A man befriends a fellow criminal as the two of them begin serving their sentence on a dreadful prison island, which inspires the man to plot his escape.


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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Indian Chief
Robert Deman ...
Dr. Chatal
Warden Barrot
Sergeant (as Victor Tayback)


Henri "Papillon" Charierre is sentenced to life in prison and transported to the penal in French Guyana. Aboard ship on the voyage over, he meets Louis Dega, a forger. They form a bond that will last them a great many years. The conditions at the penal colony are horrific and Papillon desperately wants to escape. His first attempt ends quickly in failure and as a result he spends 2 years in solitary confinement. His next attempt is somewhat more successful and he actually spends a idyllic time with a tribe of Central America Indians. Once caught however, he does 5 years in solitary confinement. Once released, he decides to make one final attempt at freedom. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Two men with nothing in common but a will to live and a place to die See more »


Biography | Crime | Drama


R | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

6 February 1974 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Leptir  »

Box Office


$12,000,000 (estimated)


$53,267,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(magnetic prints)| (optical prints)


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


"Papillon" is one of those rare films that were given two major releases by two different distributors. First, Allied Artists and then Columbia released it in 1973. See more »


During the sailboat escape, the boat is seen sailing right to left against the setting sun, that is, due south. But sailing from the prison in French Guyana would require sailing north and/or west. See more »


Dega: Remember what the chicken said to the weasel?
Papillon: If he was a healthy weasel, the chicken didn't get a chance to say anything.
See more »


Referenced in Mesrine (1984) See more »


Ballet Music from Faust
Music by Charles Gounod
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

" How did you know I had dry leprosy? . . . . I didn't"
29 October 2008 | by (USA) – See all my reviews

Henri 'Papillon' Charriere, was a lifetime inmate under the French government's harsh penal system in French Guiana. In his declining years he wrote his memoirs describing his years of incarceration, his cruel mistreatment and daring, multiple escapes. Weather or not he was the actual character of his own book, is disputed to this day. But the fact that he was an inmate is true enough and fits in with the actual site which came to be known as 'Devil's Island.' Court records indicate that Henri Charriere (Steve McQueen) later called " Papillon " which is french for Butterfly, was indeed a minor burglar and safe cracker. His claim he was innocent of murder, may be true enough, due to an unreliable source accusing him in court, yet producing little supporting evidence. Nevertheless, the infamous thief was given a twenty year sentence, which was extended due to his numerous escapes. During his imprisonment, he becomes lifelong friends with an equally famous treasury forger named Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman). Don Gordon (a real life friend of McQueen) plays Julot, an experienced prisoner with his own intentions of escape. Anthony Zerbe is hideously interesting as Toussaint, a ravaged leper, who aids escaping prisoners. The entire film is one remarkable story and becomes an incredible journey, one which transcends the screen and offers audiences, the raw reality of life under the most severe and brutal penal systems in the world. The infamous 'Devil's Island ' today has become synonymous with a hellish place of unspeakable conditions. A fantastic movie for those in search of true-life Classic. ****

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Prison tame compared to other movies Wonderland26
McQueen deserved the Oscar ganggreen1960
No accent? jakholman
and the moral of the story is... flatlinebeforedeath
I think this movie is an insult to the book (founded) deboas
Great movie, but I call 'Bull *beep* le-fantome
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