Exotica (film)

Exotica is a 1994 Canadian drama film set primarily in the fictional Exotica strip club in Toronto. It was written and directed by Atom Egoyan and stars Mia Kirshner, Elias Koteas, Sarah Polley, Bruce Greenwood and Don McKellar.

Exotica film poster
Directed byAtom Egoyan
Written byAtom Egoyan
Produced byAtom Egoyan
Camelia Frieberg
CinematographyPaul Sarossy
Edited bySusan Shipton
Music byMychael Danna
Distributed byAlliance Communications
Release dates
  • May 16, 1994 (1994-05-16) (Cannes)
  • September 23, 1994 (1994-09-23) (Toronto)
  • March 1995 (1995-03) (wide)
Running time
104 minutes
BudgetCAD 2 million[1]
Box office$5.13 million[2]

The story concerns a father grieving over the loss of a child and obsessed with a young stripper. It was inspired by Egoyan's curiosity about the role strip clubs play in sex-obsessed societies. Exotica was filmed in Toronto in 1993.

Marketed as an erotic thriller on its release in Canada and the United States, the film proved to be a major box office success for English Canadian cinema, and received positive reviews. It won numerous awards, including the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and eight Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture.


Francis Brown, a tax auditor for Revenue Canada, is a regular visitor to a Toronto strip club called Exotica. He always has Christina, an exotic dancer dressed in a schoolgirl uniform, give him a private dance. This inspires the jealousy of the club's DJ, Eric, Christina's former boyfriend who has also impregnated the club's owner, Zoe. While at the club, Francis pays his brother Harold's teenage daughter, Tracey, to "babysit". However, Francis has no children and the girl merely practices music alone until Francis returns and drives her home. Francis' relationship with Harold is strained, as Francis found out that Harold and Francis' wife were having an affair after she died in a car accident, which also left Harold a paraplegic. Francis' daughter was kidnapped and killed a few months before the accident, and he was one of the suspects but was later exonerated. These events have left a huge psychological scar on Francis.

In his professional life, Francis is sent to audit Thomas Pinto's pet store pursuant to the suspicion that Thomas is profiting from the illegal import of rare bird species. Thomas has been smuggling hyacinth macaw eggs, and his operation is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Francis is eventually banned from Exotica when Eric manipulates him into touching Christina during one of her dances, which is against the rules of the club. Around the same time, Francis discovers illegal activities in Thomas' financial records, and blackmails Thomas to go to the club to learn about what happened the night he was kicked out. In the process, Francis realizes Eric intentionally set out to get him banned and vows to kill him. Confronting Eric with a gun, Francis is defused when Eric reveals he and Christina were the ones who found the body of Francis' daughter. Christina also reveals to Thomas that she and Francis share a relationship of mutual dependency; in the past, when she used to babysit his daughter, Francis would comfort her about her troubled life at home.




Director Atom Egoyan focused on strip clubs as outlets for society's sexual obsessions, while his pregnant wife Arsinée Khanjian played Zoe.

Director Atom Egoyan, who wrote the screenplay, first conceived of the story in the fall of 1992, intrigued by the ritualistic nature of table dances and the rule that clients can not touch the dancers, envisioning a story of a dancer having a main customer.[3] He believed a strip club could be an important setting for a film because of society's sexual obsessions, and the roles of such clubs as "a collective sexual outlet". While wanting to portray the clubs accurately, he also believed he could bring a skeptical perspective.[4]

He began working on the screenplay in February 1993.[3] In writing it, he "wanted to structure the story like a striptease, gradually revealing an emotionally loaded history".[5] He also cited thriller films as an influence.[6] Although the city in the film is not named, Egoyan stated Exotica and his other films portray "different areas of Toronto".[7]

The film had a $2 million budget,[1] with $900,000 coming from Telefilm Canada and the Ontario Film Development Corporation pledging $700,000.[3] To save money, Egoyan's own 1990 Volvo 240 station wagon was used as Francis's car.[8]


With the script completed in April, Egoyan began casting the film and choosing his crew, a process that took two months.[3]

Bruce Greenwood starred as Francis, having met Egoyan before the director became internationally prominent.

