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Film / Spawn (1997)

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Spawn is a 1997 American superhero film based on the Image Comics character of the same name. Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé, the film stars Michael Jai White in the title role, alongside John Leguizamo, Martin Sheen, Theresa Randle, D.B. Sweeney, and Nicol Williamson in his final film role.

Black Ops operative Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is betrayed on his last job before retirement by his boss Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen). The life he lived has him sent straight to Hell, where he makes a deal with its master Malebolgia (Frank Welker) to return to the land of the living to see his family again. However, his side of the bargain involves him becoming Spawn, the leader for the eventual Armageddon, overseen by the demonic Clown (John Leguizamo). As Simmons adjusts to his resurrection while taking revenge on Wynn, he starts questioning his role in the machinations of Hell, and ultimately rebels.

A reboot is, as of June 2023, close to entering production, with Jamie Foxx starring in the titular role.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Zack's father almost beats him for coughing back up the food he found in the dumpster because it was rotten. Spawn stops him before he could land a hit on the child.
  • Actor Allusion: "...kickstart the Apocalypse Now!", said to Martin Sheen.
  • Adapted Out: In the comics, Al Simmons was killed by Chapel, a character from Rob Liefeld's Youngblood (Image Comics) series. Rights issues made it impossible for Chapel to appear in the movie, so the character Jessica Priest was created as a replacement. McFarlane ended up replacing Chapel and inserting Priest into the comics.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Besides cutting out the connections to the other Image Comics because that would take too long to explain, the movie cuts out a lot of pointless supporting villains and makes it all about Simmons versus Wynn, and gets rid of all the mystery surrounding Simmons and explains his history right away.
  • Anchovies Are Abhorrent: Clown hates anchovies on his maggot-infested pizza. The maggots themselves are his favorite part.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: While it may veer into What Measure Is a Non-Cute?, it says a lot about Wynn that he uses his pet scorpions' terrarium as an ashtray. He doesn't actually extinguish his cigar on any of the scorpions, but the implication is obvious.
  • Badass Biker: Spawn rides a bike, even though he really doesn't need to.
  • Big Bad: Malebolgia, while Clown aka Violator serves as The Heavy.
  • Big "NO!": Spawn gives one out after finding his locket, combined with Dramatic Thunder.
  • Blade Below the Shoulder: Cogliostro can turn his arm into a glowing sword.
  • The Cameo: The policemen arresting Wynn are supporting characters Sam and Twitch, who got their own spinoff book. In the party scene, eagle-eyed viewers can also spot Angela (in her iconic green dress and spawn earrings) as one of the party guests.
  • Canon Immigrant: Created to replace Chapel was Al's murderer, Jessica Priest was incorporated into the comics in Spawn #61 in the lead-up to the movie — and Rob Liefeld getting kicked out of Image.
  • Car Fu: Clown drives a truck into Spawn, who protects himself with his cape.
  • Children Are Innocent: Spawn runs into his human daughter Cyan after secretly observing a lecture given by his former fiancé Wanda. The little girl isn't afraid of the imposing figure and innocently notes his weird (burned and scarred) face before exchanging names.
  • Cult Soundtrack: The soundtrack paired rock bands with electronica groups (Filter and The Crystal Method, Butthole Surfers and Moby, Korn and The Dust Brothers, etc.) and remained on the Billboard charts for 6 months, arguably having a longer appeal than the film itself.
  • Dead Man's Switch: CIA director Jason Wynn had a device installed near his heart that, if his heart ever stopped, would send a signal out to an automated system designed to release a devastating virus all over the earth. Oddly, even the "normal" members of the CIA are shown thinking that this was a good idea ("Now, no one will dare kill you, sir!). It apparently never occurred to anyone to think about what would happen if he got into a car crash or had a heart attack.
  • Deal with the Devil: Al's bargain with Malebolgia, who's essentially a stand-in for Satan.
  • Devil, but No God: Downplayed. While the movie centers around a character who's been to Hell and several demons, and no angels or indicators of heaven appear in the movie. God and Heaven does exist, as evidenced by one character who is a literal demon lamenting that God gets all the capable dead and they had to "recruit" Al Simmons before the other side got to him. Spawn himself never discusses or even considers the possibility of trying the other side.
  • Disappointed in You: Wynn calls Al a disappointment for having a conscience as a professional killer.
