The Phantom (1996 film)

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The Phantom is a 1996 action/adventure movie based on "The Phantom" comic strip. It starred Billy Zane, and was directed by Simon Wincer. The film is loosely based on the first two Phantom stories, "The Singh Brotherhood" and "The Sky Band", and features Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Plot summary

The legend of the Phantom starts when a young boy, the last survivor of a pirate attack, is washed ashore on a mysterious island called Bengalla. He swears to devote his life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms. When he grows to be a man, he adopts the identity of The Phantom, a masked avenger. The role of the Phantom is passed on from father to son through centuries, causing people to believe it is the same, seemingly immortal man, giving him nicknames such as "The Ghost Who Walks" and "The Man Who Never Dies".

The film tells us the story of Kit Walker, the 21st Phantom (Zane), and his attempt to prevent rich madman Xander Drax (Treat Williams) from obtaining a weapon of doom, the Skulls of Touganda, that will give him the secret to ultimate power and world domination.

In the process of tracking down the skulls, The Phantom also meets his former girlfriend Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), who proves to be an invaluable help for him. The search for the skulls becomes even more complicated for the Phantom when he discovers that one of Drax's henchmen, Quill (James Remar), is the killer of his father.


The film is loosely based on Lee Falk's first two Phantom stories, "The Singh Brotherhood" and "The Sky Band". Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays Kabai Sengh, leader of the Sengh Brotherhood (the name of the brotherhood was changed from Singh to Sengh in the movie), and Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Sala, leader of the Sky Band, a group of female criminal air-pirates.

Joe Dante was originally attached to direct the $45million US adaptation, and he developed a draft of the script together with Jeffrey Boam of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade fame. However, when Paramount Pictures pushed the film back a year, Dante left for other commitments, with Simon Wincer replacing him as a director. Dante ended up as one of the executive producers. Joel Schumacher was also considered to direct the film. Both Wincer and Boam felt the film should be a good, old-fashioned adventure film; “action –adventure with a twinkle in the eye.”

Director Simon Wincer then cast Billy Zane, who had recently won praise for his work as a psychopath in Dead Calm. Zane won the part after competition from cult-icon Bruce Campbell and actor Kevin Smith. Billy Zane feverishly pumped iron for over a year to play the Phantom. A Batman-like costume with fake muscles was made for him, but by the time filming started, Zane was so beefed up that he did not need it.

Filming began on 3rd of October, 1995. The film traveled from Los Angeles to New York, Phang Nga Bay (Thailand), and Australia (Gold Coast). It is also the only film to be allowed to film on location at the Playboy Mansion (as the home of the wealthy Palmer family) as Hugh Hefner is a big Phantom phan. The film wrapped on 13th February 1996, almost sixty years to the day since the character first appeared in print.

Many scenes developing the romance between the Phantom/Kit Walker and Diana Palmer were cut in order to make the film more fast paced. Many of the scenes took place in the Deep Woods of Bengalla. An action scene featuring the Phantom wrestling a lion and one with him fighting a snake were also cut.



The movie suffered the same fate as two other period-piece comic book/pulp adaptations at the time, The Shadow and The Rocketeer, and did not fare very well at the box office in the US.

Although it fared well in countries such as Australia where the character is very popular the film failed to impress where it really counts – America. It grossed just $5 million US on its opening weekend and $17.3 million US over all in that country. While most critics felt it was a decent film many Americans felt the film was a Batman rip off, ignorant to the fact that the Phantom pre-dated the Dark Knight.

The fact that two editors are credited on screen suggests the film was heavily re-edited. The introduction of the Phantom’s character was originally longer with more of an emphasis on the mystery of the character. The Phantom was shown sitting in the Skull Throne, head bowed illuminated in the half light of sun shining down upon him from the roof of the Skull Cave. This dramatic and powerful image was used of the The Ghost Who Walks teaser poster. The Phantom was considered to be a commercial failure...

Phan Reaction

The film has divided the Phantom community somewhat into two camps – those who like the film and those who feel it is not true to Falk’s work. While Phans agree that some changes were un - needed, such as the changes made to the Phantom’s origin and the lack of Skull Oath, many Phans enjoy the film. They feel Billy Zane fit the role perfectly and looks like a Sy Barry illustration come to life. These Phans feel the film captures the feel of the Lee Falk penned Phantom adventures wonderfully, despite the changes. Old Jungle Sayings – the first thing one would think would be aborted – remained in the film. The inclusion of classic Falk villains the Sing Brotherhood (re-named Sengh) and the Sky Band also pleased many Phans. Phans that enjoy the film argue that, while it may not be perfect, the film does capture the spirit of the strip and, above all, is a lot of fun.

