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Donnie Darko is a 2001 American science fiction film written and directed by Richard Kelly. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The film follows the adventures of the troubled title character as he seeks the meaning behind his doomsday-related visions.

Donnie Darko
A collage of faces, in the shape of a head with rabbit ears.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Kelly
Produced by
Written byRichard Kelly
Music byMichael Andrews
CinematographySteven B. Poster
Edited by
  • Sam Bauer
  • Eric Strand
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 19, 2001 (2001-01-19) (Sundance)
  • October 26, 2001 (2001-10-26) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.5 million[2]
Box office$7.5 million[3]

Filmed over the course of 28 days (coincidentally mirroring the time transpired in the movie), the film was almost released straight-to-video.[4] Donnie Darko was screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2001, before receiving a limited theatrical release on October 26, 2001 by Flower Films. Due to the film's advertising featuring a crashing plane and the September 11 attacks that transpired a month before, the film was scarcely advertised. In the end, Donnie Darko grossed just over $7.5 million worldwide on a budget of $4.5 million.[3] Despite its lackluster box office performance, Donnie Darko received critical acclaim. Critics lauded the film's story, acting, and tone. The film was listed #2 in Empire's 50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time,[5] as well as #63 in Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[6]

It was released on VHS and DVD in March 2002. The film became a surprising success on the home video market, reportedly grossing over $10 million in home video sales. The film has developed a cult following.[7] The film's soundtrack is also famous for its cover of Tears for Fears's "Mad World" by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews. The cover reached number one on the UK Singles Chart and stayed there for three consecutive weeks.[8] The song achieved lukewarm success in the United States, reaching number 30 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. A director's cut was released in 2004, on a two-disc special edition DVD.[9] A stage adaptation appeared in 2007, and a sequel, S. Darko, in 2009.



On October 2, 1988, troubled teenager Donald "Donnie" Darko is woken up and beckoned outside by a mysterious voice. Once outside, he meets a figure in a monstrous rabbit costume who introduces himself as "Frank" and tells Donnie that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Donnie wakes up the next morning on the green of a local golf course and returns home to discover a jet engine has crashed into his bedroom. His older sister Elizabeth tells him the FAA investigators do not know its origin.

Over the next several days, Donnie continues to have visions of Frank, and his parents Eddie and Rose send him to psychotherapist Dr. Thurman. Thurman believes Donnie is detached from reality, and that his visions of Frank are "daylight hallucinations," symptomatic of paranoid schizophrenia. Frank asks Donnie if he believes in time travel, who, in turn, asks his science teacher Dr. Kenneth Monnitoff. Monnitoff gives Donnie The Philosophy of Time Travel, a book written by Roberta Sparrow, a former science teacher at the school who is now a seemingly senile old woman living outside of town. Donnie also starts seeing Gretchen Ross, who has recently moved into town with her mother under a new identity to escape her violent stepfather.

Frank begins to influence Donnie's actions, including causing him to flood his high school by breaking a water main. Gym teacher Kitty Farmer attributes the act of vandalism to the influence of the short story "The Destructors", assigned by dedicated English teacher Karen Pomeroy. Kitty begins teaching “attitude lessons” taken from local motivational speaker Jim Cunningham, but Donnie rebels against these, leading to friction between Kitty and Rose. Kitty arranges for Cunningham to speak at a school assembly, where Donnie insults him. He later finds Cunningham's wallet and address, and Frank suggests setting his house on fire. Firefighters discover a hoard of child pornography there. Cunningham is arrested, and Kitty, who wishes to testify in his defense, asks Rose to chaperone their daughters’ dance troupe on its trip to Los Angeles.

