Reign of Fire (film)

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Reign of Fire
A dragon flying over the British Houses of Parliament breathing fire on the city below.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRob Bowman
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Gregg Chabot
  • Kevin Peterka
Produced by
CinematographyAdrian Biddle
Edited by
Music by
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • 12 July 2002 (2002-07-12)
Running time
102 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • United States
Budget$60 million[2]
Box office$82.2 million[2]

Reign of Fire is a 2002 post-apocalyptic science fantasy film directed by Rob Bowman and starring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale, with the screenplay written by Matt Greenberg, Gregg Chabot, and Kevin Peterka. The film also features Izabella Scorupco and Gerard Butler.

The film is set in England in the year 2020, twenty years after London tunneling project workers inadvertently awakened dragons from centuries of slumber and the creatures have subsequently replaced humans as the dominant species on Earth. With the fate of mankind at stake, two surviving parties, led by Quinn Abercromby (Bale) and Denton Van Zan (McConaughey), find that they must work together to hunt down and destroy the beasts in a desperate attempt to take back the world.

The film was released by Touchstone Pictures on 12 July 2002. Upon release, it received generally mixed reviews from critics and audiences and was a box office disappointment, grossing far less than expected, only $82 million on a $60 million budget.[3]


Soon after the start of the 21st century, during construction on the London Underground, workers penetrate a cave and a huge dragon emerges from hibernation, incinerating the workers with its breath. The only survivor is a boy, Quinn Abercromby (Ben Thornton), whose mother, Karen (Alice Krige)—the project engineer—is crushed to death protecting him. The dragon flies out of the Underground, and soon more dragons appear. Years later, Quinn (Christian Bale), now an adult, records the events that transpired after the first dragon sighting. Scientists discovered that dragons were the species responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and most plant life on the planet when they razed it with fire; the ash from this event caused the first Ice age before the dragons disappeared, presumably in a cycle of hibernation. Once re-emerged, the population surged to several million, prompting most militaries to use increasingly devastating weapons, finally leading to targeting the largest population areas with nuclear weapons in 2010; however, this only hastened the destruction, and by 2020, humans are nearly extinct. The dragons, now starving as well, are dying off and increasingly aggressive in search of food.

Quinn, along with his best friend Creedy (Gerard Butler) leads a community of survivors at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland where he plans to outlast dragons until they go back into hibernation; as insurance, he shares his notes and plans with Jared (Scott Moutter) an orphan he rescued as a child and is grooming to lead the community. The community is short on supplies and in a state of unrest pending the harvest of their meager crops. Eddie (David Kennedy) and his group steal a truck to pilfer the crops early, but they are attacked by a dragon. One man is killed and the rest are surrounded by fire. Quinn, Creedy, and Jared rescue them with old fire engines, but the dragon kills Eddie's son before escaping and burns the majority of the crops, leaving the community without a means to feed itself.

Shortly afterwards, a group of heavily armed Americans arrive in an armored convoy with a Chieftain tank and an AgustaWestland AW109 utility helicopter. The Leader, Denton Van Zan, explains that they are The Kentucky Irregulars, some of the last remaining military dragon hunters seeking safe haven on their way to London. Initially skeptical and worried that they are marauders, Van Zan convinces Quinn by sharing the dragons' main weakness: poor vision during twilight. With Quinn's help, Van Zan and his team hunt and slay the dragon which destroyed the crops.

The survivors enjoy a celebration at the castle that night but Van Zan is embittered by the loss of three of his men. Van Zan introduces Quinn to Alex Jensen (Izabella Scorupco), his team's helicopter pilot and intelligence officer and together they brief Quinn on their mission. After killing nearly 200 dragons, Alex discovered that they were all female; she postulates that they reproduce quickly because the species relies on a single male to fertilize the eggs. Having tracked the spread of the dragons, they believe that the male is located in London and that if they kill it, they will effectively stop dragons from reproducing. Although Quinn suspects that the male dragon is the same that killed his mother, he refuses to help knowing that London is a dragon stronghold and that if they fail, the dragon will track them back to their shelter.

