Man on Fire (2004 film)

Man on Fire is a 2004 action thriller film[2] directed by Tony Scott from a screenplay by Brian Helgeland, and based on the 1980 novel of the same name by A. J. Quinnell. The novel had previously been adapted into a feature film in 1987. In this film, Denzel Washington portrays John Creasy, a despondent, alcoholic former U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance Captain and CIA Special Activities Division officer – turned bodyguard, who goes on a revenge rampage after his charge, nine-year-old Lupita "Pita" Ramos (Dakota Fanning), is abducted in Mexico City. The supporting cast includes Christopher Walken, Radha Mitchell, Giancarlo Giannini, Marc Anthony, Rachel Ticotin and Mickey Rourke.

Man on Fire
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTony Scott
Produced byLucas Foster
Arnon Milchan
Tony Scott
Screenplay byBrian Helgeland
Based onMan on Fire
by A. J. Quinnell
StarringDenzel Washington
Dakota Fanning
Christopher Walken
Giancarlo Giannini
Radha Mitchell
Marc Anthony
Rachel Ticotin
Mickey Rourke
Music byHarry Gregson-Williams
Lisa Gerrard
CinematographyPaul Cameron
Edited byChristian Wagner
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • April 23, 2004 (2004-04-23)
Running time
146 minutes
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom[1]
Budget$70 million
Box office$130.3 million

A modest box office success, the film received mixed reviews.


John W. Creasy (Washington) is a former Force Recon Marine and CIA SAD/SOG officer who comes to Mexico to visit his old friend and brother-in-arms, Paul Rayburn (Walken). Rayburn recognizes his friend's poor physical and emotional state and convinces him to take a bodyguard position to give him something to do. Creasy reluctantly agrees, and is later offered the job by Samuel Ramos (Anthony), a wealthy automaker in Mexico City whose young daughter Lupita "Pita" Ramos (Fanning) requires a bodyguard before she can return to school and the kidnapping insurance policy takes effect.

While initially uninterested in befriending Pita, Creasy reaches a low point in his depression and attempts to commit suicide with his own gun. The bullet in his gun misfires, however, and Creasy is given a second chance. He soon bonds with Pita, and his friendship with her imparts a renewed sense of purpose in his life. Noticing that Pita, a competitive swimmer, becomes startled by the starter gun at her swim meets, Creasy begins to coach her at home, and she gradually learns to react to the starter gun and dive into the water instead of flinching, eventually winning a swim meet with his training.

One day, while waiting for Pita outside of her piano lesson, Creasy notices suspicious activity, including a car with two men circling the area, and two uniformed Federal Police officers who block the street without explanation and appear out of place. As Pita emerges from the lesson, Creasy realizes the danger and yells at Pita to run, but she freezes in fear and confusion. The car Creasy noticed pulls up and the men attempt to grab Pita, but Creasy fires his gun in the air, causing her to react and run away. Creasy attempts to fend off the attackers, killing three (the two police officers and a third kidnapper), and wounding another, but he is critically wounded himself. Pita runs back to him crying and is subsequently abducted by the remaining kidnappers.

While recovering from his injuries, AFI Agent Miguel Manzano (Giannini) has Creasy relocated to a veterinarian clinic for his protection, explaining to Rayburn that he believes the corrupt police will want revenge on Creasy for the deaths of their colleagues. When he comes to he is questioned by Manzano though, Creasy refuses to divulge any information despite recognizing one of the suspected kidnappers. He then meets reporter Mariana Garcia Guerrero (Ticotin), a reporter for La Reforma, a newspaper that often receives threats for exposing corruption. She offers to help Creasy in his own investigation, knowing how intertwined the kidnapping rings and the police are.

