Pixels (2015 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byChris Columbus
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story byTim Herlihy
Based onPixels
by Patrick Jean
Music byHenry Jackman
CinematographyAmir Mokri
Edited byHughes Winborne
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • July 24, 2015 (2015-07-24) (United States)
Running time
106 minutes[2]
Budget$88–129 million[4][5]
Box office$244.9 million[5]

Pixels is a 2015 science fiction action comedy film[5] based on the 2010 short film of the same name by Patrick Jean. Co-produced and directed by Chris Columbus and written by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, from a story by Herlihy, it stars Adam Sandler (who also co-produced the film), Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Brian Cox, Ashley Benson, Sean Bean, and Jane Krakowski. Combining computer-animated video game characters and visual effects, the film follows aliens misinterpreting video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, resulting in them invading Earth using technology inspired by the games such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Arkanoid, Galaga, Centipede and Donkey Kong. To counter the invasion, the United States hires former arcade champions to lead the planet's defense. Principal photography on the film began on May 28, 2014 in Toronto; filming was completed in three months.

Produced by Columbus's 1492 Pictures and Sandler's Happy Madison Productions, Pixels was released theatrically by Columbia Pictures (via Sony Pictures Releasing) in the United States on July 24, 2015 in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D formats. It received generally negative reviews from critics and grossed over $244 million worldwide against a production budget of between $88 million and $129 million.


In 1982, at a video game arcade with his friend Will Cooper (Kevin James), Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) discovers he can master the games by spotting patterns. Participating in a video game championship, he loses to the obnoxious Eddie "The Fireblaster" Plant in Donkey Kong. A videocassette with footage of the event is included in a time capsule that is launched into space. In the present day, Brenner has become an installer of home-theater systems, while Cooper is the disliked President of the United States. In Guam, the Andersen Air Force Base is besieged by an extraterrestrial force attacking in the form of the video game Galaga and a soldier is abducted.

Brenner works at the home of divorcée and U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Violet van Patten, but the two are separately summoned to the White House. Upon seeing the video footage and meeting with Ludlow "The Wonder Kid" Lamonsoff, a friend he and Cooper made at the video game championship, Brenner determines that an alien race has found the time capsule and misinterpreted the cassette's images as a declaration of war and are attacking with technology based on the games featured at the championship. This is affirmed when the aliens interrupt a television broadcast using manipulated footage from the cassette, challenging Earth to a battle where if the aliens win three rounds, they will conquer the planet. Brenner and Cooper are unable to stop one of the attacks as several aliens taking the form of the Vaus from Arkanoid are used to destroy the Taj Mahal and a bystander is abducted.

Violet showcases newly-developed rayguns that are effective against the aliens as Brenner and Ludlow train Navy SEALs to play the games. In London, the aliens attack Hyde Park in the form of Centipede, but as the soldiers are unable to defeat the creatures, Brenner and Ludlow step in as Cooper declares "Let the nerds take over". Following the victory, the aliens send a congratulatory message to the team and a "trophy" in the form of an alien taking the form of the dog from Duck Hunt, which is adopted by an old woman who was present during the attack.

Ludlow and Cooper retrieve Eddie, who had been serving a prison sentence for fraud. In New York City, the team learns that an alien taking the form of Pac-Man is on a rampage. Brenner, Ludlow, and Eddie are given four modified Mini Cooper cars to use as the ghosts from the Pac-Man series, with the fourth one being piloted by Pac-Man creator, Toru Iwatani. When the group confronts the Pac-Man alien, Iwatani tries to reason with it peacefully, but he gets his hand bitten off and flees. The remaining three then overcome the task, but Violet notices that something about Eddie is off, as he moved at supersonic speeds around the board. They win an alien taking the form of Q*bert as a trophy. Later during a celebratory party however, the aliens send a message declaring that someone cheated and the challenge for the planet has been forfeited. Violet's son, Matty, discovers Eddie is the perpetrator, having used a speed cheat during the battle against Pac-Man. Eddie flees as Matty is abducted by the aliens.

