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Stranger than Fiction (2006 film)

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Stranger than Fiction
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMarc Forster
Written byZach Helm
Produced byLindsay Doran
CinematographyRoberto Schaefer
Edited byMatt Chesse
Music by
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • November 10, 2006 (2006-11-10)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[1]
Box office$53.7 million[1]

Stranger than Fiction is a 2006 American fantasy comedy drama film directed by Marc Forster, produced by Lindsay Doran and written by Zach Helm. The film stars Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah and Emma Thompson. The main plot follows Harold Crick (Ferrell), an IRS agent who begins hearing a disembodied voice narrating his life as it happens – seemingly the text of a novel in which it is stated that he, the main character, will soon die – and he frantically seeks to somehow prevent his death.

The film was shot on location in Chicago, and has been praised for its innovative, intelligent story and fine performances. Ferrell, who came to prominence playing brash comedic parts, garnered particular attention for offering a restrained performance in his first starring dramatic role.

Stranger than Fiction was released by Columbia Pictures November 10, 2006. On release, the film received positive reviews mainly for its themes, humor and performances.



Harold Crick is an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent living a solitary life of strictly scheduled routine. On the day he is assigned to audit an intentionally tax-delinquent baker named Ana Pascal, Harold begins hearing the voice of a woman narrating his life. When his wristwatch stops working and he resets it using the time from a bystander, the voice narrates that this action will eventually result in Harold's death.

Harold consults a psychiatrist, who suggests he see a literary expert if he believes there is a narrator. He visits literature professor Jules Hilbert, who initially dismisses him. However, he recognizes omniscient narrative devices in what Harold claims the voice said, and is intrigued. He tries to help Harold identify the author, and determine if his story is a comedy or tragedy.

As Harold audits Ana, he develops an attraction to her, but when he obliviously rejects a gift of cookies because it could be considered a bribe, he takes it as a sign that he is in a tragedy. Jules tells Harold to spend the day at home doing nothing, and his living room is destroyed by a demolition crew that went to the wrong building. Jules takes such an improbable occurrence as proof that Harold is no longer in control of his own life, and advises he enjoy the time he has left, accepting whatever destiny the narrator has for him.

Harold takes time off from work, takes guitar lessons, moves in with his co-worker Dave, and starts dating Ana. Because she loves him, he reevaluates his story as a comedy. While meeting with Jules, Harold sees a television interview with author Karen Eiffel, and recognizes her voice as his narrator's. Jules, an admirer of Karen's work, says that all of her books are tragedies: the protagonist always dies. Karen has been struggling with writer's block on her next book because she cannot figure out how to kill Harold Crick, but has had a breakthrough and has begun writing again.

Harold telephones Karen and stuns her by accurately recounting her book to her. They meet in person, and she explains she has outlined the conclusion, but has not yet typed it in full. Her assistant, Penny, recommends that Harold read the outline, but he cannot bring himself to do so, and gives it to Jules. Jules deems it Karen's masterpiece to which Harold's death is integral, and he consoles Harold that death is inevitable, but this death will hold a deeper meaning.

Harold reads the outline and returns it to Karen, telling her the death she has written for him is beautiful and he accepts it. He takes care of some errands, and spends his last night with Ana. The next morning, Harold goes about his routine again, as Karen writes and narrates.

Karen reveals that when Harold reset his wristwatch, the bystander's time was three minutes fast, so he reached the bus stop early. A boy riding a bicycle falls in front of the bus; Harold runs into the street to save him, and is hit himself. However, Karen, traumatized by the idea that she unwittingly narrated real people to their deaths, cannot bring herself to finish the sentence declaring him dead. She meets Jules and offers him a revised ending.

Harold, heavily injured, wakes up in a hospital, and learns that shrapnel from his wristwatch — which was destroyed in the collision — blocked his ulnar artery and saved him from bleeding to death. Jules thinks this new ending weakens the book. Karen replies that the book was about a man who did not know he was going to die, but if Harold knew and accepted his fate, he is the kind of person who deserves to live. Karen's narration closes the film over a montage of Harold's newly invigorated life, ending on the ruined wristwatch that saved his life.


