Space Jam

Space Jam is a 1996 American live-action/animated sports comedy film directed by Joe Pytka and starring basketball player Michael Jordan.[4] The film presents a fictionalized account of what happened between Jordan's initial retirement from the NBA in 1993 and his 1995 comeback, in which he is enlisted by the Looney Tunes to help them win a basketball match against a group of aliens who intend to enslave them as attractions for their theme park. Wayne Knight, Theresa Randle, and Bill Murray appear in supporting roles, while Billy West, Dee Bradley Baker, and Danny DeVito headline the voice cast.

Space Jam
Space jam.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoe Pytka
Produced by
Written by
Based onLooney Tunes
by Warner Bros.
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyMichael Chapman
Edited bySheldon Kahn
Distributed byWarner Bros. [1]
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • November 15, 1996 (1996-11-15)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million[2]
Box office$230.4 million[3]

Space Jam was released theatrically in the United States on November 15, 1996 by Warner Bros[1] under their Family Entertainment unit. The film was a box office success, opening at number one at the North American box office and grossing over $230 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing basketball film of all time.

A sequel, titled Space Jam: A New Legacy and starring LeBron James, is scheduled for release on July 16, 2021.[5]


In 1973, a young Michael Jordan tells his father that he wants to go to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to play in the championship team, then go to the NBA. A compilation of highlights from Jordan's basketball career, which includes highlights from high school, college, the 1984 and the 1992 Olympics, and the Chicago Bulls, is followed by an excerpt from the 1993 press conference in which Jordan announced his retirement from professional basketball, to pursue a career in baseball, in which Jordan is popular, but less skilled. Meanwhile, in outer space, the amusement park Moron Mountain faces decline. Its owner, Mr. Swackhammer, sends his diminutive minions, the Nerdlucks, to Earth to abduct the Looney Tunes as a new attraction. Upon the Nerdlucks' arrival, Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Tunes take advantage of the Nerdlucks' small stature and challenge them to a game of basketball. Through a documentary of basketball, the Nerdlucks learn that the sport's best players are employed by the NBA, and accept the proposal. After stealing the talents of NBA players Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues, the Nerdlucks transform themselves into the large, muscular, and talented Monstars and easily intimidate the Tunes, prompting Bugs to seek professional aid.

While golfing with Bill Murray, Larry Bird, and his personal assistant, Stan Podolack, Jordan is suddenly lassoed down a hole and into the Looney Tunes' world. Bugs explains the situation to Jordan, whom hope is placed on as one of the best basketball players in the world. Although reluctant, he agrees to play after a confrontation with the Monstars insults his pride, and organizes the Tunes into a team, the "Toon Squad". A female rabbit named Lola Bunny, whom Bugs falls in love with, is added to the team thanks to her talents. Jordan sends Bugs and Daffy Duck back to his house to obtain his basketball gear. When they arrive, Bugs and Daffy meet Jordan's dog and kids, and are later seen by Stan, who follows them back to the cartoon world. Meanwhile, the sudden incapacity of the five NBA players leads to worldwide panic that results in the season ending early. The players try to restore their skills through practice, hospitalization, therapy, and prayer, but to no avail. On the day of the match, the Monstars dominate the first half, sinking the Tune Squad's morale. Stan overhears about how the Monstars obtained their talent and informs Jordan. Bugs and Jordan rally the Tune Squad and dominate the third quarter using old-school gags and Acme weaponry. During a timeout, Jordan raises the stakes with Swackhammer: a win by the Toon Squad would require the Monstars returning their stolen talents while a win by the Monstars would allow Swackhammer make Jordan a new attraction for Moron Mountain, for the rest of his life.