The aliens launch a massive attack using an army of aliens taking the forms of various characters and enemies from the championship's games in Washington, D.C. Cooper joins the team, while Ludlow stays to fight. An alien takes the form of Lady Lisa, a character who Ludlow had a crush since childhood. Ludlow persuades Lisa to choose love and she sides with the humans; Eddie, wishing to make amends, returns to fight as well. Brenner, Violet, Cooper, and Q*bert are summoned to the aliens' mothership where they face the alien leader who takes the form of Donkey Kong on a re-creation of the game's starting level with the aliens' captives at the top. As the group dodges the obstacles, Brenner begins to lose hope, until Matty reveals Eddie's cheating to him, thus restoring his confidence and allowing him to defeat Donkey Kong. This causes the aliens' forces to self-destruct, including Lisa.

The team is hailed as heroes and a peace agreement is reached with the aliens. Eddie apologizes to Brenner for his cheating, and although Ludlow is saddened that Lisa is gone, his spirits are lifted when Q*bert transforms his likeness into her. Brenner and Violet become a couple while Eddie gets to meet Serena Williams and Martha Stewart. The aliens reverse all the destruction that was caused before they depart, even restoring Iwatani's hand. One year later, Ludlow and Lisa are married and have Q*bert-like children.


Dan Aykroyd plays the emcee of the video game championship. Nick Swardson plays a bystander seen in the Pac-Man attack. Dan Patrick, Robert Smigel and Steve Koren play White House reporters. Celebrities Serena Williams and Martha Stewart have cameo roles as themselves. Matt Frewer reprises his role as Max Headroom, a role he made famous during the 1980s. Steve Wiebe, a previous Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. World Record holder, plays a military scientist. Denis Akiyama portrays Toru Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man,[15] while the real Iwatani has a cameo role as an arcade repairman. Fiona Shaw plays the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.[16]

Additionally, various celebrities who were popular in the 1980s, including Ricardo Montalbán, Hervé Villechaize, Tammy Faye Bakker, Madonna, President Ronald Reagan and the band Hall & Oates, are shown via archival footage.

Tom McCarthy played Michael the Robot, while screenwriter Tim Herlihy played a Secretary of Defense. Sandler's wife, Jackie, played Jennifer, Cooper's assistant, while their children appear elsewhere in the film: Sadie plays Cooper's sister, and Sunny plays a girl scout. Jared, Sandler's nephew, plays an aide at the White House, Producer Allen Covert plays an aggressive civilian, while his kids, Hannah and Abigail, play a choir girl and another girl shout. Kevin James's children, Sienna and Shea Joelle, play other girl scouts. Ron Mustafa played the bystander present during the India attack and Mehea Pavai played his fiancée.



The film is based on Patrick Jean's video-game-themed short film, Pixels.[17] Adam Sandler hired Tim Herlihy to write the film,[18] a draft that Herlihy had said that everybody at the studio "hated". Eventually he and Sandler came up with the concept of having Kevin James be the President of the United States and rewrote the film incorporating this element.[19] In July 2012, Tim Dowling was hired to rewrite the film. Seth Gordon was attached as executive producer and possibly direct the film.[20] Chris Columbus became involved in the project in May 2013.[21] Columbus said he first met Sandler to discuss a possible remake of Hello Ghost, and as he left the meeting, the director was handed a script for Pixels. The script affected Columbus, who considered it "one of the most original ideas I had seen since the Amblin days" and a good opportunity to harken back to the 1980s comedies he worked on.[22] Characters from classic arcade games such as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Frogger, Galaga and Donkey Kong, among several others, were licensed for use in the film.[23]

There were originally plans to include a scene where the Great Wall of China is damaged, but the concept was removed from the script in hopes to improve the film's chances in the Chinese market.[24]


On February 26, 2014, it was announced that Sandler would play the lead role in the film, while James and Josh Gad were in early talks to join the cast.[6] On March 28, Peter Dinklage was also in final talks to join the film, playing the fourth and final male lead.[8] Jennifer Aniston was originally considered for the female lead, but declined due to scheduling conflicts.[25] On April 4, Michelle Monaghan joined the film to star as the female lead.[7] On June 11, Brian Cox joined the cast, and plays military heavyweight Admiral Porter.[11] The part of "Lady Lisa", a beautiful warrior from the fictional 1980s video game Dojo Quest, was offered to Elisha Cuthbert, but she turned down the role,[26] which went to Ashley Benson.[13] On July 9, Jane Krakowski joined the cast as the First Lady.[12]

In a May 2015 interview, competitive gamer Billy Mitchell, after whom Dinklage's character is modeled, acknowledged that the character was based on him and expressed approval of the casting, calling Dinklage "a good actor" and "a good guy".[27]


