The Player
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Altman
Screenplay byMichael Tolkin
Based onThe Player
by Michael Tolkin
Produced by
CinematographyJean Lépine
Edited byGeraldine Peroni
Music byThomas Newman
Distributed byFine Line Features
Release dates
  • April 3, 1992 (1992-04-03) (Cleveland)
  • April 10, 1992 (1992-04-10) (United States)
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[1]
Box office$28.9 million[1]

The Player is a 1992 American satirical black comedy mystery film directed by Robert Altman and written by Michael Tolkin, based on his own 1988 novel of the same name.[2] The film stars Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Brion James and Cynthia Stevenson, and is the story of a Hollywood film studio executive who kills an aspiring screenwriter he believes is sending him death threats.

The Player has many film references and Hollywood in-jokes, with 65 celebrities making cameo appearances in the film. Altman once stated that the film "is a very mild satire," offending no one.[3] The film received three nominations at the 65th Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. The film also won two Golden Globes, Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical and Best Actor – Comedy or Musical for Robbins.


Griffin Mill is a Hollywood studio executive dating story editor Bonnie Sherow. He hears story pitches from screenwriters and decides which have the potential to be made into films, green-lighting only twelve out of 50,000 submissions every year. His job is threatened when up-and-coming story executive Larry Levy begins working at the studio. Mill has also been receiving death threat postcards, assumed to be from a screenwriter whose pitch he rejected.

Mill surmises that the disgruntled writer is David Kahane, and Kahane's girlfriend June Gudmundsdottir tells him that Kahane is at the Rialto Theater in Pasadena, at a screening of The Bicycle Thief. Mill pretends to recognize Kahane in the lobby and offers him a scriptwriting deal, hoping this will stop the threats. The two go to a nearby bar where Kahane gets intoxicated and rebuffs Mill's offer, calling him a liar and continuing to goad him about his job security at the studio. In the bar's parking lot, the two men fight. Mill goes too far and drowns Kahane in a shallow pool of water while screaming, "Keep it to yourself!" Mill then stages the crime to make it look like a botched robbery.

The next day, after Mill is late for and distracted at a meeting, studio security chief Walter Stuckel confronts him about the murder and says that the police know that he was the last one to see Kahane alive. At the end of their conversation Mill receives a fax from his stalker. Thus, Mill has killed the wrong man, and the stalker apparently knows this. Mill attends Kahane's funeral and gets into conversation with Gudmundsdottir. Detectives Avery and DeLongpre suspect Mill is guilty of murder.

Mill receives a postcard from the stalker suggesting that they meet at a hotel bar. While Mill is waiting, he is cornered by two screenwriters, Tom Oakley and Andy Sivella, who pitch Habeas Corpus, a legal drama featuring no major stars and with a depressing ending. Because Mill is not alone, his stalker does not appear. After leaving the bar, Mill receives a fax in his car, advising him to look under his raincoat. He discovers a live rattlesnake in a box and, terrified, bludgeons it with his umbrella.

Mill tells Gudmundsdottir that his near-death experience made him realize he has feelings for her. Apprehensive that Levy continues encroaching on his job, Mill invites the two writers to pitch Habeas Corpus to him, convincing Levy that the movie will be an Oscar contender. Mill's plan is to let Levy shepherd the film through production and have it flop. Mill will step in at the last moment, suggesting some changes to salvage the film's box office, letting him reclaim his position at the studio. Having persuaded Sherow to leave for New York on studio business, Mill takes Gudmundsdottir to a Hollywood awards banquet and their relationship blossoms.

After Sherow confronts Mill about his relationship with Gudmundsdottir, Mill coldly severs their relationship in front of two writers. Mill takes Gudmundsdottir to an isolated Desert Hot Springs resort and spa. In the middle of Mill and Gudmundsdottir making love, Mill confesses his role in Kahane's murder, and Gudmundsdottir responds by saying she loves him. Mill's attorney informs him that studio head Joel Levison has been fired, and that the Pasadena police want Mill to participate in a lineup. An eyewitness has come forward, but she fails to identify Mill.

