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Donnie Darko

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Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko
A collage of faces, in the shape of a head with rabbit ears.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Kelly
Produced by Sean McKittrick
Nancy Juvonen
Adam Fields
Written by Richard Kelly
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal
Jena Malone
Drew Barrymore
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Mary McDonnell
Katharine Ross
Patrick Swayze
Noah Wyle
Music by Michael Andrews
Cinematography Steven B. Poster
Edited by Sam Bauer
Eric Strand
Distributed by Pandora Cinema
Newmarket Films
Release dates
  • January 19, 2001 (2001-01-19) (Sundance)
  • October 28, 2001 (2001-10-28) (United States)
Running time 113 minutes[1]
133 minutes
(Director's cut)[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.8 million[3]
Box office $7,696,529[4]

Donnie Darko is a 2001 American supernatural drama film written and directed by Richard Kelly and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Jena Malone, and Mary McDonnell. The film depicts the adventures of the title character as he seeks the meaning and significance behind his troubling Doomsday-related visions.

Budgeted with $4.5 million[3] and filmed over the course of 28 days, it grossed just under $7.7 million worldwide.[4] Since then, the film has received favorable reviews from critics and has developed a large cult following,[5] resulting in the release of a director's cut on a two-disc special edition DVD in 2004.[6]


On October 2, 1988, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a troubled teenager living in Middlesex, Virginia, is awakened and led outside by a figure in a monstrous rabbit costume, who introduces himself as "Frank" and tells him the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. At dawn, Donnie returns home to find a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. His older sister, Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), informs him the FAA investigators do not know where it came from.

Donnie tells his psychotherapist, Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross), about his continuing visits from Frank. Acting under Frank's influence, he floods his school by damaging a water main. He also begins dating new student Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone), who has moved to town with her mother under a new identity to escape her violent stepfather. Gym teacher Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) blames the flooding on the influence of the short story "The Destructors", assigned by dedicated English teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore), and begins teaching attitude lessons taken from motivational speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze). Donnie rebels against these motivational lessons, leading to friction between Kitty and Donnie's mother Rose (Mary McDonnell).

Donnie asks his science teacher, Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff (Noah Wyle), about time travel after Frank brings up the topic, and is given the book The Philosophy of Time Travel, written by Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), a former science teacher at the school who is now a seemingly senile old woman.

Dr. Thurman tells Donnie's parents that he is detached from reality, and that his visions of Frank are "daylight hallucinations", symptomatic of paranoid schizophrenia. Donnie disrupts a speech being given by Jim Cunningham by insulting him in front of the student body, then burns down Cunningham's house on instructions from Frank. When police find evidence of a child pornography operation in the house's remains, Cunningham is arrested. During a hypnotherapy session, Donnie confesses his crimes to Dr. Thurman and says that Frank will soon kill someone.

Rose agrees to replace Kitty as chaperone for her daughter Samantha's (Daveigh Chase) dance troupe in Los Angeles, so Kitty can testify in Cunningham's defense; with her husband Eddie (Holmes Osborne) in New York on business, her older children are home alone.

Donnie and Elizabeth take the opportunity to throw a Halloween party to celebrate her acceptance to Harvard. Gretchen arrives, distraught that her mother has disappeared. Realizing that only hours remain before Frank's prophesied end of the world, Donnie takes Gretchen and two friends to seek Roberta Sparrow at her house. They are attacked by two school bullies (Alex Greenwald and Seth Rogen) who are attempting to rob Sparrow's house, and the fight spills into the street. An oncoming Pontiac Trans Am swerves to avoid Sparrow who went for her daily walk to check her mailbox, but runs over Gretchen, killing her. The driver is Elizabeth's boyfriend Frank (James Duval), wearing the same rabbit costume as the Frank of Donnie's visions. Donnie shoots him in his eye with his father's gun.

