An opening voiceover announces that this is the story of "how I almost died".
Philadelphia Police Detective John Hobbes visits serial killer Edgar Reese, whom he helped capture, on death row. Reese grabs Hobbes' hand and says something in an unknown language, later identified as Aramaic. As he is executed in the gas chamber, Reese sings "Time is on My Side" by the Rolling Stones.
Hobbes and his partner Jonesy investigate a string of murders by an apparent copycat killer. Hobbes, through hints given initially by Reese, and later by the apparent copycat killer, tracks down a woman named Gretta Milano. Gretta explains that her father, a former detective, killed himself after being accused of a series of demonic-themed murders similar to the current ones. Hobbes goes to the Milano family's lake-house, and finds books concerning demonic possession. He also discovers the name "Azazel" written on a wall.
When Hobbes mentions the name to Gretta, she gravely advises him to drop the case to protect his life and family. However, she reconsiders after a terrifying encounter with a man on the street. Gretta explains to Hobbes that Azazel is a fallen angel with the power to possess human beings by touch. Hobbes realises that Azazel, while possessing Edgar Reese, touched Hobbes before the execution, but was not able to possess him. Gretta explains that the demon will try to ruin his life by another way, and warns him of the inevitability of Azazel's victory. Azazel finds Hobbes at his precinct and taunts him while jumping from body to body, singing "Time is on My Side." Hobbes counters that he knows of Azazel's true identity, to which the demon responds, "Beware my wrath", and disappears.
To provoke Hobbes, Azazel possesses his nephew Sam and attacks John's intellectually disabled brother Art in their home. He flees into other people on the street, ending up in a schoolteacher. As the teacher, Azazel draws a gun and forces Hobbes to shoot his host in front of a group of bystanders. Azazel boasts to Hobbes that even if his current host body is killed, he can transfer to any new host body in the surrounding area, without even needing to touch them.
Lieutenant Stanton informs Hobbes that his fingerprints were found at one of the murder scenes and along with the bizarre circumstances of the shooting of the teacher Azazel possessed, he has become a suspect for all the murders. Azazel inhabits several of the witnesses and gives false accounts that the shooting was unprovoked, throwing further suspicion on Hobbes. He also comes into his home and murders his brother, whilst also marking Sam. Hobbes then takes his nephew to Gretta's house, to keep him safe. Gretta explains that, if forced out of a host body, Azazel can only travel in spirit form for as long as one breath can sustain him; if he does not possess another host in time, he will die permanently.
Hobbes goes to the Milano's cabin and calls Jonesy, knowing he will trace the call. Stanton and Jonesy show up to arrest Hobbes; however, Jonesy reveals himself to be possessed by Azazel and kills Stanton. Azazel prepares to shoot himself, which will allow him to possess Hobbes, the only other person for miles. Hobbes attacks Jonesy and in the ensuing struggle manages to shoot and mortally wound him. Hobbes explains that he has poisoned himself, which will leave Azazel without a host, before shooting and killing Jonesy. Azazel takes possession of Hobbes' body and frantically attempts to flee, but succumbs to the poison and dies. Hobbes, in voiceover, reminds the viewer this is the story of how he almost died, revealing that he is really Azazel. A cat, who has been possessed by Azazel, emerges from underneath the cabin and begins heading back to civilization.Denzel Washington as Detective John Hobbes
John Goodman as Detective Jonesy
Donald Sutherland as Lt. Stanton
Embeth Davidtz as Gretta Milano
James Gandolfini as Lou
Elias Koteas as Edgar Reese
Gabriel Casseus as Art Hobbes
Michael J. Pagan as Sam Hobbes
Robert Joy as Charles Olom
Fallen was released in 2,448 cinemas on 16 January 1998. It landed at #3 at the box office and made $10.4 million in its opening weekend. In its second weekend, it made $4.9 million. After being in cinemas for four weeks, the film made $23.3 million in the US and $981.2 thousand overseas for a total of $25.2 million.
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 40% of critics give the film a positive review based on 57 reviews. The site's consensus reads: "Has an interesting premise. Unfortunately, it's just a recycling of old materials, and not all that thrilling." Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it "A stylish if seriously far-fetched nightmare," but Variety wrote that "Washington has the almost impossible task of holding together a convoluted picture that's only intermittently suspenseful and not very engaging emotionally or intellectually." Roger Ebert gave the film a mixed review, writing "the idea is better than the execution, and by the end, the surprises become too mechanical and inevitable. The Chicago Reader praised Washington's performance, but referring to the film's continual use of The Rolling Stones song "Time Is on My Side", wrote, "The first half of this movie holds some promise, but time is not on its side."