One year later, studio power players are watching the end of Habeas Corpus with a new, tacked-on, upbeat ending and famous actors in the lead roles. Mill's plan to save the movie has worked and he is head of the studio. Gudmundsdottir is now Mill's wife and pregnant with his child. Sherow objects to the film's new ending and is fired by Levy. Mill rebuffs her when she appeals her termination to him. Mill receives a pitch over the phone from Levy and a man who reveals himself as the postcard writer. The man pitches an idea about a studio executive who kills a writer and gets away with murder. Impressed, Mill gives the writer a deal, if he can guarantee an ending in which the executive lives happily with the writer's widow. The writer's title for the film is The Player.



Writer-producer Michael Tolkin initially had no intention of allowing his 1988 novel, The Player, to be adapted into a film, having written it to distance himself from his career in the movie industry. However, when producer David Brown acquired the film rights, he urged Tolkin to adapt it himself. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, as they sought financing and refined the script, Tolkin ventured into directing with The Rapture (1991) and enlisted that film's producer, Nick Wechsler, to join The Player's production team. The producers encountered difficulties in selling the film, as studio executives doubted the appeal of a narrative centered on the inner workings of Hollywood filmmaking. Cary Brokaw, the CEO of Avenue Pictures, rejected the script twice, in 1989 and 1990. However, in 1991, after witnessing Altman's work on the British film Vincent & Theo (1990), Brokaw approached Altman, who eagerly embraced the project.[4]

Principal photography for the film commenced in mid-June 1991 in Los Angeles, California, with an eight-week schedule. Before production, meticulous planning went into crafting the film's opening scene, an eight-minute unbroken tracking shot. Models were utilized to map out the shot, and the studio lot location was resurfaced to ensure smooth movement for the dolly and crane. The day before filming, the actors and crew rehearsed the scene. Altman filmed ten takes. Notably, Altman instructed actor Fred Ward, portraying a studio security chief, to incorporate references to other films renowned for their tracking shots into his dialogue to add irony to the scene.[4]

Altman also successfully persuaded a plethora of A-list actors to make cameo appearances in the film based on his esteemed reputation in the industry. These stars agreed to participate without reviewing the script and contributed their union-scale salaries for one day of filming to the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, a retirement community for industry professionals. Despite the large ensemble, the film was completed within a budget ranging from approximately $8 to $10 million. Funding for the project came from Avenue Pictures' "internal funds" and the pre-sale of foreign rights to Spelling International. Furthermore, principal actors agreed to defer their wages.[4] Chevy Chase was interested in playing the role of Griffin Mill, but Warner Bros. didn't want Chase to star in the film.[5]

Despite the difficulties of funding, the film's distribution rights were highly sought-after by nearly every major Hollywood studio. Eventually, Fine Line Features, a division of New Line Cinema, secured the rights with a guarantee of $5.1 million. President of Fine Line Features, Ira Deutchman, stated that the film would be promoted as a comedy to attract audiences who might not typically be interested in a movie about Hollywood. Release dates were strategically planned to coincide with the 64th Academy Awards in March 1992, aiming to capitalize on the ceremony's publicity and generate word-of-mouth buzz. Preview screenings were positive. The filmmakers hoped audiences would be drawn to the film's story rather than its celebrity cameos; therefore, Altman insisted on not featuring the actors' names in advertisements.[4]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 97% based on 65 reviews, with an average rating of 8.70/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Bitingly cynical without succumbing to bitterness, The Player is one of the all-time great Hollywood satires — and an ensemble-driven highlight of the Altman oeuvre."[6] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 86 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[7]

Roger Ebert gave the film a full four stars out of four and called it "a smart movie, and a funny one. It is also absolutely of its time. After the savings and loan scandals, after Michael Milken, after junk bonds and stolen pension funds, here is a movie that uses Hollywood as a metaphor for the avarice of the 1980s. It is the movie The Bonfire of the Vanities wanted to be."[8] Gene Siskel also gave the film a perfect four-star grade and wrote, "If you knew nothing and cared nothing about the movie business, you can still appreciate The Player as a ripping good thriller, too."[9] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "Robert Altman has not really been away. Yet his new Hollywood satire titled The Player is so entertaining, so flip and so genially irreverent that it seems to announce the return of the great gregarious film maker whose Nashville remains one of the classics of the 1970's".[10]

