|Directed by||David Cronenberg|
|Based on||The Fly|
by George Langelaan
|Produced by||Stuart Cornfeld|
|Edited by||Ronald Sanders|
|Music by||Howard Shore|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$60.6 million|
The Fly is a 1986 American science-fiction psychological body horror film directed and co-written by David Cronenberg. Produced by Brooksfilms and distributed by 20th Century Fox, the film stars Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz. Loosely based on George Langelaan's 1957 short story of the same name and the 1958 film of the same name, The Fly tells of an eccentric scientist who, after one of his experiments goes wrong, slowly turns into a fly-hybrid creature. The score was composed by Howard Shore and the make-up effects were created by Chris Walas, along with makeup artist Stephan Dupuis.
The Fly was released on August 15, 1986, to massive acclaim by critics and audiences, with praise mainly regarding the special effects and Goldblum's performance. It grossed $60.6 million at the box office against its nine-million-dollar budget, becoming the largest commercial success of Cronenberg's career. Walas and Dupuis' work on the film resulted in their winning an Academy Award for Best Makeup, the only Oscar won by a film directed by Cronenberg. A sequel, directed by Walas, was released in 1989.
Brilliant but eccentric scientist Seth Brundle meets science journalist Veronica "Ronnie" Quaife at a meet-the-press event held by Bartok Science Industries, the company funding his work. He takes her back to his warehouse home and laboratory and shows her his invention: a set of "telepods" that allows instantaneous teleportation between pods. Seth convinces Ronnie to keep the invention secret in exchange for exclusive rights to the story, and she documents his work. Although the telepods can transport inanimate objects, they mutilate live tissue, which is demonstrated when a baboon is turned inside-out during an experiment.
Seth and Ronnie begin a relationship, and concurrently, he tries to figure out the issue with his telepods. After transporting and then cooking two raw steaks, he finds out that the machine is creating a synthetic version of the object rather than the object itself. Seth is further inspired to reprogram the telepod to understand the makeup of living tissue, and he successfully teleports a second baboon. Ronnie departs before they can celebrate, and Seth worries that she is rekindling her relationship with her editor Stathis Borans, but she has actually left to confront Stathis about a veiled threat, spurred by his jealousy of Seth, to publish the telepod story without her consent. Seth teleports himself alone, unaware that a housefly had entered the transmitter pod with him. He emerges from the receiving pod seemingly normal.
Seth and Ronnie reconcile. Along with sugar cravings, Seth exhibits increased strength, stamina, and sexual potency, which he believes resulted from the teleportation "purifying" his body. When Ronnie becomes concerned about both Seth's deteriorating sanity and the strange, bristly hairs growing from a wound on his back, Seth becomes arrogant and violent, insisting that the teleportation process is beneficial, and tries to force Ronnie to undergo teleportation. When she refuses, he abandons her, goes to a bar and partakes in an arm-wrestling match, where he leaves his opponent with a compound fracture. He meets a woman named Tawny and brings her back to his warehouse. They have intercourse, and Seth tries to coerce her into teleporting. After Ronnie rescues her from teleportation, Seth throws Ronnie out, but when his fingernails begin falling off, he realizes something went wrong during his teleportation. He checks his computer's records and discovers that the telepod computer, confused by the presence of two lifeforms in the sending pod, fused him with the fly at the molecular-genetic level.
Seth continues to deteriorate, losing body parts along with his human appearance. After several weeks of being too scared to contact Ronnie, he reconnects with her and says he is becoming a hybrid of human and insect, which he has nicknamed "Brundlefly". He has also begun vomiting digestive enzymes onto his food to dissolve it and has become able to cling to walls and ceilings. He realizes he is losing his human reason and compassion, driven by uncontrollable primitive impulses.
