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Pixels (2015 film)

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Title: Pixels (2015 film)  
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Subject: Max Headroom (character), Pac-Man, Amir Mokri, Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Arrangement
Collection: 1492 Pictures Films, 2010S Adventure Films, 2010S American Animated Films, 2010S Animated Films, 2010S Comedy Films, 2010S Science Fiction Films, 2015 3D Films, 2015 Computer-Animated Films, 2015 Films, Alien Invasions in Films, American 3D Films, American Adventure Comedy Films, American Animated Films, American Comedy Science Fiction Films, American Films, Columbia Pictures Animated Films, Columbia Pictures Films, Computer-Animated Films, Features Based on Short Films, Films About Fictional Presidents of the United States, Films About Video Games, Films Based on Video Games, Films Directed by Chris Columbus, Films Produced by Adam Sandler, Films Produced by Chris Columbus, Films Produced by Michael Barnathan, Films Set in 1982, Films Set in 2015, Films Set in London, Films Set in New York City, Films Set in Uttar Pradesh, Films Set in Washington, D.C., Films Shot in Ontario, Films Shot in Toronto, Happy Madison Films
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Pixels (2015 film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Chris Columbus
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by Tim Herlihy
Based on Pixels 
by Patrick Jean
Music by Henry Jackman
Cinematography Amir Mokri
Edited by Hughes Winborne, ACE
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • July 24, 2015 (2015-07-24)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $88 million[2]
Box office $237.2 million[3]

Pixels is a 2015 American science fiction action-comedy film produced by Columbia Pictures, 1492 Pictures and Happy Madison Productions. The film was directed by Chris Columbus. Its screenplay was written by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, with a screen story penned by Tim Herlihy and based on French director Patrick Jean's 2010 short film of the same name.[4] The film features computer animated video games characters, special effects, and stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Brian Cox, Ashley Benson, and Jane Krakowski. The film's plot has extraterrestrials misinterpreting video-feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, and invading Earth using technology inspired by games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders. To counter the alien assault, the United States hire former arcade champions to lead the planet's defense.

Principal photography on the film began in 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was released in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D in 2015. While Pixels received generally negative reviews from critics, it was a box office success, grossing over $237 million worldwide.[5]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Development 3.1
    • Casting 3.2
    • Filming 3.3
    • Visual effects 3.4
    • Music 3.5
  • Release 4
    • Marketing 4.1
    • Copyright takedowns 4.2
    • Home media 4.3
  • Reception 5
    • Box office 5.1
    • Critical response 5.2
  • References 6
  • External links 7


In the summer of 1982, Sam Brenner and Will Cooper are thirteen-year-olds who love playing in the local arcade. Brenner enters an arcade game world championships. At the event, the MC tells that a time capsule will be launched into space containing a videocassette that includes scenes from the championships. Brenner and Cooper meet Ludlow Lamonsoff, a child who's in love with Lady Lisa, the main character of the game Dojo Quest. Brenner succeeds in every game, but finally loses to Eddie Plant in Donkey Kong.

In the present, Brenner works for a company that installs home theater systems and Cooper is the President of the United States. In Guam, a U.S. military base is attacked by the evil 1980s styles and classic video games from outer space. The soldiers try to fight back, but are easily defeated, and one soldier is abducted.

Brenner is sent to work at the home of Violet Van Patten, a divorcée who lives with her son Matty. Brenner heads to the White House after receiving a call from Cooper. To his surprise, he finds out that Violet is a Lieutenant Colonel. Cooper brings Brenner into the Oval Office to show him the attack in the base. Brenner says that the way the attack was carried out was like in the classic version of the video game Galaga.

Later, Brenner drives home when Ludlow suddenly appears inside his van. Ludlow takes Brenner to his home where he says that the aliens are sending creatures with classic video game designs to attack. Ludlow found a message using manipulated footage to explain their plans: The tape was found and seen as a threat; they are using the video games as a challenge. If they win three rounds, they will claim the Earth. They show the video to Cooper and determine that the next attack will happen in India, but are too late; the Taj Mahal is attacked with Arkanoid paddles and another person is abducted as a trophy.

