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The Big Year (2011)

PG | | Comedy | 14 October 2011 (USA)
1:54 | Trailer

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Two bird enthusiasts try to defeat the cocky, cutthroat world record holder in a year-long bird-spotting competition.


David Frankel


Howard Franklin (screenplay), Mark Obmascik (book)
1 win. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
John Cleese ... Narrator (voice)
Jack Black ... Brad Harris
Zahf Paroo ... Prasad
Stacey Scowley ... Vicki
Michael Karl Richards ... Vicki's Fiancée
Owen Wilson ... Kenny Bostick
Rosamund Pike ... Jessica
Steve Martin ... Stu Preissler
Kevin Pollak ... Jim Gittelson
Joel McHale ... Barry Loomis
JoBeth Williams ... Edith
Paul Campbell ... Tony
Cindy Busby ... Susie
Greg Kean ... Computer Birder
Eva Bourne ... Birder's Daughter (as Eva Allan)


In birding, a Big Year is seeing or hearing as many different species of birds as possible in a calendar year. Three men pursue the Birder of the Year title: Kenny Bostick, who's seen a record 732 in a past big year, Stu Preissler, newly retired, and Brad Harris, who narrates the story. Life gets in the way: Bostick's wife wants a baby, Stu's firm needs him for sensitive negotiations, and Brad, divorced and underemployed at 36, has an encouraging mom and a disapproving dad. They criss-cross the continent (including a trip to Alaska's westernmost island), follow migration patterns, and head for storms that force birds to ground. Who will win, at what cost, and with what rewards? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for language and some sensuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

14 October 2011 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El gran año See more »


Box Office


$41,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$3,251,884, 16 October 2011, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$7,204,138, 18 December 2011
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Jim Parsons plays an avid bird blogger in this film. His character on The Big Bang Theory (2007) ironically has a serious phobia of birds. See more »


The last flights to Attu Alaska were in 2000. Currently the only way to get to Attu for bird watching is through Zugunruhe Tours which charter a 72 foot boat to Attu for 15 days. There was one trip to Attu in 2010, which was the first birding trip to Attu in 10 years. There are 2 trips scheduled for 2012. See more »


[from trailer]
Brad Harris: There is going to be major fallout in a few hours.
Bill Clemont: Nuclear fallout?
Brad Harris: Bird fallout.
See more »

Crazy Credits

During the end credits, photos of every bird found by the winner are shown. See more »

Alternate Versions

UK BluRay sports an Extended Cut of the film, adding a good six minutes of minor background information on the three main characters and special birds. It also replaces Jack Black's narration of the story with a new narration by John Cleese who also receives a credit in the opening title sequence. See more »


Featured in The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Episode #20.14 (2011) See more »


I Like Birds
Written by Mark Oliver Everett (as E.)
Performed by Eels (as Eels)
Courtesy of Geffen Records
Under license from Universal Music Enterprises
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

right up my ally
31 July 2012 | by Aldri7See all my reviews

As a long time birdwatcher and Steve Martin fan, I watched "The BIg Year" with keen interest and an eye for the details. Having birded quite extensively in the US, I think I am qualified to give this a very thorough review!

To start things off, this is a story about three talented birders - one young hotshot (Owen Wilson), one budding hotshot (Jack Black), and one old guy (Steve Martin) - competing against one another to see who can list the most birds in North America in one calendar year. The action starts on Jan 1, and right off the bat, birds, or "ticks", start to go up on everyone's lists. A siting here, a siting there, and with a little scientific narration, we're off and running Thankfully, we also see a running tally of each birder's totals frequently as the movie progresses.

And then the various subplots and scenarios kick in as the race heats up. These subplots revolve around each birder and his normal life outside of his hobby with the idea being to show you what kind of sacrifices are involved in doing a big year. OK, nice idea, but only one of these really works for me, though - the one involving Jack and his dad, played by Brian Dennehy. Good work there - both believable and touching. But otherwise, the subplots were predictable and added little to the main story. I did enjoy, though, the one scene where expert birder Ken Bostick is making love to his wife while news reports of a "fallout" of migrants on the Texas coast is broadcast. That was probably the funniest moment in the entire film. Anyway, and then as the race heats up, more plot unfolds. Part of doing a big year is to not let others know you are doing one. Thats to lessen any chance of all out warfare among listers. Also, you can form alliances and team up with others along the way if your goal is to stop the top dog, the favorite expected to tally the most birds in the end.

But overall, a big year is not all that unlike it was portrayed in the film making allowances for Hollywood invention, etc. Things can get a bit crazy. The level of competition is such that ordinary people will sometimes do extraordinarily expensive, unethical, or just plain stupid things to see a bird. I liked that the film delved into this a bit, as each actor seemed fairly believable as a competitive birder, with enough scheming and conniving behavior thrown in to give you a feel for what a big year can really be like.

And now on to the movie from a scientific point of view: I'd rate the scientific accuracy of the birding lore here fairly highly at times. In particular, the culture on Attu, Alaska was a lot like I have read (I have never been). But at other times, inexplicably, science gave way to whatever seemed to suit someones idea of a good plot twist best. For example, THe great spotted woodpecker siting in Oregon was pure fantasy - Woodpeckers do not migrate much and this is an Asian species. Other birds like the pink footed Goose and Grey Owl were located in habitat unsuitable for them in real life. And then there was the trek to High Island in Texas, which really amused me because of how they hyped it up - I mean as the scene unfolds, tens of thousands of birds are shown filling the air like you only see on the duck and geese refuges. Very funny....:)

But here's what I kept wanting to see more of though - first off - more moving, beautifully photographed scenery (a la "Winged Migration", perhaps). Kudo's to the Bald Eagle mating scene which almost brought me to tears. But also - more science. A big year is more than about going to Texas and Attu in the spring. What about the Fall migration? The winter migrants? A big year strategy will take in all 12 months, and with each season, new birds become possible as the landscape changes. One could have been given a better sense for how the different seasons affect the distribution of birds and thus the fortunes of someone attempting to do a big year.

But in the end here, its all about the competition mixed with a little comedy. And as the days wind down and the winter months approach, big years often end up with some really crazy, last minute cross country treks to see late breaking hot birds. But here? - both the competition and the comedy sort of fizzle out in the end. The conclusion is pretty anti-climactic unlike a lot of real life big years I've read about. We cheer the ultimate winner, but even the losers wind up winning something in a small way - a feel good ending which at least keeps you from walking away disappointed that your favorite comedic actor did not get the top prize.

In conclusion, "the big year" is a fast paced adventure which does a fairly decent job of portraying the birdwatching culture and particularly those that are into competitive listing. Birding is also fallow ground for comedy though, but sadly, despite the appearance of Steve Martin, the film is only given a light comedic touch there. Steve's performance is very understated. Thankfully though, there is enough scientific meat, nice scenery and decent performances from the others to pull it off. Owen Wilson as Ken Bostick is perfect as the arrogant hot shot, while Jack Black does a nice job as the conniving but big hearted wannabe. So, but overall, maybe ditch or reduce two out of the three subplots, build to a bigger climax, and add more scenery shots and I'd have given this a much better review.

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