Seth installs a fusion program into the telepod computer, planning to dilute the fly genes in his body with human DNA. Ronnie learns that she is pregnant by Seth and has a nightmare of giving birth to a giant maggot. She has Stathis persuade a doctor to perform an abortion in the middle of the night. Having overheard their conversation, Seth abducts Ronnie before the abortion can take place and begs her to carry the child to term, since it may be the last remnant of his humanity. Stathis breaks into Seth's lab with a shotgun, but Seth disables him using his corrosive vomit to destroy Stathis' hand and foot, stopping just short of vomiting acid onto Stathis' face when Ronnie screams at him to stop.
Seth reveals his last-ditch plan to Ronnie: he will use the telepods to fuse the both of them together, along with the unborn child, into a single entity to become "the ultimate family". Ronnie resists as Seth drags her to the telepod, tearing off his jaw in the struggle. This triggers Seth's final transformation into a monstrous, insectoid-human creature, shedding his decaying human flesh in the process. Seth successfully traps Ronnie inside the first telepod and starts the countdown before sealing himself in the other. Stathis is able to recover his shotgun and severs the cables connecting Ronnie's telepod to the computer, allowing Ronnie to escape. Seth tries to escape but only partially breaks out as the fusion process is activated, and he is gruesomely fused with the metal door and cabling of his telepod. As the deformed creature crawls out of the receiving pod, it silently begs Ronnie to end its suffering, and she tearfully fires the shotgun at its head, blowing it to pieces. A distraught Ronnie falls to her knees as Stathis looks on, horrified but relieved that Seth's suffering is finally over.
In the early 1980s, co-producer Kip Ohman approached screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue with the idea of remaking the classic science fiction horror film The Fly. Pogue began by reading George Langelaan's short story and then watching the original film, which he had never seen. Deciding that this was a project in which he was interested, he talked with producer Stuart Cornfeld about setting up the production, and Cornfeld very quickly agreed. The duo then pitched the idea to executives at 20th Century Fox and received an enthusiastic response, and Pogue was given money to write a first draft screenplay. He initially wrote an outline similar to that of Langelaan's story, but both he and Cornfeld thought that it would be better to rework the material to focus on a gradual metamorphosis instead of an instantaneous monster. However, when executives read the script, they were so unimpressed that they immediately withdrew from the project. After some negotiation, Cornfeld orchestrated a deal whereby Fox would agree to distribute the film if he could set up financing through another source.
The new producer was Mel Brooks and the film was to be produced by his company, Brooksfilms. Cornfeld was a frequent collaborator and friend of Brooks, who together also produced David Lynch's film The Elephant Man. (Brooks would leave his name off the film's credits, to avoid confusing viewers who might expect "a Mel Brooks film" to be a comedy.) Cornfeld gave the script to Brooks, who liked it but felt that a different writer was needed. Pogue was then removed from the project and Cornfeld hired Walon Green for a rewrite, but it was felt that his draft was not a step in the right direction, so Pogue was then brought back to polish the material. At the same time, Brooks and Cornfeld were trying to find a suitable director. Their first choice was David Cronenberg, but he was working on Total Recall, an adaptation of We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, for Dino De Laurentiis, and was unable to accept. Cornfeld decided on a young British director named Robert Bierman after seeing one of his short films. Bierman was flown to Los Angeles to meet with Pogue, and the film was in the very early stages of preproduction when tragedy struck. Bierman's family had been vacationing in South Africa and his daughter was killed in an accident. Bierman boarded a plane to go to his family, and Brooks and Cornfeld waited for a month before approaching him about resuming work on the picture. Bierman told them that he was unable to start working so soon, and Brooks told him that he would wait three months and contact him again. At the end of the three months, Bierman told him that he could not commit to the project. Brooks told him that he understood and had freed him from his contract.
Cornfeld then heard that Cronenberg was no longer associated with Total Recall and once again approached him with The Fly. Cronenberg agreed to sign on as director if he would be allowed to rewrite the script.
