Ladder 49

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Ladder 49
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJay Russell
Written byLewis Colick
Produced byCasey Silver
CinematographyJames L. Carter
Edited by
Music byWilliam Ross
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • October 1, 2004 (2004-10-01)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$60 million[1]
Box office$102.3 million[1]

Ladder 49 is a 2004 American disaster thriller film directed by Jay Russell and written by Lewis Colick. The film follows Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison, who is trapped inside a warehouse fire, and his recollection of the events that got him to that point. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta, and was released on October 1, 2004. It received mixed reviews and grossed $102 million worldwide.


Baltimore City firefighter Jack Morrison saves a man's life in a massive four-alarm fire in a 20-story concrete grain elevator/warehouse in the Canton waterfront neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. However, the grain stored in the warehouse explodes, causing Jack to fall through several floors and break his leg. The film follows the efforts of the other men in his unit, Ladder Company 49, led by the commands of Deputy Chief Mike Kennedy, Jack's mentor, to rescue him while Morrison tries to reach a safe area of the burning structure. Interspersed with the rescue efforts are a series of flashbacks showing how Jack joined the fire department, his first meeting (at a supermarket) with the woman who would eventually become his wife, his relationship with his children, and the bonds he formed and the trials and tribulations he endured with his fellow firefighters.

After graduating from the fire academy, Jack is sent to work on Baltimore City Fire Department (BCFD) Engine Company 33, in the busiest firehouse in the city. Quartered with Engine 33 is Ladder Company 49. On Engine 33, Jack learns the ropes of firefighting. He quickly becomes close friends with his fellow firefighters, including Mike, his Captain at the time. Jack's first fire takes place at a burning vacant rowhouse. Engine 33 and Ladder 49 respond and are the first companies on the scene. Jack and Mike enter the building with a hose line and tackle the blaze, with Jack on the nozzle of the hose. They quickly and triumphantly extinguish it.

After some time working on Engine 33, Jack arrives at the scene of another vacant rowhouse fire, where a fellow firefighter from Ladder 49, Dennis Gauquin dies after falling through the roof of a building. After a quarrel between the firefighters, the Captain tells them to stick together. Later, numerous firefighters attend Dennis's funeral. Jack decides, although it is more dangerous, to take his late friend's position as a "truckie", a search and rescue member on Ladder 49 by transferring to the Truck.

As the years go by, Jack suffers traumatic experiences from rescuing a man from the ledge of a burning high-rise building in Downtown Baltimore, and witnessing another friend and fellow firefighter from Ladder 49, Tommy Drake suffer severe burns following a steam explosion at an industrial building. He finds the work rewarding, but his wife worries about his safety and opposes the change. However, she eventually accepts his new role and even talks him out of taking an administrative position that Mike, who has become a Deputy Chief, offers him.

One Christmas Eve, Jack and the members of Engine 33 and Ladder 49 respond to a burning apartment building. Jack is able to rescue a young girl trapped in an engulfed apartment, but is briefly trapped himself before being rescued by a fellow Firefighter from Ladder 49, Leonard "Lenny" Richter. Both men receive the department's Medal of Valor for their actions.

Back at the grain building fire that opened the film, Jack's fellow firefighters are determined to rescue him, and Jack does his best to reach the only possible safe area, to which Mike directs him. However, upon reaching that room he sees that the only exit is cut off by raging flames. Out of air and with the heat intensifying, Jack realizes that his situation is hopeless. He radios Mike to pull his men back so that no one else gets killed or hurt while trying to rescue him, and accepts his fate. A devastated Mike reluctantly agrees and commands all rescue units to evacuate the building.

At Jack's funeral, Mike delivers an emotional eulogy in celebration of Jack's life, which inspires a standing ovation from friends and family in attendance. Jack's body is then borne to its resting place with full honors, on the back of Engine 33 in a classic fireman's funeral procession. The final scene has Mike and company en route to a call while he flashes back to Jack and his companion firefighters rushing to fires, then the final shot of Mike and Jack emerging from Jack's first ever burning building in triumph.


