The Game (1997 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Game
The Game film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Fincher
Written byJohn Brancato
Michael Ferris
Produced by
CinematographyHarris Savides
Edited byJames Haygood
Music byHoward Shore
Distributed byPolyGram Films[1]
Release date
  • September 12, 1997 (1997-09-12)
Running time
128 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$70 million[3]
Box office$109.4 million[4]

The Game is a 1997 American thriller film directed by David Fincher, starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger and James Rebhorn and produced by Propaganda Films and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. It tells the story of a wealthy investment banker who is given a mysterious gift by his brother—participation in a game that integrates in strange ways with his everyday life. As the lines between the banker's real life and the game become more uncertain, hints of a large conspiracy become apparent.

The Game was well received by critics like Roger Ebert and major periodicals like The New York Times, but had middling box-office returns compared to the success of Fincher's previous film Se7en (1995).


In San Francisco, wealthy investment banker Nicholas van Orton, estranged from his ex-wife and his younger brother Conrad, is haunted by having seen his father commit suicide on his father's 48th birthday. For Nicholas's own 48th birthday, Conrad presents him with an unusual gift—a voucher for a game offered by a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS), promising that it will change his life. Though doubtful, Nicholas meets fellow bankers who enjoyed the game. He goes to the CRS office to apply, but the time-consuming psychological and physical examinations required irritate him, and he is later informed that his application has been rejected. Soon Nicholas starts believing that his business, reputation, finances, and safety are endangered. He encounters a waitress, Christine, who appears to have been endangered by the game. Nicholas contacts the police, but they find the CRS office abandoned.

Eventually, Conrad appears at Nicholas's house and apologizes, claiming CRS has attacked him. With no one else to turn to, Nicholas finds Christine's home, discovering she is a CRS employee and her apartment was fake. When Christine says they are being watched, Nicholas attacks a nearby camera, and armed CRS personnel swarm the house and fire upon the pair, who flee. Christine tells him CRS has drained his bank accounts using the psychological tests to guess his passwords. His bank confirms such. He begins to feel dizzy and realizes that she has drugged him. As he loses consciousness, she admits she is part of the scam and that he made a fatal mistake in giving his card security code over the phone.

Nicholas wakes entombed alive in a Mexico cemetery, and sells his gold watch to return to San Francisco, where he finds his mansion foreclosed and most of his possessions removed. He asks for Conrad in a hotel but is told that his brother has been committed to a mental institution due to a nervous breakdown. He retrieves a hidden gun and seeks his ex-wife for help. While apologizing to her for his neglect, he learns that Jim Feingold, the CRS employee who conducted his tests, is an actor working in television advertisements. He forces Jim to find the real CRS office and takes Christine hostage, demanding to be taken to the head of CRS.

Attacked by CRS guards, Nicholas takes Christine to the roof. Christine, realizing Nicholas's gun is not a prop, frantically tells him it is a part of the game, his finances are intact, and his family and friends are waiting on the other side of the door. He refuses to believe her, and Nicholas shoots the first person to emerge—Conrad, bearing a bottle of champagne. Devastated over the accident, Nicholas leaps off the roof but lands on a giant air cushion. He is greeted by Conrad (who is alive, since the gun was indeed actually a prop, and Christine's fear of the gun faked) and the rest of the people from the game; everything had been staged by Conrad for his birthday present. Conrad intended to help Nicholas become a better person and embrace life. After a birthday party with friends, Christine declines Nicholas's offer for a date as she has another job in Australia. She offers instead to have coffee with him at the airport.