Geoff and Barbara Powell are a happily married couple. Geoff, a brilliant scientist, has been working on a teleportation machine, but is unwilling to tell his employer, Phillip DeWitt, or his friend, Harry Chandler, about the nature of the project. DeWitt is greatly displeased by this, and threatens to pull his funding of the mystery project unless he is given full disclosure. After several failed experiments, such as a monkey's atoms never reintegrating after disintegration, Geoff eventually is successful in teleporting both inanimate and living objects. However, when he tries it on himself, a housefly slips into the booth with him. Seemingly normal at first, Geoff soon develops incredible strength, stamina, and energy. After sprouting fly-hairs and losing his fingernails, Geoff eventually discovers that the fly has been absorbed into his body, and that its cells are now taking over his own.
As he slowly mutates into a giant fly, Geoff loses body parts, and becomes able to climb walls, as well as digest food with corrosive vomit. Barb is horrified to learn that she is pregnant by Geoff, and cannot be sure if the child was conceived before or after his teleportation. Eventually, Chandler discovers the teleporter's existence, reveals it to DeWitt, and demonstrates it on a cat, only to have the lost monkey atoms return from the ether and create a horrible "monkey-cat" creature, which DeWitt beats to death with a metal rod. Despite this failed experiment, DeWitt sees the substantial monetary value of the device, and so takes possession of the teleporter. Geoff (now mostly transformed into a fly-monster and unable to speak) learns of this, and goes to DeWitt's office building, followed by Barb. Geoff confronts DeWitt, starts a fire in the lab where the teleporter is now housed, and kills DeWitt by vomiting and feeding on him. He then traps himself in one of the teleportation booths just as Barb arrives to watch the fire kill him and destroy the teleporter—his intent all along. In a coma, Barb dreams of giving birth to a giant maggot, only to wake up in a hospital, where it is revealed that she's given birth to a healthy baby boy.
The revised script differed greatly from Pogue's screenplay, though it still retained the basic plot and the central concept of a gradual mutation. Cronenberg rewrote the characters and most of the dialogue from scratch (as well as fusing DeWitt and Chandler--who had romantic intentions toward Barb in the Pogue draft--into Stathis Borans), and carried over a few key moments and concepts. Certain aspects of the transformation from Pogue's draft (such as the hero's loss of body parts) were expanded upon, and Cronenberg also layered in his trademark themes of sexuality, body horror, and personal identity. He also made it a point to keep Seth Brundle as articulate as possible for as long as possible, as opposed to Pogue's draft, in which Geoff Powell loses his ability to speak two-thirds of the way through the script.
Seth Brundle's increasing mania and personality changes in the early stages of the transformation were emphasized in the rewrites, and the notion of the transformation itself being a horrible (and very metaphorical) disease became a key factor in the new script. Also, in this version, Brundle was clearly transforming into a bizarre hybrid creature as the result of a genetic fusion, whereas in Pogue's version, Powell was being taken over by the fly's cells, which had been absorbed into his body (thus slowly transforming him literally into a giant fly, rather than Brundle's deformed man-fly mixture). Cronenberg's version also retained such moments as Brundle catching a fly in mid-air, the fingernail-pulling, and the maggot-baby dream (which was moved to an earlier point in the story, and used for thematic and plot purposes rather than as an end-of-film shock moment).
The "monkey-cat" of Pogue's script was repurposed by Cronenberg into a twisted, desperate attempt by Brundle to find a cure, and Pogue's sequence of a fly leg hatching from Geoff's side was taken one step further, with Brundle amputating the twitching limb with his teeth. Pogue's script also featured a bag lady being murdered by Geoff in an alley, and Cronenberg revised this so that the woman was killed by vomit-drop (as with DeWitt's murder at the end of the original draft) rather than Geoff cutting her throat accidentally (however, Cronenberg never filmed his version of this sequence, which was written out of the final shooting script). While Cronenberg's script did not end with Veronica Quaife giving birth, it did end with a coda which revealed that she was pregnant with a normal baby, conceived by Borans after Brundle's death (and the abortion of Brundle's possibly tainted fetus).
