Spielberg began developing the film in the early 1980s with Walt Disney Productions and Paramount Pictures, which would have followed the story line seen in the 1924 silent film and 1953 animated film. It entered pre-production in 1985, but Spielberg abandoned the project. James V. Hart developed the script with director Nick Castle and TriStar Pictures before Spielberg decided to direct in 1989. It was shot almost entirely on sound stages at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. It received mixed reviews from critics, and while it was a commercial success, its box office take was lower than expected. It was nominated in five categories at the 64th Academy Awards. It also spawned merchandise, including video games, action figures, and comic book adaptations.
Peter Banning is a successful corporate lawyer living in San Francisco. As a workaholic, he spends little time with his wife, Moira, and children, 12-year-old Jack and 7-year-old Maggie, and even misses Jack's Little League Baseball game, which is straining his relationships with them. They fly to London to visit Moira's grandmother, Wendy Darling. Wendy is ostensibly the true creator of the Peter Pan stories, with J. M. Barrie, her childhood neighbor merely having transcribed the tales. During their stay, Peter angrily yells at the children while their playing disturbs his important call, leading to an audacious argument with Moira, who throws out his cellphone.
Peter, Moira and Wendy go out to a charity dinner honoring Wendy's long life of charitable service to orphans. Upon their return, they discover the house has been ransacked and the children have been abducted. A cryptic ransom note, signed Captain James Hook, has been pinned to the playroom door with a dagger. Wendy confesses to Peter that the stories of Peter Pan are true and that Peter himself is Pan, having lost all of his childhood memories when he fell in love with Moira. In disbelief, he gets drunk up in the playroom, but Tinker Bell appears and takes him to Neverland to rescue his children from Hook.
Hook and his pirates confront Peter but become depressed when they realize he does not remember his former life and identity. Tinker Bell makes a deal with Hook that Peter will regain his memories in three days for a climactic battle. He is reacquainted with the Mermaids and meets the new generation of Lost Boys, led by Rufio, who refuses to believe that he is the real Peter Pan. They help him train, and in the process he regains his imagination and lost youth. One of them, Thud Butt, gives him marbles that were left behind by Tootles, who is now an old man living with Wendy. Elsewhere, Smee talks Hook into manipulating Jack and Maggie into loving him to break Peter's will. While Maggie is not taken in, Jack comes to view Hook as a father figure.
Hook arranges a makeshift baseball game for Jack, which Peter watches as Hook treats Jack like his own son. Horrified, Peter runs off and tries to fly, but is led to the old treehouse of the Lost Boys by his own shadow. Tinker Bell helps him remember his childhood and how he fell in love with Moira, and he realizes his happy thought is being a father. He flies up into the sky, returning as Peter Pan, and Rufio surrenders his sword and leadership back to him. The child-minded Peter returns to Tinker Bell who grows human-sized and kisses him, reminding him of his reason for being in Neverland. On the third day, he and the Lost Boys attack the pirates as promised, leading to a lengthy battle. He rescues Maggie and promises to be a better father to both her and Jack. Rufio fights a duel with Hook but is mortally wounded and dies in Peter's arms.
Peter and Hook duel, leading to Peter's victory. Refusing to leave honorably, Hook attacks Peter one last time, but the stuffed crocodile, whom Hook once feared, springs to life and devours him. Peter gives his sword to Thud Butt, promoting him the new leader of the Lost Boys, and leaves Neverland for good. He awakens in Kensington Gardens, meeting a sweeper who bears a strong resemblance to Smee and bidding farewell to Tinker Bell, who confesses her unrequited love to him before vanishing. He climbs up the drain pipe of Wendy's house, reuniting and reconciling with his family and returning Tootles' marbles to him. Tootles discovers the bag contains pixie dust, and he flies out the window to visit Neverland. Wendy suggests that Peter's adventures are over, but he replies, "To live would be an awfully big adventure."
