The Punisher
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMark Goldblatt
Written byBoaz Yakin
Based on
Produced byRobert Mark Kamen
CinematographyIan Baker
Edited by
  • Tim Wellburn
Music byDennis Dreith
Distributed byLive Entertainment (North America)
New World International (International)
Release dates
  • October 5, 1989 (1989-10-05) (West Germany)
  • April 25, 1991 (1991-04-25) (United States)
Running time
89 minutes[1]
  • United States
  • Australia
Budget$9 million[2]
Box office$30 million[2]

The Punisher is a 1989 vigilante action-thriller film directed by Mark Goldblatt, written by Boaz Yakin, and starring Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gossett Jr. Based on the Punisher character from Marvel Comics, the film changes some details of the character's origin, and eliminates the signature skull logo; instead, The Punisher uses a knife with the skull on its pommel. It was shot in Sydney, co-starring Jeroen Krabbé, Kim Miyori, Nancy Everhard, and Barry Otto.


Frank Castle is a former undercover police detective and U.S. Marine whose wife Julie was killed 5 years ago, along with their two daughters, by a Mafia car bomb intended for Frank who is also presumed to be dead. Castle has since become the city's most wanted, and most mysterious, vigilante - known only as "The Punisher". He now lives in the city's labyrinthine sewer-system, having assassinated 125 mobsters (not counting henchmen) in the past 5 years. His work is known by the use of special throwing-knives engraved with a skull. Castle's sole ally in his one-man war against organized crime is Shake (taken from Shakespeare and "the shakes"), a stage-performer-turned derelict who typically speaks in rhyme.

The underworld families have become so weakened by the Punisher's guerrilla warfare that kingpin Gianni Franco is forced out of retirement. Franco plans to unify the decimated families. However, this attracts unwanted attention from the yakuza, Asia's most powerful crime syndicate. Led by Lady Tanaka, the yakuza decide to take over the Mafia families and all of their interests. In order to sway the mobsters to their cause, they kidnap their children and hold them for ransom.

Shake pleads with the Punisher to save the children, who are likely to be sold into the Arab slave trade regardless of whether the Mafia give into the demands. The Punisher attacks yakuza businesses, warning that for every day the children are held in captivity, he will inflict heavy costs on them in property damage. The yakuza later capture the Punisher and Shake and attempt to torture them into submission, but the Punisher breaks free and decides the only course of action is a direct rescue.

He is able to save most of the children and commandeers a bus to get the kidnapped children to safety. However prior to this Tommy Franco, the son of Gianni Franco, had been taken away to yakuza headquarters. When driving the busload of kids, the Punisher runs into a police roadblock and is arrested. While in custody, Castle is reunited with one of his old partners, who warns his multiple killings will likely get him executed; however, at a later point Castle is broken out of jail by Franco's men. Franco admits he brought this on himself as the hit on Castle's family was an error, and persuades the Punisher to help him save his son. Castle agrees to work with his old enemy for the sake of stopping the yakuza from taking root in America.

Franco and the Punisher raid the yakuza headquarters, to fight and kill all the yakuza, including Lady Tanaka and her daughter. Upon being reunited with his son, Franco betrays the Punisher, but the Punisher defends himself and kills Franco. Franco's son Tommy then threatens the Punisher for killing his father, but cannot bring himself to take revenge. Castle warns Gianni Franco's son, Tommy Franco, to "stay a good boy, and grow up to be a good man", not following his father's misdeeds. He also warns he will return should the boy commit any crimes, then disappears. The police arrive, only to find no trace of the Punisher. Meanwhile, at his lair, Castle narrates that he'll be waiting "in the shadows".



Christopher Lambert was the original choice for the role of Frank Castle. But an ankle injury forced him to withdraw. Steven Seagal was interested in playing the role. Nicole Kidman was initially cast.[3] Contrary to rumors, Michael Paré was not considered for the role of Frank Castle.[citation needed] In 1989, Dolph Lundgren revealed that he was trying something different and he liked the Punisher.[4]

Production took place in Sydney.[5]


Main article: The Punisher (1989 score)

A full orchestral score was composed and conducted by Dennis Dreith at the Warner Bros. soundstage in Burbank, California. A CD of the soundtrack was not released until July 19, 2005 (Perseverance Records, PRD006). The CD includes the complete multi-track stereo recording, and a 22-minute interview with the composer Dennis Dreith and the director Mark Goldblatt. Perseverance Records released a new 5.1 mix as a Super Audio CD, in collaboration with Tarantula Records. The American DVD release only contains a monaural soundtrack, though the film has Dolby Stereo. The 2013 German and UK Blu-ray/DVD editions were presented with 2.0 and 5.1 (Dolby Digital and DTS-HD MA) soundtracks. The UK disc was made from mono tracks.



