Phenomenon (film)

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Not to be confused with Phenomena (film).
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Produced by Barbara Boyle
Michael Taylor
Charles Newirth
Written by Gerald Di Pego
Starring John Travolta
Kyra Sedgwick
Forest Whitaker
Robert Duvall
Jeffrey DeMunn
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Phedon Papamichael, Jr.
Edited by Bruce Green
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
July 5, 1996 (USA)
Running time
123 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $32,000,000 US (est.)
Box office $152,036,382 US (est.)

Phenomenon is a 1996 American romantic fantasy drama film directed by Jon Turteltaub, written by Gerald Di Pego, as well as starring John Travolta, Kyra Sedgwick, Forest Whitaker, Robert Duvall, and Jeffrey DeMunn.

In the film, an amiable, small-town everyman is inexplicably transformed into a genius with telekinetic powers. The original music score was composed by Thomas Newman. It was filmed in Auburn, Colfax, Davis, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, and Treasure Island, all in Northern California.

Plot summary[edit]

George Malley (John Travolta) is a kind but slow witted auto mechanic who lives in a small friendly town in northern California. While celebrating his 37th birthday at a local bar with his best friend Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker) and father figure Doc Brunder (Robert Duvall), he steps outside. After saying goodbye to one of his employees, he notices what appears to be a ball of shining bright white lights moving around in the sky. The ball then grows closer and hits him in the head, making a loud sound and knocking him down. When he comes to and recovers and re-enters the bar, he learns that nobody else saw the lights or heard the loud sound. His friends playfully suggest that he has had too much to drink and only Doc notices something is amiss when George quickly achieves a checkmate in their chess game.

Over the following days, he inexplicably begins to exhibit remarkable levels of intelligence. He easily absorbs vast amounts of information, formulates new, revolutionary ideas, as well as develops telekinetic abilities. Suffering from insomnia, he sits up at night reading multiple books.

George tries to use his new intelligence for the good of his community. At first the townsfolk are intrigued and amused by George's new abilities, but as time goes on, they start to be wary of the man they've known all their lives. First George correctly predicts an earthquake without any equipment. Then when Doc is called to aid a sick Portuguese man, he asks someone to get George so he can learn the language and translate. He learns it in 20 minutes and then via telekinesis, rescues a sick boy. During this time of upheaval both Doc and Nate stand by him unwavering in their support and his relationship with single mother Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick) and her children Al (David Gallagher) and Glory (Ashley Buccille) grows.

While at Nate's house, George decodes a Morse code signal that Nate picked up on his shortwave radio. At first decoding the signal is exciting, but then Nate realizes that they might be picking up information from the two nearby air force bases and encourages George to stop. George then sets a plan in place to get his best friend together with the mother of the boy he rescued while preparing to go to Berkeley to meet with the seismologist Dr. Ringold (Jeffrey DeMunn)he contacted about the earthquake. Lace tentatively agrees to go with him, but she is stood up because the FBI takes both him and Nate into custody. After breaking some codes, George refuses to answer anymore until they release Nate. Once they do, he is put through a series of difficult quizzes and exams which he answers with remarkable ease. He is finally released when he threatens to tell the press he is being held without cause, but his communication with the staff at Berkeley is stopped. He returns to the bar to apologize to Nate, but when faced with questions about his new abilities by the others, becomes frustrated and breaks a large mirror without touching it. He attempts to apologize, but everyone but Nate and Doc shrinks back in fear of him.

Since he has chosen to seclude himself, Lace goes to him to cut his hair and shave him. Their innocent intimacy scares her since she has tried so hard to not like him and she leaves after finishing. George decides to participate in the upcoming county fair to ease fear, quell rumors and to show everyone that he is no one to fear. However, his appearance causes a stir as he demonstrates his telekinesis and people don't believe his assertions that the light was just a light and not aliens. As the frenzied crowd encircles George, a man thrusts a child at him, begging him to heal him. He backs off and is knocked to the ground where he again sees the light he saw on the evening of his birthday. He awakens in a hospital where Doc waits to explains the cause of his new abilities until Lace and Nate arrive. He then explains that an astrocytoma brain tumor that has "spread out like a hand." Usually those kinds of tumors destroy brain function, but this one has been stimulating his brain function instead. They inform him that they have a call into the best brain doctor to try to save his life. Nate and Doc leave, and George apologizes to her for making her love him. She responds that she will love him for the rest of her life.

When the doctor arrives, he interviews George and reveals that he doesn't intend to attempt to save him although there is a 1 in 500 chance he could. He wants George to agree to let him operate on his brain immediately to see how it's functioning the way it is. George refuses, claiming that he still has work to do and things to say. The doctor insults him, stating that he isn't a scholar and doesn't truly understand why he wants to operate. He then goes to court and has George declared mentally unfit and held against his will at the hospital. George drugs the orderly and switches clothes with him to escape from the hospital and goes home. He then gives his notes and journals to Nate asking him to give certain ones to Doc Brunder and Dr. Reingold. He then walks under the cover of darkness to Lace's to spend time with her and her children. The FBI agent who is assigned to George shows up and Lace persuades him to leave so George can die in peace.

George and Lace share a romantic moment later on and the two make love. In the midst of their lovemaking afterglow, he informs her that he is about to die and she cries as she holds him. Dr. Ringold arrives at Lace's house to look for George, only to learn that he is too late. Lace gives him the research materials George complied and asks him to finish his work. After he leaves, she goes outside and begins to sob. Her children then come to comfort her and she holds them while watching the trees sway in the wind.

The film ends one year later, on George's birthday. Nate, now fluent in Portuguese is married to Ella and they are expecting their first child together. They leave their home and you see that as George promised, his corn has grown extraordinarily. They arrive at the bar and as the camera moves around, the effect George had on all present is clear.


The film earned mixed reviews from critics and maintains a 54% average rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 reviews.[1]

The film was a box office success, having earned more than $16,000,000 on its opening weekend, debuting on third position and later climbing up to second. It finally grossed $104,636,382 in the US and $47,400,000 elsewhere, grossing approximately $152,000,000 overall.

A scene in which Malley asks Pennamin, "Hey, would you, uh, love me for the rest of my life?" and she responds, "No, I'm gonna love you for the rest of mine" inspired Trace Adkins' late-1997 single "The Rest of Mine".[2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Travolta and Whitaker both won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for their performances in 1997. Whitaker also received an Image Award. In the same year the film was nominated for a Saturn Award. Travolta was nominated for a MTV Movie Award for his performance as well as for Best Kiss with Kyra Sedgwick. Eric Clapton was nominated for his song Change the World and won an ASCAP Award and the BMI Film & TV Award. Thomas Newman also received a BMI Film & TV Award for the score.

Phenomenon II[edit]

On November 1, 2003 a television movie titled Phenomenon II was broadcast on the ABC Network. It was directed by Ken Olin and starred Terry O'Quinn, Jill Clayburgh, and Christopher Shyer as George Malley. Although it was billed as a sequel to the film, Phenomenon II is actually a partial-remake of the original film, essentially retelling the original story while adding new characters and introducing a sub-plot involving the NSA. The open ending of the telefilm suggests that it may have served as a pilot for a new TV series, though a Phenomenon series has not materialized.


  1. ^ Rotten Tomatoes entry for Phenomenon.
  2. ^ Flippo, Chet (13 September 1997). "Adkins gets 'Big Time' radio rush". Billboard. 

External links[edit]