Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 film)

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Invasion of the body snatchers movie poster 1978.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Philip Kaufman
Produced by Robert H. Solo
Screenplay by W. D. Richter
Based on The Body Snatchers
by Jack Finney
Music by Denny Zeitlin
Cinematography Michael Chapman
Edited by Douglas Stewart
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • December 22, 1978 (1978-12-22)
Running time
115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.5 million[1]
Box office $24.9 million (North America)[2]

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a 1978 American science fiction horror film[3] directed by Philip Kaufman, and starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy. Released on December 22, 1978, it is a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), which is based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. The plot involves a San Francisco health inspector and his colleague who discover that humans are being replaced by alien duplicates; each is a perfect copy of the person replaced, only devoid of human emotion.

Released in the United States over the Christmas weekend 1978, Invasion of the Body Snatchers grossed nearly $25 million at the box office. It received varied reviews from critics, though it has been named by some as being one of the greatest film remakes.[4]


A race of gelatinous alien creatures abandon their dying world. They make their way to Earth and land in San Francisco. They fall on plant leaves, assimilating them and forming small pods with pretty pink flowers, unlike the enormous watermelon-sized pods in the original film. The pods emit tendrils that grasp their victims in their sleep, later, as is seen, expanding and quickly duplicating the human victim. The process takes about an hour, as is later revealed.

Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), a laboratory employee at the San Francisco Health Department, is one of several people who bring the flowers home. The next morning, Elizabeth's dentist boyfriend, Geoffrey Howell (Art Hindle), is cold and distant, and she senses that something is wrong. He ignores her as he sweeps up and carries some apparent trash to a waiting red truck, depositing what look like ashes into a pile of similar material. The truck only collects this kind of material, which, much later in the film, is revealed to be the human remains of those persons who have been transformed. Her colleague, health inspector Dr. Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), suggests that she see his friend, psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy).

While driving to Kibner's book party, they are accosted by a hysterical man (Kevin McCarthy) shouting warnings. The man, being chased, runs off, gets hit by a car, and is then surrounded by a crowd of emotionless onlookers. At the party, Matthew calls the police about the incident, and finds them strangely indifferent. A distraught party attendee, Katherine Hendley (played by Lelia Goldoni) declares that her husband, Ted (played by Tom Luddy), is not her husband, which feeling Elizabeth immediately recognizes. Kibner works to reconcile the Hendleys and later suggests that Elizabeth wants to believe that Geoffrey has changed because she is looking for an excuse to get out of their relationship.

Matthew's friend, Jack Bellicec (Jeff Goldblum), is a struggling writer who owns a mudbath parlour with his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright). Nancy is tending to the customers, including the rather sinister Mr. Gianni (played by David Fisher), whom she thanks for the lovely plant he gifted them. Later, Nancy discovers a transforming body on one of the massage tables, while Jack sleeps nearby, coordinating with Jack's sleep pattern. When Jack opens his eyes, the pod closes its eyes. Nancy calls Matthew to investigate. Matthew notices the body (which is adult-sized but is covered with plant-like tendrils, and lacks distinguishing characteristics) bears increasing resemblance in size and weight to Jack, later developing a bruised and bloody nose, matching that of Jack.

Matthew breaks into Elizabeth's home and finds a semi-formed double of her in the bedroom garden. He manages to get the sleeping Elizabeth to safety, evading her husband, but the duplicate body has disappeared by the time he returns with the police. The body at the bathhouse has disappeared by the time Matthew and Kibner arrive. Matthew realizes that people are being replaced by extraterrestrial copies while they sleep. Matthew calls several state and federal agencies, to no avail. In addition, people (a local laundromat owner as well as Katherine Hendley) who had earlier claimed their spouses had changed have been converted as well. Dr. Kibner is revealed to be a leading strategic pod person by this point.

That night, the four friends are nearly duplicated by the pods while they sleep. Pod people try to raid Matthew's house while the police barricade the street, but the four manage to escape. They discover that the pod people emit a loud shriek once they learn someone is still human among them. Jack and Nancy create a diversion within a crowd of pursuing pod people to give Matthew and Elizabeth time to escape.

Matthew and Elizabeth are chased across San Francisco. They hide out in a Health Department building, and witness pods being distributed to people gathered in the square outside. They are eventually found by Jack (who has transformed) and Kibner, who tells them that what the alien species is doing is purely for survival and philosophizes that it is beneficial to rid the world of pesky, illogical, unnecessary, even destructive emotions and feelings. Elizabeth pledges her love to Matthew before they are injected by Kibner with a sedative to make them sleep. However, having already taken a large dose of speed, the couple overpower them and escape the building. Matthew stabs Jack, apparently fatally, with a dart he grabbed earlier to use as a weapon, and locks Kibner inside an industrial freezer, presumably to perish.