The Game began as a spec screenplay, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris in 1991.[5] It was sold that year to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who put the project in turnaround, where it was picked up by Propaganda Films. Director Jonathan Mostow was originally attached to the project with Kyle MacLachlan and Bridget Fonda cast in the lead roles. Principal photography was to start in February 1993 but in early 1992, the project was moved to PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. Mostow was no longer the director of the film but instead became an executive producer.[5] Producer Steve Golin bought the script from MGM and gave it to David Fincher in the hopes that he would direct.[6] Fincher liked the various plot twists but brought in Andrew Kevin Walker, who had worked with him on Seven, to make the character of Nicholas more cynical in nature. Fincher and Walker spent six weeks changing the tone and trying to make the story work.[6] According to David Fincher, there were three primary influences on The Game. Michael Douglas' character was a "fashionable, good-looking Scrooge, lured into a Mission: Impossible situation with a steroid shot in the thigh from The Sting".[7] He said in an interview that his film differs from others of that kind because "movies usually make a pact with the audience that says: we're going to play it straight. What we show you is going to add up. But we don't do that. In that respect, it's about movies and how movies dole out information".[8] Furthermore, Fincher has said that the film is about "loss of control. The purpose of The Game is to take your greatest fear, put it this close to your face and say 'There, you're still alive. It's all right.'"[5] More revisions were made to the script, including removing a scene where Nicholas kills Christine and then commits suicide, because Fincher felt that this did not make sense.[9] In 1996, Larry Gross and Walker were brought in to make revisions to the script.[10]


Fincher intended to make The Game before Seven, but when Brad Pitt became available for Seven, that project became top priority.[6] The success of Seven helped the producers of The Game get the larger budget that they wanted. Then, they approached Michael Douglas to star in the film. He was hesitant at first because of concerns that PolyGram was not a big enough company to distribute the film. However, once on board, Douglas' presence helped get the film into production.[6] At the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, PolyGram announced that Jodie Foster would star in the film with Douglas.[9] However, Fincher was uncomfortable with putting an actor and movie star of her stature in a supporting part. After talking to her, he considered rewriting the character of Conrad as Nicholas' daughter so that Foster could play that role. However, Douglas didn't like the idea and requested it to change the character to his sister, which Foster found peculiar as Douglas is almost 20 years her senior and appeared with her in Napoleon and Samantha when Foster was 9 years old while Douglas was 28. Due to differences in opinions and scheduling conflicts with Robert Zemeckis' Contact, Foster could not appear in the film. Once she left, the role of Conrad was offered to Jeff Bridges, but he declined, and Sean Penn was cast.[9] Later, Foster alleged that she and PolyGram orally agreed that she would appear in the film, and when this did not transpire, she took a $54.5 million lawsuit against the company.[11] Deborah Kara Unger's audition for the role of Christine was a test reel consisting of a two-minute sex scene from David Cronenberg's Crash. Douglas thought it was a joke, but when he and Fincher met her in person, they were impressed by her acting.[12]


Principal photography began on location in San Francisco despite studio pressure to shoot in Los Angeles which was cheaper.[10] Fincher also considered shooting the film in Chicago and Seattle, but the former had no mansions that were close by and the latter did not have an adequate financial district. The script had been written with San Francisco in mind and he liked the financial district's "old money, Wall Street vibe".[10] However, that area of the city was very busy and hard to move around in. The production shot on weekends in order to have more control. Fincher utilized old stone buildings, small streets and the city's hills to represent the class system pictorially. To convey the old money world, he set many scenes in restaurants with hardwood paneling and red leather. Some of the locations used in the film included Golden Gate Park, the Presidio of San Francisco, and the historic Filoli Mansion, 25 miles south of San Francisco in Woodside, California, which stood in for the Van Orton mansion.[10]

For the visual look of Nicholas' wealthy lifestyle, Fincher and the film's cinematographer Harris Savides wanted a "rich and supple" feel and took references from films like The Godfather which featured visually appealing locations with ominous intentions lurking under the surface.[13] According to Fincher, once Nicholas left his protective world, he and Savides would let fluorescents, neon signs and other lights in the background be overexposed to let "things get a bit wilder out in the real world".[13] For The Game, Fincher employed a Technicolor printing process known as ENR which lent a smoother look to the night sequences. The challenge for him was how much deception could the audience take and "will they go for 45 minutes of red herrings?"[14] To this end, he tried to stage scenes as simply as possible and use a single camera because "with multiple cameras, you run the risk of boring people with coverage".[14]