With Rose and little sister Samantha in Los Angeles, and Eddie away for business, Donnie and Elizabeth hold a Halloween costume party to celebrate Elizabeth's acceptance to Harvard. At the party, Gretchen arrives distraught as her mother has gone missing, and she and Donnie have sex for the first time. When Donnie realizes that Frank's prophesied end of the world is only hours away, he takes Gretchen and two other friends to see Sparrow. Instead of Sparrow, they find two high school bullies, Seth and Ricky, who were trying to rob Sparrow's home. Donnie, Seth, and Ricky get into a fight in the road in front of her house, just as Sparrow was returning home. An oncoming car swerves to avoid Sparrow and runs over Gretchen, killing her. The driver turns out to be Elizabeth's boyfriend, Frank Anderson, wearing the same rabbit costume from Donnie's visions. Donnie shoots Frank in the eye with his father's gun, and walks home carrying Gretchen’s body.

Donnie returns home as a vortex forms over his house. He borrows one of his parent’s cars, loads Gretchen’s body into it, and drives to a nearby ridge that overlooks town. There, he watches as the plane carrying Rose and the dance troupe home from Los Angeles gets caught in the vortex’s wake, which violently rips off one of its engines, and sends it back in time. Events of the previous 28 days unwind. Donnie wakes up in his bedroom, recognizes the date is October 2, and laughs as the jet engine falls into his bedroom, crushing him. Around town, those whose lives Donnie would have touched wake up from troubled dreams. Gretchen rides by the Darko home the next morning, and learns of Donnie's death. Gretchen and Rose exchange glances and wave as if they know each other, but cannot remember where.


Jason Schwartzman was originally slated to play the titular character, but could not due to a scheduling conflict.[10]


Although the film was always meant to be set in 1988, Kelly admitted he felt pressured to make the setting more contemporary; but, he couldn't figure out how to make the story work in such a setting and retained the original setting.[11] In an interview with BBC, Kelly said he "set out to write something ambitious, personal, and nostalgic about the late 80s."[12] Frank, the giant rabbit, was inspired by the novel Watership Down, with the novel's censorship being a plot point before being abandoned in the final version.[13] Newer information has shown the costume could also have been an inspiration from a dream Kelly had.[14]


Donnie Darko was filmed in 28 days which, by coincidence, virtually matches the time that transpires in the film from October 2, 1988, to the Friday or Saturday weekend party before Halloween on Monday, October 31, 1988.[2] The budget for the film was $4.5 million.[2]

It almost went straight to home video, but was theatrically released by Drew Barrymore's production company, Flower Films.[4]

Some scenes were shot in Bixby Knolls Virginia Country Club, in Long Beach, California, with many of the school sequences shot at Loyola High School. The "Carpathian Ridge" scenes were shot on the Angeles Crest Highway.[15]


In 2003, the piano-driven cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" featured in the film, as part of the end sequence, was a hit for composer Michael Andrews and singer Gary Jules, topping the charts in the United Kingdom and Portugal.[16]

One continuous sequence involving an introduction of Donnie's high school prominently features the song "Head over Heels", by Tears for Fears, Samantha's dance group, "Sparkle Motion", performs with the song "Notorious", by Duran Duran, and "Under the Milky Way", by The Church, is played after Donnie and Gretchen emerge from his room during the party. "Love Will Tear Us Apart", by Joy Division, also appears in the film diegetically during the party and shots of Donnie and Gretchen upstairs. The version included was released in 1995, although the film is set in 1988. The opening sequence is set to "The Killing Moon" by Echo & the Bunnymen.[17]

In the re-released director's cut, the music in the opening sequence is replaced by "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS; "Under the Milky Way" is moved to the scene of Donnie and Eddie driving home from Donnie's meeting with his therapist; and "The Killing Moon" is played as Gretchen and Donnie return to the party from Donnie's parents' room.[17]


The film had a limited release, opening October 26, the month following the September 11 attacks. It was subsequently held back for almost a year for international release. Kelly said it took almost six months to sell the movie. "It almost went directly to the Starz network. We had to beg them to put it in theaters. Filmmaker Christopher Nolan stepped in and convinced Newmarket to put it in theaters."[18]


The Donnie Darko Book, written by Richard Kelly, is a 2003 book about the film. It includes an introduction by Jake Gyllenhaal, the screenplay of the Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut, an in-depth interview with Kelly, facsimile pages from the Philosophy of Time Travel, photos and drawings from the film, and artwork it inspired. NECA released first a six-inch (15 cm) figure of Frank the Bunny and later a foot-tall (30 cm) "talking version" of the same figure.

