Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 film)

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.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed byPhilip Kaufman
Produced byRobert H. Solo
Screenplay byW. D. Richter
Based onThe Body Snatchers
by Jack Finney
Music byDenny Zeitlin
CinematographyMichael Chapman
Edited byDouglas Stewart
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • December 22, 1978 (1978-12-22)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
BudgetUS$3.5 million[1]
Box officeUS$24.9 million (North America)[2]

Released in the United States over the Christmas weekend 1978, Invasion of the Body Snatchers grossed nearly $25 million at the box office. It initially received varied reviews from critics, though its critical reception has significantly improved in subsequent years, receiving a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, and also being hailed as one of the greatest remakes ever as well as one of the best science-fiction horror films of all time.[4]


A race of gelatinous creatures abandon their dying planet and travel to Earth, landing in San Francisco. They take the form of small pods with pink flowers. Elizabeth Driscoll, a laboratory scientist at the San Francisco Health Department, brings one of the flowers to her home. She awakens the next morning to discover her boyfriend, Geoffrey Howell, acting cold and distant.

Driscoll's colleague, Matthew Bennell, advises her to visit psychiatrist David Kibner, who is giving a presentation of his new book. As Elizabeth and Matthew drive to the presentation, a hysterical civilian warns them of danger before being killed in a hit and run, with his body being observed by emotionless onlookers. At the bookstore, Elizabeth asks Kibner for help regarding Geoffrey, but he theorizes that Elizabeth is using the belief that Geoffrey is behaving differently as an excuse to interrupt their relationship. Meanwhile, Jack Bellicec, an aspiring writer and friend of Matthew, calls Matthew to investigate when a deformed body resembling Jack is found in his wife Nancy's mud parlor. Matthew goes to Elizabeth to warn her, but discovers a semi-formed duplicate of her.

Matthew rescues Elizabeth and alerts the police, but the duplicates of Jack and Elizabeth disappear before their arrival. Elizabeth deduces that the flowers are involved and examines it at the health department, failing to find records of it, whilst Matthew unsuccessfully attempts to alert several government agencies and discovers that several close friends and associates have been duplicated. At night, Matthew and his friends are nearly duplicated as they sleep. Matthew calls the police, but realizes that the department has been duplicated.

Matthew destroys the duplicates with a garden hoe before escaping with the others. The "Pods" – extraterrestrials who take the forms of humans and kill the originals in their sleep – set off in pursuit of Matthew's group. The Pods emit a shrill scream when they discover a human being among them. Jack and Nancy create a distraction, allowing Matthew and Elizabeth to escape back into the city. Matthew and Elizabeth take refuge in the health department, where they take a large dose of speed, keeping them awake for several more hours. They are soon captured by Jack and Kibner, who were previously duplicated, and injected with sedatives whilst being informed of their intentions for survivability, though their previous dose of speed enables them to escape and kill Jack’s duplicate whilst locking Kibner in a refrigerated room.

Matthew and Elizabeth reunite with Nancy, who has learnt to evade the Pods through hiding her emotions. The two follow her example, but their cover is blown when Elizabeth screams at the sight of a mutant dog with a human face. They separate from Nancy in their escape and quickly board a truck delivering the plants to Pier 70, where the Pods are growing them and intending to ship them overseas to other widely populated cities. Whilst Matthew scouts the area in an attempt to flee aboard a vacant ship, Elizabeth soon falls asleep and is duplicated before the former returns. Horrified and enraged, Matthew breaks into the docks’ warehouse and burns down the building, destroying several plants and killing many Pods, before hiding underneath the pier, with more Pods arriving in the area and searching for him, confidently asserting that he will soon fall asleep nevertheless.

Soon after, the emotionless Matthew returns to work at the health department with the duplicated employees, including Elizabeth, and witnesses several schoolchildren being taken for duplication whilst more plants are being prepared for the remaining West Coast cities. Afterwards, Matthew heads towards City Hall and encounters Nancy, who has remained human. Unfortunately, Matthew points to her and shrieks, having become a Pod, as Nancy, now one of the few remaining humans in the city, screams helplessly.



Director Philip Kaufman had been a fan of the 1956 film, which he likened to "great radio", although he had not read the novel until after he agreed to direct the remake. "I thought, 'Well this doesn't have to be a remake as such. It can be a new envisioning that was a variation on a theme,' he said on the film's 40th anniversary. The first change he anticipated was filming in color; the second was changing the location to San Francisco. "Could it happen in the city I love the most? The city with the most advanced, progressive therapies, politics and so forth? What would happen in a place like that if the pods landed there and that element of 'poddiness' was spread?"[6]

Cinematographer Michael Chapman worked with Kaufman to try to capture the film noir feel of the original in color, reviewing some classics of that genre before production. Some of the things they borrowed were scenes with light giving way to shadow and shooting from unusual angles. They used certain color tinges to indicate that some characters were now pod people. "When they're running along the Embarcadero and the huge shadows appear first, those are sort of classic film noir images", the director said.[6]