As a vortex forms in dark clouds above his house, Donnie drives into the hills and watches as an airplane descends above. The plane, carrying Rose and the dance troupe, is wrenched violently as one of its engines detaches and falls into the vortex. Events of the previous 28 days recapitulate in reverse order and action, until Donnie finds himself in bed in the early hours of October 2. As he sits laughing uncontrollably, the jet engine crashes through his room, killing him. Others with whom Donnie had interacted in the 28 days awaken, some looking disturbed. Gretchen rides by Donnie's house and learns of his death from a neighborhood boy (Scotty Leavenworth), but says she did not know him. Gretchen and Rose exchange a glance and wave as if they know one another, but cannot remember from where.




Donnie Darko was filmed in 28 days on a budget of $4.5 million.[3] It almost went straight to home video release but was publicly released by Drew Barrymore's production company, Flower Films.[7]

The film was shot in Bixby Knolls Virginia Country Club in Long Beach California, with many of the school sequences shot at Loyola High School. The "Carpathian ridge" scenes were shot on the Angeles Crest Highway.[8]


In 2003, the piano-driven cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" featured in the film as part of the end sequence was a hit for composer Michael Andrews and singer Gary Jules, topping the charts in the United Kingdom and Portugal.[9]

One continuous sequence involving an introduction of Donnie's high school prominently features the song "Head over Heels" by Tears for Fears, Samantha's dance group, "Sparkle Motion", performs with the song "Notorious" by Duran Duran, and "Under the Milky Way" by The Church is played after Donnie and Gretchen emerge from his room during the party. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division also appears in the film diegetically during the party and shots of Donnie and Gretchen upstairs. The version included was released in 1995, although the film is set in 1988. The opening sequence is set to "The Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen.[10] In the theatrical cut, the song playing during the Halloween party is "Proud to be Loud" by Pantera, a track released on their 1988 album, which would coincide with the time setting of the film. However, the band is credited as "The Dead Green Mummies".

In the re-released Director's cut version of the film, the music in the opening sequence is replaced by "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS; "Under the Milky Way" is moved to the scene of Donnie and Eddie driving home from Donnie's meeting with his therapist; and "The Killing Moon" is played as Gretchen and Donnie return to the party from Donnie's parents' room.[10]


The limited release of the film occurred during the month after the September 11 attacks. It was subsequently held back for almost a year for international release.


  • The Donnie Darko Book, written by Richard Kelly, is a 2003 book about the film. It includes an introduction by Jake Gyllenhaal, the screenplay of the Donnie Darko Director's Cut, an in-depth interview with Kelly, facsimile pages from the Philosophy of Time Travel, photos and drawings from the film, and artwork it inspired.
  • NECA released first a six-inch (15 cm) figure of Frank the Bunny and later a foot-tall (30 cm) "talking version" of the same figure.

Home media

The film was originally released on VHS and DVD in March 2002. Strong DVD sales led Newmarket Films to release a "Director's Cut" on DVD in 2004. Bob Berney, President of Newmarket Films, described the film as "a runaway hit on DVD," citing United States sales of more than $10 million.

The film was released in the US on Blu-ray on February 10, 2009.

The film was released as a 2-disc Blu-ray special edition in the UK on July 19, 2010 by Metrodome Distribution and featuring both Original and Director's Cut. Also including commentaries from director Kelly and actor Gyllenhaal, Kelly and Kevin Smith, and Cast and Crew including Drew Barrymore.

Director's cut

The Director's cut of the film was released on May 29, 2004, in Seattle, Washington, at the Seattle International Film Festival and later in New York City and Los Angeles on July 23, 2004. This cut includes twenty minutes of extra footage and an altered soundtrack.

The director's cut DVD was released on February 15, 2005 in single- and double-disc versions, the latter being available in a standard DVD case or in a limited edition that also featured a lenticular slipcase, whose central image alternates between Donnie and Frank depending on the viewing angle. Most additional features are exclusive to the two-DVD set: the director's commentary assisted by Kevin Smith,[11] excerpts from the storyboard, a 52-minute production diary, "#1 fan video", a "cult following" video interviewing English fans, and the new director's cut trailer. The single-DVD edition was also released as a giveaway with copies of the British Sunday Times newspaper on February 19, 2006.