Spielberg found close personal connection to the Peter Pan story from his own childhood. The troubled relationship between Peter and Jack in the sequel echoed Spielberg's relationship with his own father. Previous Spielberg films that explored a dysfunctional father-son relationship included E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Peter's "quest for success" paralleled Spielberg starting out as a film director and transforming into a Hollywood business magnate. "I think a lot of people today are losing their imagination because they are work-driven. They are so self-involved with work and success and arriving at the next plateau that children and family almost become incidental. I have even experienced it myself when I have been on a very tough shoot and I've not seen my kids except on weekends. They ask for my time and I can't give it to them because I'm working." Like Peter at the beginning of the film, Spielberg has a fear of flying. He feels that Peter's "enduring quality" in the storyline is simply to fly. "Anytime anything flies, whether it's Superman, Batman, or E.T., it's got to be a tip of the hat to Peter Pan," Spielberg reflected in a 1992 interview. "Peter Pan was the first time I saw anybody fly. Before I saw Superman, before I saw Batman, and of course before I saw any superheroes, my first memory of anybody flying is in Peter Pan."
J. M. Barrie considered writing a story in which Peter Pan grew up; his 1920 notes for the latest stage revival of Peter Pan included possible titles for another play: The Man Who Couldn't Grow Up or The Old Age of Peter Pan. The genesis of the film started when Spielberg's mother often read him Peter and Wendy as a bedtime story. He explained in 1985, "When I was eleven years old I actually directed the story during a school production. I have always felt like Peter Pan. I still feel like Peter Pan. It has been very hard for me to grow up, I'm a victim of the Peter Pan syndrome."
In the early 1980s, Spielberg began to develop a film with Walt Disney Pictures that would have closely followed the storyline of the 1924 silent film and 1953 animated film. He also considered directing it as a musical with Michael Jackson in the lead. He expressed interest in the part, but was not interested in Spielberg's vision of an adult Peter Pan who had forgotten about his past. The project was taken to Paramount Pictures, where James V. Hart wrote the first script with Dustin Hoffman already cast as Captain Hook. It entered pre-production in 1985 for filming to begin at sound stages in England. Elliot Scott had been hired as production designer. With the birth of his first son, Max, in 1985, Spielberg decided to drop out. "I decided not to make Peter Pan when I had my first child," Spielberg commented. "I didn't want to go to London and have seven kids on wires in front of blue screens. I wanted to be home as a dad." Around this time, he considered directing Big, which carried similar motifs and themes with it. In 1987, he "permanently abandoned" it, feeling he expressed his childhood and adult themes in Empire of the Sun.
Meanwhile, Paramount and Hart moved forward on production with Nick Castle as director. Hart began to work on a new storyline when his son, Jake, showed his family a drawing. "We asked Jake what it was and he said it was a crocodile eating Captain Hook, but that the crocodile really didn't eat him, he got away," Hart reflected. "As it happens, I had been trying to crack Peter Pan for years, but I didn't just want to do a remake. So I went, 'Wow. Hook is not dead. The crocodile is. We've all been fooled'. In 1986 our family was having dinner and Jake said, 'Daddy, did Peter Pan ever grow up?' My immediate response was, 'No, of course not'. And Jake said, 'But what if he did?' I realized that Peter did grow up, just like all of us baby boomers who are now in our forties. I patterned him after several of my friends on Wall Street, where the pirates wear three-piece suits and ride in limos."
By 1989, Ian Rathbone changed the title to Hook, and took it from Paramount to TriStar Pictures, headed by Mike Medavoy, who was Spielberg's first talent agent. Robin Williams signed on, but he and Hoffman had creative differences with Castle. Medavoy saw the film as a vehicle for Spielberg and Castle was dismissed, but paid a $500,000 settlement. Dodi Fayed, who owned certain rights to make a Peter Pan film, sold his interest to TriStar in exchange for an executive producer credit. Spielberg briefly worked together with Hart to rewrite the script before hiring Malia Scotch Marmo to rewrite Captain Hook's dialog and Carrie Fisher for Tinker Bell's. The Writers Guild of America gave Hart and Marmo screenplay credit, while Hart and Castle were credited with the story. Fisher went uncredited. Filming began on February 19, 1991, occupying nine sound stages at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. Stage 30 housed the Neverland Lost Boys playground, while Stage 10 supplied Captain Hook's ship cabin. Hidden hydraulics were installed to rock the setpiece to simulate a swaying ship, but the filmmakers found the movement distracted the dialogue, so the idea was dropped.
