The Best Movie You Never Saw: The Fan

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at THE FAN!

THE STORY: A star baseball player (Wesley Snipes) in a slump is stalked by a deranged, murderous fan (Robert De Niro).

THE PLAYERS: Starring Robert De Niro, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin, John Leguizamo & Benicio del Toro. Directed by Tony Scott.

THE HISTORY: It's hard to believe that Tony Scott has already been dead for eight years. One of my all-time favorite directors, his death hit me hard in a way few other Hollywood passings have, and his films are always interesting to revisit, especially the ones that were all but ignored upon their original release.

Robert de Niro Wesley Snipes the fan

One such film is THE FAN. His follow-up to the well-received CRIMSON TIDE, Scott himself later said that he only signed on to the film to work with Robert De Niro and that it was also a way for him to play with some of the stylistic tricks he'd use in his then-planned ENEMY OF THE STATE.

Not surprisingly, the film all but died upon its release in the summer of 1996, grossing a mere $18 million, which may have something to do with the fact that the film was sold to hardcore Wesley Snipes action fans, but put the star in a distinctly non-action part. It remains one of Scott's most obscure films but is also ripe for rediscovery.

The Fan was a go project and I wanted to work with Bobby DeNiro. I didn't have much interest in the script originally. In fact I'd passed on it twice before. But I very much wanted to work with Robert De Niro. – Tony Scott – Film4

WHY IT’S GREAT: THE FAN is a story that's been told often in film. Movie stars are certainly no strangers to having deranged fans so no wonder this story pops up now and again, with a recent example being the John Travolta-starrer THE FANATIC. But, if anything, sports fandom is even more extreme – for which one needs to only look at something like football hooligan culture, or the fact that so many riots start every year during playoffs.

Robert de Niro Wesley Snipes the fan

In THE FAN, Robert De Niro's Gil Renard has nothing going well in his life, and baseball is the only thing, seemingly, that brings him joy. His job, as a knife salesman, is going nowhere, his ex-wife despises him, and his kid barely knows him. Of course, it doesn't help that to Renard, everything in his life is secondary to his obsession with the San Francisco Giants, specifically his favorite player, Bobby Rayburn (Snipes), who just signed a $40 million deal but – unthinkably – has started losing.

With Rayburn blaming the fact that he's lost his lucky jersey number, 11, Renard goes into a murderous rage, deciding to take out the new player wearing the number, Benicio del Toro's Juan Primo, and from there things get crazier and crazier, culminating in Renard kidnapping Rayburn's son and a showdown amid a thunderstorm at Candlestick Park.

Wesley Snipes the fan

It's all very Tony Scott, with aggressive cutting, stylized (and gorgeous) visuals, and a top-tier list of character actors, including Ellen Barkin as a sports journalist, John Leguizamo, del Toro in one of his first meaty roles, and more. While Scott was open about not having a huge connection to the world of sports, he still made a gorgeous thriller, and De Niro is as committed as ever as the surprisingly sympathetic Renard. In some ways, this is his mini-FALLING DOWN, while Snipes has just the right mix of brashness and sympathy to play the superstar, Rayburn. One thing that Scott does, which is interesting, is that at one point in the film the two characters become friends, thanks to Renard saving Rayburn's son, and De Niro and Snipes have great chemistry, making me wish the two would do another movie together.

BEST SCENE: One of the things I've always liked the most about THE FAN, is Scott's audacious use of music, something which made a mark on me as a 14-year-old watching this in 1996. In addition to several tracks by The Rolling Stones, Scott also uses a lot of Nine Inch Nails, and in the big murder scene, he uses their track, "Closer to God" in a way that's always stuck with me. Check it out!

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PARTING SHOT: While, admittedly, THE FAN isn't top tier Tony Scott, it's nonetheless a very underrated movie from his canon, and one that's certainly worth a revisit. Give it a shot!

the fan poster


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.