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The Box is a 2009 American psychological thriller film[3][4] based on the 1970 short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson, which was previously adapted into an episode of the 1980s iteration of The Twilight Zone. The film was written and directed by Richard Kelly and stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as a couple who receive a box from a mysterious man (played by Frank Langella) who offers them one million dollars if they press the button sealed within the dome on top of the box, but tells them that, once the button has been pushed, someone they do not know will die.[5]

The Box
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Kelly
Produced byRichard Kelly
Dan Lin
Sean McKittrick
Screenplay byRichard Kelly
Based onButton, Button
by Richard Matheson
StarringCameron Diaz
James Marsden
Frank Langella
Music byWin Butler
Régine Chassagne
Owen Pallett
CinematographySteven Poster
Edited bySam Bauer
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • October 29, 2009 (2009-10-29) (Australia)
  • November 6, 2009 (2009-11-06) (United States)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[1][2]
Box office$33.3 million[2]



In December 1976, financially-strapped couple Arthur (a NASA engineer) and Norma Lewis find a package on their doorstep. Inside is a wooden box, with a large red button locked under a transparent dome top. An accompanying note reads: "Mr. Steward will call upon you at 5:00 pm." Mr. Steward, a mysterious man with the left side of his face burned off, arrives to deliver the key for the box. He tells Norma that, if the button is pushed, he will give her a tax-free payment of $1 million in cash. However, someone she does not know will die. $100 is given to Norma by Mr Steward as compensation for allowing him to enter the house and voice his deal.

Norma and Arthur have ethical and moral arguments about pushing the button, wondering whether the death will be a young and innocent person, or a person on death row. Their son, Walter, is attending private school where Norma teaches, and she had just been informed that the school would no longer offer her a discount for his education, making the million dollars all the more enticing. While discussing it, Arthur and Norma open the box, and discover that the box is 'just a bunch of wood'. The couple discuss it further, with Arthur chastising Norma for being scared about the deal. No resolution is made and the two go to sleep.

The next day, they discuss it further before they attend work. After work, Arthur reveals that the $100 dollar bill given to them is real. After further discussion, Norma impulsively pushes the button, whispering 'It's just a box'. It is revealed that someone is shot, and that the gunman ran from the scene carrying a briefcase. Mr. Steward arrives at the house and presents them with the $1 million dollars. Mr. Steward tells them that someone did indeed die as a result of their actions, and assures them that the offer will be presented to someone whom they do not know. Before Mr. Steward can leave, Arthur attempts to return the money to him. He declines and states that while he is sorry, he can do nothing because "the button has been pressed". The police treat the murder as a domestic homicide, and it is discovered that the husband whose wife was shot was a colleague of Arthur's working at NASA. The police are confused because the astronaut was known as a loving husband, whom they would not initially suspect. NASA chief Martin Teague and Norm Cahill, Arthur's boss from NASA, discuss Cahill's missing NASA colleague, Arlington Steward. The chief tells Cahill that Steward became "something else" after being killed by lightning shortly after NASA received the first photograph transmitted by the Viking 1 Mars lander in July 1976.

Life for Arthur and Norma becomes far worse. The two are constantly plagued by odd and seemingly supernatural happenings - a result of pressing the button. It is revealed throughout the film that Arlington has been conducting business with a group of benefactors using the box to decide if the human race is worth preserving. The couple are alarmingly visited by people who have also fallen victim to the box, pressing the button themselves and falling into the same fate as the Lewis family.

After a number of paranormal incursions, Arlington ultimately returns to the Lewis home and informs them that their son Walter, who had been kidnapped by unknown assailants earlier, is locked in the family's bathroom upstairs. However, he has been stricken completely and irreversibly blind and deaf. Arlington laments that he had hoped for the family to be better than succumbing to the temptation of the money and left the box alone, but that it had to come to this for the choice that they made. Arlington makes the couple a final ultimatum: Keep the money and live out their lives with their disabled son, or have Arthur kill Norma, restoring Walter's sight and hearing, with the million dollars being placed in a high-interest banking account available to him when he is 18. Arthur contemplates killing Arlington himself, with the latter stating that Arthur will be charged with his murder, his son's condition will remain, and the family will be left with nothing. Arlington departs the home, with Arthur coming to the realization that their choice to push the button has placed the family into purgatory. Norma decides to take Arlington up on his offer, wanting her son to live his life without disability, and asks Arthur to kill her. After a long goodbye, Arthur kills Norma.

The scene cuts back and forth between Arthur, Norma, and another couple offered the same box. They also decide to press the button, resulting in Norma's death. It is implied that this will go on and on among other couples in the future.



Director Richard Kelly wrote a script based on the 1970 short story "Button, Button" by author Richard Matheson, which had previously been turned into a Twilight Zone episode of the same name.[7] The project had a budget of over $30 million provided by Media Rights Capital. Kelly described his intent for the film, "My hope is to make a film that is incredibly suspenseful and broadly commercial, while still retaining my artistic sensibility."[8] Actress Cameron Diaz was cast in the lead role in June 2007.[9]

Most of the filming took place in the Boston, Massachusetts area, with scenes shot in downtown Boston, South Boston, Waltham, Ipswich, Winthrop, Milton, Medfield, Quincy, Kingston, and North Andover, as well as other localities. Some filming took place on the Milton Academy campus and at Boston Public Library. A large indoor set was built inside a former Lucent Technologies building in North Andover to recreate a NASA laboratory. The production crew also journeyed to NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to shoot a number of scenes for the film. Richard Kelly's father had worked at NASA Langley in the 1970s and 80s.[10]

Filming also took place in Richmond, Virginia, including overhead shots of the city, including 95 South passing the train station. Many background extras were reused in different scenes, and people with period correct 60s and 70s cars were encouraged to participate. Arlington Steward's car in particular is a Buick Electra, although characters in the movie refer to it as Lincoln Town Car (an entirely different car model, which was not yet in production at the time the movie is set).

