Punisher in film

The character of Frank Castle as portrayed by three actors in film (L-R): Dolph Lundgren in The Punisher (1989); Thomas Jane in The Punisher (2004); and Ray Stevenson in Punisher: War Zone.

The fictional character of Frank Castle, also known as the Punisher, a comic book vigilante featured in Marvel Comics publications, has appeared in several films, many of them unrelated to each other. The first live-action film in 1989, was released theatrically worldwide then straight to video in the U.S., and starred Dolph Lundgren. The second film was released in theaters and starred Thomas Jane. After an unsuccessful script of Punisher 2, the film series was then rebooted again in 2008 with the film Punisher: War Zone starring Ray Stevenson.

Besides the three live action films, the character was also the subject of a fan film and has appeared several animated films.


The first film, known simply as The Punisher is a film that was released straight to video by New World Pictures in 1989 that is most notable for lacking the character's signature skull. Marvel hired Jonathan Hensleigh to write and direct the 2004 film which was mainly based on two Punisher comic books stories; The Punisher: Year One and Welcome Back, Frank.[1]

A direct sequel was supposed to follow based on strong DVD sales, but the lack of a good script kept the project in development for over 3 years, and by the end both Jonathan Hensleigh and Thomas Jane pulled out.[2][3][4] In a statement on May 15, 2007 In June 2007, Lexi Alexander was hired to direct and Ray Stevenson was hired in July to play the Punisher in the newly titled Punisher: War Zone, which became a reboot, and not a sequel to 2004's The Punisher.[5] This is the second time the film series has been rebooted, after the 2004 production rebooted 1989's The Punisher.[6] The film was released on December 5, 2008. The films primarily focus on Frank's vigilante crusade after the death of his family.


The Punisher (1989)

He is the city's most wanted, and most mysterious, vigilante. He has killed 125 people in the last 5 years. He is The Punisher (Dolph Lundgren), a one-man weapon against crime. In reality the Punisher is Frank Castle, an ex-cop whose family was murdered by mobsters. Now legally declared dead, he strikes back from beyond the grave, killing mobsters wherever he can find them. As a result of this, the mobsters families have weakened, forcing Gianni Franco, the leader of one of the families, to come in and take control of the families. Franco has a plan to bring the families together as one unit.

However, this has attracted the attention of the Yakuza, Asia's most powerful crime syndicate, who decide to take over the families and all their interests. In order to sway the mobsters to their cause, they kidnap their children. Now the Punisher must fight to save the lives of the children of the people he has fought against for five years, while at the same time fighting alongside the man who killed his family.

The Punisher (2004)

After an undercover operation where Bobby Saint, son of corrupt businessman Howard Saint (John Travolta), is killed, FBI agent, and former Soldier, Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) retires. Howard Saint, holding Castle responsible for the death of his son, has his men murder Frank's family during a family reunion and leaves Frank for dead. Burned out and haunted by memories of his family, Frank sets out to avenge them and becomes a judge, jury and executioner known as "The Punisher", his trademark skull shirt being a final gift from Castle's son before his death. Castle sets out to punish Howard Saint and his associates in a one-man war, refusing to give up until those responsible are dead, including tricking Saint into killing his wife and head bodyguard by manipulating evidence to make him think that they are having an affair. An extended cut DVD was released on November 21, 2006 with 17 minutes of additional footage, most of which revolves around the character Jimmy Weeks (Russell Andrews), and Frank realizing that it was his friend that sold him out to Howard Saint. Features also include a black and white stop motion animated scene, set in Kuwait based on and partially done by artist Tim Bradstreet, and a Punisher comic book gallery. An extended version of "In Time" by Mark Collie also appears in the closing credits of the extended cut DVD.

Despite 2004's The Punisher being a box office disappointment, Lions Gate Entertainment was interested in a sequel based on the film's strong DVD sales. Jonathan Hensleigh and Thomas Jane were set to commence filming of the sequel, but the project remained in development for over 3 years due to the lack of a good script despite numerous writers being attached even after Hensleigh pulled out. Thomas Jane was eager to do the sequel stating Jigsaw as the villain, that he'd put on an additional 12 pounds of muscle, and that "it would be darker, bloodier and more unfriendly than the first one." However, after reading the new script by Kurt Sutter, he stated, "What I won't do is spend months of my life sweating over a movie that I just don't believe in. I've always loved the Marvel guys, and wish them well. Meanwhile, I'll continue to search for a film that one day might stand with all those films that the fans have asked me to watch."[7][8]

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

Main article: Punisher: War Zone

Waging his one-man war on the world of organized crime, ruthless vigilante-hero Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) sets his sights on overeager mob boss Billy "Jigsaw" Russoti (Dominic West). After Russoti is left horribly disfigured by Castle, he sets out for vengeance under his new alias: Jigsaw. With the "Punisher Task Force" hot on his trail and the FBI unable to take Jigsaw on, Frank must stand up to the formidable army that Jigsaw has recruited before more of his evil deeds go unpunished.[9]

Ray Stevenson had expressed interest in sequels, hinting at Barracuda as a possible villain.[10] At the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, when asked if he signed on for more Punisher, he said, "If I had my wish, it's going to run and run. It's up to the fan base. If this works, we get to do it all again."[10] After the first film was not received well by audiences, the rights for the character eventually reverted to Marvel.