Movie prop for Pixels in downtown Toronto
Prop for NY Subway entrance has no stairs

The film was greenlit on a production budget of $135 million, but according to documents from the Sony Pictures hack, Doug Belgrad was able to negotiate it down to $110 million.[28] On March 25, 2014, the Ontario Media Development Corporation confirmed that the film would be shot in Toronto from May 28 to September 9 at Pinewood Toronto Studios.[29][30]

Principal photography on the film commenced in Toronto, Ontario on June 2, 2014, using downtown streets decorated to resemble New York City.[31] Given sequences such as the Pac-Man chase happened at night, often the filmmakers would close the streets off from traffic at 7 PM, and redecorate to resemble New York until it was dark enough, filming from 9:30 PM up to 5:30 AM.[32] On July 29, filming was taking place outside of Markham, Ontario.[33] Filming was also done in the Rouge Park area, and extras were dressing in costume at Markham's Rouge Valley Mennonite Church.[33] On August 4, actors Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage and Ashley Benson were spotted in Toronto filming scenes for the film on Bay Street, which was transformed into a city block in Washington, D.C., and littered with wrecked vehicles and giant holes in the pavement.[34] The Ontario Government Buildings was doubled to transform into a federal office building in Washington. Actors were aiming at aliens, which could not be seen, but were added later with computer-generated imagery.[34] On August 26, 2014, filming took place in Cobourg.[35] Filming was completed in three months, with 12 hours of shooting a day.[36]

Visual effects[edit]

Most of the visual effects for Pixels were handled by Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks, with nine other VFX companies playing supporting roles, all under the leadership of supervisor Matthew Butler and producer Denise Davis. Early tests began in October 2013, with the majority of the effects work starting after principal photography wrapped in September 2014, and finishing by June 2015. The video game characters would be built out of boxy voxels to resemble the low resolution pixel-based arcades, while also emitting light and having raster scan defects in its animation to appear more like they came from a CRT monitor. Along with the actual sprite sheets, a major inspiration to build the 3D versions was the cabinet art, where Imageworks visual effects supervisor Daniel Kramer considered that "was the intention the game creators wanted their technology to be, but the technology couldn't live up to creating that." The most complex characters to model were Q*Bert, which interacted the most with humans and had the problem of looking round despite being built out of cubes, and Donkey Kong, who the animators wanted to make sure remained recognizable even in different angles.[32][37][38]


The score was composed by Henry Jackman, who also composed music for the Disney video-game-themed computer-animated film Wreck-It Ralph (2012). In June 2015, Waka Flocka Flame released a single entitled "Game On", featuring Good Charlotte, which serves as part of the film's soundtrack.[39] The song, "We Will Rock You" by Queen (which is remixed by Helmut VonLichten in 2012) was heard during the film's Donkey Kong scenes.



The film was originally scheduled to be released on May 15, 2015,[40][41] but on August 12, 2014, the release date was pushed to July 24, 2015.[42] In the United States and Canada, it was released in the Dolby Vision format in Dolby Cinema, which is the first film by Sony to ever be released in that format.[43]


The first trailer was released on March 19, 2015 and received 34.3 million global views in 24 hours, breaking Sony's previous record held by The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (22 million views in 2014).[44] The second trailer was released on June 13, 2015.[45] Upon release of the trailer, fans of the TV series Futurama noted similarities between a 2002 episode of the show and the trailer. Fans said the events and characters in the episode, "Anthology of Interest II", are strikingly similar to those in the trailer.[46][47]

Sony created an "Electric Dreams Factory Arcade" with many of the arcade games featured in the film for various fan conventions, such as the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con and the 2015 Wizard World Philadelphia.[48][49] In Brazil, a promotional video was released on July 2, 2015, showing Adam Sandler interacting with Monica and Jimmy Five from local comic Monica's Gang.[50]

Copyright takedown controversy[edit]

Columbia Pictures hired Entura International to send Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices to websites hosting user-uploaded videos of the film.[51] The company proceeded to file DMCA takedown notices indiscriminately against several Vimeo videos containing the word "Pixels" in the title, including the 2010 award-winning short film the film is based on,[52] the official film trailer, a 2006 independently produced Cypriot film uploaded by the Independent Museum of Contemporary Art, a 2010 university work by a student of the Bucharest National University of Arts, a royalty-free stock footage clip and an independently produced project. The takedown notice sent by Entura stated that the works infringe a copyright they had the right to enforce, and once the notice was made public, it was withdrawn.[53][54]

