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Primal Fear (1996)

R  |   |  Crime, Drama, Mystery  |  3 April 1996 (USA)
Your rating:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 -/10 X  
Ratings: 7.7/10 from 122,698 users   Metascore: 47/100
Reviews: 239 user | 79 critic | 18 from Metacritic.com

An altar boy is accused of murdering a priest, and the truth is buried several layers deep.



(novel), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 10 wins & 10 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Bud Yancy
Tommy Goodman
Joey Pinero
Abel Stenner
Archbishop Rushman
Naomi Chance
Jack Connerman


Courtroom thriller about a slick, hotshot lawyer who takes the seemingly unwinnable case of a young altar boy accused of murdering an eminent catholic priest. Written by Jonathan Broxton <j.w.broxton@sheffield.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Don't believe everything you see... See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for brief grisly violence, pervasive strong language and a sex scene | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

3 April 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Iskonski strah  »

Box Office


$30,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$293,515 (USA) (26 July 1996)


JPY 197,208,300 (Japan) (6 December 1996)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


When trying out for the role of the altar boy, Edward Norton went into the audition in character. Meeting with casting director Deborah Aquila, he quietly stuttered as Aaron and then suddenly turned into Roy, roughly grabbing her to the point where she was worried about her own safety. See more »


While Vail, Tommy, and Naomi are discussing the porno tape, the blue screen of a computer monitor is reflected in Tommy's glasses. But in the reverse shot (showing Vail) the monitor is off. See more »


[first lines]
Marty: On my first day of law school, my professor says two things. First was; "From this day forward, when your mother tells you she loves you - get a second opinion."
Jack Connerman: [chuckles] And?
Marty: "If you want justice, go to a whorehouse. If you wanna get fucked, go to court."
See more »


Referenced in Unfaithful (2002) See more »


Don't Deceive Me (Please Don't Go)
by Chuck Willis
Performed by Johnny Otis
Courtesy of Alligator Records
See more »

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User Reviews

The birth of a star and the resurrection of another
8 May 2004 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

It's not often that viewers get a chance to watch a star being born - that a talented unknown actor's performance that is so spectacular it leads to the A-list in one role is rare: Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise to name a recent few. But Edward Norton's turn as the "defendant/victim" in Primal Fear is one of those "Wow" moments that leaves the audience salivating for his next performance. In this feature debut, Norton outdistances his role, as does Richard Gere, in a resurrection no less impressive than Norton's star-making turn. Heretofore, Gere has specialized in assorted intelligent professional cad roles. Here, he gets a chance to inhabit one that not only wears his dubious character on his sleeve, but wears it, drives it, drinks it... revels in it. Yeah, sure somewhere there's a heart of gold, but like his client, the layers on top serve him better, and the heart of gold is tarnished. Gere is at his peak, comfortably, cheerfully inhabiting the role.

Laura Linney deserves extra credit for often being the ice-queen foil which propels the two male characters' development; her own character is rather one- dimensional, but she herself squeezes as much dazzle as she can from it. Even though everyone else obviously falls for whatever Gere's Vail purrs into their ears, it's merely enough time for Linney's Janet to get a drag on her ubiquitous cigarette; another step in what will (hopefully) someday be film's love affair with her. Wasted, sadly, are fine character actors like John Mahoney, Steven Bauer, Maura Tierney & Andre Braugher who could have lit up the screen had they not been handed scripts with generic character stereotypes.

See it to watch the ascension of Norton and Gere.

111 of 128 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Sick and sad message oregondanne
Plot hole??? ladyvengeancemusik
Did they ever find Linda's body? cylindroid
Who was the 'real' Aaron? ddb540
And the oscar goes to.... phi413
Meaning of the title...? mattdavefenton
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