Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
|Directed by||Joel Schumacher|
|Written by||Peter Filardi|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Cinematography||Jan de Bont|
|Edited by||Robert Brown|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$61.3 million|
Flatliners is a 1990 American science fiction psychological horror film directed by Joel Schumacher, produced by Michael Douglas and Rick Bieber, and written by Peter Filardi. It stars Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon. The film is about five medical students who attempt to find out what lies beyond death by conducting clandestine experiments that produce near-death experiences. The film was shot on the campus of Loyola University (Chicago) between October 1989 and January 1990, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing in 1990 (Charles L. Campbell and Richard C. Franklin). The film was theatrically released on August 10, 1990, by Columbia Pictures. It grossed $61 million at the box office.
Nelson Wright, a medical student, walks onto a beach one day and proclaims "today is a good day to die". He later convinces four of his medical school classmates--Joe Hurley, David Labraccio, Randy Steckle, and Rachel Manus--to help him discover what lies beyond death. Nelson flatlines for one minute before his classmates resuscitate him. While "dead", he experiences a sort of afterlife. He sees a vision of a boy he bullied as a child, Billy Mahoney. He merely tells his friends that he cannot describe what he saw, but something is there. The others follow Nelson's daring feat.
Joe flatlines next, and he experiences an erotic afterlife sequence. He agrees with Nelson's claim that something indeed exists. David is third to flatline, and he sees a vision of a girl, Winnie Hicks, whom he bullied in grade school. The three men start to experience hallucinations related to their afterlife visions. Nelson gets physically beat up by Billy Mahoney twice. Joe, engaged to be married, is haunted by his home videos of his sexual dalliances with other women. David finds Winnie Hicks on a train, and she verbally taunts him the way he taunted her.
Rachel decides to flatline next on Halloween. David tries to stop the others from giving Rachel their same fate, but she is already "dead" when he arrives. Rachel nearly dies for good after the power goes out, and the men are unable to shock her with the defibrillator paddles. Luckily, she survives, but she, too, is haunted by the memory of her father committing suicide when she was young.
The three men finally reveal their harrowing experiences to one another, and David decides to put his visions to a stop. Meanwhile, Joe's fiancée, Anne, comes to his apartment, and she breaks up with him after she discovers his videos. Joe's visions cease after Anne leaves him.
David goes to visit Winnie Hicks, now grown up, and apologizes to her. Winnie accepts his apology and thanks him. David immediately feels a weight lifted off his shoulders. Then, David finds Nelson, who accompanied David to visit Winnie, beating himself with a climbing axe. In Nelson's mind, however, Billy Mahoney is attempting for a third time to beat him to death. David stops him, and they return to town.
Rachel seeks comfort in the arms of David, and the two spend the night together. While Rachel and David are together, Nelson takes Steckle and Joe to a graveyard. He reveals that he killed Billy Mahoney as a kid by throwing rocks at him until he fell out of a tree. Nelson storms off, leaving Joe and Steckle stranded.
David leaves Rachel alone in order to rescue Joe and Steckle at the cemetery. While alone, Rachel goes to the bathroom, and finds her father. He apologizes to his daughter, and her guilt over his death is lifted when she discovers that he was addicted to heroin. Then, Nelson calls Rachel, and he tells her that he needs to flatline again in order to make amends. He apologizes for involving her and their friends in his stupid plan.
The three men race to Nelson, who has been dead for an estimated nine minutes already. Rachel soon finds them, and the four friends work feverishly to save Nelson. In the afterlife, Nelson is experiencing himself as a young boy being stoned by Billy Mahoney from the tree. Nelson dies in the afterlife from the fall, and his friends cannot revive him. When they are about to give up, Mahoney forgives Nelson, and David gives Nelson one last shock. This brings him back, and Nelson tells them, "Today wasn't a good day to die."
Columbia Pictures released Flatliners theatrically on August 10, 1990. The film debuted at No.1 and took in $10 million on its opening weekend. It grossed $61.5 million total in the United States.
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 48% of critics give the film a positive review based on 44 reviews. On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average rating to reviews, the film has a score 55 out of 100, based 10 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
In her review for The New York Times, Caryn James wrote, "when taken on its own stylish terms, Flatliners is greatly entertaining. Viewers are likely to go along with this film instantly or else ridicule it to death. Its atmospheric approach doesn't admit much middle ground." Critic Roger Ebert praised the film as "an original, intelligent thriller, well-directed by Joel Schumacher" and called the cast "talented young actors, [who] inhabit the shadows with the right mixture of intensity, fear and cockiness". But Ebert criticized Flatliners for "plot manipulation that is unworthy of the brilliance of its theme. I only wish it had been restructured so we didn't need to go through the same crisis so many times." Similarly, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine praised the film's young stars, but complained that "by dodging the questions it raises about life after death, Flatliners ends up tripping on timidity. It's a movie about daring that dares nothing."
Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "D" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "What isn't in evidence is the sort of overheated lunacy that made the William Hurt speed-freak trip movie Altered States (1980) such delectable trash. Flatliners is camp, but of a very low order. Schumacher is too intent on pandering to the youth market to take the mad risks and plunges that make for a scintillating bad movie." In contrast, The Washington Post's Rita Kempley loved the film, calling it: "a heart-stopping, breathtakingly sumptuous haunted house of a movie". Over time, the film has become a cult film for fans of abstract and thought provoking films.
On October 5, 2015, a remake starring Ellen Page and Diego Luna was announced, following the casting of Nina Dobrev, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons. Kiefer Sutherland also appears in the remake. Sutherland had originally announced that he was reprising his role as Nelson Wright, revealing that the new film would actually be a sequel rather than a remake. However, upon release, Sutherland ultimately played a different unrelated character. (Note: A deleted scene from the remake served to imply Sutherland was in fact playing the same character, living under a new identity.) Directed by Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, it was released on September 29, 2017.