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Small Soldiers

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Small Soldiers
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoe Dante
Written by
Produced by
CinematographyJamie Anderson
Edited byMarshall Harvey
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Distributed by
Release date
  • July 10, 1998 (1998-07-10)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$40 million[1]
Box office$71.8 million[1]

Small Soldiers is a 1998 American action comedy film directed by Joe Dante. It stars Kirsten Dunst and Gregory Smith, along with the voices of Frank Langella and Tommy Lee Jones. It depicts two factions of toys which turn sentient after mistakenly being installed with a military microprocessor, in turn putting two families in danger when one faction turns lethal.

The film was theatrically released on July 10, 1998 to mixed reviews and grossed $71.8 million against a $40 million budget. Small Soldiers marks the last on-screen film role of Phil Hartman, who was murdered two months before the film's premiere, and is dedicated in his memory. It was also Clint Walker's final film role, prior to his retirement from acting in 1998 and death in 2018.


When top defense contractor GloboTech Industries acquires the Heartland Toy Company, CEO Gil Mars commissions toy designers Larry Benson and Irwin Wayfair to develop toys capable of "playing back". Mars selects Larry's "Commando Elite" action figures for the project, with Irwin's "Gorgonites" — peaceful monsters intended to be educational toys — as their enemies. Facing a tight deadline of three months to get the toys ready for shipment, Larry unwittingly equips the toys with GloboTech's X1000 microprocessor, which he later learns was meant for the Department of Defense.

Working at his family's toy store, teenager Alan Abernathy persuades delivery driver Joe to give him a set of the new GloboTech toys, activating Major Chip Hazard, head of the Commando Elite, and Archer, the Gorgonites' leader. Alan develops a crush on his neighbor Christy Fimple, and returns home to discover Archer in his backpack, realizing the toys are essentially self-aware and capable of learning. That night, Chip Hazard activates his comrades to attack the Gorgonites, and Alan finds the store in disarray and the new toys missing. Christy helps clean up, and Alan calls GloboTech's customer service line to file a complaint. Larry and Irwin hear his message, and discover the X1000 is a military-grade artificial intelligence chip, susceptible to EMPs.

Following Alan home, the Commando Elite interrogate Archer, but Alan intervenes and is wounded by Nick Nitro, whom he partially destroys in the garbage disposal. His parents hear the commotion, but refuse to believe his explanation about the toys. Alan and Archer find the Gorgonites hiding in the store's dumpster; unlike the militant Commando Elite, the Gorgonites were programmed with Irwin's original friendly and inquisitive personalities, and merely seek their home, which they believe to be in Yosemite National Park after seeing an image on Alan's computer. Tapping the Abernathys' phone line, the Commando Elite learn of Alan's interest in Christy. Infiltrating her house, they capture her younger brother Timmy, sedate their parents, and use Nick Nitro's AI chip to transform Christy's "Gwendy" fashion dolls into reinforcements. Taking Christy hostage, they demand that Alan surrender the Gorgonites.

Alan and Archer sneak into the Fimples' house and rescue Christy. The Commando Elite pursue them with improvised vehicles built in the Fimples' garage, but are destroyed in a fiery crash; only Chip Hazard survives. At the Abernathys' house, Alan, Christy, and the Gorgonites try to convince their families of the truth about the toys, and Irwin and Larry arrive to talk to Alan about his voicemail. Chip Hazard arrives with a new army of Commando Elite and more improvised vehicles and weapons, having hijacked a recall shipment driven by Joe, and lays siege to the house, cutting off the electricity. When Irwin suggests an EMP, the group realizes they can overload the nearby power lines. Christy, Irwin, and Larry make their way to the Fimples' house to ensure a larger surge, and the Gorgonites emerge and fight back against the Commando Elite. Climbing the utility pole, Alan is attacked by Chip Hazard, who battles and defeats Archer, but Alan thrusts him into the power transformers as Larry and Irwin wedge open the breakers, triggering the EMP blast and destroying the toys.

In the morning, as the authorities clean up, Mars arrives and pays off Joe and both families for the damage. He then instructs Larry and Irwin to repurpose the Commando Elite for military use. Alan and Christy start a relationship, and he discovers the Gorgonites survived the EMP underneath the Fimples' satellite dish. Alan brings the Gorgonites to Yosemite, sharing a goodbye before sending them off in his father's toy boat to find their home.


Small Soldiers was Hartman's last on-screen role before his death. The film is dedicated to his memory.[2]

Voice cast[edit]


Commando Elite[edit]


Excluding Jones and Dern, the Commando Elite are voiced by cast members from the 1967 film The Dirty Dozen. Dern replaced The Dirty Dozen actor Richard Jaeckel, who died before shooting began. Excluding Langella and Cummings, the Gorgonites are voiced by cast members from the 1984 film This Is Spinal Tap. The film was the last role for Walker before his retirement from acting.