Brenner and Ludlow are brought in to "train" soldiers by showing them how to play these games. Violet shows Brenner and Ludlow that the pixels are taken down by strong light beams. The next attack will happen in London. The soldiers brace for attack in Hyde Park. Centipede appears in the sky. Brenner tells the men to shoot the head and anticipate the pattern, but they lack the skills, so more appear. Brenner and Ludlow take over with permission from Cooper and they defeat them. The aliens send a message to congratulate them on their victory, and give the Duck Hunt dog as a trophy, but remind that they are leading 2-1.

New York City is the place of the next attack. Ludlow and Cooper say that they need help. Brenner, Cooper, and Violet go to a prison to find Eddie, who is serving a sentence for counts of fraud. Cooper agrees to let Eddie out of prison and relinquish his taxes in exchange for his help.

The team discovers that they are going to face the title character from Pac-Man and in order to succeed they need to defeat him three times. Violet presents them with four Mini Cooper cars based on the ghosts in Pac-Man, with the other car driven by the game's creator, Toru Iwatani. In the downtown area Iwatani tries to appeal to Pac-Man as a son, but gets his hand bitten off instead. The remaining three chase after Pac-Man. He eats a power pellet, which gives him the ability to eat ghosts, and Ludlow escapes as it eats his car. Eddie defeats the first Pac-Man after catching up to him quickly, to the surprise of everyone. Eddie takes Pac-Man out a second time, but accidentally drives into the East River as he attempts the 3-1 sweep. Brenner takes up the chase but Pac-Man finds another power pellet. Brenner drives backwards through a parking garage. The power pellet wears off, and Pac-Man is defeated. As a result, the team is given Q*bert as a trophy.

The team celebrate the victory, until the aliens send another message saying that someone cheated and the contest for the planet has been forfeited. Matty finds out Eddie used a speed cheat during the battle with Pac-Man. Eddie flees and Matty is abducted as a trophy.

The aliens cascade more video games on Washington, D.C. as they prepare to take over. Cooper joins the team, while Ludlow stays to fight. One of the aliens takes the form of Lady Lisa. She fights Ludlow until he says he loves her, and they share a kiss. Eddie comes to fight as well. Brenner, Violet, Cooper and Q*Bert are brought up to the space ship by Max Headroom where they have to face the title character from Donkey Kong, who rolls barrels at the group to prevent them reaching the captives. Matty reveals to Brenner what he found out about Eddie, and Brenner takes the hammer and throws it at Donkey Kong, destroying him. This causes the video games to freeze and then are brought back up to the ship, including Lady Lisa.

The team is recognized as heroes. A peace agreement has been made with the aliens. Q*bert randomly transforms into Lady Lisa, to Ludlow's delight. Brenner and Violet become a couple, while Eddie gets a text message from Serena Williams and Martha Stewart.

A year later, Lady Lisa and Ludlow are married and have Q-Bert children, named Q*by.


Martha Stewart makes a cameo appearance as herself. Dan Patrick, Robert Smigel, and Steve Koren cameo as White House Reporters. Steve Wiebe, a previous Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr World Record holder, cameos as a military scientist. The real Toru Iwatani cameos as an Electric Dreams Factory Arcade repairman. Fiona Shaw also has a cameo appearance as the British Prime minister.