Egoyan's wife Arsinée Khanjian played the club owner Zoe, having appeared in all of his previous films.[9] Zoe is pregnant with Eric's child, and in reality, Khanjian was pregnant during filming, with Egoyan's son Arshile.[10] Egoyan later expressed regret for surrounding Khanjian with nude women when she was unsure how her own body would change during her first pregnancy.[11]

Bruce Greenwood was cast in the film after he met Egoyan through a mutual friend in a bar, before the director had raised his international profile. Greenwood had previously appeared in St. Elsewhere and Knots Landing, and the two became friends.[12]


Art directors Richard Paris and Linda Del Rosario built the Exotica strip club set in an unused room in the Party Centre, a Toronto building, with construction commencing in May 1993. During production, several people arrived at the set believing it was a real club.[3] For the outside of the club, the filmmakers used a shop on Mutual Street which has since been torn down, outside Metropolitan United Church. Osgoode Hall is used for the opera house.[13]

The cinematography was done by Paul Sarossy, with Egoyan saying the goal of the camerawork was to capture the perspective of a missing character, in this case Francis' dead daughter.[14] Principal photography was completed by July.[3] Composer Mychael Danna recorded his score for the film from India,[15] with influences from classical music in India.[3]


Exotica was invited to compete in the Cannes Film Festival in May 1994, the first invitation for a Canadian film in several years.[16] The film was released on 3 screens in Toronto by Alliance Communications on September 29, 1994.[17] In the United States, the film was initially released by Miramax Films in six cities, distributors were impressed when Exotica grossed $14,379 per screen, allowing for a broader release to 433 screens.[2] Miramax Films marketed the film as an erotic thriller.[18] The film played in Toronto for 25 weeks, at one point in an IMAX theatre.[19] In the United States, it was initially released in 500 theatres.[19] In the Philippines, the film was released on July 27, 1995, with ads containing the tagline, "After Schindler's List and Belle Époque comes another controversial and multi-awarded hot film."[20]

On home video, Exotica went out of print in Canada for years, but was available on DVD in England through the company Network. In 2012, Alliance Films released the film on DVD and Blu-ray in Canada, with commentary from Egoyan and Danna.[15]


Box officeEdit

The film grossed $32,856 in its opening weekend in Toronto.[17] The film's initial box office performance in its limited release was considered "huge" by distributors.[18] In March 1995, U.S. critic Roger Ebert reported Exotica was breaking box office records in Canada.[21]

By 1995, Exotica had grossed $1.75 million in Canada, a substantial sum for English Canadian cinema.[19] The film ended its run after grossing $5.13 million in the United States and Canada.[2] Exotica was Egoyan's biggest financial success,[22] and has been called his box-office breakthrough.[23]

Critical receptionEdit

Canadian actress Mia Kirshner received positive reviews for her performance as Christina.

Exotica received positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 33 reviews and gave the film an approval rating of 94%, as well as an average rating of 8.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Exotica simmers with sex and obsession, while successfully doubling as an extreme character study."[24] Roger Ebert gave the film four stars upon the film's initial release, calling it "a movie labyrinth, winding seductively into the darkest secrets of a group of people who should have no connection with one another, but do". He judged it Egoyan's best film to date and said Mia Kirshner "combines sexual allure with a kindness that makes her all the more appealing".[25] In 2009, Ebert added the film to his Great Movies list, calling it a "deep, painful film about those closed worlds of stage-managed lust".[26] Jonathan Rosenbaum called it "A must-see" and "lush and affecting", praising the score, the set and the camera movements.[27] Leonard Klady, writing for Variety, called it "a haunting, chilling experience", albeit with an ending that was "anticlimactic, fuzzy and considerably less than a knockout emotional punch".[28] Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B+, concluding "Like Christina's dance, the movie is a gorgeous tease, an artful promise of something that never quite arrives".[29] Desson Howe, writing for The Washington Post, said it "starts off promisingly, but eventually sinks into its own convoluted oblivion".[30] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote "Exotica is Egoyan's most accomplished and seductive film to date", and less flashy than the upcoming Showgirls (1995) promised to be.[31] B. Ruby Rich of The Advocate wrote the film is "a jigsaw puzzle of the emotions in which sex spells out whole language of human behavior", and said the cast, including Kirshner and Don McKellar, "rivet our attention on these characters".[32] Critics complimented use of the song "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen.[29][30][33]