On the other hand some Phans do not enjoy this version of their hero. They feel the film is too much like an Indiana Jones film (an Indiana Jones script writer did write the films script, after all) and that the story, dealing as it does with ancient, mystical powers, is plain silly. Some dislike the patterns added to the costume. It was said by costume designers that a plain purple suite with black/ blue undies was made but it looked terrible on film. However, this does not appease some Phans.

Criticism was also launched at Treat Williams for his portrayal of Xander Drax which many felt was simply too over the top. Kristy Swanson was also criticized for her below par performance as Diana Palmer. Also, many Phans disliked the inclusion of a new villain when a whole stable of Falk villains could have been used. Many feel the film should have concentrated on the Sing and the Sky Band, or just the Sing themselves, and dismiss Drax.


A novelization of the film was written by Rob MacGregor, author of many novels featuring Indiana Jones. It included a more detailed look at the backstory of the characters, and also a few scenes which were omitted from the final cut of the movie.


The Palmer's butler is named Falkmoore. This name is derived from Lee Falk, the creator of The Phantom, and Ray Moore, The Phantom's first artist.


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  • During the week of the movie's premiere (June 3 to June 8, 1996), the Phantom daily strip took a break from the plot of the story "Drama on Eden" and recaptured the origin of the Phantom. These daily strips were inked by Fred Fredericks instead of regular inker Keith Williams.
  • The Sunday strip story that began at the same time ("The Lookout") featured the villains Quill and Drax, named after two of the villains in the movie.
  • On the premiere of movie, Lee Falk received a letter from President Bill Clinton, congratulating him for his achievements.
  • To coincide with the premiere of the film, the Phantom was used as a part of the Got Milk? campaign.

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  • Lee Falk attended a gala premiere in Stockholm. After the movie there was an afterparty at Café Opera. A wolf-like dog named Maja that had acted as Devil in promotional events was brought along, but was denied entrance by a bouncer who proclaimed "That dog can’t come in here". Mats Jönsson of the Fantomen editorial staff replied "It's not a dog, it's a wolf – and she's on the guest list".
  • Fantomen 24/1996 included a 2-for-1 movie ticket.



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  • The Phantom / Kit WalkerBilly Zane
  • Diana Palmer – Kristy Swanson
  • Xander Drax – Treat Williams
  • Sala – Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • Quill – James Remar
  • The Great Kabai Sengh – Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
  • Lily Palmer – Samantha Eggar
  • Dave Palmer – Bill Smitrovich
  • Phantom's Dad – Patrick McGoohan
  • Jimmy Wells – Jon Tenney
  • Guran – Radmar Agana Jao
  • Boy Phantom – Austin Peters
  • Capt. Philip Horton – Robert Coleby
  • Cpl. Weeks – Dane Carson
  • Morgan - Casey Siemaszko
  • Charlie Zephro - David Proval
  • Ray Zephro - Joseph Ragno
  • Police Commissioner Farley - Al Ruscio
  • Mayor Krebs - Leon Russom
  • Falkmoore the Butler - Bernard Kates
  • Al the Cabby - John Capodice
  • Mounted Cop - Bo Kane
  • Cycle Cop - William Jones
  • Cycle Cop - John Prosky
  • Dr. Fleming - Alan Zitner
  • Zak - Chatpong 'Jim' Petchlor
  • Breen - Dane Farwell
  • Styles - Jared Chandler
  • Ugly Pirate - William Zappa
  • Pirate #1 - Agoes Widjaya Soedjarwo
  • Gangster #1 - Clint Lilley
  • Female Pilot - Jo Phillips
  • Shaman - Victor Madrona
  • Drax's Receptionist - Valerie Flueger
  • Short Order Cook - Rod Dailey


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  • Director: Simon Wincer
  • Screenwriter: Jeffrey Boam


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  • Theatrical premiere: December 5, 1996

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  • Theatrical premiere: October 15, 1996

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Wikipedia-logo.png This article, in the version of October 11, 2007, includes information from Wikipedia: The Phantom (film).