The scene where Nicholas' taxi drives into the San Francisco Bay was shot near the Embarcadero, with the close-up of Douglas trapped in the back seat filmed on a soundstage at Sony Pictures Studios in a large tank of water.[15] The actor was in a small compartment that was designed to resemble the backseat of a taxi with three cameras capturing the action.[16]

Principal photography lasted 100 days with a lot of shooting done at night utilizing numerous locations.[17]


The Game was released on September 12, 1997 in 2,403 theaters, grossing $14.3 million during its opening weekend. It went on to make $48.3 million in North America and $61.1 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $109.4 million.[4]

The Game was released by Criterion Collection on Laserdisc in 1997, with exclusive features including alternate ending and an audio commentary from creators; on September 18, 2012, it was reissued on DVD and Blu-ray.[18][19] On April 17, 2007, Universal Studios released the movie on HD DVD format.[20]


Critical response[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 76% based on 63 reviews, with an average rating of 7.40/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "The ending could use a little work but this is otherwise another sterling example of David Fincher's iron grip on atmosphere and storytelling."[21] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 61 out of 100 based on reviews from 19 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[22] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B−" on an A+ to F scale.[23]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half stars out of four, praising Douglas as "the right actor for the role. He can play smart, he can play cold, and he can play angry. He is also subtle enough that he never arrives at an emotional plateau before the film does, and never overplays the process of his inner change".[24] In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote "Mr. Fincher, like Michael Douglas in the film's leading role, does show real finesse in playing to the paranoia of these times".[25]

Time magazine's Richard Corliss wrote "Fincher's style is so handsomely oppressive, and Douglas' befuddlement is so cagey, that for a while the film recalls smarter excursions into heroic paranoia (The Parallax View, Total Recall)".[26] In his review for The Washington Post, Desson Howe wrote "It's formulaic, yet edgy. It's predictable, yet full of surprises. How far you get through this tall tale of a thriller before you give up and howl is a matter of personal taste. But there's much pleasure in Fincher's intricate color schemes, his rich sense of decor, his ability to sustain suspense over long periods of time and his sense of humor".[27] Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B+" rating, and Owen Gleiberman wrote "Emotionally, there's not much at stake in The Game—can Nicholas Van Orton be saved?!—but Douglas is the perfect actor to occupy the center of a crazed Rube Goldberg thriller. The movie has the wit to be playful about its own manipulations, even as it exploits them for maximum pulp impact".[28]

In his review for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle wrote "At times The Game is frustrating to watch, but that's just a measure of how well Fincher succeeds in putting us in his hero's shoes".[29] However, Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers felt that "Fincher's effort to cover up the plot holes is all the more noticeable for being strained...The Game has a sunny, redemptive side that ill suits Fincher and ill serves audiences that share his former affinity for loose ends hauntingly left untied".[30]


In retrospect, Michael Douglas said:

I think what I’m most proud about is that it's one of the very few movies that you could not guess the ending. That's why I'm such a big sports fan, with sports you can never guess what's gonna happen. Most movies you get halfway through and you can kind of guess the ending. The Game you could never figure out what the ending was gonna be. David Fincher is a very talented filmmaker. It was an extremely tough shoot, it was very long, a lot of nights. I thought it was a really well-made picture, very unpredictable and I do hear that picture when I talk about movies that I've made that people liked a lot.[31]

David Fincher later admitted in interviews that he was not proud of the movie, explaining his working relationship with his wife, longtime producer Ceán Chaffin, the filmmaker said he picks her brain, and that they'll often disagree:

She was extremely vociferous, for instance, when she said, "Don't make The Game" and in hindsight, my wife was right. We didn't figure out the third act, and it was my fault, because I thought if you could just keep your foot on the throttle it would be liberating and funny.[32][33]

