Spawn (film)

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Original 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
Starring Michael Jai White
John Leguizamo
Martin Sheen
Nicol Williamson
Theresa Randle
D. B. Sweeney
Melinda Clarke
Frank Welker
Music by Graeme Revell
Cinematography Guillermo Navarro
Edited by Rick Shaine
Michael N. Knue
Todd Busch
Todd McFarlane Entertainment
Pull Down Your Pants Pictures
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • August 1, 1997 (1997-08-01)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $40 million[2]
Box office $87,840,042[2]

Spawn is a 1997 American supernatural horror superhero film based on the comic book character of the same name, written by Todd McFarlane and published by Image Comics. 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 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 Hell's army in the war against Heaven and turns away from evil. The film co-stars John Leguizamo as Clown/The Violator, Al's demonic guide and the film's antagonist; and Nicol Williamson as Al's mentor Cogliostro. It was Williamson's final film appearance before his death on December 16, 2011. 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.


Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is a special forces agent and black ops soldier. Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen), head of the covert government agency for which Simmons works, assigns him to infiltrate a biochemical weapons plant in North Korea. Unbeknownst to Simmons, Wynn has ordered his top assassin, Jessica Priest (Melinda Clarke), to murder him while he is on his mission. After Simmons dies in a gas fire, he arrives in Hell, where the demon king Malebolgia (Frank Welker), 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 (D.B. Sweeney) and is living as the father to his daughter, Cyan. Soon Simmons encounters a clown-like demon named the Violator (John Leguizamo), sent by Malebolgia, who acts as Simmons' guide down the path to evil. He also meets a mysterious old man named Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson): a fellow Hellspawn who has successfully freed his soul and now fights for Heaven. Simmons learns that Wynn, now a high-end weapons dealer, has developed what he calls the ultimate biological weapon, Heat 16. During a reception, Simmons, as Spawn, attacks Wynn, kills Jessica, and escapes with the help of his necroplasm armor.

Following Simmons' attack, the Violator convinces Wynn to have a device attached to his heart that will trigger the worldwide release of Heat 16 should his vital signs flatline, under the guise of it being a safeguard against assassination attempts. However, Malebolgia actually wants Simmons to kill Wynn and initiate the apocalypse. Spawn confronts the Violator, who turns into his demonic form and beats him down. Cogliostro rescues him and teaches him how to use his necroplasm armor before Simmons learns that Clown and Wynn are going to kill Terry, Cyan, and Wanda.

Meanwhile, Terry has just finished emailing a fellow newsman who sent him evidence exposing Wynn. After the transmission, Cyan enters the room, with Wynn right behind her. Wynn destroys Terry's computer and takes the family hostage. When Spawn arrives, he ends up almost killing Wynn, despite his warning that his death will launch the Heat 16 bombs. Only after realizing that Wynn's death would ultimately mean the death of Cyan does Spawn relent. Instead, Spawn extracts the device from Wynn's body and destroys it. His plans foiled, Violator draws Spawn and Cogliostro into Hell, where they both battle the demon before subduing him. Spawn is then confronted by Malebolgia, and tells him that he will never lead Hell's army. Spawn escapes with Cogliostro just before they are overwhelmed by Malebolgia's forces. The Violator, having recovered, follows them. A final battle ensues, ending with Spawn decapitating the demon with his chains. The 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 the studio was not giving him enough creative control.[4] McFarlane 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 concern of production, the film was to be produced by Pull Down Your Pants Pictures, a company formed by three 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, have 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 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 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 times 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,[9] requiring 70 people and nearly 11 months to complete. ILM did most of the work, creating 85 shots at a cost of $8.5 million. The most difficult sequences in the film to render included the Violator, Spawn's digital cape, and some of Spawn's transformations.[5][10] More than half of the final effects shots were delivered two weeks before the film's debut.[5]

Differences from the comic[edit]

The theatrical version of Spawn has several differences from the comics continuity. 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 films target audience was the African American demographic.[citation needed] In the comics, Cyan is Terry's daughter. However, in the movie, she is Al's daughter. In the film, Wanda was engaged to Al prior to his death whereas in the comics the two were married.

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 story.[11] After the film's release, Priest was introduced into the comics and made Al Simmons' murderer in place of Chapel.[citation needed] In the film, Simmons worked for an agency called A6 while in the comics he worked for the CIA.

The nature of Spawn's powers were also altered. While Cogliostro warns Spawn that he will die if his powers are drained, no reference is ever made to Spawn possessing a "counter" like he did in the comics.


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

Box office[edit]

Spawn was released on August 1, 1997. It grossed $19,738,749 that opening weekend, ranking it second place 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.[12] 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 response[edit]

The film received negative reviews from film critics. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film is rated at 19% on the Tomatometer, based on 42 reviews with the consensus: "Spawn is an overbearing, over-violent film that adds little to the comic book adaptation genre."[13] It holds a score of 34 out of 100 from 17 critics on Metacritic indicating generally unfavorable reviews.[14] One of the few positive reviews was from Roger Ebert, who awarded the film 3½ out of 4 stars. He 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 - Catalonian International Film Festival, Spawn was nominated for Best Film; the film was also nominated for & won the Best Special Effects award.[citation needed]

Home media[edit]

