Phone Booth (film)

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Phone Booth
Phone Booth movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Schumacher
Produced byGil Netter
David Zucker
Written byLarry Cohen
Music byHarry Gregson-Williams
CinematographyMatthew Libatique
Edited byMark Stevens
Zucker/Netter Productions
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • September 10, 2002 (2002-09-10) (TIFF)
  • April 4, 2003 (2003-04-04) (United States)
Running time
81 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$13 million[1]
Box office$97.8 million[1]

Phone Booth is a 2002 American neo-noir thriller film directed by Joel Schumacher, produced by David Zucker and Gil Netter, written by Larry Cohen and starring Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes, Radha Mitchell, and Kiefer Sutherland. In the film, a mysterious hidden sniper calls a phone booth, and when a young publicist inside answers the phone, he quickly finds his life is at risk. The film received generally positive reviews from critics and was a box office hit, grossing $97 million worldwide against a production budget of $13 million.

The film was set to be released in November 2002, but the D.C. sniper attacks in October 2002 prompted 20th Century Fox to delay the release of the film, and it opened in the United States on April 4, 2003.


Stuart Shepard (Colin Farrell) is an arrogant New York City publicist who has been dating Pamela McFadden (Katie Holmes) behind the back of his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell). While in Times Square, Stu uses a public phone booth to contact Pam. During the call, he is interrupted by a pizza delivery man who attempts to deliver a free pizza to him, but Stu rudely turns him away. As soon as Stu completes his call, the phone rings. Stu answers; a man on the other end, who knows his name, warns him not to leave the booth, threatening to tell Kelly about Pam.

The caller tells Stu that he has tested two previous individuals who have done wrong deeds in a similar manner, giving each a chance to reveal the truth to those they wronged, but in both cases they refused and were killed. Stu must confess his feelings to both Kelly and Pam to avoid the same fate. To demonstrate the threat, the caller fires a suppressed sniper rifle with pinpoint accuracy. The caller then contacts Pam and connects her to Stu, who admits that he is married.

The booth is approached by three prostitutes demanding to use the phone, but Stu refuses to leave, without revealing his situation. Leon (John Enos III), a pimp, smashes the side of the booth, puts Stu in a headlock and repeatedly punches him while the prostitutes cheer him on. The caller offers to "make him stop" and in Stu's desperation, he accidentally asks for this; the caller shoots Leon dead. The prostitutes immediately blame Stu, accusing him of having a gun, as the police and news crews converge on the location.

NYPD Captain Ed Ramey (Forest Whitaker) seals off the area and negotiates to make Stu leave the booth, but he refuses. Stu tells the caller that there is no way they can incriminate him, but the caller draws his attention to a handgun planted in the roof of the phone booth. As Kelly and Pam both arrive on the scene, the caller demands that Stu tell Kelly the truth, which he does. The caller then orders Stu to choose between Kelly and Pam, and the woman he does not choose will be killed.

Stu secretly uses his cell phone to call Kelly, allowing her to overhear his conversation with the caller; she quietly informs Ramey of this. Meanwhile, Stu continues to confess to everyone that his whole life is a lie, to make himself look more important than he really is. Stu's confession provides sufficient distraction to allow the police to trace the payphone call to a nearby building. Stu warns the caller that the police are on the way, and the caller replies that if he is caught, he will kill Kelly. Panicked, Stu grabs the handgun and leaves the booth, screaming for the sniper to kill him instead. The police fire upon Stu, while a SWAT team breaks into the room that the caller was tracked to, only to find a rifle and a man's corpse.

Stu regains consciousness to find the police fired only rubber bullets at him, stunning but not harming him. Stu and Kelly happily reunite. As the police bring down the body, Stu identifies it as the pizza delivery man from earlier. Stu gets medical treatment at a local ambulance; as he does, the real caller (Kiefer Sutherland) passes by and warns Stu that if his newfound honesty does not last, he will return. The man then disappears into the crowd. Later, the pay phone rings and another man answers.



