Stand by Me (film)

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Stand by Me
Stand By Me 1986 American Theatrical Release Poster.jpg
American theatrical release poster
Directed byRob Reiner
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Bruce A. Evans
  • Raynold Gideon
Based onThe Body
by Stephen King
Music byJack Nitzsche
CinematographyThomas Del Ruth
Edited byRobert Leighton
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • August 8, 1986 (1986-08-08)
Running time
89 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[2]
Box office$52.3 million[2]

Stand by Me is a 1986 American coming-of-age film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell (in his debut film). The film is based on Stephen King's 1982 novella The Body. Its title is derived from Ben E. King's eponymous song, which plays over the ending credits.

Stand by Me tells the fictional story of four boys in a small town in 1959 Oregon who go on a hike to find the dead body of another boy. The film was nominated for one Academy Award (for Best Adapted Screenplay) and two Golden Globe Awards (for Best Motion Picture - Drama, and Best Director).


In September 1985, author Gordon "Gordie" Lachance reads in the newspaper that his childhood best friend, Attorney Christopher "Chris" Chambers, has been killed in a restaurant. Gordie then narrates an extended flashback, later revealed to be the story he is writing. The flashback tells the story of a childhood event when he, Chris, and two buddies journeyed to find the body of a missing boy near the fictional town of Castle Rock, Oregon, towards the end of the summer of 1959.

Gordie was 12, going on 13. His older brother Dennis had been killed in a jeep accident four months earlier, and his parents were still too busy grieving to pay any attention to him. Gordie's friends are Chris, who hails from a bad family; Theodore "Teddy" Duchamp, whose violent father once held Teddy's ear to a stove and nearly burned it off; and Vernon "Vern" Tessio. While looking for a jar of money that he buried underneath his parents' porch, Vern overhears a conversation between his older brother Billy and a friend, Charlie Hogan. Billy and Charlie say that recently, after having stolen a car, they saw the body of a missing boy named Ray Brower outside of town. When Vern relates this information to Gordie, Chris, and Teddy, the four boys — hoping to become local heroes — decide to look for Ray's body. After Chris steals his father's pistol, he and Gordie run into local hoodlum John "Ace" Merrill and Chris's older brother, Richard "Eyeball" Chambers. Eyeball steals Gordie's lucky New York Yankees cap, which had been a gift from his brother, and Ace threatens Chris with a lit cigarette.

That afternoon, the four boys begin their journey to find the body, following railroad tracks. A train approaches, but Teddy remains on the track in an attempt to show off a train dodge. However, Chris pulls him off the tracks before the train can hit him, and the boys continue their journey.

While getting water at a junkyard and food from a nearby convenience store, they get caught by Milo Pressman, the junkyard manager, and his dog, Chopper, but manage to escape. An angry Pressman calls Teddy's father a "loony"; enraged, Teddy tries to attack Pressman, but the other boys restrain him. Later, while the boys are crossing over a train bridge, Gordie and Vern are nearly run over by a passing train, but manage to outrun it (with Gordie saving Vern's life in the process).

That night, Gordie tells the fictional story of David "Lard-Ass" Hogan, an obese 12-year-old boy who is frequently teased and beaten up. After entering a pie-eating contest, Lard-Ass deliberately vomits to take revenge on his tormentors, inducing mass vomiting among contestants and the audience. Gordie describes the story as a "barf-o-rama".

After the story, the boys hear coyotes and decide to take turns standing guard. During Chris's turn, Gordie has a nightmare about Denny's funeral, with his father saying: "Should have been you, Gordon." After Gordie wakes up, he talks to Chris, who hates being associated with his family and its bad reputation. Chris admits that he stole milk money that he had been accused of stealing at school. However, after feeling guilty, Chris confessed and returned the money to a teacher, who apparently used it to buy herself a new dress instead of turning it in to her superiors; thus, despite his confession, Chris was suspended. Distraught over the teacher's betrayal, Chris breaks down and cries, stating that he wishes he could go someplace where no one knows him.

The next day, the boys swim across a swamp and discover that it is filled with leeches. Gordie briefly faints after finding a leech in his underwear. After more hiking, the boys locate the body of Ray Brower. The discovery is traumatic for Gordie, who asks Chris why his brother Denny had to die. Gordie adds that his father hates him and that he is no good. Chris tells Gordie that his father does not hate him, but does not really know him.