In 2001, Girish Shambu, writing for Senses of Cinema, said "Atom Egoyan's sad, elegant Exotica (1994) is at once intimate and remote, concrete and abstract", praising Bruce Greenwood for "quiet gravity" and Sarah Polley as "precociously perfect".[34] In 2002, readers of Playback voted it the seventh greatest Canadian film ever made.[35] In 2012, Jeff Heinrich of the Montreal Gazette gave the film five stars, calling it "An utterly hypnotic, X-rated art film" with a "haunting score".[15] Mike D'Angelo of The A.V. Club stated "Exotica —much like Egoyan’s subsequent film, The Sweet Hereafter— proves to be a devastatingly cathartic exploration of tragedy's aftermath and the ways that people attempt to cope with inexpressible grief".[36] In 2015, The Daily Telegraph named Exotica as one of "the 10 best (and worst) stripper movies", calling Egoyan "a then-wunderkind of Canadian cinema" and noting the film won awards at both Cannes and the AVN Awards,[37] which are for pornography.


At the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, Exotica won the FIPRESCI Prize,[38] the first time an English Canadian film had won the honour.[39] At the 1994 Genie Awards, the film won eight prizes, including Best Motion Picture and Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Egoyan.

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients Result Ref.
AVN Awards 1996 Best Alternative Adult Film Atom Egoyan Won [40]
Belgian Film Critics Association 1995 Grand Prix Won [41]
Canadian Society of Cinematographers 1994 Best Cinematography in Theatrical Feature Paul Sarossy Won [42]
Cannes Film Festival 12–23 May 1994 FIPRESCI Prize Atom Egoyan Won [38]
Chicago Film Critics Association 1996 Best Film Nominated [43]
Best Screenplay Nominated
French Syndicate of Cinema Critics 1995 Best Foreign Film Won [44]
Genie Awards 1994 Best Motion Picture Atom Egoyan and Camelia Frieberg Won [44][45]
Best Direction Atom Egoyan Won
Best Actor Elias Koteas Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Don McKellar Won
Best Original Screenplay Atom Egoyan Won
Best Art Direction Richard Paris and Linda Del Rosario Won
Best Cinematography Paul Sarossy Won
Best Costume Design Linda Muir Won
Best Editing Susan Shipton Nominated
Best Sound Daniel Pellerin, Keith Elliott, Peter Kelly and Ross Redfern Nominated
Best Sound Editing Sue Conley, Andy Malcolm, Paul Shikata, Peter Winninger and Steve Munro Nominated
Best Original Score Mychael Danna Won
Independent Spirit Awards 23 March 1996 Best Foreign Film Atom Egoyan Nominated [46]
Toronto International Film Festival 8–17 September 1994 Best Canadian Feature Film Won [47]