Literary assessment[edit]

In the Criterion edition film notes, the director was referred to as incorporating elements of the writings taken from Franz Kafka stating:

Echoes of Franz Kafka are hard to miss in Nicholas's plight—like Josef K. in The Trial, he's caught in a series of senseless ordeals controlled by faceless people he can't begin to understand—and viewers may also think of Thomas Pynchon when it starts to appear that the conspiracy against Nicholas includes everyone in the story except him. Fincher himself has described The Game as a postmodern version of A Christmas Carol, with Nicholas as a Scrooge-like emotional miser who regains his soul after passing through a whirlwind of life-changing encounters.[34]


A sequence from the film deemed to be the most thrilling was ranked no. 44 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The Game (1997)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
  2. ^ "THE GAME (15)". British Board of Film Classification. September 10, 1997. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  3. ^ Patrick Goldstein (September 17, 1997). "The Game' Spins Into David Fincher's Control". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "The Game (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Swallow 2003, p. 91.
  6. ^ a b c d Swallow 2003, p. 92.
  7. ^ Arnold, Gary (September 14, 1997). "Director Fincher Learns More About Game of Making Movies". Washington Times.
  8. ^ Gilbey, Ryan (October 10, 1997). "Precocious prankster who gets a thrill from tripping people up". The Independent. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
  9. ^ a b c Swallow 2003, p. 93.
  10. ^ a b c d Swallow 2003, p. 94.
  11. ^ "Jodie Foster sues PolyGram". Retrieved December 19, 2017.
  12. ^ Hochman, David (October 3, 1997). "Unger Strikes". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved September 23, 2009.
  13. ^ a b Swallow 2003, p. 102.
  14. ^ a b Swallow 2003, p. 103.
  15. ^ Swallow 2003, p. 95.
  16. ^ Farber, Stephen (August 31, 1997). "A Meeting of Tough Minds in Hollywood". The New York Times. p. 3. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
  17. ^ Swallow 2003, p. 96.
  18. ^ "The Game (1997) - The Criterion Collection". Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  19. ^ "Criterion: The Game". August 22, 2004. Archived from the original on August 22, 2004. Retrieved November 4, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  20. ^ "The Game [HD DVD] (1997)". Amazon. Archived from the original on October 7, 2007. Retrieved November 6, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  21. ^ "The Game (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 16, 2021.
  22. ^ "The Game Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  23. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 19, 1997). "The Game". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 20, 2009.
  25. ^ Maslin, Janet (September 12, 1997). "Terrifying Tricks That Make a Big Man Little". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2009.
  26. ^ Corliss, Richard (September 22, 1997). "These Jokers are Wild". Time. Archived from the original on July 24, 2008. Retrieved August 20, 2009.
  27. ^ Howe, Desson (September 12, 1997). "The Game: Absurdly Inspired". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 20, 2009.
  28. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (September 12, 1997). "The Game". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 20, 2009.
  29. ^ LaSalle, Mick (September 12, 1997). "The Game Is Up". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 20, 2009.
  30. ^ Travers, Peter (February 10, 1998). "The Game". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on November 20, 2007. Retrieved August 20, 2009.
  31. ^ Weintraub, Steve 'Frosty' (December 11, 2015). "Michael Douglas on 'Ant-Man', Returning for the Sequel, Remembering 'The Game'". Collider.
  32. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (September 16, 2014). "David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks 'Crazy' '20,000 Leagues'".
  33. ^ Kevin Polowy (September 17, 2014). "7 Things We Learned From David Fincher's Playboy Interview". Yahoo!.
  34. ^ The Game. Criterion Collection DVD edition film notes. All in The Game. David Sterritt (September 25, 2012)
  35. ^ "100 Scariest Movie Moments". Bravo. Archived from the original on July 13, 2006. Retrieved July 23, 2019.

General references[edit]

External links[edit]