Meet Joe Black

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Meet Joe Black
Meet Joe Black- 1998.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Brest
Written by
Produced byMartin Brest
Ronald L. Schwary
CinematographyEmmanuel Lubezki
Edited by
Music byThomas Newman
City Light Films
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • November 13, 1998 (1998-11-13)
Running time
181 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$90 million[1]
Box office$142.9 million[1]

Meet Joe Black is a 1998 American romantic fantasy film directed and produced by Martin Brest, and starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Claire Forlani. The screenplay by Bo Goldman, Kevin Wade, Ron Osborn and Jeff Reno is loosely based on the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday.

It was the second pairing of Hopkins and Pitt after their 1994 film Legends of the Fall.


Billionaire media mogul Bill Parrish is considering a merger between his company and another media giant and is about to celebrate his 65th birthday with an elaborate party planned by his elder daughter, Allison. His younger daughter, Susan, a resident in internal medicine, is in a relationship with one of Bill's board members, Drew. She is considering marriage, but Bill can tell that she is not passionately in love. He appeals to his daughter to wait for love that will come out of nowhere and sweep her off of her feet. When she asks for the short version of his impassioned speech, he simply says, "Stay open. Who knows? Lightning could strike!" When their company helicopter lands, he begins to hear a mysterious voice, which he tries with increasing difficulty to ignore. When he arrives in his bedroom, Bill has sharp pains in his chest and hears the disembodied voice again, saying, "Yes."

While Susan is studying in a coffee shop, a vibrant young man takes an interest in her and diverts her attention. He uses the same words her father said, that "lightning may strike" a relationship between them. She seems stunned to recall the phrase her father had used to encourage her to truly fall in love. She is equally enamored but departs without getting his name. Unbeknownst to her, the man is struck by multiple cars in a possibly fatal collision.

That evening, the disembodied voice is heard again when Bill steps away from the family dinner and is alone in a room. Slowly materializing into view, the voice identifies itself as Death, and is now in the uninjured body of the flirty young man. Death explains that Bill's impassioned speech to his daughter has piqued his interest. Given Bill's "competence, experience, and wisdom," Death says that for as long as Bill will be his guide on Earth, Bill will not have to die. They both return to the dinner table and under pressure to make an introduction, clumsily make up a name for Death. Death is introduced to the family as "Joe Black." Joe Black, having no sophisticated human qualities, doesn't seem to know how to drink, eat or why food and utensils are used. He later wanders through the palatial house to adapt. Susan tries to understand his intentions, noting that his character is not the same.

Bill's best efforts to navigate the next few days, knowing them now to be his last, fail to keep events from going rapidly out of his control. Drew is secretly conspiring with a man bidding for Parrish Communications. He capitalizes on Bill's strange behavior and unexplained reliance on Joe to convince the board of directors to vote Bill out as chairman, using information given to him inadvertently by Bill's son-in-law, Quince, to push through approval for the merger which Bill had decided to oppose. Quince is devastated.

Susan is intrigued by the naive wonderment of Joe, so different from the character of the young man she met in the coffee shop. She slowly falls deeply in love with him. With that, Joe is now under the influence of human desires in his magnetic attraction to her. Bill inadvertently walks in and sees the magnetism. As they make love, Joe asks Susan, "What do we do now?" She replies, "It'll come to us." Now Bill angrily confronts Joe about his relationship with his daughter, but Joe declares his intention to take Susan with him for his own. But at Susan's hospital, Joe responds to a terminally ill old woman who wishes to pass away. She understands who he is and after he confesses his love for Susan to this woman, and they connect over the meaning of life as she helps him understand that he is dangerously meshing two worlds.

As Bill's birthday arrives, he appeals to Joe to recognize the meaning of true love and all it encompasses, especially honesty and sacrifice. Joe comes to understand that he must set aside his own desire and allow Susan to live her life. He also helps Bill regain control of his company, exposing Drew's underhanded business dealings to the board by claiming to be an agent of the Internal Revenue Service and threatening to put Drew in jail.

At the party, Bill, understanding his moment of death is to come, makes his peace with his daughters. Susan tells Joe that she has loved him ever since that day in the coffee shop. Joe hints that his time there is coming to an end.

