The Box (2009 film)

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The Box
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Kelly
Screenplay byRichard Kelly
Based on"Button, Button"
by Richard Matheson
Produced by
CinematographySteven Poster
Edited bySam Bauer
Music by
Distributed by
Release date
  • November 6, 2009 (2009-11-06) (United States)
Running time
115 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$30 million[3][4]
Box office$33.3 million[4]

The Box is a 2009 American thriller film written and directed by Richard Kelly who also serves as a co-producer. It is based on the 1970 short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson which was previously adapted into an episode of The Twilight Zone. The film stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple who receive a box from a mysterious man (played by Frank Langella) who offers them one million dollars if they press the button sealed within the dome on top of the box but tells them that once the button has been pushed, someone they do not know will die.

The Box was released on November 6, 2009, by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film received mixed reviews from critics and grossed $33.3 million worldwide against a budget of $30 million.


The film opens with a CIA internal memo about Arlington Steward, a man who has recovered from severe burn wounds and is delivering units related to the Mars project. Set in 1976, the story follows Norma and Arthur Lewis, who awaken early one morning to find a mysterious package on their doorstep. Inside is a wooden box with a button protected by a glass dome, a key, and a note stating that Mr. Steward will visit at 5:00 pm. Norma and Arthur have breakfast with their son, Walter, before Arthur heads to work at NASA, where he works in optics and was involved in designing the camera for the Viking Mars probe. Arthur learns he has been rejected from the astronaut program due to failing the psychological exam.

Norma, who teaches literature at an elite private school, reveals her disfigured right foot to her class during a discussion on Sartre’s vision of Hell. She learns from her boss that her tuition discount for Walter’s school is being revoked, causing financial concern. Later, Arlington Steward, a man with a severely disfigured face, arrives at their door as promised. He presents an offer: if they press the button, someone they do not know will die, and they will receive one million dollars. Arlington leaves them with 24 hours to decide.

After much deliberation, Norma impulsively presses the button. Arlington returns and gives them the promised money, implying that someone close to them may die as a consequence. Arthur attempts to return the money, but Arlington leaves abruptly. Later, Arthur and Norma attend a wedding rehearsal dinner, where Arthur encounters a student of Norma’s and sees a box similar to the one left on their doorstep, containing a photograph of Arlington.

Arthur’s investigation into Arlington’s background reveals his car is registered to the NSA. Concurrently, Norma receives a cryptic warning from a stranger at a supermarket, instructing her to look up a library call number and not trust Arthur. Arlington chastises Norma for involving the police, as Arthur had asked Norma’s father, a police officer, to run Arlington’s license plate.

At home, Arthur’s encounter with their babysitter, Dana, reveals she is not who she claims to be. She directs him to look in the mirror for answers before disappearing mysteriously. Further, Arthur discovers Arlington’s photo in a picture from his work at NASA.

Arthur and Norma separately visit a library, each following clues leading to Arlington. Arthur, guided by Arlington’s wife, navigates through three water gateways, choosing the correct one based on a prior hint. Norma, guided by Arlington, reflects on her disfigurement and experiences a moment of emotional connection with him.

Norma and Arthur reunite at home, where Arthur emerges from the water portal, and they find Walter demanding answers. At a wedding, their son is kidnapped, and Arthur is abducted by a former NASA employee, who reveals he faced a similar choice between his wife and daughter. Arthur is shown a manual and water portals but is interrupted by a Santa Claus figure before being struck by a truck.

Arthur emerges from a NASA warehouse, surrounded by military personnel. Back home, Arlington offers them a final choice: live with their million dollars and a deaf-blind son, or Arthur can shoot Norma, restoring Walter’s senses and securing the money for his future. They learn Arlington’s employers are testing humanity’s worthiness.

Norma and Arthur decide to sacrifice Norma. After she is shot, Walter’s senses are restored, and Arlington delivers the million to another couple who have pressed the button. The film concludes with Arthur being taken away by authorities, indicating the cycle of testing will continue.



Director Richard Kelly wrote a script based on the 1970 short story "Button, Button" by author Richard Matheson, which had previously been turned into a Twilight Zone episode of the same name.[5] The project had a budget of over $30 million provided by Media Rights Capital. Kelly described his intent for the film, "My hope is to make a film that is incredibly suspenseful and broadly commercial, while still retaining my artistic sensibility."[6] Actress Cameron Diaz was cast in the lead role in June 2007.[7]

Most of the filming took place in the Boston, Massachusetts area, with scenes shot in downtown Boston, South Boston, Waltham, Ipswich, Winthrop, Milton, Medfield, Quincy, Kingston, and North Andover, as well as other localities. Some filming took place on the Milton Academy campus and at Boston Public Library. A large indoor set was built inside a former Lucent Technologies building in North Andover to recreate a NASA laboratory. The production crew also journeyed to NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to shoot a number of scenes for the film. Richard Kelly's father had worked at NASA Langley in the 1970s and 80s.[8]

Filming also took place in Richmond, Virginia, including overhead shots of the city, including 95 South passing the train station. Many background extras were reused in different scenes, and people with period-correct 60s and 70s cars were encouraged to participate. Arlington Steward's car, in particular, is a Buick Electra, although characters in the movie refer to it as Lincoln Town Car (an entirely different car model, which was not yet in production at the time the movie is set).

