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Primal Fear (1996)

R  |   |  Crime, Drama, Mystery  |  3 April 1996 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 122,772 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 »


Martin's bottle of water changes position on the table beside him between shots as he watches TV. 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 »


Featured in 20 to 1: Movie Saints and Sinners (2007) See more »


Incidental Source Music
by J. Peter Robinson
See more »

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User Reviews

Not just another court room drama
26 January 2005 | by (Tessenderlo, Belgium) – See all my reviews

I was convinced that "Primal Fear" would be the type of courtroom drama that Hollywood seems to use to pave the streets with. You know what I mean: Someone gets wrongly accused of some mischief, he can't pay a lawyer, but of course there is one who is really interested in the case and he is prepared to defend the poor guy anyway. The defender finds some wholes in the police investigation or in the statement of the other party and knows to prove the innocence of his client and even get a big indemnity. Well, I was wrong, for once this was a courtroom drama that had a bit more to offer than the usual story line and twists. In fact, this was even a very enjoyable movie.

Even though I'm not really a fan of Richard Gere (I'm not a woman, so no I don't like him because the way he looks, I only look at his acting), I have to admit that this time he really did a very good job as the slick, media-friendly, arrogant lawyer Martin Vail. Still, in my opinion the real star in this movie is Edward Norton. He's really excellent as the altar boy who is accused of murdering a Catholic bishop.

For once the story isn't as predictable as usual. At first the case seems rather clear: an altar boy is running away from the home of the bishop, with blood all over his clothes. No doubt about it you think, he did it, case closed, next movie! But than the first interesting twist in the movie appears: Yes, he was at the murder scene, but he can't remember anything about the grisly murder, because at that exact moment he got a blackout. He's convinced that there was a third person in the room. That third person must have killed the bishop, he's innocent. His lawyer tries to prove the third man theory in the court room, but as the process comes nearer to the end, some new evidence will make everything a lot clearer and more interesting...

As I already said, this movie is more than just worth a watch, thanks to the rather innovative story line and characters. For once, this movie didn't annoy me more than I could ever like it. That's already worth a lot, so I give it a well deserved 8/10.

105 of 127 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Did they ever find Linda's body? cylindroid
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