The Big Year

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The Big Year
The Big Year Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Frankel
Produced byKaren Rosenfelt
Stuart Cornfeld
Curtis Hanson
Written byHoward Franklin
Based onThe Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession
by Mark Obmascik
StarringJack Black
Steve Martin
Owen Wilson
Music byTheodore Shapiro
CinematographyLawrence Sher
Edited byMark Livolsi
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • October 14, 2011 (2011-10-14)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$41 million[1]
Box office$7.4 million[2]

The Big Year is a 2011 American comedy film directed by David Frankel, written by Howard Franklin and starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. It was based on the nonfiction book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession which was written by journalist Mark Obmascik. The book followed three men on a quest for a Big Year—a competition among birders to see who can see and identify the greatest number of species of birds in North America (north of Mexico) in a calendar year. The film uses the same premise with fictional characters loosely modeled on the actual personalities.

Filming took place from May to July 2010.[3] The film was released on October 14, 2011 in the United States and was a box office bomb, grossing only $7 million against its $41 million budget.[4]


The film follows three seasoned birders who each set out to achieve a Big Year. They are Brad Harris (Jack Black), a 36-year-old computer programmer based in Baltimore; Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), founder and CEO of a New York company bearing his name; and a roofing contractor named Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), who holds the current Big Year record of 732 birds.

Bostick is obsessively possessive of his record, but his third wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike) is concerned; this was supposed to be the year they focused on conceiving a child. She also believes that Bostick's birding obsession is what destroyed his previous marriages.[5]

Brad is a skilled birder who can identify nearly any species solely by sound. He hates his job maintaining the operational software of a nuclear power plant in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Living with his parents after a failed marriage, an aborted career at Dell, and dropping out of grad school, he hopes that doing a Big Year will give him a sense of purpose and possibly even make his father proud of him.[6]

Stu is the founder and CEO of an enormous Manhattan-based chemical conglomerate which he built from the ground up, starting in his garage. After decades of corporate success, he is ready to retire to Colorado with his architect wife. Fear of an empty schedule led him to come back from a previous retirement, but now he wants to leave his company in the hands of his two lieutenants (Kevin Pollak and Joel McHale). The company is in the middle of complicated negotiations to merge with a competitor, so his two anointed successors keep calling him back to New York for important meetings; to some extent he is a prisoner of his own success.[5] A Big Year has been his lifelong dream and he's pursuing it with the full support of his wife.

The movie portrays various incidents that take place while the trio compete with each other to achieve the world record of sighting the highest number of birds during the Big Year event.

All three birders are coming to understand the cost of their birding obsessions. The Big Year will result in Brad developing a new bond with his parents, and makes Stu's bond with his family even better. On the other hand, Bostick's third marriage will also be on its way to break.

Bostick races home from yet another birding trip to keep an important appointment with his wife at a fertility clinic. He is literally at the front door of the clinic when he receives a report of a sighting of a snowy owl, his most coveted and elusive bird. Despite the fact that his wife is waiting inside to have her eggs harvested, fertilized and implanted after undergoing months of hormone injections, he speeds back to the airport and phones in an obviously made-up excuse for his absence. His wife returns alone to their big house, and screams in frustration inside the empty nursery. When Bostick finally returns home after the fruitless search for the snowy owl, she tells him she still loves him but can't be his wife anymore.

As the year draws to a close, Stu enjoys his newborn grandson; Brad finds a new relationship with fellow birder Ellie who had just broken up with her boyfriend; and Bostick finally finds the snowy owl that eluded him for a long time, however his obsession of being the best birder in the world cost him his marriage again.

At the end of the Big Year, Stu and Brad are very close friends. Stu is now happily retired and Brad is happy man with his new girlfriend Ellie who also has an interest in birding. Stu and Brad congratulate each other on "a very big year", after each sighting 700+ bird species that year.

The Big Year results are published and Stu phones Brad with the news. Bostick is first with 755, a new record; Brad comes in second; Stu is fourth. Brad opines that he got more birds, "but we got more everything," as he looks at Ellie, who has come for a weekend visit. Stu smiles, looking at his wife.