Sound editor Ben Burtt, who had helped create many of the signature sounds from Star Wars the year before, also added to the film's ambience. Natural sounds that mix with the city's more industrial noises give way to just the latter as the film progresses. Among them are the grinding noises of garbage trucks, a common urban sound that slowly becomes horrific as it becomes clear that most of what they are processing is the discarded husks that remain of pre-pod human bodies. Burtt also designed the iconic shriek when pod people see a surviving human, a sound Kaufman said was composed of many elements, including a pig's squeal.[6]

All the special effects were created live for the camera. The scene at the beginning where the pods travel through space from their dead homeworld to San Francisco was one of the simplest. "I found some viscous material in an art store, I think we paid $12 for a big vat of it, and then [we dropped it] into solutions and reversed the film", Kaufman recalled. The dog with the banjo player's face, another effective moment later in the film, included a mechanism whereby the creature appeared to lick itself.[6]

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.[7] Kaufman meant his cameo to link the two movies, as if he had been "metaphorically" running around the country since the original film shouting out his warnings. While they were filming the scene, in the Tenderloin, Kaufman recalls that a naked man lying on the street awoke and recognized McCarthy. After learning that they were filming the remake of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he told McCarthy that that film was better. "We were in the middle of shooting the film and we got our first review!"[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.[lower-alpha 1] 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. Chapman appears twice as a janitor in the health department.

McCarthy and Siegel played a role in shaping the film's twist ending. Before filming, Kaufman had sought out Siegel for advice, and while the two were talking in the latter's office, McCarthy happened to come in. The topic eventually came around to the original film's ending, which they regarded as "pat". After coming up with the ending he used, he kept it a secret from everyone involved in the filming except screenwriter W.D. Richter and producer Robert Solo. Sutherland was only informed of the scene the night before shooting; Kaufman is not sure Cartwright even knew until Sutherland turned around to point and shriek at her. The studio executives only learned of it when a cut was screened for them at George Lucas's house.[6]

The film score by Denny Zeitlin was released on Perseverance Records; it is the only film score Zeitlin has composed.[8] Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead recorded the banjo parts.[6]

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]

The director encouraged his actors to fill the spaces between dialogue with facial expressions. "Often people on the set or at the studio are so worried about just getting content, and content is not necessarily going to make the scene full of humanity or feel compassion and amusement and humor", Kaufman told The Hollywood Reporter. He particularly singled out the way Adams rolls her eyes in opposite directions while she and Sutherland have dinner as something that a pod person could and would never do.[6]


Box office

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]

On the film's 40th anniversary, Kaufman believes the film may have seemed timely when it came out since the Jonestown mass suicide had occurred a month earlier and still dominated the news. "[T]hat was a case of a lot of people from San Francisco were looking for a better world and suddenly found themselves in pod-dom, and it was fatal. It could not have been a more pointed reason for watching the movie."[6]

Critical reception


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] Gene Siskel gave the film three stars out of four and said it was "one of the more entertaining films in what has turned out to be a dismal Christmas movie season."[13] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a thoroughly scary success in its own right. Not literally a remake—it's more of a sequel, actually—this handsome, highly imaginative film generates its own implications from Finney's sturdy allegory of dehumanization and manages even to have some fun in the process."[14]

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."[15] 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",[16] while Time magazine's Richard Schickel labeled its screenplay "laughably literal".[17] Phil Hardy's Aurum Film Encyclopedia called Kaufman's direction "less sure" than the screenplay.[18]

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.

Subsequent assessment

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) has been named among one of the greatest film remakes ever made among several publications, including Rolling Stone.[19][20]

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)."[21] 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."[22]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has received an approval rating of 93% based on 57 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."[23] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100 based on 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[24]

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."[25]

Home video

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.[26]


The Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 59th scariest film ever made.[27]

See also


  1. 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. He was reportedly paid with an Eddie Bauer coat.[6]


  1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) on IMDb
  2. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) at AllMovie
  4. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved May 11, 2019.
  5. Booker 2006, p. 72.
  6. Weiner, David (December 20, 2018). "Why 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' Still Haunts Its Director". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  7. Knowles, Harry (March 26, 1998). "Invasion of the Body Snatchers ..." Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  8. 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. Siskel, Gene (December 22, 1978). "Sci-fi, romance, comedy fill the holiday bill". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 1, 2.
  14. Thomas, Kevin (December 21, 1978). "A 'Body Snatchers' That Tells All". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  15. 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.
  16. Ebert, Roger (2009). Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2010. Andrews McMeel. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-740-79218-2.
  17. Schickel, Richard (December 25, 1978). "Cinema: Twice-Told Tale". Time. Time Inc.
  18. Hardy, Phil (1991). The Aurum Film Encyclopedia – Science Fiction. Aurum Press.
  19. 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.
  20. "Best Remakes: 50 Years, 50 Movies". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  21. Booker 2006, pp. 72–3.
  22. Barsanti 2014, p. 197.
  23. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved April 22, 2018.
  24. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 22, 2018.
  25. Pimentel, Julia; et al. (January 7, 2018). "The Best Sci-Fi Movies". Complex. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  26. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Blu-ray)|format= requires |url= (help). Scream Factory. 2016.
  27. "Chicago Critics' Scariest Films". Alt Film Guide. October 26, 2006. Retrieved June 5, 2012.

Works cited

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