Iceman (1984 film)

Iceman is a 1984 American science fiction film from Universal Studios. The screenplay was written by John Drimmer and Chip Proser, and was directed by Fred Schepisi. The cast included John Lone, Timothy Hutton, Lindsay Crouse, and Danny Glover.

Original film poster
Directed byFred Schepisi
Produced byNorman Jewison
Charles Milhaupt
Patrick J. Palmer
Written byJohn Drimmer
Chip Proser
Music byBruce Smeaton
CinematographyIan Baker
Edited byBilly Weber
Distributed byUniversal Studios
Release date
  • April 13, 1984 (1984-04-13)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$7,343,032[1]

It was filmed in color with Dolby sound and ran for 100 minutes. The DVD version was released in 2004.


Anthropologist Stanley Shephard is brought to an arctic base when explorers discover the body of a prehistoric man who has been frozen for 40,000 years. After thawing the body to perform an autopsy, scientists first attempt  and succeed  to resuscitate the "iceman".

The dazed caveman is alarmed by the surgical-masked figures; only Shephard has the presence of mind to remove his mask and reveal his humanity and somewhat familiar (bearded) face, permitting the iceman to settle into a peaceful recuperating sleep.

The scientists place the iceman in an artificial, simulated environment for study, though the caveman quickly deduces that he is far from home. Shephard believes that the caveman's culture may provide clues to learning about the human body's adaptability, citing ceremonies such as firewalking. Other scientists see the potential in studying the caveman's DNA and his survival in the ice, for possible "freezing" of the sick until treatment is possible.

Shephard defends the caveman's right to be considered a human being and not a scientific specimen. Despite opposition from the others, Shephard initiates an encounter with the caveman. Shephard names him "Charlie" after the iceman introduces himself as "Char-u". Shephard and Charlie bond, but it becomes obvious to the anthropologist that Charlie misses his world.

A linguist is brought to the Arctic base, and the scientists make progress communicating with Charlie. Shephard introduces Charlie to colleague Dr. Diane Brady. Assuming that the woman is Shephard's mate, Charlie makes chalk marks which indicate that he likely was a married man with children before he was frozen.

Shephard strives to understand what motivates Charlie and why he survived being frozen. At one point, Shephard begins to sing "Heart of Gold", inspiring Charlie to sing one of his own songs. Charlie's line drawings in the ground resemble a bird, matching body markings on his chest. When the base's helicopter strays over the roof of Charlie's area, he takes on an obsessive zeal as he climbs towards the roof. Shouting the word Beedha, he lifts his arms towards the helicopter in a sign of worship. Even though the helicopter pulls away from the dome, Shephard knows that Charlie can now think of nothing else.

Charlie escapes after watching Shephard exit the biosphere. In a panic of seeing unfamiliar modern devices, and believing they're his enemies, he spears Maynard, one of the base's technicians. Recapturing Charlie, a scientific team led by Dr. Singe focuses on treating him as a subject rather than a person. They attempt an experiment re-freezing and re-thawing the iceman in order to study the effect, but the incident goes awry and Charlie nearly dies in the attempt.

Shephard consults local Inuit who recognize the name that Charlie chanted and explain that it is a mythical bird, a messenger for the gods. Shephard understands that Charlie has a spiritual side and that he was on a dreamwalk pilgrimage, a mythical quest for redemption. His people were dying in the sudden ice age; he must have offered himself to the gods in the form of a self-sacrifice or appealing to the gods to redeem his tribe.

Shephard defies all protocol and helps Charlie to escape into the wild. Charlie races on ahead of Shephard as they pass by glaciers and ice-shelves, and a crevasse opens up in front of Shephard, cutting him off from Charlie.

When the helicopter emerges over an ice-shelf, Shephard looks on helplessly as Charlie grabs hold of one of its landing skis. In an attempt to evade Charlie's grasp, the helicopter pilot pulls up, but Charlie dangles beneath the aircraft while it continues to climb high into the sky. Charlie is ecstatic, believing the “messenger” is taking him to his god. He releases his grip, seeming to float through the sky while he plunges.

Shephard's initial horror turns into joy, as he realizes that Charlie has reached his dreamwalk goal that he began 40,000 years earlier, even though it means his death.



Iceman was a project linked to director Norman Jewison for several years in the 1970s. Jewison still produced the film, which was eventually made under Australian director Fred Schepisi.[2]

Exteriors were filmed in British Columbia and Manitoba.[3][4] Schepisi worked with Australian collaborators Ian Baker for cinematography and Bruce Smeaton for music.[5]


Box office

The film was released on April 13, 1984 grossing $1,836,120 (US). By the end of its four-week release, it grossed $7,343,032 (US).[6]

Critical reception

Critic Richard Scheib said, "The film was part of a brief revival of the old caveman vs dinosaurs genre, along with Quest for Fire and Clan of the Cave Bear, in which earlier action-fantasy films were redressed with a much stricter regard to anthropological realism. Iceman, using modern science, became one of the more refreshingly intelligent films. The film is knowingly well-informed on anthropology and biochemistry and never resorts to cheap cliche or hackneyed elements."[7] Harlan Ellison called the film "magnificent", citing excellent acting (particularly on the part of John Lone) and directing that contribute to genuine emotional appeal.[8]

According to Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, the film is "spellbinding storytelling". "It begins with such a simple premise and creates such a genuinely intriguing situation that we're not just entertained, we're drawn into the argument [between using Charlie as a scientific specimen or a man]".[9]

Home media

The film was released on full-screen DVD by Universal on December 28, 2004. Kino Lorber released the film on Blu-ray Dec. 10, 2019, preserving the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.


  1. Iceman at Box Office Mojo
  2. "Iceman". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  3. "Iceman Review". Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  4. "Iceman". Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  5. "Iceman Review". Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  6. "Movie Iceman - Box Office Data". Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  7. Richard Scheib. "Iceman". Moria: Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Review. Archived from the original on 2007-10-19. Retrieved 2007-10-09.
  8. Ellison, Harlan (2015-03-10). Harlan Ellison's Watching: Essays and Criticism. Open Road Media. pp. 175–177. ISBN 9781497604117.
  9. Roger Ebert (1984-01-01). "Iceman". Retrieved 2017-12-27.
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