The movie is a feature-length adaptation of Patrick Jean's video-game themed short film, Pixels.[14] Adam Sandler hired Tim Herlihy to write the film[15] a draft that Herlihy had said that everybody at the studio "hated". Eventually he and Sandler came up with the concept of having Kevin James be the President of the United States and rewrote the film incorporating this element.[16] Eventually in July 2012, Tim Dowling was hired to re-write the film. Seth Gordon was attached to executive produce and possibly direct the film.[17] Chris Columbus became involved in the project in Summer of 2013.[4] Columbus said he first met Sandler to discuss a possible remake of Hello Ghost, and as he left the meeting the director was handed a script for Pixels. The script had an impact on Columbus, who considered it "one of the most original ideas I had seen since the Amblin days" and a good opportunity to harken back to the 1980s comedies he worked in.[18] Characters from classic arcade games such as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Frogger, Galaga and Donkey Kong, among several others, were licensed for use in the film.[19]

There were originally plans to include a scene where the Great Wall of China is damaged, but the concept was removed from the script in hopes to improve the film's chances in the Chinese market.[20]


On February 26, 2014, it was announced that Adam Sandler would play the lead role in the film, while Kevin James and Josh Gad were in early talks to join the cast.[6] On March 28, Peter Dinklage was also in final talks to join the film, playing the fourth and final male lead.[8] Jennifer Aniston was originally considered for the female lead, but declined because of scheduling conflicts.[21] On April 4, Michelle Monaghan joined the film to star as the female lead.[7] James played the U.S. president, who teams up with Sandler's character, a former champion, to save the planet. Gad plays a conspiracy-theory-obsessed genius with bad social skills, Dinklage is Sandler's character's brash former video game-playing nemesis, and Monaghan plays a weapons developer for the military and a love interest for Sandler.[7] On June 11, Brian Cox joined the cast, and plays military heavyweight Admiral Porter.[10] On July 1, Ashley Benson was added to the cast, playing Lady Lisa, a beautiful warrior from the fictional '80s video game Dojo Quest.[11] On July 9, Jane Krakowski joined the cast of the film, playing the First Lady to James' President Cooper.[12]

On October 20, during an interview with, Michelle Monaghan said, "Yeah I adore Adam. We had the best time filming Pixels for 12 hours a day for three months straight, Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage and myself, it's a comedy and those guys just know how to roll; their timing is impeccable."[22]

In a May 2015 interview commemorating Pac-Man's 35th anniversary, former Pac-Man champion and leading expert Billy Mitchell, after whom Dinklage's character is modeled, was asked his opinion about Dinklage's performance. While acknowledging that the character was indeed based on him, Mitchell responded that he thought of Dinklage as a "good guy" and somebody he "could look up to", but also added that he got "picked on it a lot", as people would tell him he "got beat up by a little guy, finally".[23]


Movie prop for Pixels in downtown Toronto

On March 25, 2014, the Ontario Media Development Corporation confirmed that the film would be shot in Toronto from May 28 to September 9 at Pinewood Toronto Studios.[24][25] Principal photography on the film commenced in Toronto, Ontario on June 2, 2014, using downtown streets decorated to resemble New York City.[26] Given sequences such as the Pac-Man chase happened at night, often the filmmakers would close the streets off from traffic at 7 PM, and redecorate to resemble New York until it was dark enough, filming from 9:30 PM up to 5:30 AM.[27] On July 29, filming was taking place outside of Markham, Ontario.[28] Filming was also done in the Rouge Park area, and extras were dressing in costume at Markham's Rouge Valley Mennonite Church.[28] On August 4, actors Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage and Ashley Benson were spotted in Toronto filming scenes for the film on Bay Street, which was transformed into a city block in Washington, D.C., and littered with wrecked vehicles and giant holes in the pavement.[29] The Ontario Government Buildings was doubled to transform into a federal office building in Washington. Actors were aiming at aliens, which could not been seen, but were added later with CGI.[29]

On August 26, 2014, filming took place in Cobourg.[30] Filming was completed in three months, with 12 hours of shooting a day.[22]

