Arrival (film)

Arrival is a 2016 American science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer. It is based on the 1998 short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang and stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. The film follows a linguist enlisted by the U.S. Army to discover how to communicate with aliens who have arrived on Earth, before tensions lead to war.

U.S. theatrical release poster
Directed byDenis Villeneuve
Produced by
Screenplay byEric Heisserer
Based on"Story of Your Life"
by Ted Chiang
Music byJóhann Jóhannsson
CinematographyBradford Young
Edited byJoe Walker
Distributed by
Release date
  • September 1, 2016 (2016-09-01) (Venice)
  • November 11, 2016 (2016-11-11) (United States)
Running time
116 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$47 million[2]
Box office$203.4 million[3]

The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 1, 2016, and was released in the United States and Canada by Paramount Pictures on November 11, 2016. It grossed $203 million worldwide and received praise for Adams's performance, Villeneuve's direction, and its exploration of communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. Considered one of the best films of 2016, Arrival appeared on numerous critics' year-end lists[4] and was selected by the American Film Institute as one of ten "Movies of the Year".[5]

It received eight nominations at the 89th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won for Best Sound Editing. It also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress for Adams and Best Original Score for Jóhann Jóhannsson,[6] and was awarded the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 2017.[7][8] The score by Jóhann was nominated for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 60th Grammy Awards.[9]


Linguist Louise Banks's daughter, Hannah, dies in adolescence from an incurable illness.

Twelve extraterrestrial spacecraft silently hover over disparate locations around the Earth. Affected nations send military and scientific experts to monitor and study them; in the United States, U.S. Army Colonel G.T. Weber recruits Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly to study the craft above Montana. On board, Banks and Donnelly make contact with two seven-limbed aliens, whom they call "heptapods"; Donnelly nicknames them Abbott and Costello. They both begin researching the aliens’ written language of complicated circular symbols, sharing results with other nations. As Banks studies the language, she starts to have flashback-like visions of her daughter.

When Banks is able to establish sufficient shared vocabulary to ask why the aliens have come, they answer: "Offer weapon". However, China translates this as "Use weapon", prompting them to break off communications, and other nations follow. Banks argues that the symbol interpreted as "weapon" might mean "tool", and that China's translation likely results from their interaction with the aliens using a highly competitive winner-take-all game.

Rogue soldiers plant a bomb in the Montana craft. Unaware, Banks and Donnelly re-enter the alien vessel, and the aliens give them an extremely complex message. Just before the bomb explodes, one of the aliens ejects Donnelly and Banks, knocking them unconscious. When they reawaken, the military is preparing to evacuate in case of retaliation, and the craft has moved out of reach.

Donnelly discovers that the symbol for time is present throughout the message, and that the writing occupies exactly one-twelfth of the 3D space in which it is projected. Banks suggests that the full message is split among the twelve craft, and the aliens want all the nations to share what they learn.

China's General Shang issues an ultimatum to his local alien craft, demanding that it leave China within 24 hours. Russia, Pakistan, and Sudan follow suit. Communications between the international research teams is terminated as worldwide panic sets in.

Banks goes alone to the craft, and it sends down a transport pod. Abbott is dying from the explosion; Costello explains that they have come to help humanity, for in 3,000 years they will need humanity's help in return. Banks realises the "weapon" is their language, which changes humans' linear perception of time, allowing them to experience "memories" of future events. Banks's memories of her daughter, Hannah, are premonitions; her daughter will not be born until some time in the future.

Banks returns to the camp as it is being evacuated and tells Donnelly that the alien language itself is the "tool". Reflecting the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis of how language shapes perception, those who master the language are able to perceive the future and past. She has a premonition of a United Nations event celebrating newfound unity following the alien arrival, in which Shang thanks her for having convinced him to call off the attack by calling his private number and reciting his wife's dying words: "War doesn't make winners, only widows."[10]

In the present, Banks steals CIA-agent Halpern's satellite phone, a rarity when phones have been confiscated on the base, and calls Shang's number to recite the words. The Chinese announce that they are standing down and release their twelfth of the message. The other countries follow suit, and the twelve craft depart.

During the evacuation of the camp, Donnelly expresses his love for Banks. They talk about life choices and whether he would change them if he could see the future. Banks knows that she will agree to have a child with him despite knowing their fate: that Hannah will die, and Donnelly will leave them after she reveals that she knew this.




