Spawn (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé
Produced by Clint Goldman
Screenplay by Alan B. McElroy
Story by Alan B. McElroy
Mark A.Z. Dippé
Based on Spawn
by Todd McFarlane
Music by Graeme Revell
Cinematography Guillermo Navarro
Edited by Rick Shaine
Michael N. Knue
Todd Busch
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release date
  • August 1, 1997 (1997-08-01)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $40 million[2]
Box office $87.8 million[2]

Spawn is a 1997 American superhero film based on the comic book character of the same name. Directed and co-written by Mark A.Z. Dippé, the film stars Michael Jai White in the title role, and is the first film to feature an African American actor portraying a major comic book superhero.[3] Spawn depicts the origin story of the title character, beginning with the murder of soldier/assassin Al Simmons. He is resurrected as Spawn, the reluctant, demonic leader of Hell's army. He ultimately refuses to lead the army in the war against Heaven and turns away from evil. The film co-stars John Leguizamo (as The Violator, Al's demonic guide) and Nicol Williamson (as Al's mentor, Cogliostro). Martin Sheen, Theresa Randle, D. B. Sweeney, Melinda Clarke, and Frank Welker (as the voice of Malebolgia) also star in the film.

Spawn was released in the United States on August 1, 1997. It grossed $87 million worldwide against its production budget of $40 million, but received generally negative reviews from critics. The film was Williamson's final film appearance before his death on December 16, 2011.


Al Simmons is a Force Reconnaissance Marine Colonel and Black Ops operative. Jason Wynn, the head of the covert government agency for which Simmons works, assigns him to infiltrate a biochemical weapons plant in North Korea. Unknown to Simmons, Wynn has ordered his top assassin Jessica Priest to murder him while he is on the mission. After Simmons dies, he is set on fire by Wynn and the flames cause the plant to explode. Simmons arrives in Hell, where one of the rulers of Hell - Malebolgia - offers him a Faustian deal: if Simmons becomes his eternal servant and leader of his army in Armageddon, he will be able to return to Earth to see his fiancée, Wanda Blake. Simmons accepts the offer and returns to Earth.

Upon his return, Simmons learns that five years have passed since his death. Wanda is now married to his best friend Terry Fitzgerald, who is living as the father to Al's daughter Cyan. Soon Simmons encounters a clown-like demon named Violator, sent by Malebolgia, who acts as Simmons's guide down the path to evil. He also meets a mysterious old man named Cogliostro, a fellow Hellspawn, who has successfully freed his soul and now fights for Heaven. Simmons learns that Wynn, who is now a weapons dealer, has developed a biological weapon called Heat 16. During a reception, Spawn attacks Wynn, kills Jessica, and escapes with the help of his necroplasm armor.

Following the attack by Simmons, Violator convinces Wynn to have a device attached to his heart that will release Heat 16 worldwide if his vital signs flatline as a deterrent against assassination attempts. However, Malebolgia wants Simmons to kill Wynn and initiate the apocalypse. Spawn confronts Violator, who turns into his demonic form and beats Al down. Cogliostro rescues Al and teaches him how to use his necroplasm armor. Simmons learns that Violator and Wynn are going to kill Terry, Cyan, and Wanda.

Terry sends an email incriminating Wynn to a fellow newsman. Just as the email is sent, Cyan and Wynn enter the room. Wynn destroys Terry's computer and takes the family hostage. Spawn arrives and nearly kills Wynn, but Al extracts the device from Wynn's body instead and destroys it. With his plan foiled, Violator sends Spawn and Cogliostro to Hell, where they both battle the demon before subduing him. Spawn is then confronted by Malebolgia, who tells Spawn that he will never lead Hell's army. Spawn escapes with Cogliostro just before they are overwhelmed by Malebolgia's forces. Violator, having recovered, follows them. A final battle ensues, ending with Spawn decapitating the demon with his chains. Violator's head taunts the group and threatens his return before melting and returning to Hell. Wynn is arrested, and Spawn, realizing there is no place for him in Wanda's world anymore, dedicates himself to justice rather than succumbing to his lust for vengeance.



Columbia Pictures showed interest in making a film adaptation of Spawn when the comic book was launched in 1992. Negotiations eventually fell through as Todd McFarlane felt that the studio was not giving him enough creative control.[4] He eventually sold the film rights to New Line Cinema for $1 in exchange for creative input and merchandising rights.[5] New Line president Michael DeLuca, a comic book collector himself, expressed interest in having "a character that has as established an audience as Spawn", while declaring that success hinged on an adaptation that "maintains a PG-13 rating but retains its darkness."[4]

