Fallen (1998 film)

Fallen is a 1998 American supernatural detective thriller film directed by Gregory Hoblit, produced by Charles Roven and Dawn Steel, from a screenplay by Nicholas Kazan. The film tells the story of John Hobbes, a Philadelphia police detective who is investigating murders committed by an apparent copycat killer. The murderer is later revealed to be a fallen angel known as Azazel, who possesses human beings by touch. Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, James Gandolfini and Elias Koteas star. Fallen was released on January 16, 1998, by Warner Bros. The film grossed $25.2 million against its budget of $46 million. It has a 40% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which calls it "not all that thrilling".

Theatrical release poster
Directed byGregory Hoblit
Produced by
Written byNicholas Kazan
Music byTan Dun
CinematographyNewton Thomas Sigel
Edited byLawrence Jordan
Distributed byWarner Bros.[1]
Release date
  • January 16, 1998 (1998-01-16)
Running time
124 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$46 million[2]
Box office$25.2 million[3]


An opening voiceover announces "I want to tell you about the time I almost died."

Philadelphia Police Detective John Hobbes visits serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas), whom he helped capture, on death row. Reese is in high spirits, which seems odd in light of the fate that awaits him, and during conversation he grabs Hobbes' hand and delivers a spiteful monologue in an unknown language, assumed to be gibberish but later identified as Aramaic. As he is executed in the gas chamber, Reese mocks the spectators and sings "Time is on My Side" by the Rolling Stones.

Some time later, Hobbes and his partner Jonesy (John Goodman) investigate a string of new murders that have begun and are eerily reminiscent of Reese's style, and it is assumed to be the work of a copycat killer, since Reese committed his crimes alone and had no connections. Hobbes, through hints given initially by Reese and later by the apparent copycat killer, tracks down a woman named Gretta Milano. Gretta explains that her father, a former detective, killed himself in an isolated cabin in the woods after being accused of a series of demonic-themed murders similar to the ones Hobbes and Jonesy are currently investigating. Hobbes goes to the Milano family's lake-house, which has been left abandoned for 30 years. In the basement he finds several books, with unsettling illustrations, concerning demonic possession. He also discovers the name "Azazel" written on a wall, obscured under layers of grime.

Hobbes meets up with Gretta again and mentions the name to her, but she strongly urges him to drop the case to protect his life and the lives of his friends and family. However, she reconsiders after a terrifying personal encounter with Azazel, who confronts her in the guise of several strangers on the street and attempts to possess her. Seeking sanctuary in a church, Gretta explains to Hobbes that Azazel is a fallen angel with the power to possess human beings by touch. Hobbes realises that Azazel, while possessing Edgar Reese, shook his hand before the execution, but was not able to possess him. Gretta explains that the demon will try to ruin his life by any and all means, and warns him of the inevitability of Azazel's victory. Azazel visits Hobbes at his precinct and possesses his friend Lou (James Gandolfini), asking him about his investigation and taunting him by humming "Time is on My Side" and then moving from person to person, continuing with the lyrics after each transfer. Hobbes asks Lou and several others why they were singing the song, but they have no recollection of their actions during the time Azazel was using their bodies. Hobbes runs outside and calls out to Azazel in Aramaic. The demon, now moving rapidly among people in the street, praises Hobbes for his cleverness. Hobbes confesses that he knows of Azazel's true identity, to which the demon responds "beware my wrath" and disappears.

To provoke Hobbes, Azazel possesses his nephew Sam and attacks John's intellectually disabled brother Art in their home. He again flees into other people out on the street, ending up in a schoolteacher. As the teacher, Azazel draws a gun and forces Hobbes to shoot his host in front of a group of bystanders. Azazel boasts to Hobbes that even if his current host is killed, he can transfer to any other host in the surrounding area without even needing to touch them, as he did during Reese's execution.

Lieutenant Stanton (Donald Sutherland) informs Hobbes that his fingerprints were found at one of the murder scenes, and in light of the bizarre circumstances of the shooting of the teacher, he has become a suspect for all the murders. Azazel inhabits several of the witnesses and gives false accounts that the shooting was unprovoked, throwing further suspicion on Hobbes. He also comes into his home and murders his brother, whilst also marking Sam. Hobbes then takes his nephew to Gretta's house, to keep him safe. Gretta explains that, if forced out of a host body, Azazel can only travel in spirit form for as long as "one breath" can sustain him. If he does not possess another host within a certain amount of time, he will expire permanently.

Hobbes goes to the Milano cabin and calls Jonesy, knowing he will trace the call. Stanton and Jonesy arrive to arrest Hobbes; however, Jonesy kills Stanton, revealing himself to be possessed by Azazel. Azazel prepares to shoot himself, which will allow him to possess Hobbes, the only other person for miles around. Hobbes wrestles Jonesy for his gun and Jonesy is accidentally shot and wounded in the struggle. Hobbes then smokes cigarettes which he explains have been laced with poison, the same poison that Azazel used to kill his brother, which will leave Azazel stranded in the wilderness without a host. An enraged Azazel spits insults as Hobbes taunts him, proclaiming that "time is on my side" before shooting and killing Jonesy. Azazel then takes possession of Hobbes' body and frantically attempts to flee, but succumbs to the poison and dies. Hobbes, in voiceover, reminds the viewer this is the story of how he almost died, revealing that he is in fact Azazel. A cat, which has been possessed by Azazel, emerges from beneath the cabin and begins heading back to civilization.



Fallen was released in 2,448 cinemas on 16 January 1998. It landed at #3 at the box office and made $10.4 million in its opening weekend. In its second weekend, it made $4.9 million. After being in cinemas for four weeks, the film made $23.3 million in the US and $981.2 thousand overseas for a total of $25.2 million.[3]


The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 40% of critics give the film a positive review based on 57 reviews. The site's consensus reads: "Has an interesting premise. Unfortunately it's just a recycling of old materials, and not all that thrilling."[4] Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it "A stylish if seriously far-fetched nightmare,"[5] but Variety wrote that "Washington has the almost impossible task of holding together a convoluted picture that's only intermittently suspenseful and not very engaging emotionally or intellectually."[6] Roger Ebert gave the film a mixed review, writing "the idea is better than the execution, and by the end, the surprises become too mechanical and inevitable.”[7] The Chicago Reader praised Washington's performance, but referring to the film's continual use of The Rolling Stones song "Time Is on My Side", wrote "The first half of this movie holds some promise, but time is not on its side."[8]


  1. "Fallen". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  2. "Fallen (1998)". The Wrap. Archived from the original on December 3, 2016. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  3. "Fallen". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2015-06-28.
  4. Fallen, Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed June 30, 2009.
  5. Maslin, Janet. "Film Review; Hard to Beat the Devil, a Detective Finds", New York Times (January 16, 1998).
  6. Levy, Emanuel. Review of Fallen, Variety.com (January 12, 1998).
  7. Alspector, Lisa. Fallen capsule review, Chicago Reader.
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