Chain Reaction
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndrew Davis
Screenplay by
Story by
Produced by
  • Arne L. Schmidt
  • Andrew Davis
CinematographyFrank Tidy
Edited by
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • August 2, 1996 (1996-08-02)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$50 million
Box office$60.2 million[1]

Chain Reaction is a 1996 American science fiction action thriller film directed by Andrew Davis, starring Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Fred Ward, Kevin Dunn and Brian Cox. The plot centers on the invention of a new non-contaminating power source based on hydrogen and the attempts by the United States Government to prevent the spreading of this technology to other countries. The film was released in the United States on August 2, 1996.


While working with a team from the University of Chicago to convert hydrogen from water into clean energy, machinist Eddie Kasalivich inadvertently discovers the secret: a sound frequency that perfectly stabilizes their process. After the project team celebrates with a party at the lab, project physicist Dr. Lily Sinclair finds her car unable to start, so Eddie gets her home by bus. Back in the lab, Drs. Alistair Barkley and Lu Chen are on their computers preparing to upload their discovery to the Internet so they can share the breakthrough with the world, when a band of men enter the lab and attack the pair.

Returning to the lab to get his motorcycle, Eddie hears alarms and runs inside to find Alistair dead with a plastic bag over his head and Chen missing. As the hydrogen reactor has become dangerously unstable, Eddie, unable to shut it down, speeds away on his motorbike as a concealed detonator triggers a massive hydrogen explosion that destroys the lab and surrounding streets.

Upon returning from questioning by the FBI to their homes, Eddie and Lily realize that they are being framed, with planted evidence found in both of their houses. The two flee to an observatory belonging to Maggie McDermott, an old friend of Eddie's. They contact Paul Shannon, the wealthy man funding the project (secretly backed by DARPA), but they are almost caught in the process and narrowly escape. As the pair are evading more police, Paul meets with Lyman Earl Collier at C-Systems Research complex to discuss the current events. It becomes apparent that Lyman and the CIA orchestrated the plot to destroy the lab and frame the pair for it. Despite some disagreement, Paul and Lyman decide to continue the hunt for the pair, a task facilitated when Eddie sends a coded message to Paul arranging a meeting. At their rendezvous, Paul reveals his involvement, but Lyman’s thugs (the ones who murdered Alistair) capture Lily while Eddie barely escapes.

After tracing the license plate on the thugs' van, Eddie tracks them to the secret C-Systems Research facility where Paul and Lyman are forcing Lily and Chen to replicate the project. Eddie sneaks in during the night and proceeds to "fix" the system.

The next morning, one of the other scientists discovers the working reactor and everyone celebrates. A suspicious Paul immediately obtains a download of the working data, and secretly gives it to his assistant, Anita, for safekeeping. He then finds Eddie at a computer in the company boardroom, who demands his release in exchange for making the reactor work. Paul agrees but Lyman refuses, believing that the process already works, so Eddie sets the reactor to explode while sending proof of his innocence to the FBI and blueprints of the reactor to "hopefully a couple thousand" international scientists. Lyman responds by shooting Chen dead, then locking in Eddie and Lily to die in the explosion.

Paul kills Lyman for overstepping the bounds of the program, leaving the body to be incinerated in the explosion. During his own escape, he deactivates the containment system, allowing Eddie and Lily to escape. They are attacked by Lyman's henchmen (Yusef Reed and Clancy Butler), but escape moments before a blast wave sweeps through the complex (incinerating both Reed and Butler's corpses).

Having survived the shockwave, Eddie and Lily are met by FBI agents Ford and Doyle, now convinced of their innocence, who take them to safety. Paul is shown departing the scene via chauffeured limo, and the last scene has him dictating a memo to his secretary Anita, which informs the Director of the CIA that "...C-System [is] no longer a viable entity."


In addition, Michael Shannon and Neil Flynn make appearances as a van driver and a Wisconsin State Police Trooper, respectively.