Ace and his gang arrive, announce that they are claiming the body, and threaten to beat the four boys if they interfere. When Chris insults Ace and refuses to fall back, Ace draws a switchblade to kill him. Gordie comes to Chris's aid by firing a shot into the air with Chris's father's gun and threatening to shoot Ace. Ace demands that Gordie give him the gun, but Gordie refuses, calling Ace a "cheap dime-store hood". Ace taunts Gordie by asking whether he thinks he can shoot all the gang members present. Gordie responds that the only one he would kill is Ace. Ace and his gang depart, vowing revenge.

Gordie explains to the others that finding and reporting a dead body is not the right way to become heroes, so the boys decide to report the body anonymously. They return home to Castle Rock and bid each other farewell, before starting the new school year. The present-day Gordie writes that Vern married his high school sweetheart, had four children and became a forklift operator at a lumber yard. Teddy tried several times to join the Army, but his eyes and ear kept him out, he spent some time in jail, and now he was doing odd jobs around Castle Rock. Chris took classes with Gordie during school and struggled with them, but persevered. Chris later went to college and became a lawyer. When attempting to break up a fight in a restaurant, he was stabbed to death. Gordie ends his story with the following words: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?"



The film was adapted from the Stephen King novella The Body.[3] Bruce A. Evans sent a copy of The Body to Karen Gideon, the wife of his friend and writing partner Raynold Gideon, on August 29, 1983 as a gift for her birthday.[4] Both Gideon and Evans quickly became fans of the novella and shortly thereafter contacted King's agent, Kirby McCauley, seeking to negotiate film rights; McCauley replied that King's terms were $100,000 and 10% of the gross profits. Although the money was not an issue, the share of gross profits was considered excessive, especially considering that no stars could be featured to help sell the movie. In response, Evans and Gideon pursued an established director, Adrian Lyne, to help sell the project.[4]

After reading the novella, Lyne teamed up with Evans and Gideon, but all the studios the trio approached turned the project down except for Martin Shafer at Embassy Pictures. Embassy spent four months negotiating the rights with McCauley, settling on $50,000 and a smaller share of the profits, and Evans and Gideon spent eight weeks writing the screenplay. Evans and Gideon asked to also produce the film, but Shafer suggested they team up with Andy Scheinman, a more experienced producer.[4] Embassy was unwilling to meet Lyne's salary for directing the film until Evans and Gideon agreed to give up half of their share of profits to meet Lyne's asking price.[4]

Rob Reiner later recalled that Lyne was going to direct the film, but had promised himself a vacation following the production of 9½ Weeks,[5][6] and would not be available to start production until the spring of 1986.[4] Reiner was better known at the time for playing Michael Stivic in All in the Family and had just started a directing career, making comedies like This Is Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing. He was sent the script by Scheinman,[4] and his initial reaction was the script had promise but "no focus".[7] After Lyne withdrew from the project, Reiner signed on to direct in September 1984.[4] In a 2011 interview, Reiner discussed his realization that the film should focus on the character of Gordie:

"In the book it was about four boys, but...once I made Gordie the central focus of the piece then it made sense to me: this movie was all about a kid who didn’t feel good about himself and whose father didn’t love him. And through the experience of going to find the dead body and his friendship with these boys, he began to feel empowered and went on to become a very successful writer. He basically became Stephen King."[5]

Reiner has said that he identified with Gordie, as he himself struggled with the shadow of fame cast by his comedian father, Carl Reiner.[7] The writers incorporated Reiner's suggestions, producing a new script by December 1984 for Embassy's review and approval.[4]

Days before shooting started in the summer of 1985, Embassy was sold to Columbia Pictures, who made plans to cancel the production.[4] Norman Lear, one of the co-owners of Embassy, gave $7.5 million of his own money to complete the film, citing his faith in Reiner and the script.[7] However, since Embassy also would have distributed the film, once the film was completed it had no distributor. The producers showed a print to Michael Ovitz, head of the powerful Creative Artists Agency, and Ovitz promised to help them find a distributor.[4] Paramount, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. all passed on the film; Columbia Pictures production head Guy McElwaine screened the film at his house because he was feeling ill, and the positive reaction of his daughters convinced him to distribute the film.[4][7]


In a 2011 interview with NPR, Wil Wheaton attributed the film's success to the director's casting choices:

Rob Reiner found four young boys who basically were the characters we played. I was awkward and nerdy and shy and uncomfortable in my own skin and really, really sensitive, and River was cool and really smart and passionate and even at that age kind of like a father figure to some of us, Jerry was one of the funniest people I had ever seen in my life, either before or since, and Corey was unbelievably angry and in an incredible amount of pain and had an absolutely terrible relationship with his parents.[8]

