With Stranger Things dominating viewership on Netflix these days, it should be no surprise that horror films on the streaming service are seeing increased popularity as well. That includes an almost-forgotten Stephen King movie that is celebrating the 15th anniversary of its original theatrical release this year: The Mist. The film, from director Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead) and starring Thomas Jane (The Punisher), has been in the Netflix top ten for the past week, reaching as high as number three overall, according to ranking information provided by FlixPatrol. It’s an impressive showing for a movie that was only a modest hit back in the day, but The Mist is an impressive film and has become a cult classic in the years since its release.
Based on a novella by Stephen King, The Mist tells the story of the inhabitants of a small town who are under siege from a mysterious mist that descends over them. Within the mist are unworldly creatures that kill anything they come into contact with. Movie poster artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son (Nathan Gamble) are trapped with many others inside the local supermarket when the mist arrives, leaving them with a choice to attempt to leave the market and escape the mist, or hunker down and hope the threat outside doesn’t find a way in.
The Mist earned a 72% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, who praised Darabont’s deft direction and the film’s truly shocking ending. Critics were also complimentary to Thomas Jane and his performance, as well as Marcia Gay Harden and Laurie Holden. The film also has a 62% rating from viewers on the website, although word-of-mouth after the film’s opening may have doomed its box office take. The downer ending (we won’t spoil it for you) did not sit well with many, so the film quickly disappeared from theaters. It grossed less than $9 million on its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, and about $26 million domestically, enough to make back its modest $18 million budget. Its $57 million worldwide box office take was solid but was barely enough to crack the top 100 films that year, coming in at #96. However, it found a second life on DVD and cable, and the appreciation for the film’s bold approach has only grown over time.
The film capped off an impressive 10-year-run for Thomas Jane. The Baltimore, Maryland native first got Hollywood’s attention in 1997 with his performance as Todd Parker in Paul Thomas Anderson’s critical hit Boogie Nights. He followed that up with a role in 1998’s The Thin Red Line and then as the lead in the 1999 hit Deep Blue Sea, a killer shark movie from director Renny Harlin that also starred Samuel L. Jackson. After that came 61* in 2001 playing Mickey Mantle, as well as Original Sin with Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas. In 2004 came perhaps his biggest hit in his career, playing Frank Castle in the Marvel Comics movie The Punisher, which pre-dated the Marvel Cinematic Universe created by Disney (Jon Bernthal would play the character for Netflix a decade later). Jane would go on to star in the Showtime series Hung and star in a variety of independent and major studio releases, most notably in the 2018 reboot of The Predator. Recently, however, there have been rumors that Jane would play the Punisher once again, this time for Marvel Studios and the MCU, although that has not been confirmed.
Although horror fans expect to see some shocking things in Stephen King films, The Mist gave them some truly horrific, lose-your-sleep imagery that still leaves viewers unsettled 15 years after its release. Perhaps no better compliment to the film came from Stephen King himself, who admitted that he was genuinely frightened by the film adaptation of his novella, an admission that director Frank Darabont took delight in. That’s pretty high praise coming from the master of horror, who rarely admits to being scared of horror films, although he did admit having to turn off The Blair Witch Project when he first saw it at home because it disturbed him too much. The Mist works as a horror film, however, because it is grounded in human emotion, most notably by Thomas Jane, playing a father trying to protect his son and left in a position to lead a group of terrified people through the ordeal. His performance, particularly in the film’s final five minutes, will likely haunt you for some time.