. ^ Hinson, Hal (February 26, 1993). "Falling Down". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-04-23.
  23. ^ Travers, Peter (February 26, 1993). "Falling Down". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on April 23, 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-23.
  24. ^ "Mick LaSalle's Profile". Metacritic.
  25. ^ a b "Kirk Douglas Defends Son". McCook Daily Gazette. March 23, 1993. Retrieved 2012-06-28.
  26. ^ a b Appelo, Tim (March 12, 1993). "'Down' Beat—Up in arms over Falling Down—Laid-off workers are offended by the Michael Douglas film". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  27. ^ ""Falling Down" Under Fire". The Tennessean. 1993-03-03. Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  28. ^ "'Falling Down' won't play Korea." Rocky Mountain News, March 10, 1994.
  29. ^ "Michael Douglas on 8 of his greatest roles, from Gordon Gekko to Liberace". Retrieved 2016-10-06.
  30. ^ "White Male Paranoia". Newsweek. 1993-03-28. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  31. ^ Carl Scott Gutiérrez-Jones (2001). Critical race narratives. NYU Press. pp. 61–65. ISBN 978-0-8147-3145-1.
  32. ^ Wolfe, April (2017-04-26). "Hey, White People: Michael Douglas Is the Villain, Not the Victim, in Falling Down". L.A. Weekly. Archived from the original on 2017-04-27. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  33. ^ Staff, A.V. Club (2012-10-12). "Our most-hated movies of the '90s". Film. Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  34. ^ Staff. "It's not the heat, it's the intensity: 13 memorable films set during heat waves". Film. Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  35. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Falling Down". festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on 2009-10-03. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
  36. ^ "Category List – Best Motion Picture". The Edgars. Retrieved 2019-07-02.
  37. ^ "Samples". Mindphaser. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  38. ^ Perry, Douglass C. (2005-05-17). "E3 2005: Tony Hawk's American Wasteland". IGN. Retrieved 2022-04-04.
  39. ^ Weinstein, Josh (2006). The Simpsons season 8 DVD commentary for the episode "Homer's Enemy" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  40. ^ "Uh, Michael Douglas out the car now". Genius.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]