Space Jam is a 1996 American live-action/animated sports comedy film starring basketball player Michael Jordan and featuring the Looney Tunes cartoon characters. The film was produced by Ivan Reitman, and directed by Joe Pytka, with Tony Cervone and Bruce W. Smith directing the animation. Nigel Miguel was a basketball technical advisor.
Released theatrically by Warner Bros. under the Family Entertainment label on November 15, 1996, it includes an alternate story of what happened between Jordan's initial retirement from the NBA in 1993 and his comeback in 1995, this time with him being inspired by events including Bugs Bunny and his friends. Space Jam opened at #1 in the US and grossed over $230 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing basketball film of all-time.
In 1993, professional basketball player Michael Jordan announces his retirement from the sport to follow his late father's career as a baseball player. However, it becomes evident that he is not as skilled in baseball as he was in basketball. Jordan is assigned a publicist, the bumbling Stan Podolak, to make his new career less bumpy. Elsewhere, in outer space, an intergalactic amusement park called Moron Mountain faces dwindling popularity, so its owner, Mr. Swackhammer, sends his diminutive minions, the Nerdlucks, to capture the Looney Tunes as new entertainment. The Looney Tunes live in an animated world hidden in the center of the Earth, but are unable to listen to the Nerdlucks' threats and challenge them to a game of basketball to determine their fate, however, they think they'll easily win back their freedom, since the Nerdlucks are tiny.
The Nerdlucks steal the talents of basketball players Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues, leaving them incapable of playing. The Nerdlucks absorb the talent, transforming into the gigantic "Monstars" who easily intimidate the Looney Tunes. While playing golf with Bill Murray, Larry Bird, and Stan, Jordan is sucked down a hole and is recruited by Bugs Bunny to help the Tunes win against the Monstars. Jordan at first refuses, saying he does not play basketball anymore, but changes his decision and agrees to help when the Monstars insult and humiliate him, and hurt Tweety, but first sends Bugs and Daffy Duck to his house to retrieve his basketball gear. The two have a difficult time obtaining the clothes due to the interruption of Jordan's pet dog, but his children help them out.
Meanwhile, Stan has been digging out the golf hole to find Jordan, but spots Bugs and Daffy leap down another one and pursues them, reuniting with Jordan in the Tunes' world and joins the Tune Squad. Another new recruit is Lola Bunny, a skilled basketball player whom Bugs falls in love with. The day of the match arrives, but the first half is dominated by the Monstars, leaving the Looney Tunes unconfident. Stan overhears a conversation between the Monstars and Swackhammer, learning of how they gained their talent and informs Jordan. Bugs and Jordan convince the rest of the Tune Squad to fight back, and the first quarter of the second half allows the characters to catch up using old school gags and Acme weaponry. Swackhammer decides he wants Jordan as a new attraction instead, and makes an agreement with him that he will become an attraction if he loses the match, sparing the Looney Tunes.
To ensure his victory, Swackhammer has the Monstars play dirty and injure all of the Tune Squad until only Jordan, Bugs, Daffy, Lola, and Stan are left. Stan becomes the fifth player and manages to score, but is literally flattened by the Monstars and is removed from the court to be inflated. The referee, Marvin the Martian, informs Jordan unless the team gets a fifth player, then they'll forfeit the game. Bill Murray appears and volunteers to be the team's fifth member. In the final seconds of the game, Jordan gains the ball and manages to use cartoon physics to extend his arm and score the winning points. Murray retires from the sport, and the Monstars blast Swackhammer to the moon in a rocket when they realize they do not have to take his abuse anymore. Jordan convinces them to give up the stolen talents.
Jordan and a recovered Stan return to the surface, the Nerdlucks dropping them off at Jordan's next baseball game. Later on, the two visit the incapacitated basketball players and return their talent. The players invite Jordan to a three-on-three match but when he declines, they question his loss of talent. In a move mirroring his actual comeback in 1995, Jordan returns to the Chicago Bulls to reprise his basketball career.
The soundtrack sold enough albums to be certified as 6x Platinum. It also served as a high point for musical artist R. Kelly, whose song "I Believe I Can Fly" not only was a hit, but earned him two Grammy Awards. Other tracks included a cover of Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like an Eagle" (by Seal), "Hit 'Em High (The Monstars' Anthem)" (by B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J, and Method Man), "Basketball Jones" (by Barry White & Chris Rock), "Pump up the Jam" (by Technotronic), "I Turn to You" (by All-4-One) and "For You I Will" (by Monica). The movie's title song was performed by the Quad City DJ's.
Warner Home Video released the film on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD on March 11, 1997. The VHS tape was re-printed and re-released through Warner Home Video's catalog promotions: the Warner Bros. 75th Anniversary Celebration (1998), Century Collection (1999), Century 2000 (2000) and Warner Spotlight (2001). The film was re-released on DVD on July 25, 2000. On October 28, 2003, the film was released as a 2-disc special edition DVD including newly made extras such as a commentary track and a featurette. On November 6, 2007, the movie was featured as one of four films in Warner Home Video's 4-Film Favorites: Family Comedies collection DVD (the other three being Looney Tunes: Back in Action (released seven years after Space Jam), Osmosis Jones and Funky Monkey). On February 8, 2011, the first disc of the previous 2-disc edition was released by itself in a movie only edition DVD and on October 4, the film was released for the first time in widescreen HD on Blu-ray which, save for an hour of classic Looney Tunes shorts, ported over all the extras from the 2003 2-disc edition DVD. A double DVD and Blu-ray release, paired with Looney Tunes: Back in Action, was released on June 7, 2016. On November 15, 2016, Warner Bros. released another Blu-ray for Space Jam, to commemorate the movie's 20th Anniversary.