Despite the extensive rewrite of Pogue's script, Cronenberg insisted during Writers Guild arbitrations that he and Pogue share screenplay credit, since he felt that his version could not have come to pass without Pogue's script to serve as a foundation.
With a script that everyone approved of, Cronenberg assembled his usual crew and began the process of casting the picture, ultimately deciding on Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis for the leads. Chris Walas, who had designed the creatures in Gremlins, was hired to handle the film's extensive special effects. Principal photography began on December 1, 1985, in Toronto.
The producers also commissioned musician Bryan Ferry to record a song for the film for promotional purposes. The resulting track was entitled "Help Me". A music video was made for the song, and footage from the film was prominently featured in it. Cronenberg admitted to liking the song, but felt that it was inappropriate to the film itself. Brooks and Cornfeld originally wanted to play the song over the closing credits, but after Cronenberg screened it for them, they agreed with the director that it did not mesh with the movie. As a result, the song is featured only briefly in the film, in the background during the scene where Brundle challenges Marky in the bar. "Help Me" became rather obscure as it was not included on the film's soundtrack release. The song resurfaced in 1993 on the Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry compact disc Ultimate Collection.
The design of Brundle's telepods was inspired by the engine cylinder of Cronenberg's Ducati Desmo.
After filming ended early in 1986, a rough cut of The Fly was shown to Fox executives, who were very impressed. A rough cut was then previewed at Toronto's Uptown Theatre in the spring of that year. Due to a strong audience reaction, the graphic and infamous "monkey-cat" sequence was cut from the film to make it easier for audiences to maintain sympathy for Brundle's character. Another preview screening was subsequently held at the Fox lot in Los Angeles, and this version featured the "butterfly baby" coda. As before, the screening results dictated that the scene be cut.
The Academy Award-winning makeup was designed and executed by Chris Walas, Inc. over a period of three months. The final "Brundlefly" creature was designed first, and then the various steps needed to carry protagonist Seth Brundle to that final incarnation were designed afterwards. The transformation was intended to be a metaphor for the aging process. To that end, Brundle loses hair, teeth and fingernails, with his skin becoming more and more discolored and lumpy. The intention of the filmmakers was to give Brundle a bruised and cancerous look that gets progressively worse as the character's altered genome slowly asserts itself, with the final Brundlefly hybrid creature literally bursting out of Brundle's hideously deteriorated human skin. The creature itself was designed to appear horribly asymmetrical and deformed, and not at all a viable or robust organism.
Various looks were tested for the makeup effects. Some early test footage can be seen on the 2005 The Fly: Collector's Edition DVD, as well as the Blu-ray release.
The transformation was broken up into seven distinct stages, with Jeff Goldblum spending many hours in the makeup chair for Brundle's later incarnations.
The score to The Fly was composed and conducted by Howard Shore, and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It was released on record, cassette and compact disc (with three additional tracks exclusively included on the latter) by Varèse Sarabande, and in 2005 was remastered and reissued on a two-disc set with Christopher Young's album for The Fly II.
Titles in bold are exclusive to the CD release.
The Fly was critically acclaimed, with most praise going to Goldblum's performance and the special effects. Despite being a gory remake of a classic made by a controversial, non-mainstream director, the film was a commercial success, the biggest of Cronenberg's career, and was the top-grossing film in the United States for two weeks, earning a total domestic gross of $40,456,565. Audiences reacted strongly to the graphic creature effects and the tragic love story, and the film received much attention at the time of its release.
David Cronenberg was surprised when The Fly was seen by some critics as a cultural metaphor for AIDS, since he originally intended the film to be a more general analogy for disease itself, terminal conditions like cancer and, more specifically, the aging process:
If you, or your lover, has AIDS, you watch that film and of course you'll see AIDS in it, but you don't have to have that experience to respond emotionally to the movie and I think that's really its power. This is not to say that AIDS didn't have an incredible impact on everyone and, of course, after a certain point, people were seeing AIDS stories everywhere, so I don't take any offense that people see that in my movie. For me though, there was something about The Fly story that was much more universal: aging and death—something all of us have to deal with.
