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Midnight Special (film)

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Midnight Special
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJeff Nichols
Written byJeff Nichols
Produced by
CinematographyAdam Stone
Edited byJulie Monroe
Music byDavid Wingo
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • February 12, 2016 (2016-02-12) (Berlinale)
  • March 18, 2016 (2016-03-18) (United States)
Running time
112 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States[3]
Budget$18 million[4]
Box office$7.7 million[5]

Midnight Special is a 2016 American science fiction film written and directed by Jeff Nichols, and produced by Sarah Green and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. The film stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Martell, and Sam Shepard.[6] It is Nichols's fourth full-length film and his first studio production.[7] It was selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival.[8]

Shannon plays a father who escapes with his son from both the government and a cult after they discover that his son has special powers. The film began a theatrical release on March 18 by Warner Bros. Pictures, expanding wider in subsequent weeks. It received positive reviews from critics and grossed $7 million worldwide against its $18 million budget.


In a motel, Roy Tomlin and his friend Lucas watch an AMBER Alert for 8-year-old Alton Meyer and his reported abductor, Roy, while the boy reads on the floor.

At the Ranch, a religious cult in rural Texas, Pastor Calvin Meyer dispatches two of his parishioners to retrieve Alton. He then faces his congregation as the FBI storms their church. NSA communications analyst Paul Sevier asks Calvin how numbers sent via encoded satellite transmissions made their way into his sermons. Calvin explains that Alton speaks in tongues and gave the numbers to Calvin. As Alton's powers grew, his mother Sarah abandoned him, and members of the Ranch have been raising him, with Pastor Meyer as his adoptive father. It is also noted in this sequence that Roy is Alton's biological father. Roy is protective of Alton, doing everything in his power to avert danger.

After a violent confrontation with a state trooper, Roy and Lucas seek cover at the home of Elden, a former Ranch member. During the night, an earthquake seems to wake Roy and Lucas. When they break down the door to Alton's room, they find him linked to Elden by blinding beams of light directly from his eyes into Elden's. Roy knocks out Elden and covers up Alton, who is extremely photosensitive. They take Elden's van and continue on toward a location that Alton specified. Members of the Ranch seem to know this location, but the FBI is desperately trying to figure out where the trio are headed.

When they stop at a gas station, Alton seems to destroy a satellite, creating a rain of debris crashing down on them. They drive to Sarah Tomlin's house, and she is overjoyed to be reunited with her son. After they watch the news together, Alton explains that he caused the satellite to crash because the police were using it to track him.

As the fugitives (now including Sarah) continue on their trek, Alton appears to be growing sick and weak. He convinces Roy to let him see the daylight, while Lucas and Sarah go ahead to a motel. After witnessing his first ever sunrise, Alton's eyes begin to glow, and an enormous dome of light surrounds the duo. They reunite with Lucas and Sarah, and Alton is healthy. He explains that seeing the sun helped him realize his true identity. He explains that there is a world "built on top of" this one, and that he belongs to it. Roy confirms that he briefly saw this hidden world inside the dome of light.

When they exit the hotel room, they are ambushed by Calvin's trackers from the ranch, who abduct Alton but are soon captured by the police. The boy is taken to a government facility where, although he had no normal way of knowing who the man was, he still insists that he will talk only to Paul Sevier. After Sevier experiences Alton's powers, he helps reunite him with his parents. Having deduced their destination from Calvin's sermons, Sevier warns the fugitives that there is a 5-mile security perimeter around the location, on the Florida panhandle.

Roy barrels through a roadblock, driving inside the perimeter as the Army scrambles to give chase. As they speed away, Alton lets them know just where to stop. Alton and Sarah speedily exit the car and run into the woods. Roy and Lucas lead the Army on a wild goose chase while Alton and Sarah reach the edge of a swamp. There, a great dome of light appears, engulfing much of Florida and surrounding states. Everyone inside the dome of light can see the futuristic structures of a parallel world. Eventually, other beings of this world gather around Alton, and the entire dome disappears, taking Alton with it.