The film was given a worldwide theatrical release, except in the United States, Sweden, and South Africa.[6] It was originally slated for a US release in August 1989, and trailers were created by New World. It premiered in Germany and France in October 1989 and was shown months later at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Sci-fi Convention in July 1990. However, the film never received a wide theatrical release in the United States due to New World's financial difficulties and its new owners not having an interest in theatrical distribution.

Home media

It was sold to Live Entertainment (now Lionsgate) which released it direct-to-video on VHS and Laserdisc in April 1991. It finally premiered at the 2008 Escapism Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina[6] where director Mark Goldblatt screened his own personal 35mm print. He showed that again in April 2009 at the Dolph Lundgren Film Fest hosted by the New Beverly theater.



Overall, the film earned $30 million, on a budget of $9 million.[2]

Critical response

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an approval rating of 28% based on 18 reviews, with an average rating of 3.75/10. The site's consensus states: "Despite the seemingly indestructible Dolph Lundgren with a crossbow, The Punisher is a boring one-man battle with never-ending action scenes".[7] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 63 out of 100, based on 4 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[8] Christopher Null gave the film 1 out of 5, stating the film was "marred by cheeseball sets and special effects, lame fight sequences, and some of the worst acting ever to disgrace the screen".[9] cited it as an example of a failed comic book film, complaining that the film omitted aspects of the character that made him compelling, and would have served better following closer to the plot of the source material.[10] Criticizing the film's storyline and acting, Time Out magazine concluded the film was "destructive, reprehensible, and marvelous fun".[11] TV Guide's movie guide gave the film three out of four stars, praising Lundgren's performance and compared the characterization of the Punisher to that of Frank Miller's re-imagining of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. They further praised the film's atmosphere, calling it "genuinely comic book-like, rather than cartoonish".[12] Comic writer Garth Ennis, who wrote the acclaimed MAX run cited by many as the best Punisher comics, called it the most honest adaptation of the character on a podcast in 2022 praising it's "no compromise" portrayal of the character . [13][14]


In 1990, New World promoted The Punisher II and an X-Men animated film, but the projects never materialized.[15]

The advertisement of the 1990 tie-in video game The Punisher features images from the film.[16] Similarities between the film and the 1993 video game The Punisher include the assault on a casino by breaking through the ceiling and the female assassin.[17][18]

In June 1990, a 64-page comic adaption of the film, written by Carl Potts and drawn by Brent Anderson, was released by Marvel.

In 2004 a reboot starring Thomas Jane, titled The Punisher was released by Lions Gate Films and Columbia TriStar Pictures.

In 2008 another reboot was made starring Ray Stevenson and titled Punisher: War Zone. Released by Lions Gate Films and Sony Pictures.

In 2019, Lundgren reprised the role in a photo shoot.[19]


  1. ^ "THE PUNISHER (18) (CUT)". British Board of Film Classification. April 4, 1990. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Marvel Comics into Film: Essays on Adaptations Since the 1940s. McFarland & Company. 2016. pp. 234–6. ISBN 978-0786443048.
  3. ^ @punisher_book (December 13, 2018). "#DolphLundgren with #NicoleKidman..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  4. ^ "The Punisher Film Journal Entries". Dolph The Ultimate Guide.
  5. ^ Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970-1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p126
  6. ^ a b "The Punisher". Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  7. ^ "The Punisher". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  8. ^ "The Punisher Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved October 1, 2020.
  9. ^ Christopher Null (2004). "The Punisher (1989)". Archived from the original on December 6, 2008. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  10. ^ Downey, Ryan J. (April 25, 2002). "Will 'Spider-Man' Fly?". Retrieved August 7, 2011.
  11. ^ "The Punisher (1989)". Time Out. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  12. ^ Staff. "The Punisher Review". TV Guide. Archived from the original on June 4, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2011.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ "NGMpunisher2.jpg". Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  16. ^ figment1988 (September 18, 2007). The Punisher NES Commercial. Retrieved January 31, 2022 – via YouTube.((cite AV media)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ "The Punisher 1989 Uncut (Arrow Recommends)". January 20, 2018.
  18. ^ "The Punisher". GAMEBASE.
  19. ^ "Dolph Lundgren Returns as Frank Castle for The Punisher Photo Shoot". MovieWeb. November 16, 2019.