Ghost World (film)

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Ghost World
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Produced by Lianne Halfon
John Malkovich
Russell Smith
Written by Daniel Clowes
Terry Zwigoff
Based on Ghost World 
by Daniel Clowes
Starring Thora Birch
Scarlett Johansson
Brad Renfro
Bob Balaban
Illeana Douglas
Steve Buscemi
Music by David Kitay
Cinematography Affonso Beato
Edited by Carole Kravetz-Aykanian
Michael R. Miller
Granada Film
Jersey Shore
Advanced Medien
Mr. Mudd
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • July 20, 2001 (2001-07-20)
Running time
111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7 million
Box office $8,764,007

Ghost World is a 2001 American comedy-drama film directed by Terry Zwigoff, based on the comic book of the same name by Daniel Clowes, with a screenplay co-written by Clowes and Zwigoff. The story focuses on the lives of Enid and Rebecca (played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson), two teenage outsiders in an unnamed American city. The film was released with limited box-office success, but it was extremely well received by film critics.


Best friends Enid and Rebecca face summer after their high-school graduation. The girls are social outcasts, but Rebecca is more popular with boys than Enid. Enid's diploma is held on the condition that she attend a remedial art class. Even though she is a talented artist, her art teacher, Roberta, believes art must be socially meaningful and dismisses Enid's sketches as "light entertainment."

The girls see a personal ad in which a lonely middle-aged man named Seymour asks a woman he met recently to contact him. Enid makes a prank phone call to Seymour, pretending to be the woman and inviting him to meet her at a diner, and when he goes there, the two girls, and their friend Josh, secretly watch and make fun of Seymour. However, Enid begins to feel sympathy for Seymour, so a few days later the girls follow him to his apartment building, where they find him selling vintage records in a garage sale. Enid buys an old blues album from him, and they gradually become friends. She tries to find women for him to date.

Meanwhile, Enid has been attending her art class and in order to please her art teacher, Roberta, Enid persuades Seymour to lend her an old poster depicting a grotesquely caricatured black man, which was once used as a promotional tool by Coon Chicken Inn. In the film, "Coon Chicken Inn" has been renamed "Cook's Chicken', the fried-chicken franchise where Seymour works in a managerial position. In class, she presents the poster as a social comment about racism, and Roberta is so impressed with the concept that she later offers Enid a scholarship to an art college.

Around this time, Seymour receives a phone call from Dana, the woman he had previously written to in the personal ad. Enid encourages him to pursue a relationship with Dana, but she becomes jealous when he does and then begins avoiding her to spend time with Dana. At this point, Enid's and Rebecca's lives diverge. While Enid has been spending time with Seymour, Rebecca has found a job and become more interested in clothing, boys, and other typical things. Enid finds a job so she can afford to rent an apartment with Rebecca, but she is fired after only one day. After Enid loses her job, the girls argue and Rebecca gives up the idea of living with Enid.

At the end of the summer, Enid's and Seymour's lives fall apart. When Enid's poster is displayed in an art show, school officials find it so offensive they force Roberta to give her a failing grade; when Enid discovers she has lost her scholarship, she visits Seymour for solace, resulting in a drunken one-night stand. Seymour then breaks up with Dana, and is called-to-account at work when the poster is publicized in a local newspaper. He unsuccessfully tries to contact Enid, and Rebecca tells him about Enid's prank phone call and about mocking him earlier at the diner. Seymour is upset and later hospitalized after assaulting Josh, the boy who was with the girls at the diner. Enid comes to apologize, but Seymour realizes he has no chance with her.

Finally, Enid gives in to her childhood fantasy of running away from home and disappearing. Throughout the film, she has repeatedly seen an old man named Norman, who has been waiting at an out-of-service bus stop for days on end, before finally boarding a bus that inexplicably arrives at the "out-of-service" bus stop. The next day, while Seymour discusses the summer's events with his therapist, Enid goes to the bench and boards the "out-of-service" bus when it arrives.



Ghost World premiered on June 16, 2001 at the Seattle International Film Festival, to lower than average recognition by audiences, but admiration from critics. It was also screened at several film festivals all over the world including the Fantasia Festival in Montreal.