On making the film, director Joe Dante recalled, "Originally I was told to make an edgy picture for teenagers, but when the sponsor tie-ins came in the new mandate was to soften it up as a kiddie movie. Too late, as it turned out, and there are elements of both approaches in there. Just before release it was purged of a lot of action and explosions."[3] As an example of the deleted content, he mentioned that at the end of the movie, the Commandos explode the Abernathy's house, but the studio did not want to show the explosion on-screen. Dante believes that the studio had hopes that Small Soldiers would be the start of a film series.[4]

For the film's effects shots, Dante stated that the original idea was to use mostly puppetry, using puppets provided by Stan Winston. However, Dante said that while shooting, it was "much simpler and cheaper" to use computer-generated imagery (CGI) after the scenes had been shot, so the film is "one-third puppetry and the rest CGI."[5]


Box office[edit]

Small Soldiers opened in 2,539 theaters and earned $14 million on its opening weekend. At the end of its theatrical run, the film grossed $55.1 million in the United States and Canada and $16.6 million internationally, totaling in a $71.8 million cume.[1]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 49% based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 6.10/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Small Soldiers has plenty of visual razzle-dazzle, but the rote story proves disappointingly deficient in director Joe Dante's trademark anarchic spirit."[6] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[7]

Siskel & Ebert gave it Two Thumbs Down. Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 out of 4 stars, saying: "The toys are presented as individuals who can think for themselves, and there are believable heroes and villains among them. For smaller children, this could be a terrifying experience."[8] Caroline Westbrook of Empire gave the film 3 out of 5 stars and said: "It's Gremlins with toy soldiers, except not quite as dark or funny."[9]


In 2000, Filmmaker Gregory P. Grant filed a suit against Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks Pictures and Universal Pictures, alleging that they had infringed on the copyright of his 1990 short film Ode to GI Joe. Grant claimed that he had met with Amblin Entertainment in 1991 to discuss the potential to expand his short film into a full feature. The project went as far as commissioning a treatment from Grant and a 16mm copy of the short film at Spielberg's request but, according to Grant, Amblin dropped the project. However, Grant added that Amblin pushed another film, at the time titled Toy Soldiers, into development nearly a month after Grant's project was passed on. Grant's attorneys stressed that several scenes and ideas from Small Soldiers were too similar and taken outright from Grant's short film and treatment.[10]


A soundtrack containing classic rock blended with hip hop was released on July 7, 1998, by DreamWorks Records. It peaked at 103 on the Billboard 200. The film score was composed and conducted by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith. In addition, a video game based on the film was developed by DreamWorks Interactive and released by Electronic Arts on September 30, 1998. Kenner Products (a subsidiary of Hasbro) produced a line of toys, which featured the Gorgonites and the Commando Elite.

The 2020 shooter game Hypercharge: Unboxed, developed by Digital Cybercherries, drew inspiration from Small Soldiers. The development team conceived the game's idea while watching the movie on television.[11]

Video games[edit]

Four video games were released in 1998:

Film rating controversy[edit]

Burger King created a line of kids' meal toys to promote Small Soldiers. They were met with some controversy after the film received a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Burger King executives claimed this caught the company by surprise as they were led to believe the film would receive no higher than a PG rating. According to Joe Dante, the MPAA gave the film a PG-13 rating due to the scene in which the Commandos put drugs in Phil and Marion's drink. The pamphlet accompanying the toys included the disclaimer "While toys are suitable for children of all ages, the movie Small Soldiers may contain material that is inappropriate for younger children." Some restaurants accepted an exchange for Mr. Potato Head toys.[13][4]

Cancelled remake[edit]

A remake of Small Soldiers was in development by 20th Century Fox called Toymageddon. The script was purchased in January 2014, and director Justin Lin was set to produce the film. The story was described to be set in a "toy factory that begins to run amok." At that time it was not explicitly stated to be a remake of Small Soldiers.[14]

Due to the acquisition of 21st Century Fox by Disney on March 20, 2019, Disney later in August cancelled the film along with over 200 other projects, which revealed the film was intended as a remake of Small Soldiers.[15][16]


  1. ^ a b c "Small Soldiers (1998)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  2. ^ Philpot, Robert (1998-12-06). "1998's top closing moments". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. p. Arts 1.
  3. ^ Brew, Simon (February 21, 2008). "The Den of Geek interview: Joe Dante". The Den of Geek. Retrieved March 20, 2024.
  4. ^ a b Abrams, Simon. "Like Going to Church: Joe Dante on "The Movie Orgy"". rogerebert.com. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  5. ^ Reid, Claire (August 26, 2018). "Behind-The-Scenes Filming Of 'Small Soldiers' Will Change How You See The Movie". ladbible.com. Retrieved March 21, 2024.
  6. ^ "Small Soldiers (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  7. ^ EW Staff (August 7, 1998). "Critical Mass". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 7, 2022.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 10, 1998). "Small Soldiers movie review & film summary (1998) | Roger Ebert". rogerebert. Retrieved 2020-07-17.
  9. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (2000-01-01). "Small Soldiers". Empire. Retrieved 2020-07-17.
  10. ^ Reed, Betsy (May 9, 2000). "Spielberg sued over Small Soldiers". The Guardian. Archived from the original on October 5, 2023. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  11. ^ Benzer, TJ (August 31, 2022). "Hypercharge: Unboxed devs on the game's origins & persevering through setbacks". Shacknews. Retrieved February 18, 2024.
  12. ^ "Small Soldiers: Squad Commander for PC – GameFAQs". gamefaqs.gamespot.com.
  13. ^ Neville, Ken (10 July 1998). ""Small Soldiers," Big Controversy". E Online. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  14. ^ Kit, Borys (January 27, 2014). "Fox Buys 'Toymageddon' for Justin Lin to Produce (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  15. ^ Boone, Brian (August 6, 2019). "Canceled Fox movies we'll never get to see". Looper. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  16. ^ Donnelly, Matt (August 6, 2019). "Disney Flushes Fox Film Development, 'Redirects' Strategy After Big Q3 Loss". Variety. Retrieved September 7, 2019.

External links[edit]