Reign of Fire (film)

Reign of Fire is a 2002 post-apocalyptic science fantasy film directed by Rob Bowman and starring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale, with the screenplay written by Matt Greenberg, Gregg Chabot, and Kevin Peterka. The film also features Izabella Scorupco and Gerard Butler.

Reign of Fire
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRob Bowman
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Gregg Chabot
  • Kevin Peterka
Music by
CinematographyAdrian Biddle
Edited by
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • July 12, 2002 (2002-07-12)
Running time
102 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • United States
Budget$60 million[2]
Box office$82.2 million[2]

The film is set in England in the year 2020, twenty years after London tunneling project workers inadvertently awakened dragons from centuries of slumber and the creatures have subsequently replaced humans as the dominant species on Earth. With the fate of mankind at stake, two surviving parties, led by Quinn Abercromby (Bale) and Denton Van Zan (McConaughey), find that they must work together to hunt down and destroy the beasts in a desperate attempt to take back the world.

The film was released by Touchstone Pictures on July 12, 2002. Upon release, it received generally mixed reviews from critics and audiences and became a commercial failure, grossing $82 million on a $60 million budget.[3]


The film opens at an unspecified date in the early 21st century. During construction on the London Underground, workers penetrate a cave. A huge dragon emerges from hibernation, incinerating the workers with its breath. The only survivor is a boy, Quinn Abercromby (Ben Thornton), whose mother, Karen (Alice Krige) - the construction crew chief - is crushed to death protecting him. The dragon flies out of the Underground, and soon more dragons appear. It is revealed through newspaper clippings and the narration that dragons are the species responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. They are speculated to hibernate after destroying most living creatures until the planet repopulates. Mankind's militaristic resistance, including nuclear weapons in 2010, only hastens the destruction, and by 2020, humans are nearly extinct.

Quinn (Christian Bale) leads a community of survivors at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland. They are starving while awaiting harvest. Although most trust Quinn, some are restless and defiant. Eddie (David Kennedy) and his group steal a truck to pick tomatoes, though it is too soon for harvest. They are attacked by a dragon. One man is killed and the rest are surrounded by fire. Quinn, Creedy (Gerard Butler), and Jared (Scott Moutter) rescue them with old fire engines, but the dragon kills Eddie's son before escaping.

The Kentucky Irregulars, a group of Americans led by Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), arrive on a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy with a Chieftain tank and AgustaWestland AW109 utility helicopter, the latter of which is piloted by Alex Jensen (Izabella Scorupco). Van Zan has a system for hunting dragons and knows their weakness: poor vision during twilight. With Quinn's help, Van Zan, Alex, and their team hunt and slay the dragon who destroyed the crops.

The survivors enjoy a celebration at the castle that night but Van Zan is embittered by the loss of several of his men. Van Zan and Alex tell Quinn that all the dragons they have found have been female. The Americans believe there is only one male - if they kill it, the dragons can no longer reproduce. Although Quinn knows about the male dragon, which killed his mother, he refuses to help.

Van Zan orders his soldiers to enlist the castle's best men, despite Quinn's argument that if they find the male it will kill them and find the castle. Tempers again fray between Van Zan and Quinn and in an attempt to stop them taking the castle's men away, Quinn attacks Van Zan and a fight ensues. After being separated by the crowd, Van Zan regroups his men and they prepare to depart, leaving Quinn beaten and helpless to stop them. But true to Quinn's warnings, Van Zan's caravan is attacked by the dragon in the ruins of a town 66 miles (106 km) from London. The dragon then finds the castle and kills most of the inhabitants. Quinn gets the survivors to a bunker but they are trapped when the dragon returns and during its final attack, Creedy is killed.

Van Zan and Jensen return and free everyone trapped in the bunker. Quinn decides to help Van Zan and Alex hunt down the male dragon. They fly to London and find hundreds of small dragons, one of which is cannibalized by the larger male. Van Zan plans to shoot explosives down the dragon's throat with a crossbow. He fires, but the dragon destroys the arrow and eats Van Zan. Quinn and Alex lure the dragon to ground level, where Quinn fires another explosive into the dragon's mouth, killing it.

Later, Quinn and Alex erect a radio tower on a hill overlooking the North Sea. There has been no dragon sighting for over three months. Jared arrives to say they have contacted a group of French survivors who want to speak to their leader. Quinn tells Jared he is now their leader and dedicates himself to rebuilding.



