Sling Blade

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Sling Blade
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBilly Bob Thornton
Screenplay byBilly Bob Thornton
Based onSome Folks Call It a Sling Blade
by Billy Bob Thornton
Produced byLarry Meistrich
David L. Bushell
Brandon Rosser
CinematographyBarry Markowitz
Edited byHughes Winborne
Music byDaniel Lanois
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release date
  • November 27, 1996 (1996-11-27)
Running time
135 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.2 million[1]
Box office$34.1 million[2]

Sling Blade is a 1996 American drama film written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton, who also stars in the lead role. Set in Arkansas (filmed in Benton, Arkansas) the film tells the story of a man named Karl Childers who has an intellectual disability and is released from a psychiatric hospital, where he has lived since killing his mother and her lover when he was 12 years old, and the friendship he develops with a young boy and his mother. In addition to Thornton, it stars Dwight Yoakam, J. T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, James Hampton, and Robert Duvall.

The film was adapted by Thornton from his previous one-man show entitled Swine Before Pearls,[3] from which he developed a screenplay for the 1994 short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, directed by George Hickenlooper. Sling Blade proved to be a sleeper hit, launching Thornton into stardom. It won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay,[4] and Thornton was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The music for the soundtrack was provided by French Canadian artist/producer Daniel Lanois.

Sling Blade was filmed over the course of 24 days[5] on location in Benton, Arkansas,[6] and was produced by David L. Bushell and Brandon Rosser.[7]


Karl Childers is an intellectually disabled Arkansas man whose parents raised him in abusive conditions. He has been in the custody of the state mental hospital since the age of 12 after he murdered his mother and her lover with a sling blade. In the mid-1990s, the state decides that he is no longer dangerous and releases him to his small home town, where he takes up work fixing engines.

Karl befriends 12-year-old Frank Wheatley and shares details of his past, including the killings. Frank introduces Karl to his mother, Linda, and her friend and boss, Vaughan. Despite Vaughan's concerns about Karl's history, Linda allows him to move into her garage, angering Linda's abusive, alcoholic boyfriend Doyle. Vaughan tells Karl that he fears Doyle could hurt or kill Linda and Frank.

Karl becomes a father figure to Frank, who misses his real father and despises Doyle. As they grow closer, Karl tells Frank that he is haunted by an incident that happened when he was six or eight years old. His parents performed an abortion of his unwanted baby brother and gave him the body to dispose of. Karl found the infant still moving and buried it alive. Karl later visits his father, who has become a sickly hermit, and scolds him for his cruelty.

After Doyle refuses to leave Linda's house during one of his outbursts, Frank attacks him by throwing objects at him. Linda later reconciles with Doyle, who announces that they will marry and he will subsequently become the patriarch of the house. He tells Karl that he is no longer welcome. When Frank protests, Doyle grabs him, but Karl intervenes and warns him never to touch Frank again.

Realizing that an unhappy childhood or worse awaits Frank, Karl persuades him and Linda to spend the night at Vaughan's house. He then kills Doyle with a lawn mower blade and surrenders to the police. Returned to the state hospital, he is less passive than he was during his previous institutionalization. He silences a sexual predator who had previously forced him to listen to stories about his crimes, then looks out of a window towards an open field.



Thornton first came up with the character of Karl while working on the film The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains. He developed the idea into a monologue which became a one man show, which he used to raise the funds to make the film.[8][1]

The film was made with a production budget of $1 million financed by The Shooting Gallery, and was sold to Miramax for $10 million, which at the time was a record price for an independent film.[9]


The film grossed $24,444,121 in the United States against a $1 million production budget.[10] It grossed a further $9.7 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $34 million.[2]


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a "Certified Fresh" rating of 96% based on reviews from 57 critics with an average rating of 8.40/10. The site's consensus states "You will see what's coming, but the masterful performances, especially Thornton's, will leave you riveted."[11] On Metacritic it has a score of 84% based on reviews from 26 critics.[12]