Both the PG-13 and the R-rated Director's Cut versions of the film were released on VHS on May 5, 1998.[16] The Director's Cut was released on DVD on January 9, 1998 and on Blu-ray on July 10, 2012.[17][18]


A sequel, tentatively titled Spawn 2, has been in development hell since 1998.[19][20][21] Michael Jai White confirmed that he was part of the project in 2001, as did producer Don Murphy,[22][23] though their involvements were not confirmed. McFarlane has stated that the film will center primarily on the detective characters Sam and Twitch, leaving Spawn without a speaking part.[20][21] During a interview, McFarlane confirmed that the sequel would be a franchise reboot, similar to Batman Begins and both the 2004 version of The Punisher and 2008's Punisher: War Zone.[24]

In 2007, plans were made for McFarlane Funding to make a new Spawn film, scheduled for release in 2008.[25] The film would be called Spawn, according to Home Media Magazine.[26] While a guest on the Scott Ferrall show on Sirius radio, a caller asked if McFarlane had any plans to do the sequel. 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]

It was announced in August 2009 that McFarlane had officially begun writing the screenplay for a new movie based on the character. "The story has been in my head for 7 or 8 years", McFarlane said. "The movie idea is neither a recap or continuation. It is a standalone story that will be R-rated. Creepy and scary". He added that "the tone of this Spawn movie will be for older audiences. It's not going to be a giant budget with a lot of special effects; it's going to be more of a horror movie and a thriller movie, not a superhero one.[27] Like the film The Departed".[28] On March 31, 2011, Todd McFarlane said that he was three quarters through the script with a planned budget of around $10 million, and that it would feature no supervillains.[citation needed] Michael Jai White said in July 2011 that he was interested in returning to the role for the next film: "I hope [McFarlane] does [make the film]. In the next couple years I might have to produce it myself. It's a no-brainer. Look at how these movies have done, superhero movies that have gone dark, and there hasn't been one darker than Spawn. If we do it like we want to, it could be a game changer. I think Todd feels the same way as me — that we go R. Not a kinder, gentler Spawn, we go straight R — like pushing it, pushing NC-17. Give the fans what they expect. That edge brought [the comic book] to where it is. I would really like to show what that character can be."[29] In February 2013, McFarlane revealed to MTV Geek that he was still working on the script and a new animated series, and also mentioned that an Academy Award winning actor had shown interest for the part of Spawn, but did not reveal his name at the time.[30] In July 2013, Jamie Foxx said he was "aggressively pursuing" the Spawn reboot.[31]

In August 2013, McFarlane hoped to start shooting in 2014, with the studio wanting a draft of his script by December.[32] On October 10, 2013, McFarlane revealed to Assignment X that he wanted the film to be an R-rated supernatural thriller without the superhero elements associated with Spawn.[33]


Spawn: The Album
Soundtrack album by Various
Released July 29, 1997
Genre Industrial metal, alternative metal, rap metal, nu metal, electronica, experimental
Length 62:11
Label Sony
Producer 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
Source Rating
AllMusic 2.5/5 stars[34]
Entertainment Weekly (A) 08/08/1997
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars 08/21/1997

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

The US version of the album features variant cover art and the bonus track "This Is Not a Dream" (UK Mix) by Apollo 440 and Morphine, Gravity Kills, Moby, DJ Spooky, Butthole Surfers and DJ Greyboy.[citation needed] The Australian and Japanese versions, besides the bonus track, feature cover art based on images seen 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] Most recently, the McFarlane Collector's Club made an LP release available to its members, featuring the standard album art and a translucent red disc.[36][not in citation given]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Artists Length
1. "(Can't You) Trip Like I Do"   Filter, The Crystal Method Filter and The Crystal Method 4:28
2. "Long Hard Road Out of Hell"   Marilyn Manson, Twiggy Ramirez Marilyn Manson and Sneaker Pimps 4:21
3. "Satan"   Paul Hartnoll, Phil Hartnoll Orbital and Kirk Hammett 3:45
4. "Kick the P.A."   Korn, The Dust Brothers Korn and The Dust Brothers 3:21
5. "Tiny Rubberband"   Butthole Surfers Butthole Surfers and Moby 4:12
6. "For Whom the Bell Tolls (The Irony of It All)"   Cliff Burton, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich Metallica and DJ Spooky 4:39
7. "Torn Apart"   Stabbing Westward, Josh Wink Stabbing Westward, Wink 4:53
8. "Skin Up Pin Up"   Paul Draper, Darren Partington Mansun and 808 State 5:27
9. "One Man Army"   Liam Howlett, Tom Morello The Prodigy and Tom Morello 4:14
10. "Spawn"   Ben Gillies, Daniel Johns Silverchair and Vitro 4:28
11. "T-4 Strain"   Goldie, Henry Rollins Henry Rollins, Goldie 5:19
12. "Familiar"   Brandon Boyd, Mike Einziger, Jose Antonio Pasillas II, Alex Katunich, Chris "DJ" Kilmore Incubus and DJ Greyboy 3:22
13. "No Remorse (I Wanna Die)"   Tom Araya, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King Slayer and Atari Teenage Riot 4:16
14. "A Plane Scraped Its Belly on a Sooty Yellow Moon"   Mark de Gli Antoni, Soul Coughing, Yuval Gabay, Roni Size, Sebastian Steinberg Soul Coughing, Roni Size 5:26
Total length:

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]