Home mediaEdit

The film was originally released on VHS and DVD in March 2002. Strong DVD sales led Newmarket Films to release a "Director's Cut" on DVD in 2004. Bob Berney, President of Newmarket Films, has described the film as "a runaway hit on DVD," citing United States sales of more than $10 million.[citation needed]

The film was released in the U.S. on Blu-ray on February 10, 2009, containing both versions. The movie was then re-released on July 26, 2011 as a four-disc, 10th anniversary edition, once again containing both versions in HD, and the theatrical version on DVD.

The film was released as a 2-disc Blu-ray special edition in the UK on July 19, 2010, by Metrodome Distribution, and featuring both Original and Director's Cut. It also included commentaries from director Kelly and actor Gyllenhaal, Kelly and Kevin Smith, and cast and crew, including Drew Barrymore.

In December 2016, Arrow Films released a limited edition 4K resolution Blu-ray of the film in the UK, supervised and approved by director Kelly. This release includes both the Director's and Theatrical cuts and was accompanied by a Dual format Blu-ray and DVD release.[19] In the US, it was released in April 2017.

Director's cutEdit

Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut was released on May 29, 2004, in Seattle, Washington, at the Seattle International Film Festival, and later in New York City and Los Angeles, on July 23, 2004. The tickets sold out within the day for the Seattle International Film Festival premiere, grossing nearly $33,000 over a five-day period.[20] This cut includes twenty minutes of extra footage and an altered soundtrack.

The director's cut DVD was released on February 15, 2005 in single- and double-disc versions, the latter being available in a standard DVD case or in a limited edition that also features a lenticular slipcase, whose central image alternates between Donnie and Frank depending on the viewing angle. Most additional features are exclusive to the two-DVD set: the director's commentary assisted by Kevin Smith,[21] excerpts from the storyboard, a 52-minute production diary, "#1 fan video", a "cult following" video interviewing English fans, and the new director's cut trailer. The single-DVD edition was also released as a giveaway with copies of the British Sunday Times newspaper on February 19, 2006.

The DVD of the Director's Cut includes text of the in-universe fictional book, The Philosophy of Time Travel, written by Roberta Sparrow, which Donnie is given and reads in the film.[22] The text expands on the philosophical and scientific concepts much of the film's plot revolves around, and has been seen as a way to understand the film better than from its theatrical release.[23][24][25] As outlined by Salon's Dan Kois from the book's text, much of the film takes place in an unstable Tangent Universe that is connected to the Primary Universe and a duplicate of it, except for an extra metal vessel known as an Artifact — the plane engine. If the Artifact is not sent to the Primary Universe by the chosen Living Receiver (Donnie) within 28 days, the Primary Universe will be destroyed upon collapse of the Tangent. To aid in this task, the Living Receiver is given super-human abilities such as foresight, physical strength and elemental powers, but at the cost of troubling visions and paranoia, while the Manipulated Living (all who live around the Receiver) support him in unnatural ways, setting up a domino-like chain of events encouraging him to return the Artifact. The Manipulated Dead (those who die within the Tangent Universe, like Frank and Gretchen) are more aware than the Living, having the power to travel through time, and will set an Ensurance Trap, a scenario which leaves the Receiver no choice but to save the Primary Universe.[23]


Box officeEdit

Donnie Darko had its first screening at the Sundance Film Festival, on January 19, 2001, and debuted in United States theaters on October 26, 2001, to a tepid response. During its opening weekend, it was shown on only 58 screens nationwide, grossing $110,494.[26] This may have been the result of the movie being released shortly after the September 11 attacks.[27] By the time the film's run closed in United States theaters, on April 11, 2002, it had earned just $517,375.[3][26] It ultimately grossed $7.6 million worldwide, just enough to recoup its budget.[3]

