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The Punisher is a 2004 comic book action film, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, starring Thomas Jane as the antihero Frank Castle / The Punisher and John Travolta as the villain Howard Saint, a money launderer who orders the death of Castle's entire family. The film is not a sequel to 1989's The Punisher; it is a reboot. The story and plot were mainly based on two Punisher comic book stories; The Punisher: Year One and Welcome Back, Frank along with scenes from other Punisher stories such as Marvel Preview: Featuring The Punisher #2, The Punisher War Zone and The Punisher War Journal. The film was released on April 16, 2004, by Lions Gate Entertainment, grossing $13,834,527 in the United Statesmarker over its opening weekend. The Punisher received mainly negative reviews from film critics. A DVD release followed on September 7, 2004, with $10.8 million in copies sold.

The Punisher was shot on location in Tampamarker in mid to late 2003. It is distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment in North America, although Artisan Entertainment, which produced the 1989's The Punisher, financed and co-distributed the film with Lionsgate, while Columbia Pictures distributed the film in non-North American countries. Director Jonathan Hensleigh agreed to helm the film during its development stage despite a dispute with Marvel Studios. The Punisher was rated R by the MPAA for pervasive brutal violence, language and brief nudity, making it one of the few Marvel films to receive an "R" rating.

The success of the DVD sales of the film prompted Marvel Comics and Lionsgate to start development on a sequel titled The Punisher 2, which instead became a reboot titled Punisher: War Zone after Jane and Hensleigh left the project due to creative differences.


Bobby Saint and Micky Duka meet with their contact, Otto Krieg, during an arms deal in Tampamarker, but the FBI intervenes and Bobby and Otto are supposedly killed and Micky is taken to prison. It is revealed that Otto Krieg was an FBI agent and ex-Delta Forcemarker soldier named Frank Castle, who was shot by an agent using blanks. Shortly thereafter, Frank celebrates a retirement party with his friends and heads home. Bobby Saint is revealed to be the son of the powerful mob boss, Howard Saint, who is enraged by the death of his son and attempts to kill Micky. Instead, Howard and his associate, Quentin Glass, bribe the FBI for confidential information about Otto Krieg and find his true identity. At Bobby's funeral, Howard learns Frank is at a family reunion in Puerto Rico and will be heading for Londonmarker soon. Howard and his wife, Livia, decide to murder Frank and his entire family as well.

At the reunion, Howard's cronies, Quentin Glass and John Saint among them, kill most of Frank's family. Frank and his father manage to kill several men. Meanwhile, Frank's wife and son try to escape in a jeep, but they are run over with a truck. Frank is shot three times, but survives and is nursed back to health by a local man named Candelaria. Frank takes refuge in an old tenement building where three young outcasts, Dave, Bumpo, and Joan, live. He starts his own mission of revenge after learning that the police and the FBI have no intention of pursuing the men responsible. In the process, Frank sabotages Saint's money laundering business and severs Saint's partnership with the Cuban mobsters, the Toro Brothers, and starts tailing Livia and Quentin, learning that Quentin is in fact a homosexual, with information from Micky.

Howard realizes that Frank is alive and sends two assassins to kill him. First is Harry Heck, who after a brief car chase, is killed when Frank shoots a ballistic knife into Heck's throat. The second is the Russian, a behemoth who has boiling water thrown in his face, which blinds him long enough for Frank to throw him down the staircase, crushing his head. Moments later, Saint's men arrive, led by Quentin and John. Dave, Joan, and Bumpo hide Frank and refuse to tell Quentin where he is, despite Quentin sadistically pulling Dave's piercings out with a pair of pliers. They leave a man behind to kill Frank when he gets back. Frank leaves the elevator and chops the top of the man's head open with a paper cutter. That night, Frank prepares himself for battle, and manipulates Howard into believing that Quentin and Livia were having an affair by planting one of Livia's earrings on Quentin's bed. Howard, unaware that Quentin is gay, and believing Livia to be capable of cheating on him, kills them both.

Frank then attacks Saint's club, where he wages a one-man war on Saint's entire crew, killing everyone inside, including John. Howard attempts to escape, but Frank catches up with him and shoots him in the stomach. As he writhes in agony, Frank reveals that Quentin and Livia were not having an affair and ties Howard to a car which goes into a bomb-laden car park, blowing up countless cars and lighting Howard on fire. The destruction and wreckage culminates in the shape of Frank's iconic skull. He leaves and lets Howard burn to death. After his revenge is taken, Frank prepares to kill himself. However, he remembers his wife and decides he will continue his vigilante mission against others who deserve punishment. Before departing on his next mission, he leaves some of Howard's money for Bumpo, Joan, and Dave. In the final scene on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Frank delivers a short monologue:


Director Jonathan Hensleigh and Avi Arad said in many interviews that Thomas Jane was the first and only actor to be asked to play the title role. Jane initially turned down the role twice, as well as a part in the first X-Men movie and a few other comic book movies, as he did not see himself as a superhero actor. Jane said, when asked the second time to play the Punisher, that he became interested when Arad sent Tim Bradstreet's artwork of the Punisher. After learning more about the Punisher's character, he accepted. He read as many Punisher comics he could find to understand the character, and became a fan of the Punisher. Jane trained for six or seven months with the United States Navy SEALs and gained more than twenty pounds of muscle for the part.