Larry Cohen originally pitched the concept of a film that takes place entirely within a phone booth to Alfred Hitchcock in the 1960s. Hitchcock liked the idea, but he and Cohen were unable to figure out a sufficient plot reason for keeping the film confined to a booth, and hence they never made the idea into a film. It was only after the late 1990s that Cohen revisited the concept again, when the idea of the sniper came to him. Cohen solved the puzzle after thirty years of trying. Hitchcock had died leaving the project in Cohen’s hands. Creative Artists Agency signed a contract with Cohen and the script appealed to a few well-known artists and directors such as Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Mel Gibson, Robin Williams, Anthony Hopkins, Nicolas Cage, and Steven Spielberg. One of the most popular and successful film directors and producers, Steven Spielberg was convinced that if Hitchcock were alive, he would have wanted to direct the movie. Spielberg also mentioned regrets in not taking the script.[2]

The principal photography on the film was completed in ten days, with an additional two days of establishing shots, pickups, and re-shoots. This accelerated filming schedule was aided by the adoption of French hours, a work schedule that skips the typical one-hour production shutdown for lunch break.[3]

The film is set in real time, so the timespan in which the film takes place is as long as it takes to watch it, much like the television series 24, which also stars Kiefer Sutherland. Like 24, it also uses split screens. Although the film is set in New York City, it was filmed in front of what is now the CB1 Gallery in downtown Los Angeles, in November 2000. This is made evident by the LACMTA buses periodically driving by. The exact location of the phone booth in the movie is the corner of West 5th Street and Frank Court, as evidenced by the black gate in the background.

The film marked the third collaboration between Sutherland and Forest Whitaker; they both previously collaborated in Article 99 (1992) and Sutherland's directorial debut, Last Light (1993).

Jim Carrey was originally cast as Stu Shepard, but he dropped out. Joel Schumacher said: “We were going to shoot it that summer and he was fitted for the suit. But I got a call from Jim one night and told me he had cold feet. He really didn’t feel comfortable with it. Actors never give up their role. If an actor gives up a part then it’s not right for them.”[4]


The film premiered on September 10, 2002 at the Toronto International Film Festival.[5] It was originally due to be released in the United States on November 15 of that year. However, in October 2002, the Beltway sniper attacks occurred in the Washington, DC area, prompting 20th Century Fox to delay the release of the film to April 4, 2003.[6] It was released on VHS and DVD on July 8, 2003.


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 72% based on reviews from 188 critics, with an average rating of 6.53/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Quick pacing and Farrell's performance help make Phone Booth a tense nail-biter."[7] At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 56 out of 100 based on 35 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[8] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade C+ on scale of A to F.[9]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars, and says of Sutherland's performance, "if the voice doesn't work, neither does the movie. It does."[10] Todd McCarthy of Variety magazine criticized the film for not having enough material even for its relatively short length, and wrote: "Gussied up with a host of filmmaking tricks in an attempt to keep things lively, this intensely acted little exercise just doesn't have enough going for it, with the exception of gradually growing interest in lead Colin Farrell."[11]

A stage adaptation of the film was performed June 7–22, 2019 at PULP Black Box theatre in Atlanta.[12]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $46,566,212 in the United States and $51,270,925 internationally for a total gross of $97,837,138, above its $13 million production budget.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Phone Booth (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  2. ^ Cohen, Larry (March 30, 2003). "'Phone Booth': A 30-year project wouldn't hang up". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  3. ^ Godin, Seth (August 1, 2004). "French Hours". Fast Company. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  4. ^ Evans, Bradford (March 17, 2011). "The Lost Roles of Jim Carrey". Splitsider. Archived from the original on June 3, 2018. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  5. ^ McCarthy, Todd (September 10, 2002). "Phone Booth". Variety. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  6. ^ The Associated Press (October 17, 2002). "Sniper attacks delay release of thriller 'Phone Booth'". Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  7. ^ "Phone Booth (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  8. ^ "Phone Booth Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  9. ^ "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (April 4, 2003). "Phone Booth". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  11. ^ McCarthy, Todd (September 10, 2002). "Phone Booth". Variety.
  12. ^

External links[edit]