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, directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton. Set in Arkansas, it is the story of intellectually challenged Karl Childers and the friendship he develops with a boy and his mother. Karl was released from a psychiatric hospital where he had grown up due to having killed his mother and her lover when he was 12 years old. It also 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 Swine Before Pearls,[3] from which he also developed a screenplay for the 1994 short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, directed by George Hickenlooper. Sling Blade became a sleeper hit, launching Thornton into stardom. Thornton won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay,[4] and he was also nominated for Best Actor. The music for the soundtrack was provided by French Canadian artist/producer Daniel Lanois.

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


Karl Childers is a developmentally disabled Arkansas man whose parents physically and mentally abused him when he was young. He has been in the custody of the state mental hospital since the age of 12 after murdering his mother and her teenage lover, who was also his tormentor, with a sling blade. Karl believed his mother was being raped and killed the teen in defense of her. When he realized his mother was a willing participant in the affair, Karl killed her as well.

Karl spends his days staring out a window at an open field and rubbing his hands together. As a passive person, he is often forced by serial rapist Charles to listen to stories of his criminal history as a convicted sexual predator. The state determines that Karl is no longer dangerous and releases him. Karl wants to stay and pleads to, but is told that he has to leave. He goes back to his hometown, where he finds work as a small engine mechanic.

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 homosexual friend and boss, Vaughan. Vaughan is concerned about Karl's history, but Linda asks him to move into her garage, angering her abusive and alcoholic boyfriend, Doyle. Vaughan tells Karl that he fears Doyle could hurt or kill Linda and Frank one day.

Karl becomes a role model to Frank, who misses his deceased 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 made him dispose of the body. Karl found the baby was still moving and buried him alive. Karl later visits his sickly father and tries to reconcile, but is rejected. He scolds his father for his past cruelty to him and to his brother and says that he thought many times about killing him, but no longer sees the need.

During Doyle's latest drunken outburst, where he refuses to leave Linda's house, Frank fights back. Linda later reconciles with Doyle, who announces that he is moving in with them. 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. Doyle asserts that Frank will now obey him and orders Karl to leave.

Realizing that an unhappy childhood or worse awaits Frank, Karl persuades him and Linda to spend the night at Vaughan's house. Later that evening, he returns to the Wheatley home carrying a lawn mower blade, and finds Doyle drunk and alone in the living room. Karl kills Doyle, calls 9-1-1, and then eats biscuits with mustard, a childhood favorite, while waiting for the police.

Karl is returned to the state hospital, but is now more assertive. Charles tells him more stories about his sex crimes and then questions him about his relationship with Frank. This angers Karl, who tells Charles to never speak to him again. As Charles walks away, Karl turns towards him and then resumes looking out of the window toward the open field.



Thornton conceived 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 to fund the film.[8][1] He expanded the monologue into a short film, Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade, directed by George Hickenlooper and starring Thornton, Molly Ringwald, and J.T. Walsh.

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 rating of 97% based on reviews from 58 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 Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actor Billy Bob Thornton Nominated [16]
Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best New Filmmaker Nominated [17]
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actor Won [18]
Chicago International Film Festival Special Jury Award Won
Chlotrudis Awards Best Picture Won [19]
Best Director Billy Bob Thornton Nominated
Best Actor Won
Best Supporting Actor Lucas Black Nominated
John Ritter Nominated
Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Motion Picture Billy Bob Thornton Won [20]
Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature Won [21]
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Billy Bob Thornton Won [22]
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 7th Place [23]
Special Achievement in Filmmaking Billy Bob Thornton Won
Satellite Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated [24]
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 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
Nominated [25]
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Billy Bob Thornton Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Won [26]
Young Artist Awards Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film Lucas Black Won [27]
YoungStar Awards Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film Won [28]


  1. ^ a b Collins, Scott (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. ^ Kempley, Rita (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 2022-09-06.
  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. Retrieved October 23, 2011.
  17. ^ "BSFC Winners: 1990s". Boston Society of Film Critics. July 27, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  18. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  19. ^ "3rd Annual Chlotrudis Awards". Chlotrudis Society for Independent Films. Retrieved April 23, 2022.
  20. ^ "Category List – Best Motion Picture". Edgar Awards. Retrieved August 15, 2021.
  21. ^ "38 Years of Nominees and Winners" (PDF). Independent Spirit Awards. Retrieved August 6, 2023.
  22. ^ "KCFCC Award Winners – 1990-99". Kansas City Film Critics Circle. 14 December 2013. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  23. ^ "1996 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  24. ^ "1997 Satellite Awards". Satellite Awards. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  25. ^ "The 3rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards". Screen Actors Guild Awards. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  26. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America Awards. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  27. ^ "18th Youth in Film Awards". Young Artist Awards. Archived from the original on 2011-04-02. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
  28. ^ 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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