I had to ask myself intellectual questions like, "To what extent do crimes against a person become so unconscionable, so heinous, that even a person who does not believe in vigilantism can resort to vigilantism in a more just way?" That was the equation for me. I told Marvel that I didn't just want to do a revenge story, that I wanted to do the mother of all revenge stories. I wanted to ramp everything up. I can't really go further without doing spoilers here. The underlying events that give rise to Frank Castle's vigilantism are not from the comic. I invented a lot of that. I made it a lot worse.
—Jonathan Hensleigh on The Punisher

Before filming began, Hensleigh was not given the budget he wanted or needed from the studio. Hensleigh knew that most action pictures get a budget of around $64 million. He was only given a $15 million shooting budget for the movie, and only 52 days to shoot the movie, which is half the time allocated for most action pictures. Most of Hensleigh's original script had to be edited and re-written many times due to budget issues. According to the DVD commentary, the first scene in the movie would have been a battle set in Kuwait during the Gulf War, but they were unable to film this scene as a result of the budget cuts.
Alternative teaser poster for the film displaying The Punisher's famous skull logo.
The Punisher was filmed on location in Tampamarker. The Florida location was first chosen at the insistence of screenwriter Michael France, who advised Marvel and Artisan that "it would be cheap to shoot [there] - that they'd get a lot more for their money than in New York or Chicago" as well as wanting to use "both sunny locations, and dark, industrial locations" in the screenplay. For inspiration, Hensleigh and cinematographer Conrad W. Hall looked at dozens of action movies from the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Dirty Harry series, The Getaway, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde. In an interview, Hensleigh also stated the film pays homage to Mad Max and William Shakespeare's Othello, while he was inspired by Othello, the characters were reversed for the film, making the Punisher the instigator of the jealousy which leads to Howard Saint murdering his best friend and wife.

As stated above, the story and plot were mainly based on two Punisher comic book stories: Welcome Back, Frank and The Punisher: Year One but before the film was released in theaters Jonathan Hensleigh was asked if the movie had been entirely based on The Punisher: Year One storyline. Jonathan Hensleigh stated:

During shooting of the film, Lionsgate (then known as Lions Gate Films) purchased Artisan. In an interview with Jonathan Hensleigh, Hensleigh said that even though the movie is distributed under the Lionsgate imprint, they had nothing to do with the film. Lionsgate never gave a green light for the film to be made. The film was still under Artisan Entertainment.

The character of Microchip was originally included in an earlier Michael France draft (along with the character Jigsaw), but was excised from later drafts because of director Jonathan Hensleigh's distaste for him. Hensleigh said:

Release and reception

Prior to The Punisher 's release, a novelization of the movie was written by D.A. Stern and released in March, 2004. The Punisher opened in 2,649 theaters on April 16, 2004 and grossed $13,834,527 over its opening weekend, ranking at #2 at the box office. The film has a domestic gross of $33,810,189 and a foreign gross of $20,889,916, giving it a worldwide total of $54,700,105.

On its release, it was met with mainly negative reviews, and received a 29% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 160 reviews with an average rating of 4.5/10 (with a 29% approval rating from top critics and 62% from the RT community). Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two stars, stating "The Punisher is so grim and cheerless, you wonder if even its hero gets any satisfaction from his accomplishments." and Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter said "By the end, the Punisher's greatest adversaries emerge as an unwelcome trio known as jokey, hokey and hammy." A few reviewers have defended the movie, stating that compared to most comic book based movies, it is a well done throwback to the old school action movies of the 1960s and 1970s. Critic A.O. Scott stated "But lightness is not among Hensleigh's gifts. Making his directorial debut after a successful run as a screenwriter and producer (on projects like Die Hard With a Vengeance, Jumanji and The Rock) he has clearly conceived The Punisher as a throwback to the leathery, angry urban revenge movies of the 1970s." Drew McWeeny of Ain't It Cool News said of the style of the film that "The Punisher has more in common with the work of Don Seigel and John Frankenheimer than it does with the work of Michael Bay or Simon West. Which isn't to say that it's the equal of those classics, but at least Hensleigh's got the right idea." In addition to saying "The Punisher is pulp, served up gritty and ugly and brutal. It’s not jam-packed full of one-liners. What humor there is in the film is dark."