With ten seconds left in the game, the Toon Squad are down by one point and one player, due to most of them being injured from the Monstars' rough playing, leaving only Jordan, Bugs, Lola, and Daffy left. Murray unexpectedly arrives and is recruited to fill the spot. In the final seconds, Jordan gains the ball with Murray's help but is pulled back by the Monstars. Remembering advice from Bugs, he uses cartoon physics to extend his arm and dunk the ball, winning the match with a buzzer beater. Seeing the Monstars being reprimanded by Swackhammer, Jordan helps them realize that they only listened to him because they were smaller. The Monstars encase Swackhammer in a missile and send him back to his amusement park. Giving up their stolen talent, the Nerdlucks are recruited into the Looney Tunes ensemble and drop off Jordan at his next baseball game. Later, Jordan visits the incapacitated basketball players and returns their talent, to which the players provoke a reluctant Jordan into participating in a three-on-three match. Two years later in 1995, Jordan returns to the Chicago Bulls to resume his basketball career.


Some of the film's live-action cast play fictional versions of themselves:[6]

NBA players Danny Ainge, Steve Kerr, Alonzo Mourning, Horace Grant, A. C. Green, Charles Oakley, Luc Longley, Cedric Ceballos, Derek Harper, Vlade Divac, Brian Shaw, Jeff Malone, Bill Wennington, Anthony Miller and Sharone Wright make cameo appearances in the film, as do coaches Del Harris and Paul Westphal. Broadcasters Ahmad Rashad and Jim Rome also appear, while Dan Castellaneta and Patricia Heaton cameo as basketball fans.

Voice castEdit


In 1992 and 1993, two Nike ads, "Hare Jordan" and "Aerospace Jordan" respectively, aired on television and featured Michael Jordan with the character Bugs Bunny.[7] Directed by Joe Pytka, the production of the 1992 ad was hindered by reluctance from Warner Bros. to allow Nike to modernize Bugs' character, but the commercial success of both ads "was a nice bit of research for Warner Bros. to understand that the Bugs character still had relevance and to tie it in with Michael," explained Pytka.[8] This led to the company green-lighting a movie featuring Jordan and Bugs, which came out of a plane meeting between a Nike executive and producer Ivan Reitman.[7] At the same time, Warner Bros. tried to created more "adult, sophisticated material" in the animated film market that deviated from the formula set by Disney.[9]

The project was closed when Jordan retired from basketball in 1993, only to be reopened in 1995 when Jordan returned as a baseball player.[10] Pytka was informed about the project only months before the start of principal photography; in addition to being hired as director, he revised the script, such as a scene involving a home run Jordan does when he returns to Earth that ultimately wasn't filmed.[8] Spike Lee was also interested in helping Pytka with the screenplay, but Warner Bros. blocked him from the project out of dissatisfaction from how he funded Malcolm X (1992).[8]

According to Pytka, it was difficult to get most actors involved with Space Jam due to its odd premise: "I mean, they’re going to work with an animated character and an athlete — are you serious? They just didn’t want to do it."[8] Before Wayne Knight was cast as Stan, his initial choices were Michael J. Fox and Chevy Chase, whom he had worked with on Doritos commercials; Warner Bros. rejected both actors.[8] There were also attempts to replace Jordan's character with a more experienced actor, but "we couldn’t find anyone better."[8] The easiest actors to obtain were the NBA players, except for Gheorghe Mureșan.[8] The voice casting was very involved, as Reitman was serious about the voice actors for the established Looney Tunes characters being far better than Mel Blanc and not just replications. The casting directors originally planned several voice cameos; however, that didn't work out, and Danny Devito ended up being the only celebrity voice actor in the film, which was for Swackhammer, who was originally planned to be played by Jack Palance.[11] Swackhammer was also planned to be a live-action character until the very final days of development.[9]


One thing I heard was that Ivan Reitman, when they were thinking about going ahead with this movie, had phoned up Robert Zemeckis about Who Framed Roger Rabbit and asked, 'Do you have any advice on what we should do to make a movie like this?' And he said, 'Don’t do it, it nearly killed me.'