  • Will Ferrell as Harold Crick, an IRS agent who starts hearing Eiffel's voice narrating his life
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal as Ana Pascal, a baker who is being audited by Crick and begins to fall in love with him
  • Dustin Hoffman as Professor Jules Hilbert, a literature expert advising Crick
  • Queen Latifah as Penny Escher, an assistant who helps authors finish their works
  • Emma Thompson as Karen Eiffel, an author known for killing the protagonists in her novels, but has been suffering from writer's block
  • Tony Hale as Dave, Crick's friend from his work
  • Tom Hulce as Dr. Cayly
  • Linda Hunt as Dr. Mittag-Leffler, a psychologist whom Crick sees in hopes of solving his narration problem
  • Kristin Chenoweth as Book Channel Host





In 2001, writer Zach Helm was working with producer Clarence Helmus on a project they called "The Disassociate".[2] Helm came to Doran with a new idea involving a man who finds himself accompanied by a narrator only he can hear. Helm decided that the narrator should state that the man is going to die, because, as Helm described, "There's something very poetic about the understanding of one's place in the universe, but it's far more dramatic when such understanding occurs only days before that life ends." Helm and Doran began referring to the new project as "The Narrator Project", and developed the story through a process of Helm's ideas and Doran's questions. One of Helm's main ideas involved engaging the movie's form as much as its content.[3]

Helm named each of the film's chief characters after a famous scientist or scientifically influential artist, including Crick, Pascal, Eiffel, Escher and David Hilbert. When the character of Dr. Hilbert tells Harold that he has devised a series of 23 questions to investigate the narrator, it is a playful reference to Hilbert's 23 problems. The film's title derives from a quote by Lord Byron: "Tis strange — but true; for truth is always strange, stranger than fiction."[4]

According to Helm, one of the film's major themes is of interconnectivity. Helm stated, "Each of these characters ends up doing little things to save one another. There's an underlying theme that the things we take most for granted are often the ones that make life worth living and actually keep us alive."[3]



The film was shot on location in Chicago, Illinois. Dave's apartment, in which Harold takes residence after his own building is partially demolished, is part of the River City Condominiums.[5] Hilbert's office was in a lecture hall at the University of Illinois Chicago. The CNA Center at 333 South Wabash Avenue, in the Loop, served as the location of the IRS office. The bakery that Ana Pascal runs is located in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, and is called La Catedral Cafe & Restaurant.[6] The movie theater in the film is the Logan Theatre, located in the Logan Square neighborhood.[7] Many downtown Chicago locations were used for scenes involving Karen Eiffel, Penny Escher and Harold Crick.

The film partly was inspired by Playtime, Jacques Tati's visionary comedy about modern urban life, and the cinematography and production designs help create a claustrophobic sense of life in the city.[8]



The music for Stranger than Fiction includes original scores by the collaborative effort of Britt Daniel (singer-songwriter of Spoon) and Brian Reitzell (composer for Friday Night Lights, The Bling Ring and Hannibal), as well as a mix of indie rock songs from various artists, including Spoon. Reitzell is also the film's music supervisor. The soundtrack includes an original recording of "Whole Wide World", the song Harold plays for Ana, by Wreckless Eric.[9]



Stranger than Fiction was released in the United States November 10, 2006. It opened at number 4 at the box office, behind Borat, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause and Flushed Away, and grossed $13.4 million in 2,264 theaters. Its widest release was 2,270 theaters, from which it grossed $40.7 million. Outside the U.S., it grossed another $13 million, for a worldwide total of $53.6 million.[1]