Home media

The Punisher DVD was released on September 7, 2004 and sold nearly 1.8 million copies in its first five days and netted $10.8 million in rentals its first week out, making it number one in DVD sales. Sales continued at a steady pace, ultimately topping 4 million units. During October, The Punisher DVD rentals were still in the top ten and various cable and satellite providers had started to offer The Punisher as a pay-per-view feature. Between worldwide movie box office and DVD sales, it grossed $115 million ($55 million worldwide + $60 million from DVD sales).

An extended cut DVD was released on November 21, 2006 with 17 minutes of additional footage, most of which revolves around the character Jimmy Weeks (Russell Andrews), and Frank realizing that it was his friend who had sold him out to Howard Saint. Features also include a black and white stop motion animated scene, set in Kuwaitmarker based on and partially done by artist Tim Bradstreet, and a Punisher comic book gallery. An extended version of "In Time" by Mark Collie also appears in the closing credits of the extended cut DVD. This version does not include the special features on the standard DVD release.

The Punisher was released on Blu-ray Disc on June 27, 2006.


The score to The Punisher was composed and conducted by Italian composer Carlo Siliotto. Director Jonathan Hensleigh wanted the music to be very emotional, and was aware of Siliotto's previous work which led to him being chosen. When scoring the film Siliotto saw Frank Castle as a tragic figure stating, "This man, Frank Castle, is somebody who has a slaughtered family. He comes through that slaughter, and becomes a punisher. But he's a sad man - he drinks, and has bad memories always coming to him. There's a lot in the film, and at times it is like a modern version of a classic tragedy - like Othello."

  1. "The Punisher" (0:56)
  2. "Otto Krieg" (3:14)
  3. "Unusual Resurrection" (1:40)
  4. "Moving" (3:09)
  5. "I Can't Believe I'm Home" (1:23)
  6. "His Whole Family" (1:27)
  7. "The Massacre" (5:45)
  8. "Death and Resurrection of Frank Castle" (1:47)
  9. "God's Gonna Sit This One Out" (3:57)
  10. "Ice Lolly and Meat" (1:28)
  11. "You're Gonna Help Me" (1:24)
  12. "Entering the Fort" (1:58)
  13. "About Your Family / Setting a Trap" (3:11)
  14. "A Bomb for John Saint" (1:08)
  15. "Good Memories Can Save Your Life" (1:13)
  16. "The Thugs" (1:30)
  17. "The Torture" (3:12)
  18. "Elevator and Headache" (1:07)
  19. "A New Family / Joan's Suffering" (3:34)
  20. "Quentin's Glass Home" (1:32)
  21. "Killing a Best Friend" (1:43)
  22. "You Don't Understand... End of a Dark Lady" (2:34)
  23. "She Took the Train / Punishment" (1:47)
  24. "The Arrow" (1:48)
  25. "Both of Them" (1:32)
  26. "The Skull" (2:34)
  27. "Castle's Loneliness" (1:35)
  28. "Call Me ‘The Punisher’" (2:23)
  29. "Jealous One" by J.C. Loader (3:52)
  30. "La donna è mobile" by Peter Dvorsky (2:06)

Awards and nominations (2005)



  • Prism Awards
    • Wide Release Feature Film
  • Taurus World Stunt Awards
    • Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Woman (Donna Evans)
    • Best Stunt Coordinator and/or 2nd Unit Director (Gary Hymes)
    • Best Work with a Vehicle (Keii Johnston & Dane Farwell)


Despite the modest reception the film received at the box office, Lions Gate Entertainment had greenlit a direct sequel titled The Punisher 2 to be made based on the film's strong DVD sales performance. Avi Arad, chairman and CEO of Marvel Studios, stated that the second film would "become the fifth Marvel property to become a sequel." Jonathan Hensleigh said that he was interested in working with Thomas Jane again for The Punisher 2. Jane said that the villain for The Punisher 2 would be Jigsaw. The project, however, lingered in development for over three years. Jonathan Hensleigh completed a first draft of the script before pulling out around 2006. John Dahl was in talks to direct the film but pulled out due to script quality issues and the studio not wanting to spend a lot of money on the project. In a statement on May 15, 2007 and in two audio interviews Thomas Jane said that he pulled out of the project due to creative differences and the budget of the film being cut, in addition to director Walter Hill being turned down as director by Lionsgate. After reading the new script by Kurt Sutter, Jane stated: In Summer 2007, Marvel Studios announced that Lexi Alexander would direct the film as a result of Dahl pulling out, and that actor Ray Stevenson would play the Punisher in the new film, thus replacing Thomas Jane. The Punisher 2 then became Punisher: War Zone, a reboot of The Punisher film series with no connection to the 2004 film. The reboot was released on December 5, 2008. This is the second time the film series has been rebooted, after the 2004 production rebooted 1989's The Punisher.


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