Film critic Gene Siskel named The Fly as the tenth best film of 1986. In 1989, Premiere and American Film magazines both conducted independent polls of American film critics, directors and other such groups to determine the best films of the 1980s, and The Fly appeared on both lists.
The Fly holds a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 65 reviews, with an average rating of 8.40/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "David Cronenberg combines his trademark affinity for gore and horror with strongly developed characters, making The Fly a surprisingly affecting tragedy." In 2005, Time magazine film critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel included The Fly in their list of the All-TIME 100 Greatest Movies. Time later named it one of the 25 best horror films. The film was ranked #33 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics Association named The Fly the 32nd scariest film ever made. In 2021, The Daily Star ranked The Fly at the top of its list of greatest short story adaptations, praising the film for "exhibit[ing] how greater a short story can evolve, and very much become its own detached, barely recognisable thing."
In 2008, the American Film Institute distributed ballots to 1,500 directors, critics and other people associated with the film industry in order to determine the top ten American films in ten different genre categories. Cronenberg's version of The Fly was nominated under the science fiction category, although it did not make the top ten. It was also nominated for AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills and AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions and Veronica's warning to Tawny in the film—"Be afraid. Be very afraid."—was nominated for AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes.
The quote "Be afraid. Be very afraid." was also used as the film's marketing tagline, and became so ingrained in popular culture (as it—and variants—have appeared in countless films and TV series) that a large number of people who are familiar with the phrase are unaware that it originated in The Fly.
On October 10, 2020, the film was referenced in the Saturday Night Live sketch regarding the Harris-Pence debate. Jim Carrey provided an impression of Jeff Goldblum.
The Fly was nominated for the awards in the chart below. Many genre fans and film critics at the time thought that Jeff Goldblum's performance would receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination, but this did not happen. Gene Siskel subsequently stated that Goldblum most likely "got stiffed" out of a nomination because the older Academy voters generally do not honor horror films.
|Academy Award||Best Makeup||Chris Walas & Stephan Dupuis||Won|
|BAFTA Award||Best Makeup and Hair||Nominated|
|Hugo Award||Best Dramatic Presentation||Nominated|
|Saturn Award||Best Actor||Jeff Goldblum||Won|
|Best Actress||Geena Davis||Nominated|
|Best Makeup||Chris Walas||Won|
|Best Horror Film||Won|
|Best Director||David Cronenberg||Nominated|
Whereas the 1958 original was followed by two sequels, Cronenberg has said that the stories in his films have definitive beginnings and endings, and he has never considered making a sequel to one of his own films, although others have made sequels to Cronenberg films, including Scanners (1981).
The Fly II (1989) was directed by Chris Walas, the man behind the makeup and creature effects of both films and Gremlins, and is a direct continuation of The Fly. It features Veronica Quaife giving birth to Brundle's mutant son before dying, and focuses on the Bartok company's attempts to get the Telepods working again.
David Cronenberg was not involved with the project. The only actor to return for the sequel was John Getz as an embittered Stathis Borans. Veronica Quaife appears briefly in the film, and is played by Saffron Henderson, since Geena Davis declined to reprise the role. Jeff Goldblum appears in archival footage of Seth Brundle in two scenes, including the post-teleportation interview segment that was deleted from the first film, but put to good use for the sequel.
An early treatment for a sequel, written by Tim Lucas, involved Veronica Quaife dealing with the evils of the Bartok company. Brundle's consciousness had somehow survived within the Telepod computer, and the Bartok scientists had enslaved him and were using him to develop the system for cloning purposes. Brundle becomes able to communicate with Veronica through the computer, and he eventually takes control of the Bartok complex's security systems to gruesomely attack the villains. Eventually, Veronica frees Brundle by conspiring with him to reintegrate a non-contaminated version of his original body. Cronenberg endorsed this concept at the time. Geena Davis was open to doing a sequel (and only pulled out of The Fly II because her character was to be killed in the opening scene), while Goldblum was not (although he was okay with a cameo), and this treatment reflects that. However, a later treatment written by Jim and Ken Wheat was used as the basis for the final script, written by Frank Darabont. Mick Garris also wrote a treatment, with elements incorporated into the final film.