Joe recognizes that Susan loves the unknown man, not him, and the realization crushes him. Conflicted, he holds back in telling Susan who he really is, but it seems she intuits something mystical about his identity. Struggling to comprehend the magnitude of their attraction, Susan declines to comprehend Joe as Death. She sputters, "You're, you're Joe." He promises her "you will always have what you found in the coffee shop. Thank you for loving me." In their father/daughter dance, they also seem to say goodbye. Then, eventually, on a hilltop in the grounds above the party, Bill expresses trepidation to Joe, asking "Should I be afraid?" Joe replies "Not a man like you." Fireworks explode in the distance while Susan watches Joe and her father walk on to the heavens.

Then Susan stands stunned as "Joe" reappears alone and looking bewildered, this time the embodiment of the young man in the coffee shop. He is uninjured and cannot comprehend where he is. Susan accepts that her father is gone, and the magical love that she had shared with this young man. "What do we do now?" she asks. "It'll come to us," he replies, as the two descend hand-in-hand toward the twinkling lights of the party.




Most of William Parrish's country mansion scenes were shot at the Aldrich Mansion in Rhode Island.

The penthouse interiors and Parrish Communications offices were sets built at the 14th Regiment Armory in the South Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.[2]

The place where Susan and the Young Man from the Coffee Shop first meet is Broadway Restaurant, at 2664 Broadway and West 101st Street, Manhattan.[3]


A two-hour version was made to show on television and airline flights, by cutting most of the plotline involving Bill Parrish's business. Since Brest derided this edit of his film and disowned it, the director's credit was changed to the Hollywood pseudonym Alan Smithee.[4]


Box office[edit]

Meet Joe Black opened on November 13, 1998, and grossed $15,017,995 domestically upon its opening weekend (11/13-15) at #3, behind The Waterboy's second weekend and the opening of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.[5]

While the film had a disappointing domestic box office return of $44,619,100, it fared much better internationally. Taking in an additional $98,321,000, the movie grossed a worldwide total of $142,940,100.[1]

As Meet Joe Black was one of the few films showing the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, it was reported that droves of Star Wars fans bought tickets for the film, only to leave after the trailer showed.[6]

Critical response[edit]

Meet Joe Black received mixed reviews from critics, with most complimenting the performances but criticizing the film's three-hour length, the slow pacing and the screenplay.[7][8] Roger Ebert gave it three stars, but disliked the peripheral story lines and overly drawn-out ending. He concluded that despite its flaws, "there's so much that's fine in this movie".[9] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone thought that most of the characters were one-dimensional.[8] Anthony Hopkins received uniform praise for his performance, with Travers opining that Hopkins' Bill Parrish was the only fully realized character in the film; Mick LaSalle commented that "Hopkins' acting is so emotionally full that the tiniest moments...ring with complexities of thought and feeling."[10] Brad Pitt, on the other hand, received a mixed response, with LaSalle calling the performance so bad "it hurts" and James Berardinelli calling it "execrable".[10][7]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of a 45% based on reviews from 49 critics. The site's consensus states: "Meet Joe Black is pretty to look at and benefits from an agreeable cast, but that isn't enough to offset this dawdling drama's punishing three-hour runtime."[11] On Metacritic it has a score of 43% based on reviews from 24 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[12] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "A-" on scale of A to F.[13]

It earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Remake or Sequel.


  1. ^ a b c "Meet Joe Black (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-03-03.
  2. ^ "Film Crews Are Generating The Magic and the Backlash". 1997-07-06.
  3. ^ "Meet Joe Black Filming Locations". Retrieved 2017-05-07.
  4. ^ AMY WALLACE (15 January 2000). "Name of Director Smithee Isn't What It Used to Be". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2019-04-07. Smithee’s work, as was the airline version of Martin Brest’s “Meet Joe Black.”
  5. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 13–15, 1998". Box Office Mojo. 2011-02-03. Retrieved 2011-03-03.
  6. ^ "What Happened When The Phantom Menace's Trailer Was Shown In Theaters". CINEMABLEND. November 25, 2014.
  7. ^ a b Berardinelli, James (1998). "Meet Joe Black (United States, 1998)". Retrieved 2017-05-07.
  8. ^ a b Peter Travers (1998-03-11). "Meet Joe Black". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-05-07.
  9. ^ "Meet Joe Black". 1998-11-13. Retrieved 2020-02-27.
  10. ^ a b "Colorless 'Joe Black'/Brad Pitt's Death is lethally dull, but Hopkins breathes life into overly long romance". San Francisco Chronicle. 1998-11-13. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
  11. ^ "Meet Joe Black". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  12. ^ "Meet Joe Black". Metacritic.
  13. ^ "Movie Title Search: BLACK". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2019-08-24.

External links[edit]