Iron Man: Rise of Technovore (2013)

The Punisher appears as a supporting character in the anime film Iron Man: Rise of Technovore (2013),[11] voiced by Norman Reedus. He was first seen hunting down a member of A.I.M. selling weapons to a buyer. However, Iron Man saves the member and gets answers. After that, Iron Man and the Punisher work together discover Ezekiel Stane being responsible for framing Iron Man for a crime he didn't commit. Hawkeye and Black Widow were given the order to retrieve Iron Man, but the Punisher helps Iron Man escape to find Ezekiel Stane.

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher (2014)

The Punisher appears as one of the main protagonists in the anime film Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher (2014), voiced by Brian Bloom.[12] Punisher is taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody after interfering in a S.H.I.E.L.D. secret mission. In exchange for his release, the Punisher and the Black Widow are teamed up to take down the terrorist organization Leviathan who plans to auction stolen S.H.I.E.L.D. technology.[13]

Dirty Laundry (2012)

At the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International, Jane debuted an independently financed Punisher short film, directed by Phil Joanou, written by Chad St. John, produced by Adi Shankar, and co-starring Ron Perlman, titled Dirty Laundry.[14] Jane said, "I wanted to make a fan film for a character I've always loved and believed in – a love letter to Frank Castle & his fans. It was an incredible experience with everyone on the project throwing in their time just for the fun of it. It's been a blast to be a part of from start to finish — we hope the friends of Frank enjoy watching it as much as we did making it.[15]


Box office performance

Film Release date Box office revenue Reference
Worldwide United States United States Outside U.S. Worldwide
The Punisher (1989) October 5, 1989 April 5, 1991 $533,411 $533,411
The Punisher (2004) April 16, 2004 $33,810,189 $20,889,916 $54,700,105
Punisher: War Zone (2008) December 5, 2008 $8,000,000 $2,089,373 $10,089,373

Critical response

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
The Punisher (1989) 28% (18 reviews)[16] 0% (0 reviews)[17]
The Punisher (2004) 29% (167 reviews)[18] 33% (36 reviews)[19]
Punisher: War Zone (2008) 27% (98 reviews)[20] 30% (22 reviews)[21]

See also


  1. "Writer/Director Jonathan Hensleigh on The Punisher". Superhero Hype!. 2003-09-28. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  2. Jessica Barnes (2007-06-15). "John Dahl Says 'Punisher 2' Script Not That Good". Cinematical. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
  3. Frosty. "John Dahl is NOT directing PUNISHER 2". Colliddate=2007-06-11. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
  4. Quint (2007-05-15). "AICN Exclusive: Thomas Jane dropping out of Punisher 2?!? - Ain't It Cool News: The best in movie, TV, DVD, and comic book news". Ain't It Cool News. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
  5. "Punisher Will Enter War Zone 3 Months Later". Superhero Hype!. 2008-04-03. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
  6. Michael Fleming (2007-08-01). "'Punisher' gets Lionsgate overhaul". Variety. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
  7. "Thomas Jane Pull out of Punisher 2". SuperHeroHype.com. 2007-05-15.
  8. "AICN Exclusive: Thomas Jane dropping out of PUNISHER 2?!?". aintitcool.com. May 15, 2007.
  9. The Punisher: War Zone Synopsis - Superhero Hype!
  10. 1 2 IGN Punisher: War Zone Trailer, Videos and Movies
  11. "ANIME NEWS: Madhouse and Marvel join hands again to produce new 'Iron Man' anime feature". Asahi Shimbun. December 25, 2012. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  12. "'Avengers Confidential' Offers Black Widow Some Time in the Spotlight". The Hollywood Reporter. January 21, 2014. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  13. McMillan, Graeme (January 21, 2014). "'Avengers Confidential' Offers Black Widow Some Time in the Spotlight". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  14. "Comic-Con: Thomas Jane Unveiled a New PUNISHER Short Film with Special Guest Ron Perlman!". Collider.com. July 14, 2012. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  15. "Watch DIRTY LAUNDRY, the PUNISHER Short Film Thomas Jane Brought to Comic-Con; Plus 10 Images and a New PUNISHER Logo". Collider.com. July 16, 2012. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  16. "The Punisher(1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
  17. "The Punisher(1989)". Metacritic. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
  18. "The Punisher(2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
  19. "The Punisher(2004)". Metacritic. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
  20. Punisher: War Zone - Rotten Tomatoes
  21. Punisher: War Zone - Metacritic
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