The film ends with Brad and Ellie cozily birding together on a rocky coastline, while Brad confesses that birding is no longer the biggest part of his life. Stu, contented in retirement, is hiking with his toddler grandson (already enamored by birds) in the Rockies. Bostick is on a birding adventure in China, alone and gazing wistfully at a happy couple walking with their newborn child.



Principal photography was done from May 3 to July 30, 2010 in Vancouver.[7]

Jack Black's fall on Attu Island was unscripted.[8][dubious ]


Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 41% based on 103 reviews, with an average rating of 5.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though made with care and affection for its characters, The Big Year plods along, rarely reaching any comedic heights." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 53 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[9] CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade film gave the film was a "B–" on an A+ to F scale.[10]

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter described the film as a "genial, amusing and somewhat unfathomable".[6] The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called it a "gentle, light-hearted comedy" about "people trying to be the best, following their dreams and enjoying the wonder of birds".[11]

Box office[edit]

The Big Year was a box office failure, despite the established stars like Martin, Black and Wilson playing the leads. Based on a budget of $41 million, it took in just $7.4 million in ticket sales worldwide.[2]


Song Writer Performer
"Minor Swing" Stéphane Grappelli and Jean Reinhardt Django Reinhardt
"(If I Had) A Sandwich With You" Dan DiPrima and Alex Marlowe Zombie Bank
"Wheel of Fortune Underscore" courtesy of Sony Pictures
"The Devil Never Sleeps" Sam Beam Iron & Wine
"Pitkin County Turnaround" Steve Martin Steve Martin
"Let It Shine" Jeremy Fisher Jeremy Fisher
"I'll Have the Halibut" Dan DiPrima and Alex Marlowe Zombie Bank
"Away With Pie" Dan DiPrima and Alex Marlowe Zombie Bank
"The Dog's Decree - Concerto in C Major" Antonio Vivaldi Alexandre Desplat
"Viva la Vida" William Champion, Christopher Martin, Guy Berryman, and Jonathan Buckland Coldplay
"Come Fly Away" Jeremy Fisher and Jack Livesey Jeremy Fisher
"Surfin' Bird" Alfred Frazier, John Harris, Turner Wilson Jr., and Carl White The Trashmen
"Blackbird" John Lennon and Paul McCartney Brad Mehldau
"I Like Birds" E Eels
"Adeste Fideles" Traditional, arranged by Virginia S. Davidson New York Treble Singers
"Silent Night" Franz Xaver Gruber, Joseph Mohr, John F. Young Bing Crosby
"This Could All Be Yours" Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, Brian Rosenworcel and Joe Pisapia Guster
"Auld Lang Syne" Traditional, arranged by Guy Lombardo Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians



  1. ^ Kaufman, Amy (October 13, 2011). "Movie Projector: New 'Footloose' could dance circles around rivals". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved October 14, 2011.
  2. ^ a b "The Big Year (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 15, 2018.
  3. ^ "The Big Year - Movie Database". CraveOnline Media. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  4. ^ "The Big Year (2011)". MovieWeb. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Scott, A. O. (October 13, 2011). "Movie review: 'The Big Year'". New York Times. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  6. ^ a b McCarthy, Todd (October 12, 2011). "The Big Year: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  7. ^ "BCFC Film List" (PDF). British Columbia Film Commission. October 2, 2011. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
  8. ^ "Jack Black's Unscripted Fall Makes It Into Final Cut". January 12, 2012. Archived from the original on January 26, 2012. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  9. ^ "The Big Year Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  10. ^ McClintock, Pamela (October 14, 2011). "'Box Office Report: 'Footloose' Grosses $5.57 Million, On Course To Dance Away With The Weekend - The Hollywood Reporter:". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
  11. ^ Shalaway, Scott (October 30, 2011). "Get into nature: Birders love 'The Big Year'". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  12. ^ "The Big Year Soundtracks". Retrieved 2017-08-09.

External links[edit]