On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 73% approval rating, based on 177 reviews, with the average rating of 6.87/10. The site's consensus reads: "A fun, whimsical tale about an office drone trying to save his life from his narrator, Stranger Than Fiction features a subdued performance from Will Ferrell that contributes mightily to its quirky, mind-bending effect."[10] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 67 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "B+" on a scale of A+ to F.[12]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, stating that the film was thought-provoking and moral, and that "such an uncommonly intelligent film does not often get made...which requires us to enter the lives of these specific quiet, sweet, worthy people". He also praised Ferrell's performance, saying, "Will Ferrell stars, in another role showing that like Steve Martin and Robin Williams he has dramatic gifts to equal his comedic talent."[13]

Rolling Stone rated the film 3 stars out of 4, stating that, although the premise of Ferrell's life being narrated is a set-up for farce, the film is "less self-reflexively clever and more intimate".[14]

Todd McCarthy in Variety reviewed the film positively, praising its invention, and Ferrell's performance as nuanced; first playing a tight focused caricature of the company man, then exercising more humanity and wit without being "goofy".[8]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Comedy by or About Women Marc Forster Nominated [15]
Best Actress in a Comedic Performance Emma Thompson Nominated
Critics' Choice Awards Best Supporting Actress Nominated [17]
Best Writer Zach Helm Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Will Ferrell Nominated [18]
Hollywood Film Awards Casting Director of the Year Francine Maisler (Also for Babel and Miami Vice) Won [19]
London Film Critics Circle Awards British Supporting Actress of the Year Emma Thompson Nominated [20]
National Board of Review Awards Best Original Screenplay Zach Helm Won [21]
PEN America Literary Awards Best Screenplay Won
Satellite Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated [22]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Will Ferrell Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film Nominated [23]
Best Actor Will Ferrell Nominated
Best Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Emma Thompson Nominated
Best Writing Zach Helm Nominated
Utah Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal Nominated [24]
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Original Screenplay Zach Helm Nominated [25]

See also



  1. ^ a b c "Stranger Than Fiction (2006) – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 13, 2011.
  2. ^ Lindsey Doran, "Words on a Page" bonus featurette on DVD
  3. ^ a b SONY Pictures Entertainment (2006). "Stranger than Fiction: Production Notes", document archived at WebCite July 6, 2008 based on the version posted at this original URL.
  4. ^ 1823, Don Juan: Cantos XIII, XIII, and XIV, George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), Canto 14, Stanza 101, Quote Page 165, Printed for John Hunt, London.
  5. ^ IMDB: Filming locations for – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
  6. ^ La Catedral Cafe & Restaurant
  7. ^ "The Logan Theatre". Archived from the original on 2017-01-16. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
  8. ^ a b McCarthy, T. Stranger Than Fiction Variety, September 12, 2006; retrieved February 18, 2011.
  9. ^ Greenblatt, Leah (December 1, 2006). "The story behind '"Whole Wide World'"". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 5 February 2021.
  10. ^ "Stranger Than Fiction". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 21, 2024.
  11. ^ "Stranger Than Fiction". Metacritic. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  12. ^ "Home". CinemaScore. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  13. ^ "Stranger Than Fiction movie review (2006)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  14. ^ "Stranger Than Fiction Review". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on February 24, 2007. Retrieved May 20, 2009.
  15. ^ "2006 EDA Awards Nominees Announced". AWJF.org. 10 December 2006. Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  16. ^ "AWFJ Announces 2006 EDA Awards Winners". AWJF.org. 17 December 2006. Retrieved December 17, 2006.
  17. ^ "The BFCA Critics' Choice Awards :: 2006". Broadcast Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  18. ^ "Stranger than Fiction – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  19. ^ "Craft winners announced for 2006 Hollywood Film Awards". ScreenDaily.com. Retrieved August 6, 2006.
  20. ^ "London critics give seven nominations to The Queen". ScreenDaily.com.
  21. ^ "2006 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  22. ^ "2006 Satellite Awards". Satellite Awards. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  23. ^ "Past Saturn Awards". Saturn Awards.org. Archived from the original on September 14, 2008. Retrieved May 7, 2008.
  24. ^ "2006 Utah Film Critics Association Awards". Utah Film Critics Association. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  25. ^ "Awards Winners". wga.org. Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-06-06.