With a limited commercial theatrical run in the United States, Ghost World’s commercial success was minimal. The film was released on July 20, 2001 in five theaters grossing $98,791 on its opening weekend; it slowly expanded to more theaters, reaching a maximum of 128 by September.[1] It went on to make $6.2 million in North America and $2.5 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $8.7 million, just above its $7 million budget.[1]

Critical reaction[edit]

The film's critical reception has been highly positive; it currently has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 88 metascore on Metacritic. Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and wrote, "I wanted to hug this movie. It takes such a risky journey and never steps wrong. It creates specific, original, believable, lovable characters, and meanders with them through their inconsolable days, never losing its sense of humor."[2] In his review for The New York Times, A. O. Scott praised Thora Birch's performance as Enid: "Thora Birch, whose performance as Lester Burnham's alienated daughter was the best thing about American Beauty, plays a similar character here, with even more intelligence and restraint." In his Chicago Reader review, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, "Birch makes the character an uncanny encapsulation of adolescent agonies without ever romanticizing or sentimentalizing her attitudes, and Clowes and Zwigoff never allow us to patronize her."[3] However, Andrew Sarris of the The New York Observer disliked the character of Enid: "I found Enid smug, complacent, cruel, deceitful, thoughtless, malicious and disloyal...Enid's favorite targets are people who are older, poorer or dumber than she is."[4][5] Kevin Thomas, in his review for The Los Angeles Times, praised Steve Buscemi's portrayal of Seymour saying, "Buscemi rarely has had so full and challenging a role, that of a mature, reflective man, unhandsome yet not unattractive, thanks to a witty sensitivity and clear intelligence."[6] Time magazine's Andrew D. Arnold wrote, "Unlike those shrill, hard-sell teen comedies on the other screens, Ghost World never becomes the kind of empty, defensive snark-fest that it targets. Clowes and Zwigoff keep the organic pace of the original, and its empathic exploration of painfully changing relationships."[7]

Michael Dean of The Comics Journal said, "Those with higher expectations - and, certainly, Ghost World purists - are likely to experience at least a degree of disappointment. Some of the comic's air of aimless mystery has been paved over with the semblance of a Hollywood plot, and to that extent, the movie is a lesser work than the comic. But it's still a far better movie than we had a right to expect." According to Dean:

It's ultimately a testament to Clowes' original creations that so much of Enid and Becky shines through all the tampering and compromises. And it's a testament to Zwigoff that he was able to keep the film as quiet and understated as it is and draw first-rate performances from his primary cast....The injection of a relatively trite plot situation into Ghost World's more enigmatic stream of events is perhaps forgivable, since the film might otherwise never have been produced. Its greatest sin, the misappropriation of Enid's longing, is not so forgivable, though the overlap between Zwigoff's distaste for modernity and Enid's distrust of social acceptability makes it almost palatable. In any case, we want to forgive it, because so much is right about the movie.[8]

Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A-" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Ghost World is a movie for anyone who ever felt imprisoned by life but crazy about it anyway."[9] In her review for the LA Weekly, Manohla Dargis wrote, "If Zwigoff doesn't always make his movie move (he's overly faithful to the concept of the cartoon panel), he has a gift for connecting us to people who aren't obviously likable, then making us see the urgency of that connection."[10] In Sight & Sound, Leslie Felperin wrote, "Cannily, the main performers deliver most of their lines in slack monotones, all the better to set off the script's wit and balance the glistering cluster of varyingly deranged lesser characters."[11] In his review for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote, "It is an engaging account of the raw pain of adolescence: the fear of being trapped in a grown-up future and choosing the wrong grown-up identity, and of course the pain of love, which we all learn to anaesthetise with jobs and mundane worries."[12]


Ghost World topped MSN Movies' list of the "Top 10 Comic Book Movies",[13] it was ranked number 3 out of 94 in Rotten Tomatoes' "Comix Worst to Best" countdown (where #1 was the best and #94 the worst),[14] ranked 5th "Best" on IGN's "Best & Worst Comic-Book Movies",[15] and Empire magazine ranked the film 19th in their "The 20 Greatest Comic Book Movies" list.[16]


Ghost World: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by various artists
Released August 14, 2001 (2001-08-14)
Genre Bollywood, string band, blues, jazz
Length 62:58
Label Shanachie
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[17]

Music in the film includes "Jaan Pehechan Ho" by Mohammed Rafi, a dance number choreographed by Herman Benjamin from the 1965 Bollywood musical Gumnaam (which Enid watches and dances to early in the film), and "Devil Got My Woman" by Skip James in 1931, as well as "Pickin' Cotton Blues" by the bar band, Blueshammer.

There are songs by other artists mentioned in the film, including Lionel Belasco, which are reflective of the character Seymour, and of director Terry Zwigoff himself, who is a collector of 78 RPM records, as portrayed by Seymour. Other tracks are by Vince Giordano, a musician who specializes in meticulous recreations of songs from old 78 RPM records. Track 14-19 are not in the film, being selections from Zwigoff's collection.

Referenced in the film is R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, a band that Zwigoff played in. Enid asks Seymour about the band's second album, Chasin' Rainbows, and Seymour replies, "Nah, that one's not so great."