Home media[edit]

Pixels was released on Blu-ray (3D and 2D) and DVD on October 20, 2015.[55] According to The Numbers, the domestic DVD sales are $7,181,924 and the Blu-ray sales are $6,426,936.[56]


Box office[edit]

Pixels grossed $78.7 million in North America and $164.9 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $244.9 million.[5] Reports of the production budget of the film range from $88 million to $129 million,[4][5] with Sony Pictures officially stating the cost as $110 million. The film received tax rebates of $19 million for filming in Canada.[57]

In the United States and Canada, Pixels opened alongside Paper Towns, Southpaw and The Vatican Tapes, in 3,723 theaters.[58] Box office pundits noted that the film's release date caused it to face competition with the first former film and along with the holdovers Ant-Man and Minions, all of which were projected to earn around $20 million.[59][60] However, some analysts suggested the film could open to as high as $30 million and if it failed to hit $30 million, it could have difficulty being profitable unless it earned a significant audience abroad.[61] It made $1.5 million from its Thursday night showings at 2,776 theaters, and topped the box office on its opening day, earning $9.2 million.[62][63][64] Through its opening weekend it grossed $24 million from 3,723 theaters, debuting at second place at the box office, behind Ant-Man.[65]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 17% based on 189 reviews; the average rating is 3.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Much like the worst arcade games from the era that inspired it, Pixels has little replay value and is hardly worth a quarter."[66] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 27 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[67] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[64]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film one star out of four, calling it "a 3D metaphor for Hollywood's digital assault on our eyes and brains" and deeming it "relentless and exhausting".[68] In Salon.com, Andrew O'Hehir called the film "another lazy Adam Sandler exercise in 80s Nostalgia", as well as "an overwhelmingly sad experience" characterized by "soul-sucking emptiness".[69] The Guardian called it "casually sexist, awkwardly structured, bro-centric" and warned, "Pity the poor souls who go into the comedy blockbuster thinking they've signed up to watch The Lego Movie by way of Independence Day. They'll be disappointed".[70] Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News gave the film no stars and wrote: "Someone please retire Adam Sandler. Pixels is the last straw for this has-been. . . . Every joke is forced, every special effect is un-special. . . . The dipstick Pixels is about as much fun as a joystick and not even half as smart".[71] "It manages to achieve the weird effect of feeling overlong and choppy at the same time, like someone edited the film with a pair of garden shears," wrote Randy Cordova in The Arizona Republic.[72] Kyle Smith wrote in the New York Post that Pixels is "as adolescent as a zit" with jokes "as fresh as the antique store".[73]

"Everything is wrong here," wrote Megan Garber in The Atlantic Monthly, "cinematically, creatively, maybe even morally. Because Pixels is one of those bad movies that isn't just casually bad, or shoot-the-moon bad, or too-close-to-the-sun bad, or actually kind of delightfully bad. It is tediously bad. It is bafflingly bad. It is, in its $90 million budget and 104-minute run time, wastefully bad. Its badness seems to come not from failure in the classic sense—a goal set, and unachieved—but from something much worse: laziness. Ambivalence. A certain strain of cinematic nihilism".[74] Peter Sobczynski, writing for RogerEbert.com, called the premise promising but the execution "abysmal."[75]

Conversely, Katie Walsh, reviewing for the Chicago Tribune, was more positive, saying "despite [its] unfortunate shortcomings, Pixels has its funny and fresh moments, thanks in large part to the supporting comic actors and inventive special effects".[76] According to a B+ review by Lights Camera Jackson, "Pixels is one of the most original and enjoyable movies of the year ... a smart and often very funny summer action comedy."[77]


Award Category Nominee Result Ref(s)
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Picture Adam Sandler, Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe, Allen Covert Nominated [78]
Worst Actor Adam Sandler Nominated [78]
Worst Supporting Actor Josh Gad Nominated [78]
Kevin James Nominated [78]
Worst Supporting Actress Michelle Monaghan Nominated [78]
Worst Screenplay Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling Nominated [78]
Teen Choice Awards Choice Summer Movie Star: Male Adam Sandler Nominated [79]


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