Todd McCarthy of Variety wrote: "Mercilessly satiric yet good-natured, this enormously entertaining slam dunk represents a remarkable American come-back for eternal maverick Robert Altman."[11] Terrence Rafferty of The New Yorker called it "a brilliant dark comedy about the death of American filmmaking," adding: "In this picture Altman is doing one of his specialties: exploring an odd American subculture—revealing its distinctive textures and explicating the peculiar principles of social intercourse which keep it functioning. But when his idiosyncratic style of anthropological realism is applied to the tight community of Hollywood 'players' it has an almost hallucinatory effect."[12] Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "Altman has made a movie that's supremely deft and pleasurable. As if to taunt his detractors, he even 'tells a story' this time, and he does a better job of it than the hacks who have been getting work when he couldn't."[13]

The Player was Altman's comeback to making films in Hollywood.[14] Altman was praised for the sex scene in which Robbins and Scacchi were filmed from the neck up. Scacchi later claimed that Altman had wanted a nude scene, but that it was her refusal which led to the final form.[15] The editing of The Player by Geraldine Peroni was honored by a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. In 2004, Tony Sloman wrote an appreciation of the film's editing:[16]

The Player is a marvellous example of collaborative editing, Peroni matching Altman's tone with exactitude. Early on, a cut from a zoom-in to the gun in Humphrey Bogart's hand on a postcard sent to Tim Robbins is perfectly successively matched with what appears to be a black frame, in which a reveal shows that it's an open drawer in which the postcard has been placed. Another felicitous sequence is the one in the Pasadena police station, where the Robbins character is arraigned as Lyle Lovett swats a fly and Whoopi Goldberg and her associates ridicule Robbins with laughter. This is beautifully edited; well-shot, too, but the rhythm is built in the cutting.

The Player was placed on 80 critics' year-end best lists, second only to Howards End in 1992.[17]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Robert Altman Nominated
Best Actor Tim Robbins Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Michael Tolkin Won
Best Film Editing Geraldine Peroni Nominated
Academy Awards[18] Best Director Robert Altman Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Michael Tolkin Nominated
Best Film Editing Geraldine Peroni Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Nominated
American Comedy Awards Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Whoopi Goldberg Nominated
Australian Film Institute Awards Best Foreign Film Michael Tolkin, David Brown and Nick Wechsler Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Director Robert Altman Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Nominated
Bodil Awards[19] Best Non-European Film Robert Altman Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[20] Best Director Won
British Academy Film Awards[21] Best Film David Brown, Michael Tolkin, Nick Wechsler and Robert Altman Nominated
Best Direction Robert Altman Won
Best Actor in a Leading Role Tim Robbins Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Michael Tolkin Won
Best Editing Geraldine Peroni Nominated
Cannes Film Festival[22] Palme d'Or Robert Altman Nominated
Best Director Won
Best Actor Tim Robbins Won
César Awards[23] Best Foreign Film Robert Altman Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[24] Best Film Nominated
Best Director Robert Altman Won
Best Actor Tim Robbins Nominated
Best Screenplay Michael Tolkin Won
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[25] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Robert Altman Nominated
Edgar Allan Poe Awards[26] Best Motion Picture Michael Tolkin Won
Golden Globe Awards[27] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Tim Robbins Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Robert Altman Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Michael Tolkin Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards[28] Best Feature Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards[29] Best Film Won[a]
London Film Critics Circle Awards Director of the Year Robert Altman Won
Screenwriter of the Year Michael Tolkin Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[30] Best Film Runner-up
Best Director Robert Altman Runner-up
Best Supporting Actor Sydney Pollack Runner-up
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director Robert Altman Won
National Board of Review Awards[31] Top Ten Films 5th Place
National Society of Film Critics Awards[32] Best Film 3rd Place
Best Director Robert Altman 2nd Place
Best Screenplay Michael Tolkin 3rd Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[33] Best Film Won
Best Director Robert Altman Won
Best Screenplay Michael Tolkin 2nd Place
Best Cinematographer Jean Lépine Won
PEN Center USA West Literary Awards Best Screenplay Michael Tolkin Won
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards[34] Best Picture 2nd Place
Best Director Robert Altman Won
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 2nd Place
USC Scripter Awards[35] Michael Tolkin Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards[36] Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Won