Van Zan first recruits, then "drafts" the castle's best defenders, including Jared, despite Quinn's objections and a physical altercation. Van Zan and some of the castle's men then depart, but true to Quinn's warnings, their caravan is attacked by the dragon in the ruins of a town 66 miles (106 km) from London. Everyone but Van Zan and Jensen are killed. The dragon then finds the castle and kills many of the inhabitants. Quinn gets the survivors to a bunker, but they are trapped when the dragon returns; during its final attack, Creedy is killed.

Van Zan and Jensen return and free everyone trapped in the bunker. Quinn leaves Jared in charge and decides to help Van Zan and Alex hunt down the male dragon as their best chance at survival. They fly to London and find hundreds of small dragons, one of which is cannibalized by the larger male. This scatters the smaller dragons and leaves the male undefended. Without the support needed for a major battle, Van Zan coordinates a simplified plan: split up, bait the male into attacking, and then shoot explosives down the dragon's throat. The plan initially works, but the dragon manages to detonate the explosives early; Van Zan sacrifices himself as a distraction while Quinn and Alex gather the last explosives. Together, they lure the dragon to ground level, where Quinn fires another explosive into the dragon's mouth, killing it.

Later, Quinn and Alex erect a radio tower on a hill overlooking the North Sea. There has been no dragon sighting for over three months. Jared arrives to say they have contacted a group of French survivors who want to speak to their leader. Quinn officially makes Jared the community leader and dedicates himself to rebuilding civilization with Alex.



Kevin Peterka and Gregg Chabot wrote the original screenplay in 1996, after which they sold it to Spyglass Media Group.[4] In 2000 Matt Greenberg revised the screenplay for production.[5]

Reign of Fire was filmed in Ireland's Wicklow Mountains, at the Glendasan Valley Lead Mines. Permission was given on the condition that the area was not damaged and the crew removed all sets once filming was complete. However, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe stopped many planned scenes from being filmed due to quarantine restrictions.

The dead dragon was designed and built by Artem, with visual effects by Secret Lab. The dragon's digital effects posed a problem for animators:

"In recent years there have been several movies starring creatures with scaled surfaces. Among these are Jurassic Park, Dragonheart, and Lake Placid. The surfaces of these creatures have generally been constructed by layering painted textures atop displacement maps. This gives the model texture, but the scales stretch and shrink under the movement of the creature, giving a rubbery look that is not realistic."[6]

In order to overcome this limitation, the then-groundbreaking work done by digital effects animator Neil Eskuri on Disney's 2000 release Dinosaur was utilized as a benchmark in order to create a realistic physical simulation of the dragon. According to Carlos Gonzalez-Ochoa, the film called for "100-foot (30 m) creatures with wing spans of 300 feet (91 m) that could undergo enormous speeds and accelerations. The artistic direction required each dragon to have wings that transition between a variety of physical behaviors and interact with the environment."[7]


Reign of Fire: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Film score (Digital download / Audio CD) by
  • 23 July 2002 (2002-07-23)
LabelVarèse Sarabande
Reign of Fire: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
2."Enter the Dragon"3:20
3."An Early Harvest"2:42
4."Field Attack"4:11
6."Meet Van Zan"3:49
8."Dawn Burial"3:02
9."A Battle of Wills"5:31
10."The Ruins at Pembury"2:11
12."Return to London"4:11
13."Magic Hour"5:23
Total length:50:30


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 42% based on 175 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Reign of Fire gains some altitude with its pyrotechnic action and a smolderingly campy Matthew McConaughey, but the feature's wings are clipped by a derivative script and visual effects that fizzle out."[8] On Metacritic it has score of 39 out of 100, based on 30 reviews from critics.[9] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B on scale of A to F.[10]

Joe Leydon of Variety said of the film, "An uncommonly exciting and satisfying post-apocalyptic popcorn flick, Director Rob Bowman deftly combines an uncommonly satisfying mix of medieval fantasy, high-tech military action and "Mad Max"-style misadventure."[11] Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly agreed, saying "the season could do with more grinning, spinning, un-self-important, happy-to-be-B throwback movies like this one."[12] Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times noted that "the movie might have been a minor classic if it had maximized its own possibilities. But until the rush wears off, the picture is as much fun as a great run at a slot machine: even when your luck runs out, you're losing only pocket change."[13]

