Firestarter (1984 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byMark L. Lester
Screenplay byStanley Mann
Based onFirestarter
by Stephen King
Produced by
CinematographyGiuseppe Ruzzolini
Edited by
  • David Rawlins
  • Ronald Sanders
Music byTangerine Dream
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • May 11, 1984 (1984-05-11)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$12 million[2]
Box office$17.1 million[3] or $18.9 million[2]

Firestarter is a 1984 American science fiction horror film based on Stephen King's 1980 novel of the same name.[4] The plot concerns a young girl who develops pyrokinesis and the secret government agency known as the Shop which seeks to control her. The film was directed by Mark L. Lester, and stars David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Martin Sheen and George C. Scott. Firestarter was shot in and around Wilmington, Chimney Rock, and Lake Lure, North Carolina.

A miniseries follow-up to the film, Firestarter: Rekindled, was released in 2002 on the Sci-Fi Channel, and a remake from Blumhouse Productions was announced at the end of 2019.


As college students, Andy McGee and Vicky Tomlinson participated in an experiment where they are given a dose of a low-grade hallucinogen called LOT-6. While the other participants suffer side-effects like headaches and twitches, the experiment gives Vicky and Andy telepathic abilities; Vicky can read minds and Andy can control others to do and believe what he wants, though the effort sometimes gives him nosebleeds ("pinprick" hemorrhages), limiting this otherwise very strong power. Andy and Vicky, now married, have a nine-year-old daughter named Charlene "Charlie" McGee, who has pyrokinetic abilities (the power to control heat and fire) and can also see the near future.

Andy comes home from work and finds Vicky murdered and Charlie abducted; the family had already suspected that the government agency that sponsored the experiment, the Department of Scientific Intelligence ("the Shop"), was watching them. The government wants to weaponize Charlie's power. Andy finds Charlie and rescues her by blinding the agents, and for the next year they are on the run.

To protect themselves, Andy writes letters to major newspapers, unintentionally revealing their location. Farmer Irv Manders and his wife Norma take in the pair. Andy tells Irv the truth so that when the Shop arrives, he is ready to stand with them. However, Charlie quickly dispatches the agents when they arrive. They go on the run again, but Andy's power has weakened. They go to a secluded cabin and prepare to go public with their story. Unfortunately, the head of the Shop, Captain James Hollister, sends agent and assassin John Rainbird to capture them and stop the release of information. After capture, father and daughter are kept separated. Andy is medicated and subjected to tests, which show his powers have decreased. Meanwhile, Rainbird pretends to be "John", a friendly orderly employed by The Shop to gain Charlie's trust and encourage her to submit to the tests.

Charlie's powers increase exponentially. She continually demands to see her father as they promised. Andy is revealed to be faking the acceptance of his drugs, so his powers have never decreased and it was all a ruse to make Hollister drop his guard. Once alone on a walk far from the house, Andy uses his power to get information from Hollister (such as "John"'s true identity) and arranges to leave with Charlie that night. He slips Charlie a note and she immediately tells John/Rainbird about the escape. Since he has wanted to kill Charlie since first hearing about her, he hides in the barn so he can kill Andy as well. Charlie enters the barn first and John/Rainbird succeeds in convincing her to begin the climb up the ladder to him. His plan is foiled once Andy enters and Charlie instead runs to her father. She tells him that "John" is present and asks if they can take him with them. She is saddened and angered to find out the truth, yet believes John/Rainbird when he states that he will not kill her father if she comes to him. To save his daughter, Andy orders the still mind-controlled Hollister to shoot at Rainbird. However, Rainbird kills Hollister, after which Andy, using his powers, causes Rainbird to leap to the ground, breaking his leg. Rainbird shoots Andy in the neck, fatally wounding him. He then fires at Charlie but she detonates the bullet and engulfs Rainbird in the ensuing fire, killing him. Andy, mortally wounded and dying, pleads with her to use her powers to bring the facility down after he dies. The entire security team arrives and she eliminates them one by one with her powers and makes her way off the property.

Charlie hitchhikes back to the Manders' farm and is welcomed back. Shortly after, Charlie and Irv arrive in New York City to tell her story to the media.



During filming of The Thing, Universal offered John Carpenter the chance to direct the film. Carpenter hired Bill Lancaster to adapt the novel into a screenplay, which Stephen King approved of.[5] Months later, Carpenter hired Bill Phillips to write another version with Richard Dreyfuss as Andy, but when The Thing underperformed financially, Universal replaced Carpenter with Mark L. Lester, who brought Stanley Mann to write a screenplay that stayed closer to the novel than the abandoned screenplays that Carpenter had commissioned.