Actor Frank Langella was cast in October 2007, and production began on the film the following month.[9] Prior to production, actor James Marsden was cast a lead role opposite Diaz.[10] Production concluded by February 2008.[11] It was the second time Marsden and Langella worked together, the first being Superman Returns and re-teaming again in Robot & Frank.


In December 2008, it was announced that Win Butler and Regine Chassagne of Canadian band Arcade Fire, and Owen Pallett provided an original score for the film.[12] Butler, Chassagne, and Pallett helped Kelly during the editing process by advising his decisions.[13] Butler, Chassagne, and Pallett had planned on releasing the soundtrack after Arcade Fire's third album release in August 2010, but as of 2023, the soundtrack is still unavailable.[14]


The film was first released in Australia on October 29, 2009. While it was originally scheduled to be released in the U.S. on October 30, 2009, on July 31, 2009, it was announced the release date would be delayed to November 6, 2009.[15]

The film opened with $7,571,417 in 2,635 theaters at an average of $2,873 per theater. It ranked number 6 at the box office coming in behind the newly released Disney's A Christmas Carol, The Men Who Stare at Goats, and The Fourth Kind.[4] The film went on to gross $15,051,977 domestically and $32,924,206 worldwide.[4]

It was released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download in the U.S. on February 23, 2010.[16][17]


Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 43% of 156 critics have given the film a positive review, and the average rating is 5.2/10. The site's consensus is that "Imaginative but often preposterous, The Box features some thrills but largely feels too piecemeal."[18] Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 to reviews from film critics, has a score of 47 based on 24 reviews.[19] Audiences polled by CinemaScore on opening day gave the film an F, for which CinemaScore President Ed Mintz blamed the film's ending and was quoted as saying "People really thought this was a stinker."[20] As of April 2020, it is one of only 22 films to receive such a rating.[21]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars and wrote: "This movie kept me involved and intrigued, and for that I'm grateful."[22] Jordan Mintzer of Variety wrote: "Kelly's trademark mix of sci-fi, surrealism and suburbia occasionally entertains."[23] Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York named The Box the ninth-best film of 2009, calling it "a defiantly personal project that solidifies writer-director Richard Kelly's talent, even as it surely pushes him further toward the filmmaking fringe."[24]


The film was nominated at the 8th Visual Effects Society Awards in the category of Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture but lost to Sherlock Holmes.[25]


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Box (2009)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved December 15, 2022.
  2. ^ Hazelton, John (November 5, 2009). "The Box". Screen Daily. Retrieved August 11, 2021.
  3. ^ "Movie projector: Holiday season kicks off with Disney's pricey 'Christmas Carol'". LA Times. November 5, 2009. Retrieved November 5, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d "The Box (2009) Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  5. ^ "Open Over 50 Hi-Res Stills from Richard Kelly's The Box". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved October 19, 2009.
  6. ^ "Richard Kelly Blogs about The Box & Provides a New Clip". Dread Central. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  7. ^ Michael Fleming (June 28, 2007). "Cameron Diaz to star in The Box". Variety. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  8. ^ Jim Hodges (January 28, 2008). "The Producer of the Director Returns to NASA Langley". NASA Langley Researcher News. NASA. Retrieved April 17, 2009.
  9. ^ Diane Garrett (October 11, 2007). "Frank Langella to star in Kelly's The Box". Variety. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  10. ^ Gregg Goldstein (November 2, 2007). "Marsden wrapped up in The Box role". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  11. ^ "Kelly Wraps The Box". Sci Fi Wire. February 6, 2008. Archived from the original on September 15, 2008. Retrieved February 6, 2008.
  12. ^ "Arcade Fire's Butler Talks Miroir Noir, The Box Score". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on December 23, 2008. Retrieved December 23, 2008.
  13. ^ "Mr. Beaks And Richard Kelly Rummage Through THE BOX!". Ain't It Cool. Retrieved November 6, 2009.
  14. ^ "Richard Kelley Interview (segment from the interview is about the film's soundtrack)". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
  15. ^ "Phase 1 of The Box Website Now Open". Dread Central. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  16. ^ "Open The Box at Home". Dread Central. January 6, 2010. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  17. ^ "Exclusive Blu-ray/DVD Special Features Clip: The Box". Dread Central. August 4, 2012.
  18. ^ "The Box (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved January 4, 2024.
  19. ^ "The Box: Reviews (2009)". Metacritic. CNET Networks. Retrieved December 8, 2009.
  20. ^ Ferrari, Damon (November 20, 2009). "Film oracle CinemaScore spells doom for The Box". London. Retrieved August 6, 2010.
  21. ^ Dowd, A. A.; Rife, Katie (April 3, 2020). "Is an "F" from CinemaScore Actually a Good Thing? Our Critics Weigh In". The A.V. Club. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  22. ^ Roger Ebert (November 4, 2009). "Roger Ebert's Review". Roger Ebert.
  23. ^ Mintzer, Jordan (October 29, 2009). "The Box". Variety magazine.
  24. ^ "Best (and Worst) of 2010". Time Out New York. December 18, 2009. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  25. ^ "8th Annual VES Awards". Visual Effects Society. Retrieved December 22, 2017.

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