Visual effects

Most of the visual effects for Pixels were handled by Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks, with nine other VFX companies playing supporting roles, all under the leadership of supervisor Matthew Butler and producer Denise Davis. Early tests begun on October 2013, with the majority of the effects work starting after principal photography wrapped in September 2014, and finishing by June 2015. The video game characters would be built out of boxy voxels to resemble the low resolution pixel-based arcades, while also emitting light and having raster scan defects in its animation to appear more like they came from a CRT monitor. Along with the actual sprite sheets, a major inspiration to build the 3D versions was the cabinet art, where Imageworks visual effects supervisor Daniel Kramer considered that "was the intention the game creators wanted their technology to be, but the technology couldn't live up to creating that." The most complex characters to model were Q*Bert, which interacted the most with humans and had the problem of looking round despite being built out of cubes, and Donkey Kong, who the animators wanted to make sure remained recognizable even in different angles.[27][31][32]


The musical score for the movie was composed by Henry Jackman, who also worked as composer for Wreck-It Ralph. In June 2015, American rapper Waka Flocka Flame released a single entitled "Game On", featuring Good Charlotte, which serves as part of the film's soundtrack.[33]


The film was originally scheduled to be released on May 15, 2015,[34][35] but on August 12, 2014, the release date was pushed back to July 24, 2015.[36] In the United States and Canada, it was released in the Dolby Vision format in Dolby Cinema, which is the first ever for Sony.[37] It is scheduled to be released in China in mid-September, with the exact date to be announced.[38]


The first trailer was released on March 19, 2015 and received 34.3 million global views in 24 hours, breaking Sony's previous record held by The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (22 million views in 2014).[39] The second trailer was released on June 13, 2015.[40] Upon release of the trailer, fans of the TV series Futurama noted similarities between a 2002 episode of the show and the trailer. Fans said the events and characters in the episode, "Anthology of Interest II", are strikingly similar to those in the trailer.[41][42]

Sony created a “Electric Dreams Factory Arcade” with many of the arcade games featured in the movie for various fan conventions, such as the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con and the 2015 Wizard World Philadelphia.[43][44] In Brazil, a promotional video was released on July 2, 2015, showing Adam Sandler interacting with Monica and Jimmy Five from local comic Monica's Gang.[45]

Copyright takedowns

Columbia Pictures hired Entura International, described as a copyright troll[5] by Ars Technica, to send Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices to websites hosting user-uploaded videos of the film.[46] The company proceeded to file DMCA takedown notices indiscriminately against several Vimeo videos containing the word "Pixels" in the title, including the 2010 award winning short film the movie is based on,[47] the official movie trailer, a 2006 independently produced Cypriot film uploaded by the Independent Museum of Contemporary Art, a 2010 university major work by a student of the Bucharest National University of Arts, a royalty free stock footage clip and an independently produced project. The takedown notice sent by Entura falsely claimed that the works infringe a copyright they had the right to enforce, and once the notice was made public, it was withdrawn.[48][49]

Home media

Pixels was released on Blu-ray (3D and 2D) and DVD on October 27, 2015.[50]


Box office

As of October 30, 2015, Pixels has grossed $78.6 million in North America and $158.5 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $237.1 million.[3] The film cost $88 million to produce, with an additional $20 million spent on marketing and distribution.[2][51][52]

In the United States and Canada, Pixels opened simultaneously with the teen romance Paper Towns, the sports drama Southpaw, and the horror film The Vatican Tapes, across 3,723 theaters.[53] Box office pundits noted that the film's release date caused it to face competition with the first former film and along with the holdovers Ant-Man and Minions, all of which were projected to earn around $20 million.[52][54] However, some analysts suggested the film could open to as high as $30 million and if it failed to hit $30 million, it could have difficulty being profitable unless it earned a significant audience abroad.[2] It made $1.5 million from its Thursday night showings at 2,776 theaters, and topped the box office on its opening day, earning $9.2 million.[55][56][57] Through its opening weekend it grossed $24 million from 3,723 theaters, debuting at second place at the box office, behind Ant-Man.[58]