Villeneuve had wanted to make a science fiction film for some time, although he "never found the right thing".[11] While Villeneuve went through "hundreds" of possible titles, Arrival was the first one his team of producers and writers had suggested.[11]


Screenwriter Eric Heisserer had unsuccessfully been pitching an adaptation of Ted Chiang's novella "Story of Your Life" for years, and by the time producers Dan Cohen and Dan Levine approached him about a potential sci-fi project, he had largely given up on the idea.[12] Cohen and Levine, however, introduced Villeneuve to the novella, which the director immediately took to, although his work on Prisoners meant that he did not have the time to properly adapt it into a screenplay with Heisserer.[11] Heisserer completed a first draft, which Villeneuve and Heisserer reworked into the final script.[11] Villeneuve changed the title, as he felt the original title sounded like a romantic comedy and that the script had become very different from the short story.[11]

Heisserer said that earlier versions of the script had a different ending: the gift from the heptapods was to have been "blueprints to an interstellar ship, like an ark of sorts", to enable humanity to help them in 3,000 years. But after the release of Interstellar in 2014, Heisserer and Villeneuve agreed that this would not work, and decided that the heptapods' gift would be what was "there in front of us … the power of their language".[13]


Both the book and the screenwriting required the innovation of a form of alien linguistics which recurs in the plot. The film uses a script designed by the artist Martine Bertrand (wife of the production designer Patrice Vermette), based on the scriptwriter's original concept. Computer scientists Stephen and Christopher Wolfram analyzed it to provide the basis for Banks's work in the film.[14][15][16] Their works are summarized in a Github repository.[17] Three linguists from McGill University were consulted.[18] The sound files for the alien language were created with consultation from Morgan Sonderegger, a phonetics expert. Lisa Travis was consulted for set design during the construction of the protagonist's workplaces. Jessica Coon, a Canada Research Chair in Syntax and Indigenous Languages, was consulted for her linguistics expertise during review of the script.[19] Heisserer said at the Alamo Drafthouse's Fantastic Fest premiere at the end of September 2016[20] that Shang's wife's last words, translated into English, were "In war, there are no winners, only widows".[21] Villeneuve decided not to include subtitles for the line; Heisserer said he would have preferred it not be kept secret, and was happy to reveal the translation.[22]


Jeremy Renner joined the film on March 6, 2015, to play a physics professor.[23] Forest Whitaker signed on in April 2015, with Michael Stuhlbarg joining as CIA Agent Halpern that June.[24][25] Linguistics professor Jessica Coon was brought on to consult with Amy Adams.[26]


Principal photography lasted for 56 days. It began on June 7, 2015, after Renner had finished filming Captain America: Civil War.[23] Filming was done mainly in and around Montreal, Quebec, Canada, with Saint-Fabien serving as Montana.[27][28] The team took some time to find the right site to represent the landing, because producers wanted to avoid a mountainous site that might dwarf the scale of the ship, but thought that a barren location would be clichéd.[29] Most of the filming that did not involve the exterior of a ship was done indoors on stages, although a real house was used as Banks's home.[29] The scenes of the university where Banks teaches were shot at HEC Montréal.[30]


Jóhann Jóhannsson began writing the score as shooting started, drawing on the screenplay and concept art for inspiration. He developed one of the main themes in the first week using vocals and experimental piano loops.[31] The original soundtrack was released by Deutsche Grammophon on November 11, 2016.[32]

Max Richter's pre-existing piece "On the Nature of Daylight" is featured in the film's opening and closing scenes. Due to the prominent use of Richter's music, which had also featured in Martin Scorsese's film Shutter Island, Jóhannsson's score was deemed ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, the rationale being that voters would be influenced by the use of pre-existing music when judging the merits of the score.[33]


A teaser trailer was released in August 2016, followed the next week by the first official trailer.[34] Paramount Pictures released a series of promotional posters, with one showing a UFO hovering above a Hong Kong skyline that included Shanghai's Oriental Pearl Tower. The inaccuracy angered Hong Kong social media users. The posters were withdrawn and a statement attributed the inaccuracy to a third-party vendor.[35]