  • Joaquin Phoenix as Firefighter Jack Morrison, Ladder Company 49 (formerly Engine Company 33)
  • John Travolta as Deputy Chief (formerly Captain) Mike Kennedy, Deputy Chief 1 (formerly Engine Company 33)
  • Jacinda Barrett as Linda Morrison, Jack's wife
  • Morris Chestnut as Firefighter Tommy Drake, Ladder Company 49 Tillerman
  • Balthazar Getty as Firefighter Ray Gauquin, Ladder Company 49
  • Robert Patrick as Firefighter Leonard "Lenny" Richter, Ladder Company 49
  • Billy Burke as Firefighter Dennis Gauquin, Ladder Company 49
  • Tim Guinee as Captain Tony Corrigan, Ladder Company 49
  • Kevin Chapman as Lieutenant (formerly Firefighter) Frank McKinney, Engine Company 33
  • Jay Hernandez as Probationary Firefighter Keith Perez, Engine Company 33
  • Kevin Daniels as Firefighter Engineer Don Miller, Engine Company 33
  • Steve Maye as Firefighter Pete Lamb, Engine Company 33
  • Robert Logan Lewis as Firefighter Ed Reilly, Ladder Company 49
  • Spencer Berglund as Nicky Morrison, Jack and Linda's son
  • Brooke Hamlin as Katie Morrison, Jack and Linda's daughter
  • Sam Stockdale as Himself
  • Paul Novak, Jr. as the Voice of Ladder 49, The Dispatcher - with a deep, sensual baritone
  • Mayor of Baltimore Martin O'Malley as himself


Robbie Robertson contributed the film's theme song, "Shine Your Light". He also composed an adagio for the end credits. The film also features "Love Sneakin' Up On You" by Bonnie Raitt, among others.[2]


Home media[edit]

Ladder 49 premiered on DVD on March 8, 2005.[3] A Blu-ray version was released on February 13, 2007.[4]


Ladder 49 grossed $74,463,263[5] at the US box office and $102,332,848 worldwide.[1]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 41% based on 164 reviews, and an average rating of 5.35/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Instead of humanizing the firemen, the movie idolizes them, and thus renders them into cardboard characters."[6] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 47 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews.[7] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[8]

It received a rating of 3.5 out of 4 stars from Roger Ebert, who wrote: "The movie is not about a dying man whose life passes before his eyes, but about a man who saved a life and put himself in danger, and how he got to that place in his life, and what his life and family mean to him. Because it is attentive to these human elements, Ladder 49 draws from the action scenes instead of depending on them."[9]

Use in The Ricky Gervais Show[edit]

Starting in 2002, the film gained notoriety as a running gag on The Ricky Gervais Show.[10] A DVD copy of Ladder 49 frequently appears as a prize for winners of the quiz segment "Rockbusters" hosted by Karl Pilkington. The abundance of DVD copies and their unfavourability as rewards became a recurring joke on the program,[11] as co-host Stephen Merchant often remarked there were many copies "lying around the office".[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Ladder 49 (2004)". The Numbers. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
  2. ^ Ladder 49 soundtrack album
  3. ^ Patrizio, Andy (December 1, 2004). "Ladder 49 due March 8". IGN. Retrieved April 7, 2023.
  4. ^ "Buena Vista Home Entertainment Unveils Blu-ray Slate for 2007".
  5. ^ "Ladder 49". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  6. ^ "Ladder 49 (2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  7. ^ "Ladder 49 reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  8. ^ "Ladder 49 – CinemaScore". CinemaScore.
  9. ^ Roger Ebert (2004-10-01). "Ladder 49". Chicago Sun Times.
  10. ^ Taylor, Tom. "Exploring the cultural oddity of the Ricky Gervais Show XFM phenomenon". Far Out. Published June 25, 2022. Accessed April 12, 2023.
  11. ^ "The Ricky Gervais Show on XFM - 07/05/2005". XFM Radio. Broadcast July 5, 2005. Transcript on Scrimpton.
  12. ^ "The Complete Rockbusters (Compilation with Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant)". Uploaded to YouTube November 7, 2016. Accessed April 12, 2023.

External links[edit]