  • Dragon Their Feet: After Al escapes Hell and Malebolgia, the Violator follows him back to Earth to make one final attempt on his life. After failing he laments that his boss will kill him.
  • Dual Wielding: All over the movie. Al likes to do this, and Priest saves Wynn from Spawn at the last second by opening fire on him with two automatic rifles.
  • Forced to Watch: After Clown's plan is foiled in the climax, he prepares to rape Wanda in front of a beaten Spawn and forces him to watch. Cogliostro intervenes to prevent this, prompting Clown to retreat to Hell.
  • Gasshole: Clown.
    (imitating Clarence) Uh, well, well, every time somebody farts, uh, a demon gets his wings! (farts twice) Oops! Twins!
    (farts) Oops! A wet one! I hope I didn't stain my underwear...Look at that, skid marks.
  • Give My Regards in the Next World: Spawn says to Violator, just after decapitating him, "Give my regards to your boss. Tell him he's next."
  • Groin Attack: Defied. Jessica Priest attempts a groin attack on Spawn, but his skull-shaped belt buckle stretches out and bites her leg hard.
  • Guns Akimbo: Priest fights Spawn with a machine gun in each hand. Spawn then switches to this before killing her and fighting the police.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Violator just shrugs off bullets that Spawn fires at him. Cogliostro points this out later on, even saying "guns are useless", and shows Spawn how to use his own powers properly.
  • Healing Factor: Spawn got the ability to heal wounds as part of his deal with Hell. He notes this with satisfaction when Jessica pumps him full of lead.
    Spawn: Damn...
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Spawn rides off on a bike as the owner runs out of a bar angrily after him.
  • I Love the Smell of X in the Morning:
    Clown: I love the smell of burning asphalt in the morning.
  • Informed Attribute: According to Wynn, Al is a certifiable psychopath. Despite this, he's disturbed when he finds out that he killed innocent civilians when he blew up the plane, which led to his retirement and subsequent death.
  • Invisibility Cloak: Spawn's red cape is shown being capable of rendering him invisible. He then makes the mistake of turning it off while the cops are still looking for him, so recommence gunfight.
  • Kick the Dog: Clown literally applies this trope when he attempts to eat Spawn's dog Spaz to get one back at him.
  • Knighting: Clown does a comical, hellish version of this when Spawn gets his armor, striking him on the shoulders with a shovel and proclaiming:
    Clown: In the name of the people and things of Hell, I dub thee... Spawn, general of Hell's armies. Arise, Your Crispness! Arise, Duke of Deep-Fried! Sultan of Sizzling! Emir of Ooey-Gooey!
  • Large Ham: Clown, who could give Jack Nicholson's Joker a run for hammiest Monster Clown ever.
  • Lighter and Softer: It's much less grim than the comic and its animated adaptation, completely lacking in blood and gore (even in the R-rated cut) and the more horrific imagery associated with Hell in the comics downplayed, Al's domestic abuse of Wanda is omitted, and while the Clown always had a warped sense of humor in the source material, he mostly ends up serving as the Plucky Comic Relief all the way through.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: Jason Wynn sets himself up as the ultimate load-bearing boss: He attaches a heart-rate sensor to himself, which will set off dozens of virus-bombs all over the world in the event of his death to deter assassinations (though how a would-be killer is supposed to know this ahead of time is anyone's guess). Spawn uses his nifty magic powers to just pull the sensor out of his body before turning him over to the cops.
  • Monster Clown: Clown, much to his chagrin. His real form is actually a towering, emaciated demon called Violator, but Malebolgia apparently didn't give him any options what his "human" disguise would look like.
    Clown: The master and I are going to have words. He knows I hate clowns. God, I hate them. I hate them all. I hate Bozo, Ronald, Chuckles with their freakin' dumb noses and their lousy party hats!
  • Morality Pet:
    • Zack, the homeless kid whom Al befriends after his resurrection.
    • Cyan is this to Spawn as well. Jason invokes this to keep Spawn from killing him and setting off Heat-16.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Spawn pretty much says this when seeing the locket with the picture of him and Wanda.
  • Mythology Gag: The Smiley Face badge on Clown's jacket mirrors the viewing galleries of a mud-wrestling establishment where Spawn murders a drug-dealer in cold blood early on in the comics. The symbolism really kicks in when you realize that this killing was one of the first that showed Spawn that the world is not as simple as he initially believed and that letting his anger control him blinded him to the truth.
  • Neck Snap: Al does this to a North Korean guard during his final mission.
  • No, You:
    Simmons: You touch [Wanda], and you're a dead man!
    Wynn: You're the dead man. *sets Simmons on fire* See you in hell, Al!