— Neil Boyle, supervising animator[9]


The Classic Animation faction of Warner Bros., which animated the commercials and was located in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, was originally planned to be the only company responsible for Space Jam. However, after only a week, the animation work was so complicated that Warner Bros. contacted more studios, including reassigning the Feature Animation division in Glendale from working on Quest for Camelot (1998) to Space Jam; ten of Classic Animation's members, including the production's animation director Tony Cervone, were taken out of the faction to become involved all throughout production, and development artists were reassigned to animating jobs, including supervising animator Bruce Woodside, who had little faith in the project: "Like so many other animators, I adore the classic Warner Bros. characters, but I really had little hope that tying them to the massive anchor of an apparently doomed marketing scheme could actually give them a successful second life in features."[9]

After Cervone was hired as animation director, Jerry Rees contact Bruce W. Smith about being an animation supervisor on the film; Rees was fired by the time Smith joined, and Pykta hired Smith to be another animator.[9] Before January 1996, when animation production was put into overdrive, none of the animators' drafts or concepts for how the film should look met with Reitman's approval;[12] Bill Perkins joined that month as animation art director, and when first arriving at the Sherman Oaks division, "we only had around eight months to do about 52 minutes of animation" and "it was just kind of a little skeleton crew."[9] Cervone highlighted Reitman's role as supervisor: "It started off as a string of gags with no structure, and he helped a lot with that."[13] The drafting process involved the animators and artists using the original cartoons as references.[12] Ultimately, they went with Bob Clampett's 1940s style of animation and design due to being wilder than Chuck Jones'.[14]

Production of Space Jam totaled around 19 months, with filming taking up ten of them;[9] this was half the time of any other film of its kind according to animation director Bruce W. Smith.[15] The animation was done at a very quick pace by more than 700 workers from 18 studios in London, Canada, California and Ohio,[9][15] starting January 1996 by the recently joined producers Ron Tippe and Allison Abbate.[16] In trying to track the huge amount work done at the 18 studios, Tippe hung stills of all the shots throughout the Feature Animation faction's hallways, with completed ones marked in red.[17]

Features about the film's production, including one from the official website, emphasized its state-of-the art computer technology when it came to its live-action/animation hybrid; "this film could have not been made two years ago," claimed Cervone in 1996.[12] Due to its mixture of various art mediums as well as the "broad sense of humor and entertainment" unique to the Looney Tunes, animation director Bruce W. Smith considered Space Jam an important part of diversifying the animation industry.[18] Space Jam broke the record for amount of composited shots in a featured film,[19] "roughly 1,043" according to Tippe,[10] as well as a record number of FX shots, with around 1,100 in a single 90-minute film; Independence Day (1996), released the same year, had 700 FX shots within two hours of screen time.[7] Tippe claimed the film would have, at most, "multiple characters, multiple levels of effects and, in some cases, up to 70 elements" in one shot.[20]


Space Jam was one of the first-ever productions to be shot on a virtual studio.[9] Jordan filmed in a 360-degree green screen room with motion trackers, playing and acting alongside green-suited NBA players and improv actors taken from the Groundlings Theatre and School around him serving as placement identifiers for the animated characters, with a CGI background replica of a real-life setting chroma keyed in.[9][21][12] Although Bill Murray initially came in to only work on the golf course scene, he then wanted to be in the climactic basketball game after Pytka showed him the process of how he directed the live-action/animation scenes.[8]

Concept drawings and discussions between the animators and Pytka about how the animation would be incorporated into the live-action shots took place on set during shooting, and re-writes to the script would be done daily.[9] As an experienced commercial and music video director working on a sports film, Pytka took on fast, unlimited camera movements and Dutch angles;[12][9] this challenged the animators that had to integrate their characters in the shots.[12] To connect the real and animated worlds together, blue-screen shots of miniatures by Vision Crew Unlimited were used; these include a Christo-inspired interpretation of The Forum arena for exterior shots, city rooftops for a transition scene with a wide skyline view of Chicago serving as the chroma-keyed background,[22] and space ship parts initially produced by Boss Film Studios for a Philip Morris advertisement.[17]