Lancaster's father, Burt Lancaster, originally was going to portray Captain Hollister, but had to withdraw following heart surgery; Martin Sheen replaced Lancaster.[6][7]

The film was shot in and around the city of Wilmington, North Carolina from September 12 to November 26, 1983.[8] It was the first film to be shot there after the commission of the North Carolina Film Office, and it is regarded as launching the city as what is now a burgeoning hub of film and television productions.[9]


Firestarter has a 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 27 reviews. The critical consensus reads, "Firestarter's concept hews too closely to other known Stephen King adaptations, though it's got nice special effects (including scenery-chewing George C. Scott)."[10]

Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four, and wrote, "the most astonishing thing" about it was "how boring it is...there's not a character in this movie that is convincing, even for a moment, nor a line in this movie that even experienced performers can make real;" and, "we don't feel sorry for Barrymore because she's never developed as a believable little girl -- just a plot gimmick."[11]

After seeing a rough cut, Stephen King declared it “One of the worst of the bunch” of the adaptations of his work he had seen, and dubbed it “flavourless.” He and director Mark Lester later traded barbs over the comments, though King told Cinefantastique he feels Firestarter’s producer is the one to blame for its failings.[12][13]

Colin Greenland reviewed Firestarter for Imagine magazine, and stated that " I suspect the story was ruined before it ever got to the actors: spoilt by oversimplification and the surgical removal of all King's narrative intelligence. The great final conflagration comes as a relief. Yet another movie with all its conviction reserved for the special effects."[14]


1984 LP album cover
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedJuly 1984
GenreElectronic music
Tangerine Dream chronology
Risky Business

Firestarter is the twenty-second major release and fifth soundtrack album by the German electronic music group Tangerine Dream.

AllMusic rated the soundtrack four out of five stars.[15]

1."Crystal Voice"3:07
2."The Run"4:50
4."Charly the Kid"3:51
5."Escaping Point"5:10
6."Rainbirds Move"2:31
7."Burning Force"4:17
8."Between Realities"2:53
9."Shop Territory"3:15
10."Flash Final"5:15
11."Out of the Heat"2:30
Total length:41:39



In April 2017, Jason Blum and Akiva Goldsman announced that they are remaking Firestarter for Universal and Blumhouse, with Goldsman co-writing with Scott Teems.[16] On June 28, 2019, Variety reported that Fatih Akin was announced to direct the remake.[17] On December 16, 2019, Collider updated that Keith Thomas will direct.[18] In September 2020, Zac Efron was cast to play Andy McGee.[19] In February 2021, Michael Greyeyes was cast to play John Rainbird.[20] On May 25, 2021, Blum posted in his personal Instagram stating that production on the film had commenced. In June 2021, Ryan Kiera Armstrong was cast in the lead role of Charlie McGee.[21]


  1. ^ "FIRESTARTER (15)". British Board of Film Classification. May 15, 1984. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  2. ^ a b De Laurentiis PRODUCER'S PICTURE DARKENS: KNOEDELSEDER, WILLIAM K, Jr. Los Angeles Times 30 Aug 1987: 1.
  3. ^ "Firestarter (1984)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 11, 2011.
  4. ^ Canby, Vincent (1984). "Firestarter". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Maddrey, Joe (February 15, 2016). "5 Stephen King Adaptations That Died in Development Hell". Archived from the original on October 30, 2016. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
  6. ^ Mell, Eila (2005). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A Film by Film Directory of Actors Considered for Roles Given to Others. McFarland. ISBN 9780786420179.
  7. ^ "Burt Lancaster Plans To Undergo Surgery". The New York Times. August 16, 1983. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Cape Fear Museum showcases Wilmington's rich film history". WRAL. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  10. ^ "Firestarter (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 9, 2017.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1984). "Firestarter Movie Review". Retrieved October 29, 2016.
  12. ^ Why Stephen King Hates Firestarter's Movie Adaptation – Screen Rant
  13. ^ Ewing, Darrel & Myers, Dennis (June 1986). "King of The Road". American Film. Retrieved April 22, 2017.
  14. ^ Greenland, Colin (August 1984). "Fantasy Media". Imagine (review). TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd. (17): 47.
  15. ^ Allmusic review
  16. ^ Miska, Brad (April 28, 2017). "Blumhouse is Remaking Stephen King's 'Firestarter' #Overlook". Bloody Disgusting.
  17. ^ Kroll, Justin (June 28, 2018). "'In the Fade' Director to Take on Stephen King's 'Firestarter' for Universal, Blumhouse (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety.
  18. ^ Sneider, Jeff (December 16, 2019). "Blumhouse's 'Firestarter' Remake Heats Up with 'The Vigil' Director Keith Thomas". Collider.
  19. ^ Sneider, Jeff (September 29, 2020). "Zac Efron to Star in Firestarter Remake from Blumhouse". Collider. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  20. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (February 11, 2021). "Michael Greyeyes Joins Blumhouse's Stephen King Pic 'Firestarter'". Deadline. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  21. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (June 2, 2021). "'Firestarter': Blumhouse Reboot Of Stephen King Classic Finds Its Charlie In Ryan Kiera Armstrong – First Look". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 2, 2021.

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