The DVD of the Director's Cut includes text of the in-universe fictional book, The Philosophy of Time Travel, written by Roberta Sparrow, which Donnie is given and reads in the film.[12] The text expands on the philosophical and scientific concepts much of the film's plot revolves around, and has been seen as a way to understand the film better than from its theatrical release.[13][14][15] As outlined by Salon '​s Dan Kois from the book's text, much of the film takes place in an unstable Tangent Universe that is connected to the Primary Universe and a duplicate of it, except for an extra metal vessel known as an Artifact - the plane engine. If the Artifact is not sent to the Primary Universe by the chosen Living Receiver (Donnie) within 28 days, the Primary Universe will be destroyed upon collapse of the Tangent. To aid in this task, the Living Receiver is given super-human abilities such as foresight, physical strength and elemental powers, but at the cost of troubling visions and paranoia, while the Manipulated Living (all who live around the Receiver) support him in unnatural ways, setting up a domino-like chain of events encouraging him to return the Artifact. The Manipulated Dead (those who die within the Tangent Universe, like Frank and Gretchen) are more aware than the Living, having the power to travel through time, and will set an Ensurance Trap, a scenario which leaves the Receiver no choice but to save the Primary Universe.[16]


Box office performance

Donnie Darko had its first screening at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2001, and debuted in United States theaters in October 2001 to a tepid response. Shown on only 58 screens nationwide, the film grossed $110,494 in its opening weekend.[17] This may have been the result of the movie being released shortly after the September 11 attacks.[18] By the time the film closed in United States theaters on April 11, 2002, it had earned just $517,375.[4][17] It ultimately grossed $7.6 million worldwide, just enough to recoup its budget.[4]

Despite its poor box office showing, the film began to attract a devoted fan base. It was originally released on VHS and DVD in March 2002. During this time, the Pioneer Theatre in New York City's East Village began midnight screenings of Donnie Darko that continued for 28 consecutive months.[9]

Critical reception

The film received mixed to positive reviews upon release, but the response has become much more favorable over time. Rotten Tomatoes gives the theatrical version of the film an 85% rating and the Director's Cut a 91% rating.[6] Metacritic gives the theatrical version of the film a score of 71 out of 100, based on 21 reviews which indicates "Generally favorable reviews"[19] whereas the Director's Cut received a much higher score of 88 out of 100, based on 15 reviews which indicates "Universal acclaim".[19]

Andrew Johnson cited it in Us Weekly as one of the outstanding films at Sundance in 2001, describing it as "a heady blend of science fiction, spirituality, and teen angst."[20] Jean Oppenheimer of New Times (LA) praised the film, saying, "Like gathering storm clouds, Donnie Darko creates an atmosphere of eerie calm and mounting menace—[and] stands as one of the most exceptional movies of 2001."[21] Writing for ABC Australia, Megan Spencer called the movie, "menacing, dreamy, [and] exciting" and noted that "it could take you to a deeply emotional place lying dormant in your soul."[22] Roger Ebert gave the theatrical version of the film a less than positive review, but later gave a positive review of the director's cut.[23]

Awards and nominations

  • 2001: Richard Kelly won with Donnie Darko for "Best Screenplay" at the Sitges film festival and at the San Diego Film Critics Society. Donnie Darko also won the "Audience Award" for Best Feature at the Sweden Fantastic Film Festival. The film was nominated for "Best Film" at the Catalonian International Film Festival and for the "Grand Jury Prize" at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards including Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay and Best Male Lead for Gyllenhaal.
  • 2002: Donnie Darko won the "Special Award" at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films's 28th Saturn Awards. The movie also won the "Silver Scream Award" at the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival. Kelly was nominated for "Best First Feature" and "Best First Screenplay" with Donnie Darko, as well as Jake Gyllenhaal being nominated for "Best Male Lead," at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film was also nominated for the "Best Breakthrough Film" at the Online Film Critics Society Awards.
  • 2005: Donnie Darko ranked in the top five on My Favourite Film, an Australian poll conducted by the ABC.[24]
  • 2006: Donnie Darko ranks #9 in FilmFour's 50 Films to See Before You Die.[25]
Other awards
  • #14 on Entertainment Weekly '​s list of the 50 Best High School Movies.[26]
  • #2 in Empire '​s "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time" list.[27]
  • #53 in Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time 2008 poll.[28]