Actor Frank Langella was cast in October 2007, and production began on the film the following month.[11] Prior to production, actor James Marsden was cast a lead role opposite Diaz.[12] Production concluded by February 2008.[13] It was the second time Marsden and Langella worked together, the first being Superman Returns and re-teaming again in Robot & Frank.


In December 2008, it was announced that Win Butler and Regine Chassagne of Canadian band Arcade Fire, and Owen Pallett provided an original score for the film.[14] Butler, Chassagne, and Pallett helped Kelly during the editing process by advising his decisions.[15] Butler, Chassagne, and Pallett had planned on releasing the soundtrack after Arcade Fire's third album release in August 2010, but as of April 24, 2017, the soundtrack is still unavailable.[16]


The film was first released in Australia on October 29, 2009. While it was originally scheduled to be released in the U.S. on October 30, 2009, on July 31, 2009, it was announced the release date would be delayed to November 6, 2009.[17]

The film opened with $7,571,417 in 2,635 theaters at an average of $2,873 per theater. It ranked number 6 at the box office coming in behind the newly released Disney's A Christmas Carol, The Men Who Stare at Goats, and The Fourth Kind.[2] The film went on to gross $15,051,977 domestically and $32,924,206 worldwide.[2]

It was released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download in the U.S. on February 23, 2010.[18][19]


The film received mixed reviews from film critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 44% of 153 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.1 out of 10. The site's consensus is that "Imaginative but often preposterous, The Box features some thrills but largely feels too piecemeal."[20] Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 to reviews from film critics, has a rating score of 47 based on 24 reviews.[21] CinemaScore audience polling gave the film an "F".[22]

American film critic Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film three out of four stars overall saying, "This movie kept me involved and intrigued, and for that I'm grateful."[23] Market research firm CinemaScore reported that the film received very negative feedback. The Box received an F, for which CinemaScore President Ed Mintz blamed the film's ending and was quoted as saying "People really thought this was a stinker".[24]

The film was nominated at the 8th Visual Effects Society Awards in the category of Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture but lost to Sherlock Holmes.[25]


  1. ^ "Movie projector: Holiday season kicks off with Disney's pricey 'Christmas Carol'". LA Times. November 5, 2009. Retrieved November 5, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Box (2009) Box Office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  3. ^ "The Box Reviews - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  4. ^ "The Box Review". Common sense media. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  5. ^ "Best & Worst of 2009: Mr. Disgusting's Top 10 of 2009!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  6. ^ imdb
  7. ^ "Open Over 50 Hi-Res Stills from Richard Kelly's The Box". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved October 19, 2009.
  8. ^ "Richard Kelly Blogs about The Box & Provides a New Clip". Dread Central. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  9. ^ Michael Fleming (June 28, 2007). "Cameron Diaz to star in The Box". Variety. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  10. ^ Jim Hodges (January 28, 2008). "The Producer of the Director Returns to NASA Langley". NASA Langley Researcher News. NASA. Retrieved April 17, 2009.
  11. ^ Diane Garrett (October 11, 2007). "Frank Langella to star in Kelly's The Box". Variety. Retrieved January 11, 2008.
  12. ^ Gregg Goldstein (November 2, 2007). "Marsden wrapped up in The Box role". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 11, 2008.[dead link]
  13. ^ "Kelly Wraps The Box". Sci Fi Wire. February 6, 2008. Archived from the original on September 15, 2008. Retrieved February 6, 2008.
  14. ^ "Arcade Fire's Butler Talks Miroir Noir, The Box Score". Pitchfork Media. Archived from the original on December 23, 2008. Retrieved December 23, 2008.
  15. ^ "Mr. Beaks And Richard Kelly Rummage Through THE BOX!". Ain't It Cool. Retrieved November 6, 2009.
  16. ^ "Richard Kelley Interview (segment from the interview is about the film's soundtrack)". YouTube. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
  17. ^ "Phase 1 of The Box Website Now Open". Dread Central. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  18. ^ "Open The Box at Home". Dread Central. January 6, 2010. Retrieved January 6, 2010.
  19. ^ "Exclusive Blu-ray/DVD Special Features Clip: The Box". Dread Central.
  20. ^ "The Box (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment. Retrieved September 11, 2018.
  21. ^ "The Box: Reviews (2009)". Metacritic. CNET Networks. Retrieved December 8, 2009.
  22. ^ 18 of the Most Loved or Hated Movies: Films That Got A+ or F CinemaScores The Wrap. June 16, 2015. Retrieved September 28, 2015.
  23. ^ "Roger Ebert's Review". Roger Ebert. Retrieved November 5, 2009.
  24. ^ Ferrari, Damon (November 20, 2009). "Film oracle CinemaScore spells doom for The Box". London. Retrieved August 6, 2010.
  25. ^ "8th Annual VES Awards". Visual Effects Society. Retrieved December 22, 2017.

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