For its overseas box office performance, the studio used The Lego Movie as a comparison.[59] Outside the U.S. and Canada, Pixels opened in the same weekend as its U.S. premiere in 56 countries — which is about 40% of its total foreign market — and grossed $26 million in its opening weekend from 7,594 screens.[59] It added 18 new countries in its second weekend grossing $19.29 million from almost 8,966 screens in 74 territories.[60] It debuted at No. 1 in 23 of the 56 countries and had the biggest opening of all time for Sony in Argentina ($2.3 million) with other notable openings in Mexico ($3.54 million), Brazil ($3.12 million), Germany ($2.5 million) and Russia and the CIS ($2.5 million).[59][60] It opened in South Korea on Thursday, July 16, 2015, earning an estimated $3.3 million on its opening weekend, debuting at third place behind Pixar's animated film Inside Out and local film Northern Limit Line.[53][61] It has so far grossed a total of $4.8 million there.[62] It opened in the United Kingdom with $4.2 million (including previews) topping the box office.[63] Pixels opened in China on September 15, earning $11.2 million in its first six days.[60][64] In total earnings, its largest market outside of the U.S. and Canada are China ($15.3 million), the United Kingdom ($12.8 million), Mexico ($12 million), Germany ($10.2 million) and Venezuela ($10.1 million).[65] The film has become Adam Sandler's most successful overseas release.[66]

Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 17% approval rating, based on 155 reviews, with an average rating of 3.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Much like the worst arcade games from the era that inspired it, Pixels has little replay value and is hardly worth a quarter."[67] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 27 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[68] In CinemaScore polls conducted during its opening weekend, cinema audiences gave the film an average grade of "B" on a A+ to F scale.[57]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film one star out of four, calling it "a 3D metaphor for Hollywood's digital assault on our eyes and brains" and deeming it "relentless and exhausting".[69] In, Andrew O'Hehir called the movie "another lazy Adam Sandler exercise in 80s nostalgia," as well as "an overwhelmingly sad experience" characterized by "soul-sucking emptiness."[70] The Guardian called it "casually sexist, awkwardly structured, bro-centric" and warned, "Pity the poor souls who go into the comedy blockbuster thinking they've signed up to watch The Lego Movie by way of Independence Day. They'll be disappointed."[71] Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News gave the film no stars and wrote, "Someone please retire Adam Sandler. Pixels is the last straw for this has-been. . . . Every joke is forced, every special effect is un-special. . . . The dipstick Pixels is about as much fun as a joystick and not even half as smart."[72] "It manages to achieve the weird effect of feeling overlong and choppy at the same time, like someone edited the film with a pair of garden shears," wrote Randy Cordova in The Arizona Republic.[73] Kyle Smith wrote in the New York Post that Pixels is "as adolescent as a zit" with jokes "as fresh as the antique store."[74]

"Everything is wrong here," wrote Megan Garber in The Atlantic Monthly, "cinematically, creatively, maybe even morally. Because Pixels is one of those bad movies that isn't just casually bad, or shoot-the-moon bad, or too-close-to-the-sun bad, or actually kind of delightfully bad. It is tediously bad. It is bafflingly bad. It is, in its $90 million budget and 104-minute run time, wastefully bad. Its badness seems to come not from failure in the classic sense—a goal set, and unachieved—but from something much worse: laziness. Ambivalence. A certain strain of cinematic nihilism."[75] Peter Sobczynski, writing for, called the premise promising but the execution "abysmal."[76]

CinemaBlend film reviewer Mike Reyes, however, gave the film 4 stars out of 5, writing, "Pixels is one of those fun summer movies you've missed since you were a kid ... it's also extremely funny and vastly entertaining ... with thrilling action, stunning visuals, and some really well timed comedy."[77]


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  42. ^ Thier, Dave. July 23, 2015, Forbes, "Reminder: 'Pixels' Lifted Its Entire Plot From An Episode Of 'Futurama'".
  43. ^ Columbia Pictures is Bringing a Pixels Arcade to Comic-Con
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