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City of Ember (2008)

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For generations, the people of the City of Ember have flourished in an amazing world of glittering lights. But Ember's once powerful generator is failing ... and the great lamps that illuminate the city are starting to flicker.


Gil Kenan


Caroline Thompson (screenplay), Jeanne Duprau (book)
3,130 ( 2,081)
6 nominations. See more awards »





Complete credited cast:
Saoirse Ronan ... Lina Mayfleet
David Ryall ... Chief Builder
Harry Treadaway ... Doon Harrow
Mary Kay Place ... Mrs. Murdo
Tim Robbins ... Loris Harrow
Bill Murray ... Mayor Cole
Mackenzie Crook ... Looper
Toby Jones ... Barton Snode
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Liam Burke Liam Burke ... Mr. Boaz
Brid Ni Chionaola Brid Ni Chionaola ... Seely Schnap
Maureen Dow Maureen Dow ... Mrs. Sample
Lucinda Dryzek ... Lizzie Bisco
Lorraine Hilton Lorraine Hilton ... Miss Thorn
B.J. Hogg B.J. Hogg ... Mayor's Guard
Marianne Jean-Baptiste ... Clary


When mankind is about to come to an end, a group of scientists decide to create and populate a city deep underground. The city of Ember is to last for 200 years after which its inhabitants are to retrieve from a strong box instructions to return to the surface. Over time however, the message is lost and life in Ember is rapidly deteriorating. Their power supply is failing and food is being rationed. It's left to two young adults to unearth the secret of Ember and to lead the way out. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Discover The Secret See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for mild peril and some thematic elements | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

10 October 2008 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

City of Ember See more »


Box Office


$55,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$3,129,473, 12 October 2008, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$7,873,007, 15 January 2009

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Playtone, Walden Media See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


(at around 1 hr 19 mins) Bill Murray trips after the lights start sparking. He lands on a painting of himself and it is smudged. The same thing happens in Ghostbusters II (1989). See more »


(at around 14 mins) When Lina Mayfleet receives her red messenger poncho she puts it on quickly and Captain Fleery begins lacing it up. He never finishes, but when Lina pauses at the door to recite the protocol, it is more fully laced up. See more »


Loris Harrow: [narrating] Lina and Doon tied their hope to a rock and tossed it down toward the city. The rock could've ended up on a roof. Or kicked into a gutter. But fate ran another course. And the message found its way. Now the path was clear for all. All of us who kept the flame of Ember burning, through the darkness, so that we could live again on the earth, in the air and the light.
See more »


Featured in WatchMojo: Top 10 Best Steam Punk Movies (2017) See more »


Song for the City
Written by Becky Stark
Performed by Becky Stark and the Believers
Becky Stark appears courtesy of Matador Records
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A solid family film.
12 October 2008 | by OtobokeSee all my reviews

When moving from book to motion picture, there are a myriad of problems associated with such a task, one of which comes from those die hard fans of the original story. Fortunately for myself I have never taken it upon myself to read the source material on which this movie is based upon, nor had I even heard of it until now. As a result I found City of Ember to be a gratifying and sensually enticing experience with brilliant performances, an endlessly captivating story and pace, and a great mix of fantastical environments and characters which pave way for subtext that is grounded in simple allegory of our own, current world. To be sure, there are moments when the film dabbles in and out of tired clichés, most of which we have seen countless times this year alone in other children's adventures; yet what distinguishes this from, say, The Chronicles of Narnia or The Spiderwick Chronicles is through its mature themes and presentation that keeps the older viewer in mind. In this respect, City of Ember is a solid family film that most audiences should enjoy regardless of age, gender or anything else; good entertainment, and a wonderful story to remember at that.

Taking place almost exclusively within the confines of Ember, Gil Kenan here presents us with a vision of a dystopian future, where mankind has been forced to live underground in order to survive. Set many years on from this event however, much of the inhabitants of Ember are unaware of their origin and all the more scared of it as a result. However, in a time of desperation, two citizens Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway) and Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) go on their own quest to try and find an exit from the underground city, which doesn't go down well with gluttonous Mayor Cole (Bill Murray) who just wants his next meal in peace.

What follows from here is a story that isn't entirely unfamiliar (in fact, it's dangerously close to this year's WALL-E), and yet director Gil Kenan manages to take the script and turn it into his own compelling take on a tried and trusted concept. From the arresting opening monologue to the somewhat anti-climatic ending, there is barely a spot here that feels out of place or contrived for the sake of playing to the camera. The pacing, particularly during the middle act, could have been a little tighter, and you often get the sense that there's a lot of footage missing from this cinematic cut, yet as a whole, City of Ember does enough, and with the right amount of originality in tact, to cover up the rough edges. The ending, as I stated, is a little underwhelming and all too brief, but it at least feels coherent and natural to that which comes before it.

If there's one thing that Kenan manages to get across here however, it is the imagination and vision that is present in the script and story. Immediately, and most strikingly poignant during the opening sequence, the City of Ember itself is a sight to behold; from the countless lightbulbs that give the city its light to the murky tunnels that run underneath to provide water, the production values present are superb. Furthermore, the special effects work, although a little obvious during certain sequences involving humans, is noticeably strong; particularly when a giant mole-like creature appears. Not only does the creature look disgusting and completely frightening, but the director does well to stage the beast in such a way as to bring out its realistic characteristics; saying that I got flashbacks of Jurassic Park's raptors scene and a few from Aliens certainly wouldn't be a negative link to make.

Yet as good as the CGI actors are, thankfully the more traditional skin and bones performers aren't so bad themselves. As Hollywood unknowns (to an extent) Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway give convincing performances in their lead positions and very rarely give attention to their ages. Sure enough, their roles aren't the most demanding of jobs, but despite their characters' underwritten nature both fulfil the requirements of leads nicely and with enough conviction to consistently carry the film forward. Of course, it's always good to have a familiar face around, and Bill Murray, playing the obnoxious and gluttonous slob Mayor Cole, is the one to provide such a role. Murray, although arguably underused as far as his talents go, does well to establish a character that nobody is necessarily going to warm to, and uses whatever screen time he has adequately to further the movie on and to back up his lead performers.

In the end however, all these elements simply come together to create one thing; an adventure. As just that, City of Ember is a very strong and convincing effort from director Gil Kenan who makes his live-action debut here. Sure enough there are countless rough edges present, and characters, although compelling in their quest, fail to resonate emotionally, but the overall adventure itself – that is, the tale – is one that will be sure to captivate imaginations and the attentions of many diverse audiences. With stunning visuals that complement the script's wonderful sense of imagination, fitting performances, and a very memorable, intelligent and socially relevant story, City of Ember is a fantastic slice of entertainment for all the family to enjoy.

  • A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)

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