Missing from the soundtrack is "What Do I Get?" by Buzzcocks, which can be heard when Enid dresses up like a punk, and the song "A Smile and a Ribbon" by Patience and Prudence.

Ghost World: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
No. Title Writer(s) Performer(s) Length
1. "Jaan Pehechan Ho" (1965) Shankar Jaikishan (music);
Shailendra (lyrics)
Mohammed Rafi 5:28
2. "Graduation Rap"   Nicole Sill, Guy Thomas (music);
Daniel Clowes (lyrics)
Vanilla, Jade and Ebony 0:32
3. "Devil Got My Woman" (1931) James Skip James 3:00
4. "I Must Have It" (cover of King Oliver, 1930) Davidson Nelson, Joe "King" Oliver Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks 2:59
5. "Miranda" (1933) Thomas Pasatleri, Louis Phillips Lionel Belasco 3:02
6. "Pickin' Cotton Blues"   Terry Zwigoff, Steve Pierson, Guy Thomas Blueshammer 3:35
7. "Let's Go Riding" (1935[18]) Freddie Spruell Mr. Freddie 2:55
8. "Georgia on My Mind"   Hoagy Carmichael (music)
Stuart Gorrell (lyrics)
Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks 3:11
9. "Las Palmas de Maracaibo" (1930) Belasco Lionel Belasco 3:15
10. "Clarice" (cover of Tiny Parham, 1928) Tiny Parham Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks 3:29
11. "Scalding Hot Coffee Rag"   Ventresco Craig Ventresco 3:02
12. "You're Just My Type" (cover of King Oliver, 1930) Nelson, Oliver Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks 2:33
13. "Venezuela" (1931) Victor Colon Lionel Belasco 3:15
14. "Fare Thee Well Blues" (1930) Calicott Joe Calicott 3:12
15. "C. C. & O. Blues" (1928) Anderson, Brownie McGhee Pink Anderson and Simmie Dooley 3:08
16. "C-h-i-c-k-e-n Spells Chicken" (1927) Sidney L. Perrin, Bob Slater McGee Brothers 2:59
17. "That's No Way to Get Along" (1929) Wilkins Robert Wilkins 2:55
18. "So Tired" (1928) Lonnie Johnson Dallas String Band 3:20
19. "Bye Bye Baby Blues" (1930) Jones Little Hat Jones 3:10
20. "Theme from Ghost World"   Kitay David Kitay 3:58


  • 74th Academy AwardsBest Adapted Screenplay – Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff
  • Golden Globe Awards—Best Actress—Musical or Comedy – Thora Birch
  • Golden Globe Awards—Best Supporting Actor – Steve Buscemi
  • American Film Institute—Best Screenplay – Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff
  • American Film Institute—Best Supporting Actor – Steve Buscemi
  • Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics
  • Independent Spirit Award—Best First Feature – Terry Zwigoff
  • Writers Guild of America—Best Adapted Screenplay – Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Ghost World". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  2. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 3, 2001). "Ghost World". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (August 10, 2001). "Women of Substance". Chicago Reader. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  4. ^ Sarris, Andrew (August 5, 2001). "So You Wanna Be a Country-and-Western Star". The New York Observer. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  5. ^ Scott, A. O. (July 20, 2001). "Teenagers' Sad World In a Comic Dimension". The New York Times. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  6. ^ Thomas, Kevin (July 20, 2001). "Ghost World". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 10, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2013. 
  7. ^ Arnold, Andrew D (July 20, 2001). "Anticipating a Ghost World". Time. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  8. ^ Dean, Michael (2001). "Ghost Story". The Comics Journal. Archived from the original on April 14, 2010. 
  9. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (July 27, 2001). "Devoutcast". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  10. ^ Dargis, Manohla (July 26, 2001). "Everyone’s Too Stupid!". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  11. ^ Felperin, Leslie (December 2001). "Ghost World". Sight & Sound. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  12. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (August 13, 2001). "Ghost World". The Guardian. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  13. ^ Morgan, Kim. "Top 10 Comic Book Movies". MSN. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  14. ^ Giles, Jeff. "Comix Worst to Best". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 30, 2008. 
  15. ^ Goldstein, Hilar. "Best & Worst Comic-Book Movies". IGN. Retrieved March 19, 2009. 
  16. ^ "The 20th Greatest Comic Book Movies". Empire. Retrieved September 30, 2008. 
  17. ^ Griffith, JT. "Ghost World – Original Soundtrack". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 31, 2007. 
  18. ^ "Freddie Spruell discography". Retrieved December 17, 2013. rec. April 12, 1935 in Chicago; Freddie Spruell, voc, g; Carl Martin, g; Bluebird B6261 

External links[edit]