Space Jam was one of the earliest animated productions to use digital technology. 2D animation and background layers were first done on paper before being scanned into Silicon Graphics Image files through Cambridge Animation Systems' software Animo; they were then sent to Cinesite via a File Transfer Protocol, for its animators to color and touch upon in Photoshop and composite into the shots.[17] Unlike previous projects that used the Cineon digital film system, Cinesite were working with the quicker Inferno and Flame systems for Space Jam.[17] The Holly render farm utilized for the film consisted of 16 central processing units, four gigabytes of shared memory, and took up one million dollars of the film's budget, "on top of which the deskside boxes had 256 megabytes of ram to splurge on whatever scene you needed to create and render," explained Privett.[22]

Cinesite had begun developing proprietary software for motion tracking when working on Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995), which involved most of its shots incorporating a digital background; this made the company prepared for Space Jam, which consists of a bunch of moving camera shots with 3D backgrounds to be added.[17] The CGI backgrounds moved around with the motion trackers via Cinesite's proprietary software Ball Buster, which identified the markers through algorithm.[17] To avoid goofs in the visuals as much as possible, Cinesite artists worked on the film by frame instead of viewing each shot as a whole; those, such as Jonathan Privett were dissatisfied with the method, primarily because it put them under much pressure: "We much preferred the good old fashioned run-at-24-fps, just-as-the-viewer-sees-it approach."[17]


The design of the stadium was heavily dictated by that of the film's many characters, and it was such a long process that it went through 94 revisions, explained Cinesite digital effects supervisor Carlos Arguello: "Tasmanian Devil was brown so we couldn’t have a wooden brown upper level, and there were so many colorful characters, and Michael Jordan and everybody had to look good in all the scenes."[22]

For scenes that take place in the stadium, shortcuts were made. For crane shots of the crowd of 15,000 people in the final basketball sequence, it was created with live-action extras, cloned animated crowd members, and a few computer-generated characters walking around the aisles in the stadium.[19] When these shots involved camera movements, a few 2D extras were animated to reflect the angle of the camera, but much lighting was added to distract from the crowd, thus minimizing this work.[22] The reflections of the floor on the gym were also "fake[d]" as raytracing would've meant rendering it for four days per a few frames.[22]


Abbate suggested the hurried workflow of the animators bled into the character animation, resulting in a quick-witted style the Looney Tunes cartoons are most known for.[10]

Although the animators had to work with almost 100 characters, they were the most focused on Bugs and Daffy not only because they were principal characters, but also because they were the most recognizable Warner Bros. characters to general audiences.[11] Sculpting was incorporated the most on Bugs and Lola, including in "beauty shots" or sequences where Bugs and Lola are together.[22] Perkins conceived the idea of the villains being secondary colors, as the main Looney Tunes were primary colors or brown.[12]

There was also a lot of experimentation with motion blur with the 2D characters, especially Tweety; as Simon Eves explained, "The workflow was that an artist would track some specific points on the sequence of 2D character-on-black that came from the animation house, and I think it was able to take a basic roto shape as well, and then it would generate an interpolated motion vector field which could be applied as a variable directional blur. The field would deform based on the relative motion of the tracking points on the camera, to produce more accurate blur as the character deformed."[17]


The soundtrack sold enough albums to be certified as 6-times Platinum.[23] It also served as a high point for musical artist R. Kelly, whose song "I Believe I Can Fly" not only was a hit, but earned him two Grammy Awards.[24] Other tracks included a cover of Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like an Eagle" (by Seal), "Hit 'Em High (The Monstars' Anthem)" (by B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J, and Method Man), "Basketball Jones" (by Barry White & Chris Rock), "Pump up the Jam" (by Technotronic), "I Turn to You" (by All-4-One) and "For You I Will" (by Monica). The film's title song was performed by the Quad City DJ's.

There was also an original scoring soundtrack featured most of James Newton Howard’s scores from the movie, except the main Merrie Melodies Theme itself.


Warner Bros. released Space Jam through its Family Entertainment division on November 15, 1996.