The ransom drop for Pita fails when the kidnappers are ambushed by rival criminals. The leader of the kidnappers, "The Voice," is enraged at the death of his nephew during the botched drop and holds the Ramoses responsible, informing Pita's mother, Lisa (Mitchell), that Pita will be lost to her and Samuel forever as retribution. Creasy uses this lead to wage war on the kidnapping ring and police corruption that are responsible for Pita's apparent death. He successfully tracks down, interrogates, and kills the getaway driver, officer Jorge Gonzalez (Zaragosa), followed by "Jersey Boy" who acted as a middle man, and Victor Fuentes (Ochoa) who is the head of the anti-kidnapping division with the police and coordinated the ransom drop. From Fuentes, Creasy learns that most of the ransom money had been stolen before the ambush at the drop and that Jordan Kalfus (Rourke) Samuel's lawyer who suggested the kidnapping insurance, loaded the money into the vehicle selected to bring Samuel to the drop. When inspecting Kalfus’ residence, he discovers Kalfus dead in his swimming pool and a fax with suspicious bank account information leading him back to Samuel.

When Creasy confronts Samuel and Lisa, Samuel explains that his father left him a ruined auto empire full of debt, and that Kalfus recommended arranging a kidnapping that he could claim the insurance payout for and pay his debts; $5 million would go to Samuel, and the rest would be split between the kidnappers and Kalfus. They were promised that Pita would be unharmed. After the drop went bad, Samuel held Kalfus responsible for Pita's apparent death and killed him in a rage. A horrified Lisa, who was unaware of Samuel's involvement, tells Creasy to "kill him or {she} will". Creasy leaves his gun and the bullet that he used to attempt suicide with Samuel, telling him "A bullet never lies", and suggesting Samuel atone for his sins. After he leaves, Samuel loads the bullet into the gun and places it to his head. This time, the bullet fires, killing him.

Creasy then learns from Guerrero that an ATM card he recovered earlier from Jersey Boy's co-conspirators is linked to a man who lives in the barrio on the edge of the city. At the same time, Manzano's people, acting on Guerrero's information, infiltrate the man's home and find a picture of "The Voice". Despite a death threat, Guerrero runs a front-page story in her paper headlined, "Fear has a Voice", revealing the ringleader to be a man named Daniel Sanchez. The man linked to the ATM card turns out to be Daniel's brother Aurelio. Creasy breaks into the home and takes Aurelio and his family prisoner, despite being shot in the chest in the process. Creasy calls Daniel to tell him he's going to kill his entire family. However, Daniel reveals that Pita is still alive, and offers to trade her for his brother and Creasy himself. Creasy agrees to meet Daniel's men along the highway near Puebla.

He crosses the overpass between them on foot, meeting Pita in the middle. He says goodbye and assures her that he loves her before sending her to Lisa waiting for her back by his car. Creasy brings Aurelio to Daniel's men and surrenders to them, but succumbs to his wounds while in transit. Meanwhile, Manzano tracks Daniel to his home where he kills him, officially stating that Daniel died during the course of arrest.

Alternate ending

In the film's alternate ending, Creasy, heavily injured, was transported to Daniel's house. In the house, as Daniel loads up his gun and prepares to kill Creasy, the latter aligns his watches and set a 10-second countdown. After 10 seconds have come, Creasy gave a big smile and the house exploded, killing him and Daniel.


  • Denzel Washington as John W. Creasy, mercenary, former CIA operative and Force Recon Marine officer
  • Dakota Fanning as Lupita (Pita) Ramos
  • Radha Mitchell as Lisa Ramos. Lisa originates from Houston, Texas.[3] Eric Harrison of the Houston Chronicle described Lisa as an "American trophy wife with a Southern accent that seems to come and go."[4]
  • Christopher Walken as Paul Rayburn, who runs a security firm in Mexico. Marlon Brando was originally considered for the role, but his poor health (which lead to his death) prevented him from taking the role.
  • Marc Anthony as Samuel Ramos
  • Giancarlo Giannini as Miguel Manzano, director of the AFI. Tony Scott stated "Giancarlo loves women, as did this character."[5]
  • Mickey Rourke as Jordan Kalfus, Samuel Ramos' lawyer. Kalfus and Samuel Ramos's father were best friends, and therefore Kalfus has a close relationship with Samuel. Mickey Rourke stated that Kalfus has "a responsibility to his father, to him, to look out for his well-being."[6] Therefore, Kalfus "[wants] to be there for him" when Ramos "gets his head underwater a little bit".[6]
  • Rachel Ticotin as Mariana Garcia Guerrero, a reporter for the Diario Reforma
  • Roberto Sosa as Daniel Sanchez,[7] "The Voice". He is based on a real kidnapper, Daniel Arizmendi López.[8]
  • Jesús Ochoa as Victor Fuentes, a lieutenant in the Anti-Kidnapping Division of the Federal Judicial Police and the head of the criminal "La Hermandad" syndicate
  • Gero Camilo as Aurelio Sanchez. Based on Aurelio Arizmendi López, the brother of Daniel Arizmendi López.[9]
  • Mario Zaragoza as Jorge Gonzalez, a Federal Judicial Policeman and member of the criminal "La Hermandad" syndicate, who physically kidnaps Pita off the street