Beginning in March 2015 IDW Publishing released a five-issue comic book miniseries titled The Fly: Outbreak, written by Brandon Seifert. The story is a direct sequel to the events of The Fly II, and features Seth Brundle's son, Martin, inadvertently causing a transgenic outbreak while attempting to cure Anton Bartok, to whom he'd previously transferred his mutant genes at the end of The Fly II.
In the 1990s, Geena Davis was reportedly involved with an alternate sequel to The Fly, to be directed by her then-husband, Renny Harlin, titled Flies. The script by Richard Jefferies was said to feature a story where Veronica gives birth to twin boys, and herself survives the ordeal.
In 2003, it was announced that a second remake of The Fly was being developed, to be directed by Todd Lincoln, produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures, and released in 2006, but this did not happen.
In 2009, it was rumored that David Cronenberg himself was preparing to direct a second remake of The Fly, but it was not until 2011 that the director addressed the rumors. Cronenberg stated that he had written not a remake, but rather a "sort of" sequel script to his 1986 version, and would film it if 20th Century Fox gave the project the go-ahead:
I have written a script that is more of a strange lateral, let's say oblique sequel than it is a true sequel, and it's certainly not a remake of the original. It's financed by Fox, and whether it will get made or not, I cannot say at the moment because there are a lot of up-in-the-air factors that deal with internal studio politics and a bunch of other things that I'm not in control of. But I would make it if they greenlight it, let's put it that way.
Cronenberg elaborated further when interviewed by Empire in 2012:
Well, I did talk to Fox, because my agent found out that they were approaching people to do a remake of my film. He sort of said, "Well, you know, what about David?" And they said, "Well, we never thought of that!" I think they'd been to Guillermo del Toro and Michael Bay. I said, "Long ago I proposed a sequel to Mel Brooks when he said he wanted to make a sequel." He didn't like what I proposed because he said it wasn't the same as the original movie. "A sequel," he said, "should be more of the same." And I said, "Well, Mel, then I'm not interested." And he went off and did his sequels [sic] and they had nothing to do with me and they weren't very successful. But I still had this idea in mind—which no, I won't tell you—and I said to Fox, "I'll write that idea up because, as I think of it, it could be interesting." And they were excited about it enough to pay me to write a script. And then for various reasons it kind of got bogged down. I don't know exactly why. It seems now that it's not going to happen. But it's a script that I like and would do. It's not exactly a sequel, and it's certainly not a remake. More a meditation [...] it involves teleportation.
In a late 2012 interview, Cronenberg provided additional details on why the project had stalled, citing
Budget constraints and other things. I think maybe the script that I wrote was a little too radical for Fox, and they felt it really needed to be a very low-budget film at that point. However, what was in it that attracted them could not be done low-budget. So I think that was the problem.
He also described the project as "more of a sequel or a sidebar. It was a meditation on fly-ness. None of the same characters or anything and, of course, with an understanding of modern technology."
Despite Cronenberg's prior assertions that he does not make sequels to his films, he returned to The Fly for the opera The Fly in 2008, and his proposed sequel film project would mark a second return to the material, as well as his first sequel to one of his previous movies. However, the film is not moving forward.
On June 15, 2018, Jeff Goldblum said he would be interested in doing a sequel only if Cronenberg was involved even though his character died. “I don’t think my character would be involved because of course I got tragically mutated with the fly and then the machine, oh boy. But maybe I show up as a grandchild of the original Seth Brundle, or Seth Brundle had a brother. Had a brother that emerges in some ways! Who knows, I don’t know but David Cronenberg was a thrill to work with. Boy, if he was involved I’d like to work with him again, I’ll tell you that.”