In May 2014, while titled Story of Your Life, Paramount acquired the U.S. and Canadian distribution rights.[36] Shortly after, Sony Pictures Releasing International and Stage 6 Films acquired some international distribution rights, while Entertainment One acquired the UK distribution rights and Roadshow Films acquired Australian distribution rights, as well as other distributors like Spentzos Films for Greece, Lev Cinemas for Israel, Italia Films for the UAE, and Chantier Films for Turkey.[37] The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 1, 2016.[38] It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival,[39][40] Telluride Film Festival,[41] and the BFI London Film Festival.[42] The film was released on November 11, 2016.[43][44]

Home media

Arrival was released on Digital HD on January 31, 2017[45] and on Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD on February 14, 2017.[46][47]


Box office

Arrival grossed $100.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $102.8 million in other countries, for a worldwide total of $203.4 million, against a production budget of $47 million.[3]

In the United States and Canada, Arrival was released alongside Almost Christmas and Shut In, and was originally expected to gross around $17 million from 2,317 theaters in its opening weekend, with the studio projecting a more conservative debut of $12–15 million.[2] The film made $1.4 million from Thursday night previews at 1,944 theaters and $9.4 million on its first day, pushing projections up to $24 million. It ended up grossing $24.1 million over the weekend, finishing third at the box office.[48] In its second weekend, the film grossed $12.1 million (a drop of 49.6%), and in its third made $11.5 million (dropping just 5.6%).[49] Following receiving its eight Oscar nominations, the film returned to 1,221 theaters on January 27, 2017 (an increase of 1,041 from the week before) and grossed $1.5 million (up 357.4% from its previous week's $321,411).[50]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 94% based on 412 reviews, with an average rating of 8.41/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Arrival delivers a must-see experience for fans of thinking person's sci-fi that anchors its heady themes with genuinely affecting emotion and a terrific performance from Amy Adams."[51] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 81 out of 100, based on 52 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[52] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[48]

Brian Tallerico of gave the film three out of four: "It's a movie designed to simultaneously challenge viewers, move them and get them talking. For the most part, it succeeds."[53] At, Sam Lansky described it as "sophisticated, grownup sci-fi: a movie about aliens for people who don't like movies about aliens."[54] IGN reviewer Chris Tilly gave it a score of 8.5 out of 10, saying: "Arrival is a language lesson masquerading as a blockbuster, though much more entertaining than that sounds…it's smart, sophisticated sci-fi that asks BIG questions, and does a pretty good job of answering them."[55]

Film critic Robbie Collin gave Arrival five out of five, calling it: "introspective, philosophical and existentially inclined – yet unfolds in an unwavering tenor of chest-tightening excitement. And there is a mid-film revelation – less a sudden twist than sleek unwinding of everything you think you know – that feels, when it hits you, like your seat is tipping back."[56]

The Guardian rated it as the third-best film of 2016.[57] Critic Catherine Shoard said that it "amounts to something transcendent; something to reignite your excitement for cinema, for life."[58] Numerous other publications, including io9,[59] Den of Geek,[60] WhatCulture,[61] Mir Fantastiki,[62] The Atlantic,[63] Blastr,[64] and Digital Trends[65] named Arrival the best movie of 2016.

Rex Reed of the New York Observer gave the film one out of four, calling it Villeneuve's "latest exercise in pretentious poopery" and referring to a lack of action in the storyline.[66]


See also


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  3. "Arrival (2016)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  4. "Film Critics' Top 10 Lists – Best Movies of 2016". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  5. Hipes, Patrick (December 8, 2016). "AFI Awards: Best Of 2016 List Includes 'Silence', 'Hacksaw Ridge' & More". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on December 22, 2016. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  6. "Golden Globes 2017: The Complete List of Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. December 12, 2016. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
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  8. "2017 Hugo Awards". zhugo Awards. World Science Fiction Society. Archived from the original on August 11, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  9. "See The Full List Of 60th GRAMMY Winners". November 27, 2017. Retrieved January 30, 2018.
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  14. Rhodes, Margaret (December 11, 2016). "How Arrival's Designers Crafted a Mesmerizing Alien Alphabet". Wired.
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  17. Documents from a live coding session by Christopher Wolfram related to content from the 2016 film Arrival: WolframResearch/Arrival-Movie-Live-Coding, Wolfram Research, Inc., April 2, 2019, retrieved April 2, 2019
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