Roger Ebert lamented the film as "a vast enterprise marshaled in the service of such a minute idea", adding that "the movie makes no sense on its own terms, let alone ours. And it is such a grim and dreary enterprise. One prays for a flower or a ray of sunshine as those grotty warriors clamber into their cellars and over their slag heaps."[14]

Reign of Fire was third at the US box-office receipts during its opening weekend (12 July 2002), taking in $15,632,281, behind Road to Perdition and Men in Black II.[15]


Reign of Fire was nominated for one Saturn Award, but lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and two Festival de Cine de Sitges awards, winning one.[16][17]

Award Category Result
Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film Nominated
Festival de Cine de Sitges Best Visual Effects Won[17]
Best Film Nominated

Video game[edit]

In 2002, Kuju Entertainment released the video game adaptation Reign of Fire for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, which received mixed reviews.[18]

Cancelled sequel[edit]

In a 2002 interview, Christian Bale was asked: "Is there a sequel possibility to Reign of Fire?" to which Bale responded "Possibly. I told Scott Moutter, who plays my stepson in the movie, that he's well positioned to take the sequel from me because of the way the movie ends!".[19]


The mechanism of dragon's fire breath in this movie, inspired from biology of real-life creatures such as anti-predator adaptation of bombardier beetle and poison glands of vipers, was used in later works such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, Gods of Egypt, and Game of Thrones.[20]


  1. ^ "REIGN OF FIRE | British Board of Film Classification". Retrieved 2017-04-22.
  2. ^ a b Reign of fire at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ "Reign of Fire (2002)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 2011-10-10.
  4. ^ Wehner, Christopher. "Reign of Fire". Screenwriter's Utopia. Screenwriter's Utopia. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  5. ^ "Reign of Fire Screenplay PDF" (PDF). Script Slug. Script Slug. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  6. ^ Petti, Ernest J; Thompson, Thomas V, II; Lusinsky, Adolph; Driskill, Hank (2002). "Dragon Scales: The Evolution of Scale Tool for Reign of Fire". ACM SIGGRAPH 2002 Conference Abstracts and Applications. ACM: 172. doi:10.1145/1242073.1242185. S2CID 2034980.
  7. ^ Gonzalez-Ochoa, Carlos; Eberle, David; Dressel, Rob (2002). "Dynamic Simulation of Wing Motion on Reign of Fire". ACM SIGGRAPH 2002 Conference Abstracts and Applications. ACM: 174. doi:10.1145/1242073.1242187. ISBN 978-1-58113-525-1. S2CID 12852396.
  8. ^ "Reign of Fire". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Reign of Fire". Metacritic. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  10. ^ "REIGN OF FIRE (2002) B". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  11. ^ Leydon, Joe (12 July 2002). "Reign of Fire". Variety. Archived from the original on 28 September 2017.3/4 stars
  12. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (10 July 2002). "Reign of Fire". Entertainment Weekly.
  13. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (July 12, 2002). "FILM REVIEW; Fire-Breathing Dragons Make It Hot for Humans". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 September 2017. Retrieved 28 September 2017.4/5 stars
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 12, 2002). "Reign Of Fire Movie Review & Film Summary (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times.1/4 stars
  15. ^ Brandon Gray (July 15, 2002). "Blessed Business for 'Perdition' as 'Men in Black II' Hangs Onto Top Spot". Box Office Mojo.
  16. ^ Phillips, Jevon (7 March 2003). "'Towers,' 'Report' top Saturn nominees". Variety.
  17. ^ a b Sitges 2002 Awards
  18. ^ Tyler Winegarner (October 23, 2002). "Reign of Fire review". Gamespot. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  19. ^ Clint Morris (2002). "Movies: Christian Bale Interview". Retrieved 2020-04-22 – via
  20. ^ Frederick Blichert, 2017, Without ‘Reign of Fire’ CGI Dragons Would Probably Suck, VICE

External links[edit]