Roy and Lucas are arrested. Lucas is interviewed by the FBI. He tells them the story, but they are dissatisfied. Sevier then enters to interview him, with Lucas the only one aware of Sevier's previous involvement. Sarah, apparently walking away from her past life forever, cuts off her cult-traditionalist hair braid in a local gas station. Roy is incarcerated, but can watch the sunrise, his eyes briefly and faintly glowing in a similar manner to Alton's.



Principal photography commenced on January 20, 2014,[9] and took place for 40 days in New Orleans, wrapping on March 1, 2014.[10] The film was produced by Sarah Green and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, with Glen Basner and Christos V. Konstantakopoulos as executive producers.[11][12]


Midnight Special was backed and primarily distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, and Entertainment One handled UK distribution.[13] Warner Bros. initially set the film for a release on November 25, 2015,[14] but in July 2015 moved the date back to March 18, 2016.[15] The film was given a limited release on March 18, 2016, while the wide expansion began on April 8 in the United States.[5] Warner Home Video released the film on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. on June 14, 2016.[16]


Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 83% approval rating based on 240 reviews; the average score is 7.30/10. The site's consensus reads, "Midnight Special's intriguing mysteries may not resolve themselves to every viewer's liking, but the journey is ambitious, entertaining, and terrifically acted."[17] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 76 out of 100 based on 44 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[18]

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club described the "Spielberg-esque" science fiction chase film as "more of a genre piece than anything Nichols has done, carried by its steady momentum and its engrossing sense of mystery." He praised Midnight Special for Nichols' visual style and an "embarrassment of wonderful performances".[19] Benjamin Lee, writing for The Guardian, felt that Nichols was "making a concerted effort to stake his claim as a hit-maker" but that the film lacks "Spielbergian magic", leaving it "disappointingly lifeless".[20]


  1. ^ a b c Rooney, David (February 12, 2016). "'Midnight Special': Berlin Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  2. ^ "MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. February 2, 2016. Retrieved February 2, 2016.
  3. ^ "Midnight Special (2015)". American Film Institute. Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  4. ^ Dawes, Amy (Fall 2014). "From Indie to Mainstream". dga.org. Directors Guild of America. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Midnight Special (2016)". The Numbers. Retrieved March 4, 2022.
  6. ^ Sneider, Jeff (November 21, 2013). "Adam Driver Joins Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst in WB's Sci-Fi Drama 'Midnight Special'". TheWrap.com. Retrieved January 25, 2014.
  7. ^ Lodge, Guy (August 13, 2013). "Kirsten Dunst joins Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton in Jeff Nichols' 'Midnight Special'". HitFix.com. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  8. ^ "Berlinale 2016: First Films for Competition and Berlinale Special". Berlinale. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 20, 2015.
  9. ^ Sullivan, Kevin (August 7, 2013). "Jeff Nichols, The Director Of 'Mud', Talks About His New Sci-Fi Movie, 'Midnight Special'". MTV. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  10. ^ "PRODUCTION HOTLINE". louisianaentertainment.gov. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  11. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (May 8, 2013). "Michael Shannon To Reteam With 'Mud' Helmer Jeff Nichols On Warner Bros Project". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  12. ^ Debruge, Peter (February 12, 2016). "Film Review: 'Midnight Special'". Variety. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  13. ^ Wiseman, Andreas (June 4, 2013). "eOne takes Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special for UK". ScreenDaily. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
  14. ^ "Warner Bros Pushes Ben Affleck's 'Live By Night', Dates 'Midnight Special' & 3 Others". Deadline Hollywood. May 6, 2014. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  15. ^ Petski, Denise (July 28, 2015). "Jeff Nichols' 'Midnight Special' Pushed Into 2016". Deadline.com. Retrieved July 31, 2015.
  16. ^ Spurlin, Thomas (June 21, 2016). "Midnight Special (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
  17. ^ "Midnight Special (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 20, 2022.
  18. ^ "Midnight Special reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  19. ^ Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy (March 17, 2016). "Midnight Special is a unique blend of chase flick and sci-fi parable". AVClub.com. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  20. ^ Lee, Benjamin (February 12, 2016). "Midnight Special review – close encounters of a turgid kind". the Guardian.

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