Tony Scott, the film's director, had tried to adapt the 1980 source novel, by A. J. Quinnell, into a film in 1983. Journalist Paul Davies theorized that movie producers likely believed that Scott, whose only directorial work as of the time was 1983's The Hunger, lacked the experience to direct this as his second film.

The novel was first adapted into the 1987 film Man on Fire, starring Scott Glenn as Creasy. This movie, like the novel, was set in Italy, then a major center of kidnapping.

When a remake was first under consideration, producer Arnon Milchan (who also produced the 1987 version) looked at Michael Bay and Antoine Fuqua to direct, before asking Scott if he was still interested.[10]

20th Century Fox wanted the film to still be set in Italy.[10] An early draft of the script was set in Naples, with early reporting suggesting that the Mexico City filming was an odd stand in for Naples.[11] Scott argued that if the setting would be Italy, then the film would have to be a period piece, since by the 2000s kidnappings became a rare occurrence in Italy.[10] Mexico City became the setting of the 2004 film because Mexico City had a high kidnapping rate,[12] and due to other reasons.[10] As a result, the character Rika Balletto was renamed Lisa Martin Ramos, and Pinta Balletto was renamed Lupita "Pita" Ramos. Ettore Balletto became Samuel Ramos. Robert De Niro was originally offered the role of Creasy.[11] Prior to his death, Marlon Brando was the original choice to play Rayburn.[13]


Man On Fire opened in the U.S. on April 23, 2004, in 2,980 theaters and grossed $22,751,490 with an average of $7,634 and ranking No. 1 at the box office. The film's widest release was 2,986 theaters and it ended up earning $77,911,774 in North America and $52,381,940 internationally for a total of $130,293,714 worldwide, above its $70 million production budget.[14] The film was successful in the U.S. home video market, grossing more than $123 million in DVD and VHS rentals and sales in U.S.[15]

The film received mixed reviews from critics and has a rating of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 168 reviews with an average rating of 5.2 out of 10. The consensus states "Man on Fire starts out well, but goes over the top in the violent second half."[16] The film also has a score of 47 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 36 reviews.[17]

Paul Davies, a journal article author, said that the critical reception to Man on Fire in the United States was "somewhat less than kind" because critics did not like the vigilantism that Creasy uses. Davies argues that "most critics missed" Creasy not taking "sadistic pleasure" in the killings since he kills to get information to get to all of the people involved in the kidnapping of Pita Ramos, and does not like harming innocent parties.[18]

A. J. Quinnell had a favorable reception to this adaptation, mainly because the film used many of the book's lines.[12] Quinnell said that usually screenwriters "like to leave their mark on the product."[19] Quinnell added that even though he usually dislikes film adaptations of books, the writers "did a good job with Man On Fire and I loved the chemistry between Creasy and the girl" and "When I first heard Denzel was playing the part of Creasy I missed a couple of heartbeats but he played the part brilliantly. The film is violent and if the anger is not portrayed properly, the result can be awful."[19] Kevin Freese of the Foreign Military Studies Office stated that "it appears that the allusion" of the fictional Sánchez brothers with the real Arizmendi brothers "escaped the comprehension of much of the audience."[8]

Awards and Nominations

2004Golden Schmoes AwardsBest Supporting Actress of the YearDakota FanningNominated
2005BMI Film & TV AwardsPremio IMC Film MusicMan on FireWon
2005Critics' Choice Movie AwardsBest Young ActressDakota FanningNominated
2005Golden Trailer AwardsBest Action MovieMan on FireNominated
2005Golden Trailer AwardsBest Action Movie – DramaMan on FireNominated
2005NAACP Image AwardsBest Outstanding Feature FilmMan on FireNominated
2005NAACP Image AwardsBest ActorDenzel WashingtonNominated
2005Young Artist AwardsBest Young ActressDakota FanningNominated


