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Swordfish (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byDominic Sena
Written bySkip Woods
Produced by
CinematographyPaul Cameron
Edited byStephen E. Rivkin
Music by
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • June 8, 2001 (2001-06-08)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$102 million[1]
Box office$147.1 million[1]

Swordfish is a 2001 American action thriller film directed by Dominic Sena, written by Skip Woods, produced by Joel Silver, and starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Vinnie Jones, and Sam Shepard. The film centers on Stanley Jobson, an ex-con and computer hacker who is targeted for recruitment into a bank robbery conspiracy because of his formidable hacking skills.


Stanley Jobson is a cyber-hacker who became notorious for infecting the FBI's Carnivore program with a computer virus. Stanley's parole forbids him from accessing the internet and computers while his ex-wife Melissa, an alcoholic and part-time porn star, has issued a restraining order against him. This also prevents him from seeing his only daughter, Holly.

Ginger Knowles persuades Stanley to work for Gabriel Shear, who forces him into cracking a secure Defense Department server. After the hack, Gabriel offers Stanley $10 million to program a multi-headed worm, a "hydra", to siphon $9.5 billion from government slush funds. Stanley begins work on the worm, learning that Gabriel leads Black Cell, a secret organization created by J. Edgar Hoover to launch retaliatory attacks against terrorists that threaten the United States. He also privately discovers Ginger is a DEA agent working undercover and is further surprised to discover a corpse that resembles Gabriel.

After he takes Holly home from school, Stanley discovers that he is being followed by FBI agent J.T. Roberts, who had previously arrested him. Roberts, though monitoring Stanley closely, is more interested in Gabriel as he does not appear on any government database, and after learning that another hacker, Axl Torvalds had been killed by Gabriel's men, warns Stanley to be cautious. Stanley opts to secretly code a backdoor in his hydra that reverses the money transfer after a short period. Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Jim Reisman, who oversees Black Cell, learns the FBI has started tracking Gabriel and orders him to stand down. Gabriel refuses and narrowly defeats a hit team dispatched against him by Reisman. In retaliation, Gabriel personally kills Reisman in revenge and continues his plan.

Stanley delivers the hydra to Gabriel and leaves to see Holly, only to find that Gabriel has kidnapped her and framed him for Melissa's murder alongside her husband and porn producer. Stanley has no choice but to participate in a bank heist to get Holly back. At the site of the heist, Gabriel and his men storm a branch and secure its employees and customers as hostages, fitting each of them with ball-bearing-based explosives similar to Claymore mines. When police and FBI surround the branch, Gabriel takes Stanley to a nearby coffee shop across the street to meet with Roberts, but Gabriel spends the time discussing the film Dog Day Afternoon and the nature of misdirection. Once back in the bank, Gabriel has one of his men escort a hostage to demonstrate the situation where a sharpshooter kills the man. As other agents pull the hostage away from the bank, the bomb detonates and devastates much of the street, a scene shown in medias res.

Gabriel instructs Stanley to launch the hydra and turns Holly over to him once completed. However, the back door triggers before they can leave the bank, leading to Stanley being recaptured while Holly is rescued. Gabriel threatens to kill Ginger, who he knows is a DEA agent, unless Stanley re-siphons the money back to a Monte Carlo bank. Although Stanley complies, Gabriel shoots Ginger. Gabriel and his men load the hostages onto a bus and demand a plane wait for them at the local airport, but while en route, the bus is lifted off by an S-64 Aircrane and carried across the city. During the flight, part of the helicopter's cables fails, and the bus's angle sharply tilts vertically, causing one of the hostages to fall out of the bus, detonating that hostage's bomb. The bus is then deposited on the roof of a local skyscraper, where Gabriel deactivates the bombs and attempts to escape with his surviving men on a waiting helicopter. Stanley shoots down using a rocket-propelled grenade from the bus.

Roberts takes Stanley to verify a corpse they found, believing Gabriel was a Mossad agent. There is no record of a DEA agent named Ginger Knowles, and her body hasn't been found. Stanley recognizes the corpse as the one he discovered earlier and personally realizes that the whole scenario was a deception; Ginger was wearing a bulletproof vest and was working with Gabriel all along, who escaped via a different route. Despite Stanley not telling the police that Gabriel and Ginger are still alive, Roberts arranges for Stanley to have full custody of Holly, where they depart to places elsewhere. In Monte Carlo, Gabriel and Ginger withdraw the stolen money and later watch as a yacht at sea explodes. Over the film's credits, a news report reveals the destruction of the yacht, carrying a known terrorist, as the third such incident in as many weeks.



Swordfish received early press coverage because word leaked out that Halle Berry was doing her first topless scene, paid an extra $500,000 on top of her $2 million fee. Critics said the scene looked forced, just to garner press. "Halle Berry Nude" jumped to the top of search engine results. Berry said she did the topless scene, knowing it was gratuitous, to overcome the fear of appearing nude onscreen.[2]

As of 2024, 26% of the 139 reviews compiled on Rotten Tomatoes are positive, with an average rating of 4.35/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Swordfish is big on explosions, but critics dislike how it skimps on plot and logic. Also, the sight of a person typing at a computer just isn't that interesting."[3] In a review for The New York Times, Stephen Holden described the film as "a meticulously choreographed bang-by-the-numbers action fantasy that I would accuse of peddling evil if the film weren't so dumb and incoherent", concluding that:[4]

With its blasé blend of bogus international intrigue and action-for-action's-sake, Swordfish suggests a James Bond movie stripped of humor. True, there are a few moments of wit, like the opening sequence. But the dominant tone masquerading as humor is a snide, rancid nihilism devoid of laughs, unless wholesale destruction and gloating stupidity are what tickle your funny bone.

The film grossed over $147 million in worldwide box office receipts on a production budget of $102 million.[1] John Travolta's performance in the film earned him a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actor (also for Domestic Disturbance).

In a review for The Washington Post, Desson Howe described the film as being "an action opera designed to elicit Beavis and Butt-head-level appreciation, rather than effete applause from the critics".[5]


The soundtrack was produced by Paul Oakenfold, under Village Roadshow and Warner Bros. and distributed through London Sire Records, Inc. It contains 15 tracks. The film's orchestral score was written by Christopher Young with several electronic additions by Paul Oakenfold. Fragments from the score were added to the official soundtrack, but were remixed by Oakenfold. A more complete release was issued as an award promo, which is known for its rarity.[6]

Rodney Cox myth[edit]

The Rodney Cox myth is an urban legend which purports that a man, whose name is sometimes given as Robert Cox, was personally executed by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson for treason. There is no substantive evidence that Cox existed or that Jefferson personally executed anybody, yet the urban legend has persisted.[7] The rumor seems to originate from Swordfish, which presents the story.[8]


  1. ^ a b c "Swordfish (2001)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  2. ^ Kirkland, Bruce. "Halle Berry bares her soul". Canoe.ca. Archived from the original on July 11, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  3. ^ "Swordfish (2001)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 1, 2020.
  4. ^ Holden, Stephen (June 8, 2001). "June 2001 Review". The New York Times. Retrieved July 20, 2009.
  5. ^ "'Swordfish': Splashy but Senseless". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2023-11-16.
  6. ^ "Swordfish". soundtrack.net.
  7. ^ "Jefferson still survives, unlike the other guy". A Summary View. 2008-11-05. Retrieved 2017-12-10.
  8. ^ "Execution on the White House Lawn | Thomas Jefferson's Monticello". www.monticello.org. Retrieved 2017-12-10.

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