As visual effects were the main production concern, the film was to be produced by Pull Down Your Pants Pictures, a company formed by former Industrial Light & Magic artists Mark A.Z. Dippé, Clint Goldman, and Steve 'Spaz' Williams. Dippé was slated to direct the film, with Goldman as producer, and Williams as second unit director and visual effects supervisor.[6] Dippé and Williams, who at the time was the only one of the three still attached to ILM, called the film opportunity "our ticket out of the company".[7] The script would be written by Alan B. McElroy, who, along with writing the Spawn comic book, also wrote many episodes of the Todd McFarlane's Spawn animated series.[6]

Michael Jai White found Al Simmons' character appealing; he described Spawn as "the most tragic character I've encountered in any cinematic production." He says it was a challenge to make audiences sympathize with a government assassin who comes back from hell. White had endure two to four hours of make-up work, including a full glued-on bodysuit, yellow contact lenses that irritated his eyes, and a mask that restricted his breathing.[8] He said that his long-time experience with martial arts helped him to endure the uncomfortable prosthetics, giving him "strong will and unbreakable concentration."[4]

Spawn was originally green-lit with a budget of $20 million. The scale of the visual effects led New Line to continually increase the project's budget, which grew to $40 million — a third of which was spent on the effects. The shooting schedule was only 63 days. To cut production time by a week, Goldman lent $1 million to engage John Grower's Santa Barbara Studios to develop the digitally produced Hell sequences.[5] The visual effects shot count increased from 77 to over 400, created by 22 companies in the United States, Canada and Japan, requiring 70 people and nearly 11 months to complete.[citation needed] ILM did most of the work, creating 85 shots at a cost of $8.5 million. The most difficult sequences to render in the film included the Violator, Spawn's digital cape, and some of Spawn's transformations.[5][9] More than half of the final effects shots were delivered two weeks before the film's debut.[5]

Differences from the comic[edit]

Terry Fitzgerald, Al Simmons' best friend before his death, is black in the comics. In the film, he is white, portrayed by D. B. Sweeney. Todd McFarlane explained that this change was made by the studio to avoid having too many black leads, as they believed this would give the false impression that film's target audience was the African American demographic.[citation needed]

In the comics, Al Simmons' murderer was Chapel, a character created by Rob Liefeld for the comic Youngblood, while Jessica Priest, a character created for the film, took Chapel's place in the movie.[10]


The original cut of Spawn earned an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America resulting in the producers toning down the violence in the film to get a PG-13 rating.[6]

Box office[edit]

Spawn was released on August 1, 1997. It grossed $19,738,749 that opening weekend, ranking it second behind Air Force One. For its second weekend, the film dropped to number three in the box office, reflecting a decreased earnings of 54.7% and a gross of $8,949,953.[11] The film was considered a modest box-office success. Based on a $40 million budget, it grossed $54,870,174 domestically and $32,969,867 overseas for a worldwide total revenue of $87,840,042.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received negative reviews from film critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film is rated at 18% based on reviews from 44 critics, with the website's consensus stating: "Spawn is an overbearing, over-violent film that adds little to the comic book adaptation genre."[12] It holds a score of 34 out of 100 from 17 critics on Metacritic indicating generally unfavorable reviews.[13] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

One of the few positive reviews was from Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times, who awarded the film 3½ out of 4 stars. He wrote that the film's plot was "sappy" and little more than a set-up for some of the most innovative effects of the era, so much that Spawn verged on surrealistic art film. Ebert ended his review with "As a visual experience, Spawn is unforgettable."[15]


At the Saturn Awards, Spawn was nominated for Best Make-up.[citation needed] The film was also nominated for three Blockbuster Entertainment Awards for Favorite Male Newcomer (Michael Jai White), Favorite Horror Supporting Actor (John Leguizamo) and Favorite Horror Supporting Actress (Theresa Randle).[citation needed] At the Sitges - Catalan International Film Festival, Spawn was nominated for Best Film; the film was also nominated for & won the Best Special Effects award.[16]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS on May 5, 1998 in a PG-13 version and an R-rated Director's Cut version. The Director's Cut version included 45 minutes of additional footage, a music video for "(Can't You) Trip Like I Do" performed by electronica duo The Crystal Method and featuring alternative rock group Filter, a soundtrack promo and a "Making of Spawn" featurette.[17] The Director's Cut version was released on DVD on January 9, 1998[18] and on Blu-ray on July 10, 2012.[19]

Cancelled sequel[edit]

A sequel, tentatively titled Spawn 2, has been in development hell since 1998.[20] Producer Don Murphy maintained that he was part of the project in 2001.[21] McFarlane has stated that the film would have centered primarily on the detective characters Sam and Twitch, leaving Spawn without a speaking part.[citation needed]


In 2007, McFarlane Funding announced development of a new feature film adaptation of the character, titled Spawn, scheduled for release in 2008.[22][23] During an interview on the Scott Ferrall show on Sirius radio,[when?] McFarlane said: "It's coming out no matter what. Even if I have to produce, direct and finance it myself, it's going to come out."[citation needed]

