255 user 83 critic

Primal Fear (1996)

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



(novel), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
1,619 ( 82)

Watch Now

With Prime Video

Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 10 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »
Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Mystic River (2003)
Crime | Drama | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

The lives of three men who were childhood friends are shattered when one of them has a family tragedy.

Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon
Identity (2003)
Mystery | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Stranded at a desolate Nevada motel during a nasty rain-storm, ten strangers become acquainted with each other when they realize that they're being killed off one by one.

Director: James Mangold
Stars: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet
25th Hour (2002)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

Cornered by the DEA, convicted New York drug dealer Montgomery Brogan reevaluates his life in the 24 remaining hours before facing a seven-year jail term.

Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Edward Norton, Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman
The Game (1997)
Drama | Mystery | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

After a wealthy banker is given an opportunity to participate in a mysterious game, his life is turned upside down when he becomes unable to distinguish between the game and reality.

Director: David Fincher
Stars: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, Sean Penn
Drama | Mystery | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, a magician uses his abilities to secure the love of a woman far above his social standing.

Director: Neil Burger
Stars: Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti
Red Dragon (2002)
Crime | Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A retired F.B.I. Agent with psychological gifts, is assigned to help track down "The Tooth Fairy", a mysterious serial killer. Aiding him, is imprisoned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter.

Director: Brett Ratner
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes
The Score (2001)
Crime | Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

An aging thief hopes to retire and live off his ill-gotten wealth when a young kid convinces him into doing one last heist.

Director: Frank Oz
Stars: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando


Cast overview, first billed only:
Abel Stenner


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


Sooner or later a man who wears two faces forgets which one is real. 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 USA:

$293,515, 26 July 1996

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Edward Norton was among 2,100 actors who auditioned for the role of Aaron Stampler. Matt Damon was among one of the other actors and would eventually play the role of Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan (1998) in which Edward Norton was considered. See more »


Martin tells Tommy "Aaron" should be in a psychiatric hospital not in jail, murder in the first degree sentences are sent to prison not jail. See more »


Martin Vail: [while in Aaron's solitary confinement room] I speak. You do not speak. Your job is to just sit there and look innocent.
See more »


Canção Do Mar
by Frederico de Brito & Ferrer Trindade
Performed by Dulce Pontes
Courtesy of BMG Ariola Musik GmbH / Movieplay Portuguesa S.A.
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Great ending
11 March 2008 | by See all my reviews

Primal Fear shows how good acting can sometimes outweigh problems in other areas—like logical loopholes large enough to sail a barge through, for example.

The characters in this movie are so good that such difficulties just don't seem to matter. They can make not completely unexpected plot twists seem like classic surprise shockers. They can make a murder mystery story weighed down with all kinds of extraneous baggage like city political corruption and church scandals seem to flow like butter. I'm talking about GOOD acting! From the major to the minor parts, and everywhere in between.

At center stage is defense lawyer Martin Vail (Gere) who will defend anyone of anything, especially if he stands to gain either financially or in TV exposure. So when a revered archbishop is brutally murdered, Vail offers his services to the frightened young man arrested for the crime. For free, no less. He knows this will be a sensational trial.

But it turns out to be even more sensational than either Vail or we expect. And that is mostly due to newcomer Norton. He plays the defendant, a stuttering, seemingly simple Kentucky boy in the big city who protests his innocence, in spite of being found running from the murder scene covered in blood.

Anyone who has liked Gere previously, even a little, will enjoy his performance here. But even those who don't particularly like him might be intrigued by Vail. He's slimy but intelligent, sexy yet occasionally vulnerable. It's the best role I've seen for him in a while (and I'm one of his fans).

But Norton is really something else. He's got the kind of talent that makes you hope you can say, some years from now: "Oh, yeah, I remember seeing his FIRST movie." That's actually the best reason for seeing Primal Fear, now that I think about it.

(Squeamish viewers might want to wait and see if his next film is less disturbing, though. Primal Fear includes some gory footage toward the beginning, and some disturbing sexual discussions, along with a pornographic "video" that is quite gross).

And those minor characters are worth mentioning, too. You won't believe how creepy John Mahoney ("Frasier's" funny dad) can be. Alfre Woodard is outstanding as the trial's judge. And Linney, although she's put in the trite situation of being Vail's former lover AND courtroom opponent, makes more of her character than you would expect.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 255 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Watch the Latest Episode of "The IMDb Show"

This week on "The IMDb Show," La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz shares some "secret" information about his new spy-thriller series, "Counterpart." Plus, Kevin Smith lets us in on his favorite Sundance movies of all time.

Watch the show