Feldman recalled how his home life translated into his onscreen character: "[Most kids aren't] thinking they're going to get hit by their parents because they're not doing well enough in school, which will prevent them from getting a work permit, which will prevent them from being an actor."[7] O'Connell agreed that he was cast based on how his personality fit the role, saying "Rob really wanted us to understand our characters. He interviewed our characters. [...] I tried to stay like Vern and say the stupid things Vern would. I think I was Vern that summer."[9] Reiner and the producers interviewed more than 70 boys for the four main roles,[4] out of more than 300 who auditioned;[9] Phoenix originally read for the part of Gordie Lachance.[9]

Rather than start shooting right away, Reiner put the four main actors together for two weeks to play games from Viola Spolin's Improvisation for the Theater (which Reiner called "the bible" of theater games)[9] and build camaraderie, which led to a real friendship between them and several one-shot takes, where the young actors hit their cues perfectly.[7] Wheaton would recall "When you saw the four of us being comrades, that was real life, not acting."[9]

Before settling on Richard Dreyfuss as the narrator (and the role of the adult Gordie), Reiner considered David Dukes, Ted Bessell, and Michael McKean.[7]


Bridge on the road leading into Brownsville, Oregon, which was used for the penultimate scenes (2009)

Parts of the film were shot in Brownsville, Oregon, which stood in for the fictional town of Castle Rock. The town was selected for its small-town 1950s ambience.[10][11] Approximately 100 local residents were employed as extras.[10]

The "barf-o-rama" scene was also filmed in Brownsville. A local bakery supplied the pies and extra filling, which was mixed with large-curd cottage cheese to simulate the vomit.[12] The quantity of simulated vomit varied per person, from as much as 5 US gallons (19 l) during the triggering event to little as 116 US gallon (0.24 l).[12]

McCloud River Railroad trestle across Lake Britton (2012)

The scene where the boys outrace a steam train engine across an 80-foot tall trestle was filmed on the McCloud River Railroad, above Lake Britton Reservoir near McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park in California.[13] The scene took a full week to shoot, making use of four small adult female stunt doubles with closely cropped hair who were made up to look like the film's protagonists.[13] Plywood planks were laid across the trestles to provide a safer surface on which the stunt doubles could run.[13] The locomotive used for the scene, M.C.R.R. 25, is still in daily operation for excursion service on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad.[13] Telephoto compression was used to make the train appear much closer than it actually was. The actors did not feel a sense of danger until Reiner threatened them as follows: "You see those guys? They don’t want to push that dolly down the track any more. And the reason they’re getting tired is because of you... I told them if they weren't worried that the train was going to kill them, then they should worry that I was going to. And that's when they ran."[5]


Jack Nitzsche composed the film's musical score. On August 8, 1986, a soundtrack album was released containing many of the 1950s and early 1960s oldies songs featured in the film:

  1. "Everyday" (Buddy Holly) – 2:07
  2. "Let the Good Times Roll" (Shirley and Lee) – 2:22
  3. "Come Go with Me" (The Del-Vikings) – 2:40
  4. "Whispering Bells" (The Del-Vikings) – 2:25
  5. "Get a Job" (The Silhouettes) – 2:44
  6. "Lollipop" (The Chordettes) – 2:09
  7. "Yakety Yak" (The Coasters) – 1:52
  8. "Great Balls of Fire" (Jerry Lee Lewis) – 1:52
  9. "Mr. Lee" (The Bobbettes) – 2:14
  10. "Stand by Me" (Ben E. King) – 2:55

The movie's success sparked a renewed interest in Ben E. King's song. Initially a #4 pop hit in 1961,[14] "Stand By Me" re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1986, eventually peaking at #9 in December of that year.[14]


In March 1986, Columbia Pictures, concerned that the original title, The Body, was misleading, renamed the film Stand by Me. According to screenwriter Raynold Gideon, The Body "sounded like either a sex film, a bodybuilding film or another Stephen King horror film. Rob came up with Stand by Me, and it ended up being the least unpopular option."[15]



At the 8th Youth in Film Awards, the film received the Jackie Coogan Award for Outstanding Contribution to Youth Through Motion Picture/Ensemble Cast in a Feature Film (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell).

