Jump to content

Sneakers (1992 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
At the top, the names of the cast in block type against a white background. In the lower right corner, the white background is curled up to reveal the faces of Poitier, Redford, Aykroyd, McDonnell, Phoenix, and Strathairn peaking out.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPhil Alden Robinson
Written by
Produced by
  • Lawrence Lasker
  • Walter Parkes
CinematographyJohn Lindley
Edited byTom Rolf
Music byJames Horner
Distributed byUniversal Pictures[1]
Release date
  • September 11, 1992 (1992-09-11) (US)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$23 million[1]
Box office$105.2 million[2]

Sneakers is a 1992 American crime comedy drama film directed by Phil Alden Robinson, written by Robinson, Walter Parkes, and Lawrence Lasker, and starring Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, River Phoenix, Sidney Poitier, and David Strathairn; the film was released by Universal Pictures.

Sneakers is a heist film in which five criminals lend out their skills for honest jobs. Now they are asked to steal a code breaker device, and since the men who hire them seem shady, they investigate the situation and learn that the job has nefarious and far-reaching motives behind it.


In 1969, student hackers and long-time friends Martin Brice and Cosmo use their skills to reallocate money from causes they consider evil to noble but underfunded causes designed to help the world. Martin leaves for food just before the police arrive, arresting Cosmo and forcing Martin into hiding.

Decades later, in San Francisco, Martin, using the alias Martin Bishop, heads a penetration testing security specialist team that includes former CIA operative Donald Crease, technician Darren "Mother" Roskow, hacking prodigy Carl Arbogast, and blind phone phreak Irwin "Whistler" Emery. After the team successfully infiltrates a bank to demonstrate their inadequate security, Martin is approached by NSA operatives Dick Gordon and Buddy Wallace. The men are aware of Martin's true identity and offer to clear his name and pay him $175,000 to recover a Russian-funded black box device codenamed "Setec Astronomy" from mathematician Dr. Gunter Janek. With assistance from his ex-girlfriend Liz, Martin and his team secure the box. However, they discover the device is a code breaker capable of infiltrating the most secure computer networks including financial and government systems. Martin realizes "Setec Astronomy" is an anagram of "too many secrets" and locks everyone down in their office until the device can be delivered to the NSA.

The following day, Martin hands the box to Gordon and Wallace, but Crease warns him to run after learning that Janek was murdered the night before. The team learns the box was actually funded by the NSA and the agents are imposters. Martin's friend Gregor, a spy in the Russian consulate, identifies Wallace as a former NSA agent now working for a powerful crime organisation. Men impersonating FBI agents arrive and kill Gregor, framing Martin by using his gun, before recovering Martin to an unknown location where it is revealed they are working for Cosmo. Because of his hacking talents, Cosmo was secured an early release from prison and recruited by an organized crime group to manage their illicit finances. Although the box could infiltrate their illegal networks, Cosmo wants it so he can finish what he and Martin started in 1969, destroying financial and ownership records to render the rich and poor as equals. He asks Martin to join him, but he refuses, considering Cosmo's plan extreme. Cosmo uses the box to access the FBI's systems and link Martin's current and former identities, making him a fugitive again. Martin is knocked unconscious and returned to the city.

To conceal their presence, Martin relocates his team to Liz's apartment. They contact NSA director of operations Bernard Abbott who will assist them if they recover the box. Whistler uses the sounds Martin can recall from his abduction to identify Cosmo's office in the PlayTronics toy company, a criminal front. Researching the building's security, the team identifies Werner Brandes, an employee, and manipulate a dating service to connect him with Liz. During the date she steals his access codes which allows Martin to infiltrate PlayTronics, but Brandes becomes suspicious of Liz and takes her to his office. Cosmo realizes she is involved with Martin and locks down the facility, taking Liz hostage. Martin surrenders and Cosmo pleads with Martin to join him, but he refuses after turning over the box. Unable to kill his friend, Cosmo allows Martin and his team to leave, but discovers Martin gave him an empty box.

On arriving back at their office, Martin's team is surrounded by Abbott and his agents. Martin realizes that the box can only be used by the NSA to hack into systems belonging to the USA, such as the FBI and White House. To ensure their silence on the matter, Abbott acquiesces to the team's demands, including clearing Martin's record, sending Crease on a long holiday with his wife, buying Mother a Winnebago, and giving Carl the telephone number of an attractive NSA agent. After the agents leave, Martin reveals the box is useless because he has removed the core component.

A news report announces the sudden bankruptcy of the Republican National Committee and the simultaneous receipt of large anonymous donations to Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and the United Negro College Fund.



Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes first conceived the idea for Sneakers in 1981, while doing research for WarGames.[3] In early drafts, the character of Liz was a bank employee, rather than Martin's ex-girlfriend. The role was changed because Lasker and Parkes believed that it took too long for her character to develop.[3]

Once Robert Redford was attached to the picture, his name was used to recruit other members of the cast and crew, including the director Robinson, who had little initial interest in the project but had always wanted to work with Redford.[3]

At one point during the project, Robinson received a visit from men claiming to be representatives of the Office of Naval Intelligence, who indicated that for reasons of national security, the film could not include any references to "a hand-held device that can decode codes". Robinson was highly concerned, as such a device was a key to the film's plot, but after consulting with a lawyer from the film studio he realized that the "visit" had been a prank instigated by a member of the cast, possibly Aykroyd or Redford.[3]

"I can't remember having so much fun on a movie," Stephen Tobolowsky recalled in 2012 for a 20th-anniversary piece about the film for Slate. He had initially scoffed at the script based on its title alone, but his agent persuaded him to read it, and he reconsidered. Afterward, he told his agent, "Now I know what a hundred million dollars at the box office reads like."[4] "It was one of the most spectacular casts I've ever been lucky enough to be a part of," Tobolowsky wrote. When he was shooting the scene where he and McDonnell eat at a Chinese restaurant, Robinson told him he could do anything he wanted to make her laugh. "Dangerous words. It set the tone for the rest of the shoot," he recalls. "I played with my food. I made up lines (including one about pounding chicken breasts in the kitchen during our second date)." The rest of the cast and crew felt similarly. Near the end of the shoot, Robinson said the only way it could have been better would have been if the lab lost the film, so they would have had to do it all over again.[4]

Leonard Adleman was the mathematical consultant on this movie.[5]


The film's press kit was accompanied by a floppy disk containing a custom program explaining the movie. Parts of the program were quasi-encrypted, requiring the user to enter an easily guessable password to proceed.[6] It was one of the first electronic press kits by a film studio.[7]


The film received positive reviews from critics upon its release. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan called Sneakers "[a] caper movie with a most pleasant sense of humor," a "twisting plot," and a "witty, hang-loose tone." Turan went on to praise the ensemble cast and director Robinson, who is "surprisingly adept at creating tension at appropriate moments" and "makes good use of the script's air of clever cheerfulness".[8] Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, was less impressed, giving the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, calling it "a sometimes entertaining movie, but thin." He went on to point out numerous clichés and tired plot devices recycled in the film.[9] Vincent Canby, in a negative review for The New York Times, said the film looked like it had "just surfaced after being buried alive for 20 years," calling it "an atrophied version of a kind of caper movie that was so beloved in the early 1970's". He singled out Redford and Poitier as looking and acting too old to be in this kind of film now. He calls the plot "feeble," resulting in a film that is "jokey without being funny, breathless without creating suspense". He calls the ensemble an "all-star gang," but says the "performances are generally quite bad."[10]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 80% based on reviews from 55 critics. The website's consensus states: "There isn't much to Sneakers' plot and that's more than made up for with the film's breezy panache and hi-tech lingo."[11] On Metacritic the film has a score of 65 out of 100 based on reviews from 20 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[12] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade A− on scale of A to F.[13]

The film was a box office success, grossing over $105.2 million worldwide.[2]


A novelization of the film written by Dewey Gram was published in English (Signet, 1992, ISBN 0451174704) and translated into German (Droemer Knaur, 1993, ISBN 3-426-60177-X).

TV series[edit]

In October 2016, NBC was developing a TV series based on the film. Writer Walter Parkes was brought on as an executive producer.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com.
  2. ^ a b "Sneakers Races to the Top Spot". Los Angeles Times. 1992-09-15. Archived from the original on 2013-11-06. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  3. ^ a b c d Weidman, Sara (October 8, 1992). "A Decade Later, 'Sneakers' is Complete". The Michigan Daily. p. 8.
  4. ^ a b Tobolowsky, Stephen (September 10, 2012). "Memories of the Sneakers Shoot". Slate. Archived from the original on September 11, 2012. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  5. ^ "Sneakers". www.usc.edu. Archived from the original on 2015-11-01. Retrieved 2015-11-24.
  6. ^ "Sneakers Computer Press Kit". Internet Archive. July 12, 2017. Retrieved July 17, 2017.
  7. ^ O'Steen, Kathleen (November 15, 1994). "WB goes interactive for 'Disclosure' push". Daily Variety. p. 5.
  8. ^ "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Sneakers': A Caper With Lots of Twists". Los Angeles Times. 1992-09-09. Archived from the original on 2013-04-24. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  9. ^ Roger Ebert (September 9, 1992). "Sneakers". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Archived from the original on September 23, 2017. Retrieved September 22, 2017.
  10. ^ "Reviews/Film; A 1970's Caper Movie With Heroes of the Time". The New York Times. 1992-09-09. Archived from the original on 2012-09-10. Retrieved 2012-06-03.
  11. ^ "Sneakers (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 2020-08-07. Retrieved 2023-01-23.
  12. ^ "Sneakers". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2020-08-15. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  13. ^ "SNEAKERS (1992) A-". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on February 6, 2018.
  14. ^ "'Sneaker' Hacker Drama Based On Movie in Works at NBC From Walter Parkes, Laurie Macdonald & Tom Szentgyorgyi". Deadline Hollywood. 2016-10-23. Archived from the original on 2016-10-23. Retrieved 2016-10-23.

External links[edit]