Box officeEdit

The film grossed $90,418,342 in the United States and Canada, and $140 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $230,418,342.[3] In China, the film was released in 1997 and grossed CN¥24.1 million.[25]

Home mediaEdit

Warner Home Video released the film on VHS and LaserDisc on March 11, 1997, and on DVD on March 26, 1997. The VHS tape was reprinted and re-released through Warner Home Video's catalog promotions: The Warner Bros. 75th Anniversary Celebration (1998), Century Collection (1999), Century 2000 (2000) and Warner Spotlight (2001). The film was re-released on DVD on July 25, 2000. On October 28, 2003, the film was released as a 2-disc, special-edition DVD including newly made extras such as a commentary track and a featurette. On October 2, 2007, Space Jam for UMD Video for PSP was released[citation needed]. On November 6, 2007, Space Jam was featured as one of four films in Warner Home Video's 4-Film Favorites: Family Comedies collection DVD (the other three being Looney Tunes: Back in Action—which was released seven years after Space Jam—, Osmosis Jones and Funky Monkey). On February 8, 2011, the first disc of the previous 2-disc edition was released by itself in a film-only edition DVD and on October 4, the film was released for the first time in widescreen HD on Blu-ray which, save for an hour of classic Looney Tunes shorts, ported over all the extras from the 2003 2-disc edition DVD. A double DVD and Blu-ray release, paired with Looney Tunes: Back in Action, was released on June 7, 2016.[26] On November 15, 2016, Warner Bros. released another Space Jam Blu-ray to commemorate the film's 20th anniversary.

The film made its cable television premiere on TNT on March 14, 1999, while it made its network television premiere on ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney on November 14, 1999.[27]

The film became available on HBO Max on July 1, 2020.[28]


Space Jam later expanded into a media franchise which includes comics, video games and merchandise. The Space Jam franchise is estimated to have generated $6 billion in total revenue. This includes a wide variety of merchandise, such as Air Jordans, Bugs Bunny shirts, Happy Meals, Mugsy Bogues jerseys, and Tweety gowns.[29]


The film was adapted into a graphic novel published by DC Comics through their imprint "Warner Bros Reading" that published the "Looney Tunes", "Tiny Toon Adventures", "Animaniacs" and "Pinky & The Brain" monthly comic books. The special issue was written by David Cody Weiss and drawn by Leonardo Batic.[30]

Video gamesEdit

A licensed pinball game by Sega, a video game for the PlayStation, Sega Saturn and MS-DOS by Acclaim, and a handheld LCD game by Tiger Electronics were released based on the film.[31]


Critical responseEdit

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 43% approval rating based on 75 reviews, with an average rating of 5.32/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "While it's no slam dunk, Space Jam's silly, Looney Toons-laden slapstick and vivid animation will leave younger viewers satisfied – though accompanying adults may be more annoyed than entertained."[32] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 59 out of 100 based on 22 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[33] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on an A+ to F scale.[34]

Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones strongly criticized Space Jam.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel of the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune both gave Space Jam a thumbs up,[35] although Siskel's praise was more reserved.[36] In his review, Ebert gave the film three-and a-half stars and noted, "Space Jam is a happy marriage of good ideas—three films for the price of one, giving us a comic treatment of the career adventures of Michael Jordan, crossed with a Looney Tunes cartoon and some showbiz warfare. ... the result is delightful, a family movie in the best sense (which means the adults will enjoy it, too)."[35] Siskel focused much of his praise on Jordan's performance, saying, "He wisely accepted as a first movie a script that builds nicely on his genial personality in an assortment of TV ads. The sound bites are just a little longer."[36] Leonard Maltin also gave the film a positive review (three stars), stating that "Jordan is very engaging, the vintage characters perform admirably ... and the computer-generated special effects are a collective knockout."[37] Todd McCarthy of Variety praised the film for its humor as well as the Looney Tunes' antics and Jordan's acting.[38]