  • Obviously Evil: Wynn and Priest make no effort to hide that they're bad people, even from Al. This includes sitting in dark rooms, playing with tarantulas and scorpions, and doing an Evil Laugh after every unnecessary monologue.
  • One-Winged Angel: Clown's Violator-form.
    Clown: No more clowning around. I'm not the Vindicator, or the Victimizer, or the Vaporizer or the Vibrator! I'm... THE VIOLATOR!
  • Pretender Diss: Clown isn't impressed by three moronic Satanists.
    Clown: How come God hogs up all the good followers, and we get all the retards?
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Spawn kills Jessica this way with just a single bullet.
    Jessica: (defiantly) You don't have the guts!
    [Spawn shoots her]
    Spawn: You're right.
  • Protagonist Title: The movie's called Spawn, and the main character is a Hellspawn that goes by the same name.
  • Psycho for Hire: Jessica Priest is an even darker assassin than Al Simmons. She seems to be in it mainly for the joy of hurting people, as Simmons balks at how she always leaves a huge bodycount of innocent bystanders on her missions. Later, she sadistically burns Simmons to death on Wynn's orders. Clown/Violator is also this to Malebolgia as he's a blood-thirsty and sadistic demon with a sick love for carnage and mass murderers ("I always say destroy the cosmos ask questions later").
  • Race Lift: Terry is now a Caucasian. Todd McFarlane has gone on record as saying that this was done by the studio to avoid having too many black leads. They were worried that would create a perception the film was aimed at just a black target audience. It was also said that, with white villains, they didn't want to look racist. Amusingly, this was never a major issue with the comics.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Spawn's eyes usually glow green. They blaze red just as he's about to kill someone. The Violator also has a pair of these in his true demonic form.
  • Retirony: Al Simmons goes on one last mission before he can retire with his wife to start a family. Burned to death.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Averted and then Invoked. After Al realizes that he's been dead for five years, he lets out a primal scream. Clown then says "Aww, c'mon! You scream like a little girl! Scream like a man! Here, like this!" and then lets out a very shrill, high-pitched, feminine shriek.
  • See You in Hell: As Wynn burns Simmons alive for trying to quit the agency, he proclaims that he'll see him in Hell. Whether or not Wynn knew that Spawn was literally going to hell to become a demonic super soldier is up in the air
  • Shout-Out:
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Clown, played with scenery-chewing gusto by John Leguizamo.
  • Super Window Jump: Done by Spawn, his costume and cape acting as armor and being undead and thus unharmed even by bullets.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Clown/Violator hates "weekend satanists".
    Clown: How come God always pick up the good followers and we're left with all the retards !?
  • Synthetic Plague: Heat-16. According to Wynn, it "Makes the Ebola virus look like a skin-rash!" and he intends to use it to conquer Earth, while Hell means to wipe out Earth with it.
  • Tastes Like Chicken: This is paired with You Taste Delicious as Clown/Violator licks Wanda's face.
  • Tested on Humans: Wynn, on Clown's orders, blows up a North Korean chemical plant to see how its experimental toxins will affect the nearby inhabitants. Several diseases that had been wiped out suddenly re-emerge in the world population.
  • Too Desperate to Be Picky: Zack's father has no issues eating food out of the garbage. Zack himself draws a line at eating rotten, maggot-infested food, however.
  • Transformation Sequence: Clown turning himself into the Violator.
  • [Verb] This!:
    • "Eat THIS!"
    • Also, "Bite THIS!"
  • Villainous Breakdown: Upset that Malebolgia chose Spawn to lead the armies of the damned instead of him, Violator throws a hissy fit, whining that it isn't fair. He catches himself in the middle of his rant, realizing that his whining really isn't making him look any better in front of his boss. This growing frustration with this apparent snub, his own hatred of the Clown guise, and Spawn's constant refusal to cooperate eventually drives Violator to ditch all subtlety and just beat Spawn into submission with his true power.
  • Wall Crawl: While trying to escape from the cops, Spawn does the Spider-Man routine on the side of a building when he finds that his hand can turn into a sucker.
  • You Taste Delicious: Clown in his Violator-form licks Wanda's face with his demon tongue, exclaiming that she Tastes Like Chicken.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Spawn



Malebolgia (also referred to at times as the Malebolgia) is the name of a Demon in the Spawn universe, drawing its name from the term in Dante's Inferno used to describe Malebolge, the ditches (bolge) in the eighth circle of Hell where the evil (male) are punished. He was Spawn's master and one of the major Lords of Hell.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / Satan

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