214 user 74 critic

Papillon (1973)

4:09 | Trailer
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.


Dalton Trumbo (screenplay), Lorenzo Semple Jr. (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
1,990 ( 654)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Steve McQueen ... Henri 'Papillon' Charriere
Dustin Hoffman ... Louis Dega
Victor Jory ... Indian Chief
Don Gordon ... Julot
Anthony Zerbe ... Toussaint
Robert Deman Robert Deman ... Maturette
Woodrow Parfrey ... Clusiot
Bill Mumy ... Lariot
George Coulouris ... Dr. Chatal
Ratna Assan ... Zoraima
William Smithers ... Warden Barrot
Val Avery ... Pascal
Gregory Sierra ... Antonio
Vic Tayback ... Sergeant (as Victor Tayback)
Mills Watson ... Guard


A semi-fictional account of Henri Charrière's time in the penal system in French Guyana - some of it spent on infamous Devil's Island - is presented. It's the early 1930s. Charrière - nicknamed Papillon because of his butterfly tattoo - and Louis Dega are two among many who have been convicted in the French judicial system, they now being transferred to French Guyana where they will serve their time, never to return to France even if they are ever released. A safe-cracker by criminal profession, Papillon is serving a life sentence for murdering a pimp, a crime for which he adamantly states he was framed. Dega is a wealthy counterfeiter, who expects his well-to-do wife eventually to get him released. At Papillon's initiative, the duo enters into a business arrangement: Papillon will provide protection for Dega, who, in turn, will finance Papillon's escape attempt. As the two men spend more time together than either had expected, their burgeoning friendship ends up being an important ... Written by Huggo/RMS

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


For Papillon survival was not enough .... he had to be free See more »


Biography | Crime | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Henri Charrière was present for the shoot in Jamaica, but he died of lung cancer in July 1973, a few months before the film was edited and released. He never got to see the finished product. See more »


As Dega is boarding the boat to French Guyana, his ear plugs are visible. See more »


Dega: Well, it now seems quite possible that until we get to a decent jail with bribeable guards, I may stand in some need of... rather close physical protection.
Papillon: That depends on how long you want to live.
Dega: For a long time.
Papillon: Then you got a problem.
Dega: Well, I presume that you have some, uh, goals, some particular need that outrates all the others. I mean, if so... may I aslk what it is?
Papillon: Money!
Dega: For what?
Papillon: Escape.
Dega: Very good. You keep me alive until we land in Guyana, and I'll underwrite any escape you care to ...
See more »

Alternate Versions

The Spanish version has several cuts during the film due to censorship reasons, including Alfred Dreyfus scene on Devil's Island. This version also includes a song called "Toi qui regardes la mer" that appears during the end credits with music by Jerry Goldsmith and sung by the French singer Nicoletta. See more »


Referenced in Justified: Measures (2012) See more »


Ballet Music from Faust
Music by Charles Gounod
See more »

User Reviews

Enjoyable film upon escapes from an impregnable prison with strong performances
9 April 2005 | by ma-cortesSee all my reviews

The movie centers an unrelenting prisoner (extraordinary Steve MacQueen , who one time exposed : this shooting was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life) is sent to French Guayana in Devil's Island . He is determined to break out from the gaol placed on a deserted and impenetrable island . He befriends an inmate (Dustin Hoffman , a real chameleon actor who here had to wear contact lenses) who's imprisoned for swindle . They will confront lot of dangers and sufferings until reach freedom . McQueen tries a series of escapes but he's always recaptured . The punishments will be terrible and developed in graphic realism .

The story is based on real deeds , it is adapted from an autobiographical best-selling book about a French burglar named Henri Charriere and Dalton Trumbo (previously prohibited for the Black List and he's cast as the Commandant) and Lorenzo Semple Jr. are the splendid screenwriters . The pic is overlong , about two hours and half , though is neither boring , nor tiring , but entertaining , because of it develops several adventures and happenings . The motion picture obtained a big success , it was a box office winner . It attained hits at every cinemas around the world . The film is a magnificent portrayal of tortures and sufferings of the prisoners in far countries . The yarn's title refers to the starring's butterfly tattoo , being based on his actual-life , as Papillon , Henri Charrière , was 25 when he was sent to French Guyana .

Interpretation protagonists -McQueen, Hoffman- is top notch , they make a magnificent couple . In fact , McQueen did his own stunts , as he even insisted on performing a dangerous leap , as he jumped off a cliff himself . Dustin Hoffman said his interpretation was based on the movie's screenwriter Dalton Trumbo , especially his withdrawn and shy mannerisms which had inspired him when meeting Trumbo for the first time . The support cast , though very secondary , is very fine : George Coulouris , Don Gordon , Gregory Sierra , Victor Jory , among others . The veteran Jerry Goldsmith creates an exciting and atmospheric musical score , he also composed soundtracks for other Schaffner films as ¨Planet of Apes¨ and ¨Boys from Brazil¨ . Fred Koenekamp cinematography is excellent with astounding outdoors of the jungle . The picture was compellingly directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (¨Planet of Apes¨ , ¨Patton¨) . The flick will appeal to prison genre buffs and adventures films fans . Rating : Good and nice . Better than average . Well worth seeing.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Official Sites:

Official site


France | USA


English | Spanish

Release Date:

19 December 1973 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Papillon See more »


Box Office


$12,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

4-Track Stereo (magnetic prints)| Mono (optical prints)



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

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