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 an amiable auto mechanic who lives in a small friendly town in northern California. While celebrating his 37th birthday at a local bar, he steps outside and notices what appear to be a ball and shining bright white lights moving around in the sky. The ball then hits him in the head, making a loud sound and knocking him off his feet. When he 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.

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, locals are intrigued and amused by George's new abilities, but as time goes on, they start to fear him. Nevertheless, he receives support from love interest Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick), town physician Doc Brunder (Robert Duvall) and best friend Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker).

While playing around with his friend Nate, George decodes a mysterious Morse code signal that Nate picked up on his shortwave radio. However, the two are unaware that they have decoded a top-secret FBI signal and are arrested. George gets shaved. Nate is briefly questioned and released, but George is held in FBI custody because of their interest in his intelligence. 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.

After temporarily secluding himself out of fear of the public, George decides to participate in a county fair to ease fear, quell rumors, as well as show the community some of his new findings. However, his appearance causes a stir, as people begin to demand that he demonstrate his telekinesis, magically heal a sick child, as well as accuse him of being a fraud. The frenzied crowd overwhelms George and he is knocked to the ground. He then experiences another hit by the bright ball similar to his previous incident and loses consciousness. He awakens in a hospital where Dr. Brunder explains the cause of his new abilities. He has an astrocytoma brain tumor that has "spread out like a hand." However, the tumor has been stimulating brain function instead of destroying it. Thus, George has a larger area of active brain use than anyone ever tested. The tumor is also claimed to have caused the dizziness and illusion of light, rather than a supernatural or extraterrestrial source, but this is never definitively concluded, leaving the viewer to speculate.

The tumor is terminal and George doesn't have much time to live. Government-employed doctors propose cutting George's life even shorter by examining his brain before he can die a natural death and argue that if he objects to their plan, the objection itself would be proof that he is mentally unfit to make such a decision. Held against his will, allegedly just for observation, George eventually escapes the hospital, hoping to continue his research. He hopes that seismologist Dr. Ringold (Jeffrey DeMunn), from UC Berkeley, might continue his experiments and ultimately, complete the research he will never get to finish.

After returning home, George gives Nate notes which served as a journal and instructs him to give some of them to Doc Brunder. He retrieves his scientific research and then goes to Lace's house. There, he aims to give his final farewells to Lace and her children, Al (David Gallagher) and Glory (Ashley Buccille). George and Lace share a romantic moment later on and the two make love. He dies peacefully during the night in her arms.

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, promising to finish them. As she sobs outside in mourning of George, she notices the trees rocking in the same direction as her.

The film ends one year later. Nate (more fluent in Portuguese) is now married to Ella, expecting their first child together (her second). They arrive at the bar for George Malley's birthday party, with the song "Change the World" by Eric Clapton playing in the foreground.


The film earned mixed reviews from critics and maintains a 50 percent 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]