A 2009 sequel, S. Darko, centers on Sam, Donnie's younger sister. Sam begins to have strange dreams that hint at a major catastrophe. Donnie Darko creator Richard Kelly has stated that he has no involvement in this sequel, as he does not own the rights to the original.[29] Chase and producer Adam Fields are the only creative links between it and the original film. The sequel received extremely negative reviews.[6][30]


Marcus Stern, associate director of the American Repertory Theater, directed a stage adaptation of Donnie Darko at the Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the fall of 2007. It ran from October 27 until November 18, 2007, with opening night scheduled near Halloween.

An article written by the production drama team stated that the director and production team planned to "embrace the challenge to make the fantastical elements come alive on stage."[31] In 2004, Stern adapted and directed Kelly's screenplay for a graduate student production at the American Repertory Theatre's Institute for Advanced Theater Training (I.A.T.T./M.X.A.T.).

See also


  1. ^ Donnie DarkoTime Warner Cable program info for
  2. ^ Detailed comparison of theatrical and director's cut versions, from
  3. ^ a b c Richard Kelly (director) (2004). Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (DVD). 
  4. ^ a b c d "Donnie Darko". The Numbers. Retrieved 2013-06-23. 
  5. ^ Scott Tobias (2008-02-21). "The New Cult Canon: Donnie Darko".  
  6. ^ a b c Donnie Darko at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ Snider, Mike (2005-02-14). Darko' takes a long, strange trip"'".  
  8. ^ Poster, Steven (Cinematographer) (2004). Donnie Darko Production Diary (DVD).  
  9. ^ a b Brunett, Adam (2004-07-22). "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut: The Strange Afterlife of an Indie Cult Film".  
  10. ^ a b Day, Matt (10 August 2004). : Director's Cut"Donnie Darko". The Digital Fix. 
  11. ^ Commentary with Kevin Smith (2003). Donnie Darko Directors Cut. Faber and Faber.  
  12. ^ The Philosophy of Time TravelText of
  13. ^ Everything you were afraid to ask about “Donnie Darko”, from
  14. ^ Film review from
  15. ^ Film review from IGN
  16. ^ Kois, Dan (2004-07-23). """Everything you were afraid to ask about "Donnie Darko.  
  17. ^ a b "Donnie Darko (2001)".  
  18. ^ James Davies. "Blu-ray Review: 'Donnie Darko: 2 Disc Ultimate Edition' (rerelease)". 
  19. ^ a b "Donnie Darko". Metacritic. 
  20. ^ Us Weekly, 2/21/2001, p. 36.
  21. ^ Andy Bailey (2001-01-21). "PARK CITY 2001 REVIEW: Donnie Darko Plays with the Time of Our Lives".  
  22. ^ Megan Spencer (2002-10-15). "Donnie Darko: triple j film reviews".  
  23. ^  
  24. ^ "My Favourite Film".  
  25. ^ Joanne Oatts (2006-07-03). "C4 relaunches Film4 with '50 films to see before you die' countdown".  
  26. ^ "50 Best High School Movies".  
  27. ^ "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time". Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  28. ^ "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Retrieved 2012-09-30. 
  29. ^ Chris Tilly (2008-05-13). "Arcade Fire Open Box: Richard Kelly on film score and Darko sequel".  
  30. ^ Josh Modell (2009-05-13). "S. Darko".  
  31. ^ Sarah Wallace (2007-11-01). "Bringing the End of the World to Life".  

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