Large portions of the film were shot on location in and around Chicago, Illinois, including the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum of Natural History, Michigan Avenue, and the James R. Thompson Center (Atrium Mall). Additional scenes were shot at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, on Geneva Lake in southern Wisconsin, interiors of the U.S. Capitol were shot at the Wisconsin State Capitol, in Madison, Wisconsin, at Inland Steel (now known as MITTAL Steel) in East Chicago, Indiana, and at a private residence in Barrington Hills, Illinois. Because of the cold Great Lakes winter and filming taking place during record breaking winter weather, unique challenges were present for the cast and crew. Morgan Freeman noted that "It was difficult for everyone, particularly for me because I'm tropical," he said. "I don't do cold weather. This is the winter. I was ill and in bed four days at a crack. It was really rough."[2] Among the extras in the film were then-U.S. Representative (later U.S. Senator) Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) [3]


Chain Reaction received negative reviews. It holds an 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews.[4] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[5]

Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars out of four, writing: "By movie's end, I'd seen some swell photography and witnessed some thrilling chase scenes, but when it came to understanding the movie, I didn't have a clue."[6] Jeff Millar of the Houston Chronicle wrote: "The narrative is very complex, but what's on the screen is little more than generic, non-narrative-specific, guy-being-chased stuff".[7] Conversely, Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle felt the film was one of the summer's best movies, writing: "[Chain Reaction] has better acting, better writing, more spectacular chase sequences and more genuine drama than all of this summer's blockbusters."[8]

Chain Reaction and its cast were nominated for one award, with Keanu Reeves being nominated for the Razzie for Worst Actor, which was won by both Tom Arnold and Pauly Shore.[9]

Chain Reaction grossed just over USD$60.2 million worldwide.[10]

Scientific accuracy

See also: List of water fuel inventions

In one interpretation of the film's plot, a scientific process supposedly extracts hydrogen from water, then burns the hydrogen to generate power, and leaves only water as a residue, essentially a chemical perpetual motion. The movie never clarifies how the hydrogen is extracted from the water, nor how water is still left over. The character Dr. Shannon makes contradictory statements in the combination of ideas mashed together: one time he says this is accomplished with a laser with millions of degrees, another time he says frequencies of sound and sonoluminescence. In one scene, the movie shows a bubbling container reminiscent of cold fusion electrolytic cells and another references sustained fusion. A character in the film claims that a glass of water could power Chicago for weeks, but no clear explanation is ever given as to whether this is by simply burning hydrogen released by highly efficient means or through nuclear processes. The film's title is also misleading, since "chain reaction" is related to nuclear fission, not fusion.[11]

The film is based around the premise that free energy suppression is real. The main character is told that his discovery is too disruptive: energy would suddenly be cheap, oil would no longer be necessary, oil companies would go bankrupt, and that such sudden economic changes would throw society into chaos.


  1. ^ "Chain Reaction". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 6 September 2020.
  2. ^ "Morgan Freeman stars in 'Chain Reaction': latest movie in the actor's stellar career". Jet. 1996. Archived from the original on 2016-02-22.(subscription required)
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Chain Reaction". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-04-21.
  5. ^ "CinemaScore".
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (1996-08-02). "Movie Reviews: Chain Reaction". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2016-04-21.
  7. ^ Millar, Jeff (1996-07-31). "The thrills are missing in Chain Reaction". Houston Chronicle. Archived from the original on 1999-02-24.
  8. ^ Guthmann, Edward (1996-08-02). "Keanu Is the Action in Frantic 'Chain Reaction'". San Francisco Chronicle.
  9. ^ HeadRAZZBerry (2005-12-04). "1996 RAZZIE Nominees & "Winners"". NewsgroupOfficial RAZZIE Forum The Official RAZZIE Forum Check |newsgroup= value (help). Archived from the original on 2009-03-25. Retrieved 2008-04-21.
  10. ^ "Chain Reaction". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-04-21.
  11. ^ Sidney Perkowitz (2010), Hollywood Science: Movies, Science, and the End of the World (illustrated ed.), Columbia University Press, pp. 113–114, ISBN 9780231142816