The Devil’s Advocate (1997) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

WTF Happened to The Devil’s Advocate, a 1997 horror film starring Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, and Charlize Theron

The late 1990s had an odd fascination with the Devil and the end of days that gave audiences all kinds of crazy films with varied levels of success. Most of these seemed to come out right around 1999, the end of the millennium when people were starting to panic. However, some of these end of days films came out earlier and set the trend. 1997 was an odd year that saw the release of Dante’s Peak, The Devil’s Own, Volcano, the original Open Your Eyes, Seven Years in Tibet, and a bunch more. There was a trend for the end of days, but also a search for religion which then led to the perfect storm of both with The Devil’s Advocate (watch it HERE), a bit end of days, a bit of religious mayhem, and a whole lot of cautionary tale.

In 1997, folks were getting ready for the big millennium change, but not quite as scared as some would get come 1999. There was a bit of apprehension, but the madness hadn’t started yet. Still, religious horror films had been around for a long, long time, and getting one more was not exactly surprising. The Exorcist and its sequels, The Wicker Man, The Believers, and many others had come and gone, some leaving more of a mark than others. Movies about the Devil, or Lucifer, had come and gone the same way, including some about the Devil’s children or the Devil wanting children. One only needs to see The Omen or Rosemary’s Baby for that. We even had gotten movies about Paradise Lost or quoting Paradise Lost such as The Crow for the latter and there is even a film in limbo that would directly adapt the piece and be directed by Alex Proyas. There are in fact a bunch of films in limbo wanting to be about Paradise Lost. So, is The Devil’s Advocate about Paradise Lost? Well, yes and no. It is definitely not a direct adaptation of the poem by John Milton, but it does connect in multiple ways with it.

The Devil's Advocate (1997) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The story here is that of a young lawyer, Kevin Lomax, from Florida who is offered a huge opportunity in New York City for one of the biggest law firms there is, and under a mysterious man named John Milton. As the young man convinces his wife to go to New York City with him, the opportunity offered seems to be a bit more unusual than expected. There, they meet people of power, people with ridiculous amounts of money, and people with very low morality. This is a brand new world for them and while Mr. Lomax has some inner search to do while things are being offered to him, his wife seems to lose her mind as she attempts to be supportive. The new boss is no cakewalk either, seemingly knowing more than he should and obviously ready to do just about anything to reach his end goal. And as with any good movie about evil beings wanting to keep going on, there is a lineage angle to it all. A bit like Coffin Joe, John Milton is as obsessed with having his bloodline go on, no matter what. And well, there’s the, spoiler alert, very Star Wars twist coming that won’t shock all that many viewers, to be honest.

So, with that out of the way, what happened to this movie? Why is it of interest? Well, the devil is in the details. Looking at the numbers, the film should be considered a hit. The budget for The Devil’s Advocate was right around $57 million and the box office total for it is $153 million, so just under 3 times its budget, giving some leeway for marketing and distribution costs as well as other costs never discussed while still having some profit leftover. The film released in prime Devil season, right in the middle of October, was a solid marketing move, even if other horror films were coming out that month. The box office for the weekend of its release, October 17th, 1997, shows The Devil’s Advocate at number two, pulling in just under $16.5 million. At number one? Another new release that week and another horror film, I Know What You Did Last Summer which pulled in just over $20 million. The big difference between the two films? One was aiming at a more adult horror audience while the other was aiming at teenagers and young adults. This is the prime horror audience to this day, so it was easy to guess that I Know What You Did Last Summer would win at the box office. Right behind them were the previous week’s numbers one and two Kiss the Girls and Seven Years in Tibet. If we take a look at the following week’s box office, the rankings for the weekend of October 24th, 1997 remained exactly the same, with The Devil’s Advocate in second making $13.5 million. Week three kept the same top two with changes in numbers three and four. The Devil’s Advocate made just about $10 million and at week four, the fall down the charts started with a fourth position showing behind I Know What You Did Last Summer, Bean (yes, that Bean) jumping at number two after coming out on the same date as The Devil’s Advocate, something possibly due to Halloween season being over. At number one? Starship Troopers. All in all, The Devil’s Advocate had a solid box office run, declining week to week as would be expected for horror in November.