Reign of Fire was filmed in Ireland's Wicklow Mountains, at the Glendasan Valley Lead Mines. Permission was given on the condition that the area was not damaged and the crew removed all sets once filming was complete. However an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe stopped many planned scenes from being filmed due to quarantine restrictions. The dead dragon was designed and built by Artem, with visual effects by Secret Lab. The dragon's digital effects posed a unique problem for animators:

"In recent years there have been several movies starring creatures with scaled surfaces. Among these are Jurassic Park, Dragonheart, and Lake Placid. The surfaces of these creatures have generally been constructed by layering painted textures atop displacement maps. This gives the model texture, but the scales stretch and shrink under the movement of the creature, giving a rubbery look that is not realistic."[4]

In order to overcome this limitation, the then-groundbreaking work done by digital effects animator Neil Eskuri on Disney's 2000 release Dinosaur was utilized as a benchmark in order to create a realistic physical simulation of the dragon. According to Carlos Gonzalez-Ochoa, the film called for "100 foot (30 m) creatures with wing spans of 300 feet (91 m) that could undergo enormous speeds and accelerations. The artistic direction required each dragon to have wings that transition between a variety of physical behaviors and interact with the environment."[5]


Reign of Fire: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Film score (Digital download / Audio CD) by
  • July 23, 2002 (2002-07-23)
LabelVarèse Sarabande
Reign of Fire: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
2."Enter the Dragon"3:20
3."An Early Harvest"2:42
4."Field Attack"4:11
6."Meet Van Zan"3:49
8."Dawn Burial"3:02
9."A Battle of Wills"5:31
10."The Ruins at Pembury"2:11
12."Return to London"4:11
13."Magic Hour"5:23
Total length:50:30


Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 40% rating, based on 164 reviews, with a site consensus "Reign of Fire gains some altitude with its pyrotechnic action and a smolderingly campy Matthew McConaughey, but the feature's wings are clipped by a derivative script and visual effects that fizzle out.".[6] Metacritic gave it a score of 39 out of 100, based on 30 reviews from critics. Reign of Fire was third in U.S. box-office receipts during its opening weekend (July 12, 2002), taking in $15,632,281—behind Road to Perdition and Men in Black II (in its second week at the top).

Joe Leydon of Variety said of the film, "An uncommonly exciting and satisfying post-apocalyptic popcorn flick, Director Rob Bowman deftly combines an uncommonly satisfying mix of medieval fantasy, high-tech military action and "Mad Max"-style misadventure."[7] Lisa Schwarzbaum of EW agreed, saying "the season could do with more grinning, spinning, un-self-important, happy-to-be-B throwback movies like this one."[8] Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times noted that "the movie might have been a minor classic if it had maximized its own possibilities. But until the rush wears off, the picture is as much fun as a great run at a slot machine: even when your luck runs out, you're losing only pocket change."[9]

Roger Ebert lamented the film as "a vast enterprise marshaled in the service of such a minute idea", adding that "the movie makes no sense on its own terms, let alone ours. And it is such a grim and dreary enterprise. One prays for a flower or a ray of sunshine as those grotty warriors clamber into their cellars and over their slag heaps."[10]


Reign of Fire was nominated for one Saturn Award, but lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and two Festival de Cine de Sitges awards, winning one.

Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film Nominated
Festival de Cine de Sitges Best Visual Effects Won[11]
Best Film Nominated

Video game

In 2002, Kuju Entertainment released the video game adaptation Reign of Fire for PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, which received mediocre reviews.[12]

Cancelled sequel

During an interview, Clint Morris asked the film's co-star Christian Bale "Is there a sequel possibility to Reign of Fire?" to which Bale responded "Possibly. I told Scott Moutter, who plays my stepson in the movie, that he's well positioned to take the sequel from me because of the way the movie ends!". But it was later rumoured that the sequel has been cancelled. This seems to be the truth as even after years, there is no news of any next installment.[13]


  1. "REIGN OF FIRE | British Board of Film Classification". Retrieved 2017-04-22.
  2. Reign of fire at Box Office Mojo
  3. "Reign of Fire (2002)". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 2011-10-10.
  4. Petti, Ernest J; Thompson, Thomas V, II; Lusinsky, Adolph; Driskill, Hank (2002). "Dragon Scales: The Evolution of Scale Tool for Reign of Fire". ACM SIGGRAPH 2002 Conference Abstracts and Applications. ACM: 172. doi:10.1145/1242073.1242185.
  5. Gonzalez-Ochoa, Carlos; Eberle, David; Dressel, Rob (2002). "Dynamic Simulation of Wing Motion on Reign of Fire". ACM SIGGRAPH 2002 Conference Abstracts and Applications. ACM: 174. doi:10.1145/1242073.1242187. ISBN 978-1-58113-525-1.
  6. "Reign of Fire". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster.
  7. Leydon, Joe (12 July 2002). "Reign of Fire". Variety. Archived from the original on 28 September 2017.
  8. Schwarzbaum, Lisa (10 July 2002). "Reign of Fire".
  9. Mitchell, Elvis (July 12, 2002). "FILM REVIEW; Fire-Breathing Dragons Make It Hot for Humans". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 September 2017. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  10. Ebert, Roger (July 12, 2002). "Reign Of Fire Movie Review & Film Summary (2002) | Roger Ebert".
  11. Sitges 2002 Awards
  12. "Reign of Fire review". Gamespot. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  13. "Movies: Christian Bale Interview". Retrieved 2017-04-22.
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