In the stairwell, they find Nancy, who has learned to evade the pod people by hiding all emotion. Outside, Matthew and Elizabeth are exposed as human when Elizabeth lets out a scream upon seeing a mutant dog with a human face, the result of a homeless busker known as Harry (Joe Bellan) glimpsed earlier by Matthew sleeping in the street while being encircled, along with his dog, by the now ubiquitous sinister tendrils and duplicated. Matthew kicked the pod which began to bleed and he moved on. The damage, however, yielded a mutagenic effect, assimilating both Harry and the dog into a composite organism.

Matthew and Elizabeth flee aboard a departing truck that had delivered pods, and discover a giant warehouse at the docks where the pods are being grown and cultivated, to be sent to other cities. After Matthew and Elizabeth profess their love for each other, he goes out to investigate music they hear and hopefully find a way to escape, only to discover a cargo ship, blaring, ironically, "Amazing Grace", being loaded with pallets of pods. Matthew returns to find that Elizabeth has fallen asleep. He tries to wake her, but her body crumbles to dust and her naked double arises, telling him to embrace his fate and sleep. She emits a piercing warning shriek and Matthew flees. He goes to the warehouse and sets it on fire, destroying many pods. He hides from the pod people under a pier, but they know he will fall asleep eventually.

The next morning (or possibly later), walking to work, Matthew watches as schoolchildren are led by teachers into a theater to be replaced, and pods are simultaneously being distributed into the theater from a truck in an alley. An intercom directs those from (or with relatives in) other West Coast cities, such as Medford, Oregon, Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington, where to go.

In his office, Matthew is seen cutting an article out of a newspaper, just as he did at the beginning of the film. He then stops, inexplicably, by the crowded laboratory where Elizabeth works, although no one there greets or even appears to notice him. Elizabeth is working with a beaker of sinister-looking fluid. He leaves and passes through the lobby out of the building. Where he is going and why are never revealed. While walking towards a wintry, deserted park filled with dead trees near City Hall, he is spotted by Nancy, who has somehow remained human. She calls to him, but he responds by pointing to her and emitting the piercing shriek. Realizing that Matthew is now a pod person, Nancy, now apparently the last human left in the city, screams in helpless terror.



The film features a number of cameo appearances. Kevin McCarthy, who played Dr. Miles Bennell in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, makes a brief appearance as an old man frantically screaming "They're coming!" to passing cars on the street. Some reviewers have taken this scene to mean that the film is not a direct remake, but a sequel to the original, with the man on the street being an older version of Bennell.[6]

The original film's director, Don Siegel, appears as a taxi driver who alerts the police to Matthew and Elizabeth's attempt to flee the city. Robert Duvall is also seen briefly as a silent priest sitting on a swing set in the opening scene.[7] Director Philip Kaufman appears in dual roles both as a man wearing a hat who bothers Sutherland's character in a phone booth, and the voice of one of the officials Sutherland's character speaks to on the phone. His wife, Rose Kaufman, has a small role at the book party as the woman who argues with Jeff Goldblum's character. Cinematographer Michael Chapman appears twice as a janitor in the health department.

The film score by Denny Zeitlin was released on Perseverance Records; it is the only film score Zeitlin has composed.[8]

The film featured a number of sound innovations. Bay-area sound designer Ben Burtt, who had just completed the groundbreaking sound effects for the 1977 Star Wars, created a number of "Special Sound Effects" for this film. The film's sound was mixed by Mark Berger at American Zoetrope in the four-channel Dolby Stereo process, which was not yet standard exhibition equipment in most theaters.

Philip Kaufman said of the casting of Nimoy, "Leonard had got typecast and this [film] was an attempt to break him out of that," referring to the similar quirks that Dr. Kibner and his pod double had in common with Spock, the Star Trek character that Nimoy was most well known for. According to Kaufman, it was Mike Medavoy, then head of production at United Artists, who suggested the casting of Donald Sutherland. Sutherland's character had a similar curly hairstyle as that of another character he portrayed in Don't Look Now (1973). "They would have to set his hair with pink rollers every day", recalled co-star Veronica Cartwright.[9] According to Zeitlin, Sutherland's character was originally written as an "avocational jazz player" early in development.[8]


Box office[edit]

Invasion of the Body Snatchers premiered in the United States on December 22, 1978,[10] showing on 445 screens nationally.[2] Between its premiere and December 25, the film had earned a total of $1,298,129 in box office sales.[2] It would go on to gross a total of nearly $25 million in the United States.[2]

Critical reception[edit]


The New Yorker's Pauline Kael was a particular fan of the film, writing that it "may be the best film of its kind ever made".[11] Variety wrote that it "validates the entire concept of remakes. This new version of Don Siegel's 1956 cult classic not only matches the original in horrific tone and effect, but exceeds it in both conception and execution."[12]