These days, the cast of this film would sell out more screenings than a lot of other movies, but in 1997, Al Pacino had a solid following, but Keanu Reeves has not hit his biggest hit yet and was not known as Neo or John Wick. He was the guy most people saw as Ted from the Bill & Ted movies, or as Jonathan Harker from Coppola’s Dracula, or as the lead from Speed and Point Break. He was known, but he wasn’t as huge as he is now. Yes, we do realize he was definitely on the A-list, but he was not the megastar we all know and love now. We knew much less about him and he was one of many men in their early 30s vying for the public’s attention. He was a great choice here, but not necessarily the obvious one. Case in point, the film’s production, while under Joel Schumacher, had considered hiring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Christian Slater, and John Cusack for the part of Kevin Lomax. As for the part of John Milton, it wasn’t easy to get Al Pacino for it. He was approached for the part multiple times and turned it down multiple times. Eventually, the script was reworked a few times and he became more interested. Not before suggesting that Robert Redford or Sean Connery should play the part in his stead. The film as we know it was meant to have him though. However, the budget didn’t agree with this, and there wasn’t quite enough to get Mr. Pacino for the part of John Milton. All was not lost though as this is a Keanu Reeves movie and something people didn’t know at the time and we do know now is how he gets what he wants by being nice. Here, he wanted Pacino as a costar, so he accepted a reduced salary for his part so that the budget could be there to pay for Pacino. In a happy turn of events, when Pacino found out about this, he took the amount that would have been Reeves and donated it to charity. Some would say, why not give it back to Reeves? Well, have you read about the man in the last few years? Yeah, he didn’t need it and was ok with the money not going to himself. And, he’s a charity-giving kind of guy, so it made sense then and makes even more sense now.

The Devil's Advocate (1997) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

Joining the leads here is someone who was more of a newcomer on the scene and a lot younger than expected. She was to play Lomax’s wife, so with Keanu Reeves being 31, it would have been logical to expect someone around his age. However, talent won over age, and maybe a touch of beauty here, leading to 21 year old Charlize Theron being chosen for the part. Her own career was just beginning with only 5 roles before this one, including one horror film Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, thus proving that just about every A-lister has a bad horror film on their resume. She wasn’t super well-known, she wasn’t the star we know her to be now, she hadn’t been nominated for an Oscars or won one, she was a pretty girl with lots of talent and potential. She was also a newcomer who was worried about the nudity required for this film. She has admitted to discussing this with her mother as the part called for nudity, full frontal in a church even, which was something that could kill her career this early on and could limit her work for years to come. This was a major risk. She weighed the pros and cons and eventually went for it. As a side note, the nudity in the church scene was done with a priest’s approval who thought this was the logical place for someone who is lost to go look for guidance. This central cast here is a large part of why the film works and why people keep going back to it.

Now, looking at the behind-the-scenes talent, starting with the director, there is a plethora of it and it is greatly varied. The director here is Taylor Hackford, whose name is not instantly recognizable, but a quick look at his resume shows solid films and some random choices, including Against All Odds in 1984 and Dolores Claiborne in 1995. He also had directed a bunch of music videos, which seems to be a rite of passage for most horror directors. Since The Devil’s Advocate, he has directed a slew of films including Ray in 2004 and Parker in 2013, showing that his work is, well, all over the place. In terms of writers, the movie is based on a novella by Andrew Neiderman who also wrote the source material for Pin (1988), The Maddening (1995), and Tender Loving Care (1996). Adapting the novella were Jonathan Lemkin and Tony Gilroy. Lemkin had previous credits that show a seemingly solid career with Moonlighting, Hill Street Blues, and 21 Jump Street before The Devil’s Advocate. Gilroy for his part had done movies including The Cutting Edge, Dolores Claiborne, and Extreme Measures. There was plenty of talent to go around here, but these men were not necessarily household names at the time.

With all this talent involved, how did the film do with critics and the public, beyond the number review numbers? Well, the public seemed to like it enough, with 80% of them liking it according to Rotten Tomatoes. As for the critics, they were not all on board, the film currently stands at 63% with a consensus that seems to say it’s just ok with some decent supernatural elements while being too ambitious for its own good. So, as with many other films out there, the public seems to have liked it more than the critics and shown that at the box office for a few weeks when the film was first released. At this point, the film is finding new audiences through their love of Keanu Reeves, something they can’t be blamed for, and the added nostalgia for the 1990s that has been seeping into pop culture lately. The film is a solid one with some issues here and there, it’s a fun watch to get to see a very young Charlize Theron be a badass and Keanu Reeves do his thing while Al Pacino oversees the whole thing.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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