  1. ^ a b McNeil, Colin (5 June 2014). "Revisiting Atom Egoyan's Exotica: Sex and voyeurism". Metro News. Archived from the original on 3 April 2018. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Wilson 2009, p. xi.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Lee, Janice (12 September 1994). "Exotica". Playback. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  4. ^ Bear, Liza (Spring 1995). "Look But Don't Touch". Filmmaker. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  5. ^ Darke, p. 22.
  6. ^ McKenna, Kristine (12 March 1995). "This Director's Got a Brand Noir Bag". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 10 July 2015. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  7. ^ Howell, Peter (15 September 2009). "Toronto the ... sexy?". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  8. ^ Wong 2000.
  9. ^ Wilson 2003, p. 28.
  10. ^ Wilson 2003, p. 32.
  11. ^ Rea, Steven (19 March 1995). "'Exotica': Tough Film For Pregnant Actress-wife". Philadelphia Media Network. Archived from the original on 20 August 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  12. ^ Crouse, Richard. "The Captive's Bruce Greenwood And Atom Egoyan Make A Dynamic Movie Duo". Metro in Focus. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  13. ^ Fleischer, David (16 January 1998). "Reel Toronto: An Exotic Slice of Egoyan". Torontoist. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  14. ^ Darke, p. 23.
  15. ^ a b c Heinrich, Jeff (18 June 2012). "New on DVD, Blu-ray: Exotica among highlights of week's releases". Montreal Gazette. Archived from the original on 20 August 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  16. ^ Tschofen 2002, p. 166.
  17. ^ a b Klady, Leonard (October 3, 1994). "'Cop' tops; 'Terminal' OK; 'Wood' strong". Variety. p. 14.
  18. ^ a b Naficy 2001, p. 57.
  19. ^ a b c Wise, Wyndham (1995). "The True Meaning of Exotica". Take One. p. 56.
  20. ^ "Opens Today!". Manila Standard. Kamahalan Publishing Corporation. 27 July 1995. p. 23. Retrieved 29 September 2020.
  21. ^ Ebert, Roger (6 March 1995). "'Exotica' Pleases Filmmaker In Us". Rogerebert.com. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  22. ^ Beard 2007, p. 123.
  23. ^ "The 20 Best Canadian Films of All Time". Take One. Spring 1998. p. 22.
  24. ^ "Exotica (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  25. ^ Ebert, Roger (3 March 1995). "Exotica". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  26. ^ Ebert, Roger (11 March 2009). "Great Movie: Exotica (1994)". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  27. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (16 March 1995). "Emotional Striptease". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  28. ^ Klady, Leonard (16 May 1994). "Review: Exotica". Variety. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  29. ^ a b Gleiberman, Owen (24 March 1995). "Exotica". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  30. ^ a b Howe, Desson (10 March 1995). "Exotica". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  31. ^ Travers, Peter (3 March 1995). "Exotica". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  32. ^ Rich, B. Ruby (7 February 1995). "Love for Sale". The Advocate.
  33. ^ James, Caryn (24 September 1994). "Innocence Beyond The Erotic Glimmer". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  34. ^ Shambu, Girish (April 2001). "The Pleasure and Pain of Watching: Atom Egoyan's Exotica". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  35. ^ "Egoyan tops Canada's all-time best movies list". Playback. 2 September 2002. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  36. ^ D'Angelo, Mike (20 August 2014). "The devastating Exotica is a master class in withholding". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  37. ^ "Revealed: the 10 best (and worst) stripper movies". The Daily Telegraph. 6 July 2015. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  38. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Exotica". festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2009.
  39. ^ Magder 2013, p. 164.
  40. ^ Egoyan, Atom (Summer 2004). "Dr. Gonad". Granta #86.
  41. ^ Burwell 2007, p. 368.
  42. ^ "Cinematographer Paul Sarossy Returns to York to Mentor Students". York University. 23 September 2008. Archived from the original on 21 August 2016. Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  43. ^ Gire, Dann (15 January 1996). "Chicago critics stand own ground with film nominations". The Daily Herald. p. 36.
  44. ^ a b Tschofen 2006, p. 368.
  45. ^ Playback Staff (7 November 1994). "The 1994 Genie nominees". Playback. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  46. ^ Maslin, Janet (24 March 1996). "Oscar's Roster: A Mostly Motley Crew". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  47. ^ "Awards". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved 11 August 2016.


External linksEdit