Toys were released coinciding with the film, including various action figures released by Playmates under the short lived banner "WB Toy". The toys had limited articulation and paired Michael Jordan or another characters of the movie (Charles Barkley and the Monstars with a Looney Tunes character and accessories). Some figures depicted Michael Jordan as a basketball player, a baseball player and a golf player. The line included stuffed toys, decorated basketballs, as well as a McDonald's Happy Meal promotion.
On the critical response aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 37%, based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 5.1/10. The site's consensus reads, "A harmless mishmash of basketball and animation that'll entertain kids but leave adults less than thrilled." On Metacritic, it has a score of 59 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Space Jam a thumbs up, as did Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, although his zeal was more subdued. In his print review, Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 stars, noting, "Space Jam is a happy marriage of good ideas—three films for the price of one, giving us a comic treatment of the career adventures of Michael Jordan, crossed with a Looney Tunes cartoon and some showbiz warfare. ... the result is delightful, a family movie in the best sense (which means the adults will enjoy it, too)." Siskel focused much of his praise on Jordan's performance, saying, "He wisely accepted as a first movie a script that builds nicely on his genial personality in an assortment of TV ads. The sound bites are just a little longer." Leonard Maltin also gave the film a positive review (three stars), stating, "Jordan is very engaging, the vintage characters perform admirably ... and the computer-generated special effects are a collective knockout." Todd McCarthy of Variety praised the film for its humor. He also praised the Looney Tunes' antics and Jordan's acting.
Although Janet Maslin of The New York Times criticized the film's animation, she later went on to say that the film is a "fond tribute to [the Looney Tunes characters'] past." Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune complained about some aspects of the movie, stating, "...we don't get the co-stars' best stuff. Michael doesn't soar enough. The Looney Tunes don't pulverize us the way they did when Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng or Bob Clampett were in charge." Yet overall, he also liked the film, giving it 3 stars and saying: "Is it cute? Yes. Is it a crowd-pleaser? Yup. Is it classic? Nope. (Though it could have been.)" TV Guide gave the movie only two stars, calling it a "cynical attempt to cash in on the popularity of Warner Bros. cartoon characters and basketball player Michael Jordan, inspired by a Nike commercial." Margaret A. McGurk of The Cincinnati Enquirer gave the film 2 1/2 stars, saying, "Technical spectacle amounts do nothing without a good story."
Veteran Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies director Chuck Jones was highly critical of the film. In a 1998 interview, he expressed his views that the film was "terrible" and said, as a man who worked with the characters for almost thirty years, the story was deeply flawed. "I can tell you, with the utmost confidence," he said, "Porky Pig would never say 'I think I wet myself.'" Jones also added that, had the film been more true to the source material, Bugs Bunny would not have enlisted the help of Jordan or the other Looney Tunes characters to defeat the Monstars "and moreover, it wouldn't have taken him an hour and a half. Those aliens, whether they were tiny or colossal, would've been dealt with in short order come the seven minute mark."
Space Jam was a box office success. At the end of its run, it grossed approximately $90.4 million in the United States and an estimated $230–$250 million internationally. As of July 2017, Box Office Mojo ranks it as the highest grossing basketball film of all time.
The film made its television premiere on ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney on November 14, 1999.
The Monstars make a cameo in the Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain episode "Star Warners" (a parody of Star Wars). Jordan himself, who was a spokesman for MCI Communications before the film was made, would appear with the Looney Tunes characters (as "his Space Jam buddies") in several MCI commercials for several years after the film was released before MCI merged with WorldCom and subsequently Verizon Communications. Bugs had previously appeared with Jordan as "Hare Jordan" in Nike ads for the Air Jordan VII and Air Jordan VIII. In 2013, Yahoo! Screen released a parody of ESPN's 30 for 30 about the game shown in the film. The short dates the game as taking place on November 17, 1995, although Jordan's real-life return to basketball occurred on March 18.
In February 2014, Warner Bros. announced a potential sequel set to star LeBron James. Charlie Ebersol was set to produce, with a script by his brother, Willie. Representatives of James denied the claim that he would be involved. In May 2014, James was quoted as saying, "I've always loved Space Jam. It was one of my favorite movies growing up. If I have the opportunity, it will be great." In July 2015, James and his production company, SpringHill Entertainment, signed a deal with Warner Bros. for television, movies and digital content after receiving positive reviews for his acting role in Trainwreck. On May 2, 2016, Justin Lin was said to be in talks to direct the sequel; co-writing the screenplay with Andrew Dodge and Alfredo Botello. In August 2016, the Sneaker Bar Detroit company said that the movie is still in the works. On November 15, 2016, the film's anniversary, a teaser trailer, in the form of a Nike advertisement, was released on Twitter under #MonstarsBack. On December 1, 2016, Bugs Bunny and the Monstars returned in a Foot Locker commercial starring Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler.
In a November 2016 interview with Mr. Wavvy, Space Jam director Joe Pytka revealed that following the first film's success, he had been pitched a "really weird" idea for a sequel that would have starred pro golfer Tiger Woods, with Jordan in a smaller role. Pytka explained how the idea came from an out of studio script conference, with people who worked on the original film allegedly involved. Ultimately, nothing materialised from the idea. Producer Ivan Reitman participated in similar interview with Mr. Wavvy, also in November 2016, in which he also revealed an idea he had for a sequel, though his sequel would have starred Jordan.
Theme Song | Fly Like an Eagle | The Winner | I Believe I Can Fly | Hit 'Em High (The Monstars' Anthem) | I Found My Smile Again | For You I Will | Upside Down ('Round-N-'Round) | Givin' U All That I've Got | Basketball Jones | I Turn to You | All of My Days | That's the Way (I Like It) | Buggin'