Despite its poor box office showing, the film began to attract a devoted fan base. It was originally released on VHS and DVD in March 2002. During this time, the Pioneer Theatre in New York City's East Village began midnight screenings of Donnie Darko that continued for 28 consecutive months.[16] In the United Kingdom, Donnie Darko sold 300,000 tickets within the first six weeks of its release, based mostly on word-of-mouth marketing.[28]

Critical reactionEdit

The film received critical acclaim, with praise towards the acting, atmosphere and unconventional writing. Rotten Tomatoes gives the theatrical version of the film an 86% rating, and the director's cut a 91% rating.[9] The site's critical consensus reads, "Richard Kelly's debut feature Donnie Darko is a daring, original vision, packed with jarring ideas and intelligence and featuring a remarkable performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as the troubled title character." Metacritic gives the theatrical version of the film a score of 71 out of 100, based on 21 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews", whereas the director's cut received a much higher score of 88 out of 100, based on 15 reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim".[29]

Andrew Johnson cited the film in Us Weekly, as one of the outstanding films at Sundance in 2001, describing it as "a heady blend of science fiction, spirituality, and teen angst."[30] Jean Oppenheimer of New Times (LA) praised the film, saying, "Like gathering storm clouds, Donnie Darko creates an atmosphere of eerie calm and mounting menace—[and] stands as one of the most exceptional movies of 2001."[31] Writing for ABC Australia, Megan Spencer called the movie "menacing, dreamy, [and] exciting" and noted "it could take you to a deeply emotional place lying dormant in your soul."[32] Roger Ebert gave the theatrical version of the film two and a half stars out of four, but later gave the director's cut three stars out of four.[33]


Other awards
  • #14 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 50 Best High School Movies.[36]
  • #2 in Empire's "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time" list.[5]
  • #53 in Empire's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time 2008 poll.[6]


A 2009 sequel, S. Darko, centers on Sam, Donnie's younger sister. Sam begins to have strange dreams that hint at a major catastrophe. Donnie Darko creator Richard Kelly has said he had no involvement in the sequel, as he does not own the rights to the original.[37] Chase and producer Adam Fields were the only creative links between it and the original film. The sequel received extremely negative reviews.[9][38]

In an interview published on January 24, 2017, Kelly revealed there's a movie set in the world of Donnie Darko he wants to make, that would be much bigger and more ambitious than the original. Because of the large budget required, Kelly said he will look into securing the necessary resources, once he finishes with his next film.[39]

In an interview with PopMatters magazine journalist J.C. Maçek III director Richard Kelly said regarding the sequel S. Darko, "I hate it when people ask me about that sequel because" he laughs, morosely, "I had nothing to do with it. And I hate it when people try and blame me or hold me responsible for it because I had no [involvement]. I don’t control the underlying rights to [the Donnie Darko franchise]. I had to relinquish them when I was 24-years old. I hate when people ask me about that because I’ve never seen it and I never will, so… don’t ask me about the sequel." He adds with a cynical laugh, "Those people are making lots of money. They’re certainly making lots of money."[40] When asked if he would ever do an official sequel, Kelly responded, "I’m open to doing something much bigger and longer and more ambitious that could be a new story." He added, "We’ll see what happens. I have a lot of stuff that I’m working on and it’s ambitious and it’s expensive and we’ll see what happens."[40]


Marcus Stern, associate director of the American Repertory Theater, directed a stage adaptation of Donnie Darko at the Zero Arrow Theatre, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the fall of 2007. It ran from October 27 until November 18, 2007, with opening night scheduled near Halloween.