Box office[edit]

The film was a box office success in North America. It opened in a limited release on August 8, 1986, in 16 theaters and grossed $242,795, averaging $15,174 per theater. The film then had its wide opening in 745 theaters on August 22 and grossed $3,812,093, averaging $5,116 per theater and ranking #2. The film's widest release was 848 theaters, and it ended up earning $52,287,414 overall, well above its $8 million budget.[16]

Critical response[edit]

Reviewing for The New York Times, Walter Goodman thought the direction was rather self-conscious, "looking constantly at his audience"; Goodman called it a "trite narrative" and that "Reiner's direction hammers in every obvious element in an obvious script."[17] Dave Kehr wrote "there's nothing natural in the way Reiner has overloaded his film with manufactured drama" in his review for the Chicago Tribune.[18] In contrast, Sheila Benson called it "[a treasure] absolutely not to be missed" in her review for the Los Angeles Times.[19] Paul Attanasio, reviewing for The Washington Post, called the acting ensemble "wonderful", and particularly praised the performances by Wheaton and Phoenix.[20]

Stephen King was very impressed with the finished result.[21] On the special features of the 25th anniversary Blu-ray set, King indicated that he considered the film to be the first successful translation to film of any of his works. According to a later interview with Gene Siskel, Reiner recalled that after a private early screening of the film, King excused himself for fifteen minutes to compose himself; he later returned to remark, "'That's the best film ever made out of anything I've written, which isn't saying much. But you've really captured my story. It is autobiographical.'"[22] In a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat in 2017, Reiner said it is his personal favourite of his own films.[23]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 91% based on 53 reviews, with a rating average of 7.98/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Stand By Me is a wise, nostalgic movie with a weird streak that captures both Stephen King's voice and the trials of growing up."[24] At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating to reviews, the film has score of 75 based on 20 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[25]



In a 2011 piece entitled "25 years of 'Stand by Me'", writer Alex Hannaford opined that "[for] anyone older than about 33, Stand by Me remains one of the greatest films to come out of the Eighties." Hannaford added that the film "has a charm and depth that seems to resonate with each generation".[5]

In 2016, several writers commemorated the 30-year anniversary of the film's release. Rolling Stone's Charles Bramesco called Stand By Me "timeless," "a staple of youthful nostalgia for its deft straddling of the line between childhood and adulthood," and "the rare movie that necessarily gets better with time."[26] Others described the film as a "coming-of-age classic"[27][28] and as a film that stood at "the apex of the ’80s kids’ movie boom".[29]

Events and tourism[edit]

Brownsville, Oregon has held an annual "Stand By Me Day" since 2007. The event has attracted international participants.[10] On July 24, 2010, a 25th Anniversary celebration of the filming of Stand by Me was held in Brownsville. The event included a cast and crew Q&A session, an amateur pie-eating contest, and an outdoor showing of the film.[30]

In 2013, July 23 was designated as Stand By Me Day by the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce.[31] To encourage tourism, the city has embedded a penny in the street at a location where the fictional Vern found one in the film. An advertising mural painted for the movie production has survived.[32]


  • The Oscar-nominated urban drama Boyz n the Hood has several direct references to Stand by Me, including a trip by four young boys to see a dead body, and the closing fade-out of one of the main characters. Director John Singleton has stated that he included the references not just because he was a fan of the movie, but they also serve to highlight the differences in experience between the movies' settings, and their characters' experiences.[33]
  • Jonathan Bernstein states the pop culture discussions between characters in films by Quentin Tarantino originate in the similar semi-serious banter between the boys of Stand by Me.[34]
  • Reviewers have seen an influence from Stand by Me in the 2011 movie Attack the Block, directed by Joe Cornish.[35]
  • The movie Mud (2012) has a character (Neckbone) who has been called a "perfect fusion of River Phoenix and Jerry O'Connell in 'Stand by Me.'"[36][37] The writer and director, Jeff Nichols, said of the film "Yeah, you know, I basically remade Stand by Me" when defending the work-in-progress to studio executives.[38]
  • The Kings of Summer, a 2013 coming-of-age film by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, has been reviewed as being inspired by Stand by Me.[36][39][40]


Dan Mangan's song "Rows of Houses" (2011) is based on the film and takes the perspective of Gordie Lachance.[41]

Production company[edit]

In 1987, following the success of Stand by Me, Reiner co-founded a film and television production company and named it Castle Rock Entertainment, after the fictional town in which the film is set.[21]



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  2. ^ a b "Stand by Me". The Numbers. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
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  28. ^ Lang, Brendan (July 28, 2016). "'Stand by Me' Oral History: Rob Reiner and Cast on River Phoenix and How Coming-of-Age Classic Almost Didn't Happen". Variety. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
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  39. ^ Pols, Mary (May 31, 2013). "The Kings of Summer: Boys N the Woods". Time. Retrieved May 1, 2017.
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