In 2015, Entertainment Weekly's 25th anniversary year, it named The Player in its list of the 25 best movies since the magazine's beginnings.[37] Rolling Stone listed The Player as one of the best movies of the 90's.[38]

Television adaptation

In 1997, the film was adapted into a pilot that wasn't picked up. It starred Patrick Dempsey, Michael Parks, Arye Gross, Shelley Duvall, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Jennifer Grey, Seymour Cassel, and more.[39]

See also


  1. ^ Tied with Unforgiven.


  1. ^ a b "The Player (1992)". The Numbers. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  2. ^ Tolkin, Michael, "The Player", 1st ed., New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. ISBN 0-87113-228-1
  3. ^ The Player – Commentary by Robert Altman, Michael Tolkin (DVD). New Line Home Video.
  4. ^ a b c d "The Player". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 4, 2024.
  5. ^ "The Lost Roles of Chevy Chase". Vulture. September 22, 2011.
  6. ^ The Player at Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ The Player at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (April 24, 1992). "The Player". Retrieved December 12, 2018.
  9. ^ Siskel, Gene (April 24, 1992). "Altman targets Hollywood in masterful Player". Chicago Tribune. Section 7, p. C.
  10. ^ Canby, Vincent (April 10, 1992). "Inside Hollywood: An Impious Tale". The New York Times. p. C-16. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  11. ^ McCarthy, Todd (March 16, 1992). "Reviews: The Player". Variety. 58.
  12. ^ Rafferty, Terrence (April 20, 1992). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 81.
  13. ^ Rainer, Peter (April 19, 1992). "Here's the Deal: 'The Player' Takes Hollywood Genre One Step Beyond". Los Angeles Times. p. 46. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  14. ^ Murray, Noel (March 30, 2015). "Vincent & Theo". The Dissolve. Archived from the original on April 7, 2016. When The Player came out in 1992, it was greeted as a welcome comeback for director Robert Altman, who spent much of the previous decade working small—making filmed plays instead of the ambitious, character-heavy genre reinventions he'd been known for in the 1970s. But Altman actually reclaimed his critics' darling status two years earlier with Vincent & Theo, a luminous biopic about painter Vincent Van Gogh (played by Tim Roth) and his art-dealer brother (Paul Rhys).
  15. ^ "Greta Scacchi: 'I'm done with taking off my clothes on screen'". Daily Telegraph. July 25, 2008. Retrieved October 14, 2012.
  16. ^ Sloman, Tony (August 31, 2004). "Geraldine Peroni Obituary: Oscar-nominated film editor on 'The Player'". The Independent. Archived from the original on January 8, 2016. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  17. ^ Rothman, David (January 24, 1993). "106 Doesn't Add Up". Los Angeles Times.
  18. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards (1993) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  19. ^ "1993". Bodilprisen (in Danish). October 19, 2015. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  20. ^ "BSFC Winners: 1990s". Boston Society of Film Critics. July 27, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  21. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1993". BAFTA. 1993. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  22. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Player". Retrieved August 15, 2009.
  23. ^ "The 1993 Caesars Ceremony". César Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  24. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. January 2013. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  25. ^ "45th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  26. ^ "Category List – Best Motion Picture". Edgar Awards. Retrieved August 15, 2021.
  27. ^ "The Player – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  28. ^ "36 Years of Nominees and Winners" (PDF). Independent Spirit Awards. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  29. ^ "KCFCC Award Winners – 1990-99". December 14, 2013. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  30. ^ "The 18th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved November 14, 2022.
  31. ^ "1992 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  32. ^ "Past Awards". National Society of Film Critics. December 19, 2009. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  33. ^ "1992 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  34. ^ "1992 SEFA Awards". Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  35. ^ "Past Scripter Awards". USC Scripter Award. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  36. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  37. ^ "EW's 25 Best Movies in 25 Years". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 14, 2022.
  38. ^ "The 100 Greatest Movies of the Nineties". Rolling Stone. July 12, 2017.
  39. ^ "The Player (1997)". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 23, 2023.