The film was not without negative criticism. The New York Times' Janet Maslin wrote that the "creepiness [Kaufman] generates is so crazily ubiquitous it becomes funny."[13] Roger Ebert wrote that it "was said to have something to do with Watergate and keeping tabs on those who are not like you”, and called Kael's praise for the film "inexplicable",[14] while Time magazine's Richard Schickel labeled its screenplay "laughably literal".[15] Phil Hardy's Aurum Film Encyclopedia called Kaufman's direction "less sure" than the screenplay.[16]

The film received a nomination from the Writers Guild of America for Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium. The film was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. It was also recognized by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. Philip Kaufman won Best Director, and the film was nominated Best Science Fiction Film. Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Leonard Nimoy received additional nominations for their performances.[citation needed]

Subsequent assessment[edit]

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) has been named among one of the greatest film remakes ever made among several publications, including Rolling Stone.[17][18]

Film scholar M. Keith Booker posited that the film's "paranoid atmosphere" links it to other films outside the science fiction genre, and that it "bears a clear family resemblance to paranoid conspiracy thrillers like Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View (1974)."[19] Chris Barsanti, in The Sci-Fi Movie Guide (2014), praised the performances of Adams and Sutherland, but criticized some elements of the film, writing: "The subtlety of Donald Siegel's original gives way to gaudy f/x and self-consciously artsy camerawork ... the film is overindulgently long, too, though it certainly has its shocking moments."[20]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film received an approval rating of 94% based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10. The site's consensus reads, "Employing gritty camerawork and evocative sound effects, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a powerful remake that expands upon themes and ideas only lightly explored in the original."[21] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100 based on 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[22]

In a 2018 review published by Complex, the film was ranked among the greatest science fiction films of all time: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers is doubly impressive; it both improves upon the '56 film and Jack Finney's literary source material with a scarier disposition and more layered character development."[23]

Home video[edit]

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released on DVD in the United States, Australia and many European countries. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in the United States in 2010 and in the United Kingdom in 2013 by MGM Home Entertainment. Then released once more on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory in the United States and Canada in 2016. This release contains a 2K scan of the interpositive.[24]


The Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 59th scariest film ever made.[25]


  1. ^ Box Office Information for Invasion of the Body Snatchers. IMDb. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 1, 2018. 
  3. ^ Dillard, Brian J. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast : AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved October 1, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  5. ^ Booker 2006, p. 72.
  6. ^ Knowles, Harry (March 26, 1998). "Invasion of the Body Snatchers ..." Retrieved November 13, 2012. 
  7. ^ In the director's commentary on the DVD release, Kaufman states that Duvall, who had worked with him in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, happened to be in San Francisco at the time of filming and did the scene for free. Kaufman states that Duvall's character is the first "pod person" to be seen in the film.
  8. ^ a b Zeitlin, Denny (2002). "Denny Zeitlin: Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (Interview). Interviewed by Monk Rowe. Hamilton College Jazz Archive Jazz Archive. 
  9. ^ "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Retrieved April 19, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)". American Film Institute Catalog. Retrieved May 1, 2018. 
  11. ^ Menand, Louis (March 23, 1995). "Finding It at the Movies". Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  12. ^ Hurtley, Stella (December 31, 1977). "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Variety. 332: 147. Bibcode:2011Sci...332U.147H. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 22, 1978). "Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): Screen: 'Body Snatchers' Return in All Their Creepy Glory". The New York Times. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (2009). Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2010. Andrews McMeel. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-740-79218-2. 
  15. ^ Schickel, Richard (December 25, 1978). "Cinema: Twice-Told Tale". Time. Time Inc. 
  16. ^ Hardy, Phil (1991). The Aurum Film Encyclopedia – Science Fiction. Aurum Press. 
  17. ^ Murray, Noel; et al. (January 14, 2015). "Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)". Rolling Stone. 50 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 1970s. Retrieved May 1, 2018. 
  18. ^ "Best Remakes: 50 Years, 50 Movies". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  19. ^ Booker 2006, pp. 72–3.
  20. ^ Barsanti 2014, p. 197.
  21. ^ "Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved April 22, 2018. 
  22. ^ "Invasion of the Body Snatchers Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 22, 2018. 
  23. ^ Pimentel, Julia; et al. (January 7, 2018). "The Best Sci-Fi Movies". Complex. Retrieved May 1, 2018. 
  24. ^ Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Blu-ray). Scream Factory. 2016. 
  25. ^ "Chicago Critics' Scariest Films". Alt Film Guide. October 26, 2006. Retrieved June 5, 2012. 

Works cited[edit]

  • Barsanti, Chris (2014). The Sci-Fi Movie Guide: The Universe of Film from Alien to Zardoz. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 978-1-578-59533-4. 
  • Booker, M. Keith (2006). Alternate Americas: Science Fiction Film and American Culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-98395-6. 

External links[edit]