Although Janet Maslin of The New York Times criticized the film's animation, she later went on to say that the film is a "fond tribute to [the Looney Tunes characters'] past." Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune complained about some aspects of the movie, stating, "...we don't get the co-stars' best stuff. Michael doesn't soar enough. The Looney Tunes don't pulverize us the way they did when Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng or Bob Clampett were in charge." Yet overall, he also liked the film, giving it 3 stars and saying: "Is it cute? Yes. Is it a crowd-pleaser? Yup. Is it classic? Nope. (Though it could have been.)" TV Guide gave the movie only two stars, calling it a "cynical attempt to cash in on the popularity of Warner Bros. cartoon characters and basketball player Michael Jordan, inspired by a Nike commercial." Margaret A. McGurk of The Cincinnati Enquirer gave the film 2 1/2 stars, saying, "Technical spectacle amounts do nothing without a good story."

Veteran Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies director Chuck Jones was critical of the film. In a 1998 interview, he expressed his views that the film was "terrible" and said, as a man who worked with the characters for almost thirty years, the story was deeply flawed. "I can tell you, with the utmost confidence," he said, "Porky Pig would never say 'I think I wet myself.'" Jones also added that, had the film been more true to the source material, Bugs Bunny would not have enlisted the help of Jordan or the other Looney Tunes characters to defeat the Monstars "and moreover, it wouldn't have taken him an hour and a half. Those aliens, whether they were tiny or colossal, would've been dealt with in short order come the seven minute mark."


In other mediaEdit

The Monstars make a cameo in the Pinky and the Brain episode "Star Warners". Jordan himself, who was a spokesman for MCI Communications before the film was made, would appear with the Looney Tunes characters (as his "Space Jam buddies") in several MCI commercials for several years after the film was released before MCI merged with WorldCom and subsequently Verizon Communications.[39] Bugs had previously appeared with Jordan as "Hare Jordan" in Nike ads for the Air Jordan VII and Air Jordan VIII.[40][41] In 2013, Yahoo! Screen released a parody of ESPN's 30 for 30 about the game shown in the film. The short dates the game as taking place on November 17, 1995, although Jordan's real-life return to basketball occurred on March 18.[42]


A sequel to Space Jam was planned as early as 1997. As development began, Space Jam 2 was going to involve a new basketball competition between the Looney Tunes and a new villain named Berserk-O!. Artist Bob Camp was tasked with designing Berserk-O! and his henchmen. Joe Pytka would have returned to direct and Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone signed on as the animation supervisors. However, Jordan did not agree to star in a sequel, and Warner Bros. eventually canceled plans for Space Jam 2.[43]

Several potential sequels, including Spy Jam with Jackie Chan, that would end up becoming the basis for Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Race Jam with Jeff Gordon, a golf-centered film with Tiger Woods,[44][45] and Skate Jam with Tony Hawk were all discussed but never came to be.[46]

In February 2014, Warner Bros. officially announced development of a sequel that will star LeBron James.[47] In July 2015, James and his film studio, SpringHill Entertainment, signed a deal with Warner Bros. for television, film and digital content after receiving positive reviews for his role in Trainwreck.[48][49][50] By 2016, Justin Lin signed onto the project as director, and co-screenwriter with Andrew Dodge and Alfredo Botello.[51] By August 2018, Lin left the project, and Terence Nance was hired to direct the film.[52] In September 2018, Ryan Coogler was announced as a producer for the film.[53] Filming would take place in California[54][55] and within a 30 mile radius of Los Angeles.[56] Prior to production, the film received $21.8 million in tax credits as a result of a new tax incentive program from the state.[54][57][58][54]

In February 2019, after releasing the official logo with a promotional poster, Space Jam 2 was announced to be scheduled for release on July 16, 2021.[59] Principal photography began on June 25, 2019.[60][61] On April 30, 2020, James revealed the title for the film would be Space Jam: A New Legacy.



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  • Bittner, Drew (December 1996). "Space Jam". Starlog. No. 233. pp. 52–57.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Lyons, Mike (November 1996a). "Space Jam". Cinefantastique. Vol. 28 no. 4/5. pp. 7–9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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