McFarlane announced on August 23, 2009 that he had begun writing the screenplay for a new movie based on the character, saying that "The story has been in my head for 7 or 8 years", that "The movie idea is neither a recap or continuation. It is a standalone story that will be R-rated. Creepy and scary", and that "the tone of this Spawn movie will be for a more older audience. Like the film The Departed."[24] Michael Jai White said in July 2011 that he was interested in returning to the role, expressing his support for McFarlane's film.[25] In July 2013, Jamie Foxx said he was "aggressively pursuing" the Spawn reboot.[26] In August 2013, McFarlane discussed his progress with the script, stating that the film would be "more of a horror movie and a thriller movie, not a superhero one".[27]

In February 2016, McFarlane announced he had completed the film's script.[28] In July 2017, Blumhouse Productions confirmed their involvement with the film, while announcing that McFarlane had also signed on to direct the project.[29] The movie was expected to begin production by February 2018.[30] In May 2018, it was announced that Jamie Foxx would portray the titular character.[31] In July 2018, it was reported that Jeremy Renner would be starring alongside Foxx as Detective Twitch.[32]


Spawn: The Album
Soundtrack album by Various
Released July 29, 1997
Length 62:11
  • Happy Walters
  • various
Singles from Spawn: The Album
  1. "(Can't You) Trip Like I Do"
    Released: October 7, 1997
  2. "Long Hard Road Out of Hell"
    Released: November 11, 1997
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic2.5/5 stars[33]
Entertainment Weekly(A) August 8, 1997
Rolling Stone3/5 stars August 21, 1997

Spawn: The Album was released in July 1997 and featured popular rock / metal group of bands at the time including: Metallica, Korn, Slayer, Marilyn Manson, Stabbing Westward, Filter, Soul Coughing and Silverchair of collaboration with well-known electronic producers such as The Crystal Method, Roni Size, The Prodigy, DJ Greyboy, Atari Teenage Riot, Moby, Orbital and 808 State.[33] A similar concept was previously implemented on the rock/hip hop-infused Judgment Night soundtrack.[34] The album debuted at #7 on the U.S. Billboard 200[34] and stayed on the chart for 25 weeks.[citation needed] The album is certified Gold for selling over 500,000 copies in America.[35]

The US version of the album features different cover art and the bonus track "This Is Not A Dream" by Morphine and Apollo 440.[citation needed] The Australian and Japanese versions, besides the bonus track, feature cover art based on images in Spawn #39 and a marquee of Spawn: In the Demon's Hand.[citation needed] The Japanese version contains a third disk with three remixes.[citation needed] The McFarlane Collector's Club made an LP release available to its members, featuring the standard album art and a translucent red disc.[citation needed]

"It was a bit rushed," declared The Prodigy's Liam Howlett of their collaboration with Rage Against the Machine. "I did it in three days when I usually need a week."[36]

Track listing
1."(Can't You) Trip Like I Do"The Crystal Method and FilterThe Crystal Method and Filter4:30
2."Long Hard Road Out of Hell"Marilyn Manson, Twiggy RamirezMarilyn Manson and Sneaker Pimps4:21
3."Satan"Paul Hartnoll, Phil HartnollOrbital and Kirk Hammett3:45
4."Kick the P.A."Korn, The Dust BrothersKorn and The Dust Brothers3:21
5."Tiny Rubberband"Butthole SurfersButthole Surfers and Moby4:12
6."For Whom the Bell Tolls (The Irony of It All)"Cliff Burton, James Hetfield, Lars UlrichMetallica and DJ Spooky4:39
7."Torn Apart"Stabbing Westward, Josh WinkStabbing Westward, Josh Wink4:53
8."Skin Up Pin Up"Paul Draper, Darren PartingtonMansun and 808 State5:27
9."One Man Army"Liam Howlett, Tom MorelloThe Prodigy and Tom Morello4:14
10."Spawn"Ben Gillies, Daniel JohnsSilverchair and Vitro4:28
11."T-4 Strain"Goldie, Henry RollinsHenry Rollins and Goldie5:19
12."Familiar"Brandon Boyd, Mike Einziger, Jose Antonio Pasillas II, Alex Katunich, Chris "DJ" KilmoreIncubus and DJ Greyboy3:22
13."No Remorse (I Wanna Die)"Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, Alec Empire, Tom Araya, Hanin EliasSlayer and Atari Teenage Riot4:16
14."A Plane Scraped Its Belly on a Sooty Yellow Moon"Mark de Gli Antoni, Mike Doughty, Yuval Gabay, Roni Size, Sebastian SteinbergSoul Coughing and Roni Size5:26
Total length:62:11

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1997) Peak
Australian Albums (ARIA)[37] 15
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[38] 33
French Albums (SNEP)[39] 43
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[40] 38
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[41] 1
Dutch Albums (MegaCharts)[42] 73
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[43] 15
US Billboard 200[44] 7


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External links[edit]