The Washington Post called it a "masterpiece of Southern storytelling."[13] Kevin Thomas wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the film is "a mesmerizing parable of good and evil and a splendid example of Southern storytelling at its most poetic and imaginative".[14] The New York Times critic Janet Maslin praised the performances but said that "it drifts gradually toward climactic events that seem convenient and contrived".[15]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Actor Billy Bob Thornton Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Ritter Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Billy Bob Thornton Nominated
Academy Awards[16][7] Best Actor Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Won
Awards Circuit Community Awards Honorable Mentions Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[17] Best New Filmmaker Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[18] Best Actor Won
Chicago International Film Festival Special Jury Award Won
Chlotrudis Awards Best Picture Won
Best Director Billy Bob Thornton Nominated
Best Actor Won
Best Supporting Actor Lucas Black Nominated
John Ritter Nominated
Edgar Allan Poe Awards[19] Best Motion Picture Billy Bob Thornton Won
Independent Spirit Awards[20] Best First Feature Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards[21] Best Actor Billy Bob Thornton Won
National Board of Review Awards[22] Top Ten Films 7th Place
Special Achievement in Filmmaking Billy Bob Thornton Won
Satellite Awards[23] Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Screenplay – Adapted Nominated
Best Original Score Daniel Lanois Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Performance by a Younger Actor Lucas Black Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards[24] Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, Robert Duvall, James Hampton,
John Ritter, Billy Bob Thornton, J. T. Walsh and Dwight Yoakam
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Billy Bob Thornton Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards[25] Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Won
Young Artist Awards[26] Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film Lucas Black Won
YoungStar Awards[27] Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film Won


  1. ^ a b SCOTT COLLINS (29 March 1997). "Call It Father of 'Sling Blade': Video Rides Oscar's Coattails". Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ a b "Sling Blade (1996) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
  3. ^ ROGER CORMIER (2016-11-26). "14 Fascinating Facts About Sling Blade". Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  4. ^ "Dwight Yoakam Reflects on 20 Years of "Sling Blade"—"One of the Seminal Moments of My Life as an Artist"". Nash Country Daily. 2016-11-25. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  5. ^ "Billy Bob Thornton by John Bowe for Bomb Magazine". Bomb Magazine. Jan 1, 1997.
  6. ^ "Encyclopedia of Arkansas". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Sling Blade - Official Site". Miramax. Retrieved 2021-01-01.
  8. ^ Rita Kempley (March 23, 1996). "Who Is That Guy?". Washington Post.
  9. ^ Pristin, Terry (27 June 2001). "Film Dreams Appear to Fade in Red Ink for Manhattan Company". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2015-05-27.
  10. ^ "Sling Blade (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  11. ^ "Sling Blade". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2021-01-07.
  12. ^ "Sling Blade". Metacritic. Retrieved 2021-01-01.
  13. ^ Kempley, Rita (February 7, 1997). "'Sling Blade': Incisive". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 18, 2016. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  14. ^ Thomas, Kevin (November 27, 1996). "Gripping 'Blade' Crosses Folksy, Frightening". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 9, 2014. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
  15. ^ Maslin, Janet (September 30, 1996). "Rejoining A World Left Behind". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 20, 2017. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  16. ^ "The 69th Academy Awards (1997) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2011.
  17. ^ "BSFC Winners: 1990s". Boston Society of Film Critics. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  18. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  19. ^ "Category List – Best Motion Picture". Edgar Awards. Retrieved August 15, 2021.
  20. ^ "36 Years of Nominees and Winners" (PDF). Independent Spirit Awards. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  21. ^ "KCFCC Award Winners – 1990-99". Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  22. ^ "1996 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  23. ^ "1997 Satellite Awards". Satellite Awards. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  24. ^ "The 3rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards". Screen Actors Guild Awards. Archived from the original on November 1, 2011. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  25. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  26. ^ "18th Youth In Film Awards". Archived from the original on 2011-04-02. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  27. ^ Ellis, Rick (May 4, 1997). "1997's 2nd Annual Young Star Awards". AllYourEntertainment, Inc. Archived from the original on August 1, 2009. Retrieved February 2, 2013.

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