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, and 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 is a kind but average auto mechanic in a small town in Northern California. While celebrating his 37th birthday at a local bar with his best friend, Nate Pope, and father figure, Doc Brunder, he steps outside while in an inebriated state. A ball of shining bright white lights moves around in the sky, grows closer and hits him in the head, making a loud sound and knocking him down. When he comes to and re-enters the bar, he learns that nobody else saw the lights nor did they hear the sound. Doc notices something is amiss when George quickly achieves a checkmate in their chess game.

George begins to exhibit remarkable levels of intelligence. He easily absorbs vast amounts of information, formulates new, revolutionary ideas, as well as develops psychoktelekinetic abilities. Not needing sleep, he spends each night reading multiple books.

George tries to use his new intelligence for the good of his community. He correctly predicts an earthquake without any equipment. When Doc is called to aid a sick Portuguese man, George learns the language in minutes and helps translate. He then uses his telekinesis to rescue the man's young relative. Visiting Nate, George decodes and responds to a signal on Nate's shortwave radio, though Nate asks him to forget about it out of fear that they might be picking up information from nearby air force bases.

During this time of upheaval the townsfolk become wary, but George finds support from Doc, Nate and from a growing relationship with single mother, Lace Pennamin, and her children, Al and Glory. George also sets a plan in place to help Nate get together with the mother of the Portuguese boy he rescued.

George invites Lace to join him on a trip to UC Berkeley to meet with leading seismologist Professor Ringold about George's earthquake prediction breakthroughs. Instead, the FBI takes George and Nate into custody over his code breaking. He breaks more codes, then astounds Dr. Bob Nierdof by easily answering a series of difficult quizzes and exams. When George threatens to talk to the press, he is finally released.

Returning to the local bar, George becomes frustrated with friends' questions about his abilities, and he causes a large mirror to break via telekinesis. Lace visits him to provide a shave and a haircut. Their innocent intimacy scares her since she has tried so hard to not like him, but it encourages him to stop avoiding the townsfolk. He goes to the county fair to ease fear with a calm demonstration of his powers, but the crowd goes into a frenzy, demanding his attention and his perceived healing powers. George is knocked to the ground, where he again sees the balls of light.

George awakens in a hospital. With Lace and Nate there for support, Doc explains that George has a deadly astrocytoma brain tumor. This has caused the lights and stimulated George's phenomenal brain functions. They have called Dr. Wellin, a leading brain surgeon, to see if an operation can save George's life. Dr. Wellin later determines there is only a 1 in 500 chance of survival, but wants to proceed with an invasive operation solely to do research on George's living brain. When George refuses, claiming that he still has work to do and things to say, the doctor has him declared mentally unfit and held against his will.

George escapes from the hospital and returns home. He spends time with Nate, then goes to Lace's to spend time with her and her children. The FBI agent assigned to George shows up, but Lace persuades him to leave so George can die in peace. George and Lace share a romantic and intimate time, but in 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, only to learn that he is too late. Lace gives him George's seismology research materials, so he can finish George's breakthrough work.

A year later, George's friends are gathered for what would have been his 38th birthday. Nate, now fluent in Portuguese, is married to a visibly pregnant Ella. Other signs of George's phenomenal impact on the town and its people are seen all around.



The film earned mixed reviews from critics and maintains a 50% 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 an 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 film 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.

See also[edit]


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

External links[edit]