An article written by the production drama team says the director and production team planned to "embrace the challenge to make the fantastical elements come alive on stage."[41] In 2004, Stern adapted and directed Kelly's screenplay for a graduate student production at the American Repertory Theatre's Institute for Advanced Theater Training (I.A.T.T./M.X.A.T.).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Donnie Darko (15)". British Board of Film Classification. May 13, 2001. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Richard Kelly (director) (2004). Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (DVD).
  3. ^ a b c d "Donnie Darko". The Numbers. Retrieved 2013-06-23.
  4. ^ a b Snider, Mike (2005-02-14). "'Darko' takes a long, strange trip". USA Today. Retrieved 2012-08-30.
  5. ^ a b "50 Greatest Independent Films of All Time". Retrieved 2012-09-30.
  6. ^ a b "Empire's 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Retrieved 2012-09-30.
  7. ^ Scott Tobias (2008-02-21). "The New Cult Canon: Donnie Darko". The A.V. Club. The Onion.
  8. ^ "IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD!". NME. 4 January 2004.
  9. ^ a b c Donnie Darko at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (March 31, 2017). "'Donnie Darko,' The Inside Story: Director Richard Kelly Reveals Francis Ford Coppola's Hidden Hand in Shaping the Movie". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  11. ^ Cranswick, Ami. "Exclusive Interview with Donnie Darko writer/director Richard Kelly". Flickering Myth. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  12. ^ Korsner, Jason (October 25, 2002). "Donnie Darko Interview". BBC. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  13. ^ Susman, Gary. "25 Things You May Not Know About 'Donnie Darko'". Moviefone. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  14. ^ Coggan, Devan (7 April 2017). "THE BUNNY SUIT". Entertainment Weekly.
  15. ^ Poster, Steven (Cinematographer) (2004). Donnie Darko Production Diary (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  16. ^ a b Brunett, Adam (2004-07-22). "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut: The Strange Afterlife of an Indie Cult Film". Indie Wire. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  17. ^ a b Day, Matt (10 August 2004). "Donnie Darko: Director's Cut". The Digital Fix.
  18. ^ Schilling, Dave (November 14, 2016). "Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly: 'Sometimes films need time to marinate'". Retrieved January 26, 2017 – via The Guardian.
  19. ^ The Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD release arrived on December 12th
  20. ^ Valby, Karen; Flynn, Gillian (18 June 2004). "AFTER DARK". Entertainment Weekly.
  21. ^ Commentary with Kevin Smith (2003). Donnie Darko Directors Cut. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-22124-6.
  22. ^ Text of The Philosophy of Time Travel
  23. ^ a b Kois, Dan (2004-07-23). "Everything you were afraid to ask about "Donnie Darko"". Salon. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
  24. ^ "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut - CINEMABLEND". May 27, 2016. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  25. ^ Drucker, Mike (January 24, 2005). "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut". Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  26. ^ a b "Donnie Darko (2001)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  27. ^ James Davies. "Blu-ray Review: 'Donnie Darko: 2 Disc Ultimate Edition' (rerelease)". Archived from the original on February 20, 2011.
  28. ^ Leigh, Danny (29 July 2004). "The Rabbit Rides Again." The Guardian.
  29. ^ "Donnie Darko". Metacritic.
  30. ^ Us Weekly, 2/21/2001, p. 36.
  31. ^ Andy Bailey (2001-01-21). "PARK CITY 2001 REVIEW: Donnie Darko Plays with the Time of Our Lives". Indie Wire. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  32. ^ Megan Spencer (2002-10-15). "Donnie Darko: triple j film reviews". Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  33. ^ Roger Ebert. "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  34. ^ "My Favourite Film". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  35. ^ Joanne Oatts (2006-07-03). "C4 relaunches Film4 with '50 films to see before you die' countdown". Brand Republic. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  36. ^ "50 Best High School Movies". Entertainment Weekly. September 15, 2006. Archived from the original on August 15, 2012.
  37. ^ Chris Tilly (2008-05-13). "Arcade Fire Open Box: Richard Kelly on film score and Darko sequel". IGN. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  38. ^ Josh Modell (2009-05-13). "S. Darko". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2012-08-31.
  39. ^ "Richard Kelly talks reissuing Donnie Darko and his plans for a "much bigger and more ambitious" sequel". Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  40. ^ a b Maçek III, J.C. (3 April 2017). "Mainstream Darko: Director Richard Kelly on Building His Own Sandbox". PopMatters.
  41. ^ Sarah Wallace (2007-11-01). "Bringing the End of the World to Life". American Repertory Theatre.

External linksEdit