The cut "Smiling", from the soundtrack composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, has been adopted as the theme of a number of television commercials for Omega Watches in 2012 to 2013. The soundtrack contains 20 tracks, was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, and was released on July 27, 2004.[20]


In 2005, a Hindi remake of the film by director Apoorva Lakhia, called Ek Ajnabee, was released. It starred Amitabh Bachchan as John W. Creasy (renamed Suryaveer "Surya" Singh).[21] The same year, it was also remade in Tamil language as Aanai starring Arjun Sarja.

See also


  1. "Man on Fire (2004)". British Film Institute. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  2. "Man on Fire (2004) – Tony Scott". AllMovie.
  3. "The Making of 'Man on Fire'." (See iMDB entry) About 32:19, interview segment of Tony Scott after interview segment of Marc Anthony
  4. Harrison, Eric. "Man on Fire." Houston Chronicle. April 23, 2004. Retrieved on May 15, 2014.
  5. "Story Notes for Man on Fire" (Archive). AMC TV. Retrieved on May 15, 2014.
  6. "The Making of 'Man on Fire'." About 37:50, interview segment of Mickey Rourke
  7. "Roberto Sosa". IMDb.
  8. Freese, Kevin (Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS). "The Death Cult of the Drug Lords Mexico’s Patron Saint of Crime, Criminals, and the Dispossessed" (). Foreign Military Studies Office. Retrieved on May 15, 2014.
  9. "La industria de secuestro en México es tan lucrativa que no caerá, según un experto" (Archive). Agencia EFE at La Voz (Arizona Star). October 3, 2010. Retrieved on May 15, 2014. "Su historia sirvió al director hollywoodiense Tony Scott para el filme "Man on fire", protagonizado por Denzel Washington y ambientado en el Distrito Federal. Los secuestradores se llamaron Daniel, como "el Mochaorejas", y Aurelio, como su compinche."
  10. Davies, Paul. Ed: Nancy Billias. "Be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good': The Theology of Evil in Man on Fire." Posted in Producing and Promoting Evil. Rodopi Publishers, 2010. 221. Retrieved on March 30, 2011. ISBN 90-420-2939-0, ISBN 978-90-420-2939-2.
  11. "The Stax Report: Script Review of Man on Fire". IGN. May 8, 2003. Retrieved on January 18, 2011. "Creasy is hired to serve as a bodyguard for the Balletto family of Naples (although since the film is being shot in Mexico City perhaps the story's locale has been changed since this draft was written)." and "Rika Balletto (Mitchell), the beautiful wife of struggling but well-to-do businessman Ettore, convinces her aloof husband to hire protection for their precocious young daughter Pinta (Fanning)."
  12. "Social and Personal Obituaries" Archived January 19, 2012, at WebCite. (Archive) Times of Malta. July 14, 2005. Retrieved on March 28, 2011.
  13. Man on Fire (2004) – Trivia, IMDb, retrieved Tuesday September 16, 2014.
  14. "Man on Fire (2004)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved May 31, 2010.
  15. "Year End 2004 Top Money Makers". Variety. December 30, 2004.
  16. "Man on Fire". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  18. Davies, Paul. Ed: Nancy Billias. "Be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good': The Theology of Evil in Man on Fire." Posted in Producing and Promoting Evil. Rodopi Publishers, 2010. 222. Retrieved on March 30, 2011. ISBN 90-420-2939-0, ISBN 978-90-420-2939-2.
  19. Massa, Ariadne. "Gozo based author sees first book become a bestseller" (Archive). The Times of Malta. November 10, 2004. Retrieved on March 28, 2012.
  20. "Man on Fire 2004 Soundtrack". AllMusic. November 21, 2016. Retrieved November 21, 2016.
  21. Vijayan, Vipin. "Amitabh rocks in Ek Ajnabee". Retrieved on March 27, 2012.
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