Stage 27 housed the full-sized Jolly Roger and the surrounding Pirate Wharf. Industrial Light & Magic provided the visual effects sequences. This marked the beginning of Tony Swatton's career, as he was asked to make weaponry for the film. It was financed by Amblin Entertainment and TriStar Pictures, with TriStar distributing it. Spielberg brought on John Napier as a "visual consultant", having been impressed with his work on Cats. The original production budget was set at $48 million, but ended up between $60–80 million. The primary reason for the increased budget was the shooting schedule, which ran 40 days over its original 76-day schedule. Spielberg explained, "It was all my fault. I began to work at a slower pace than I usually do."
Spielberg's on-set relationship with Julia Roberts was troubled, and he later admitted in an interview with 60 Minutes, "It was an unfortunate time for us to work together." In a 1999 Vanity Fair interview, Roberts said that Spielberg's comments “really hurt my feelings.” She “couldn’t believe this person that I knew and trusted was actually hesitating to come to my defense . . . it was the first time that I felt I had a turncoat in my midst.”
The film score was composed and conducted by John Williams. He was brought in at an early stage when Spielberg was considering making the film as a musical. Accordingly, he wrote around eight songs for the project at this stage. The idea was later abandoned. Most of his song ideas were incorporated into the instrumental score, though two songs survive as songs in the finished film: "We Don't Wanna Grow Up" and "When You're Alone", both with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.
The original 1991 issue was released by Epic Records. In 2012, a limited edition of the soundtrack, called Hook: Expanded Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, was released by La-La Land Records and Sony Music. It contains almost the complete score with alternates and unused material. It also contains liner notes that explain the film's production and score recording.Commercial songs from film, but not on soundtrack
"Pick'em Up" – Music by John Williams and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" – Written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer
A video game based on the film and bearing the same name was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991. The game was released for additional game consoles in 1992.
Spielberg, Williams, and Hoffman did not take salaries for the film. Their deal called for them to split 40% of TriStar Pictures' gross revenues. They were to receive $20 million from the first $50 million in gross theatrical film rentals, with TriStar keeping the next $70 million in rentals before the three resumed receiving their percentage. The film was released in North America on December 11, 1991, earning $13,522,535 in its opening weekend. It went on to gross $119,654,823 in North America and $181,200,000 in foreign countries, accumulating a worldwide total of $300,854,823. It is the sixth-highest-grossing "pirate-themed" film, behind all five films in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. In North America totals, it was the sixth-highest-grossing film in 1991, and fourth-highest-grossing worldwide. It ended up making a profit of $50 million for the studio, yet it was still declared a financial disappointment, having been overshadowed by the release of Disney's Beauty and the Beast and a decline in box-office receipts compared to the previous years.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 29% of critics have given the film a positive review, based on 41 reviews, certifying it "Rotten", with an average rating of 4.4/10. The site's consensus states: "The look of Hook is lively indeed but Steven Spielberg directs on autopilot here, giving in too quickly to his sentimental, syrupy qualities." On Metacritic, the film has a 52 out of 100 rating, based on 19 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated that "The sad thing about the screenplay for Hook is that it’s so correctly titled: This whole construction is really nothing more than a hook on which to hang a new version of the Peter Pan story. No effort is made to involve Peter’s magic in the changed world he now inhabits, and little thought has been given to Captain Hook’s extraordinary persistence in wanting to revisit the events of the past. The failure in Hook was its inability to re-imagine the material, to find something new, fresh or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth. Lacking that, Spielberg should simply have remade the original story, straight, for the '90s generation." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine felt it would "only appeal to the baby boomer generation" and highly criticized the sword-fighting choreography. Vincent Canby of The New York Times felt the story structure was not well balanced, feeling Spielberg depended too much on art direction. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post was one of few who gave it a positive review. Hinson elaborated on crucial themes of children, adulthood, and loss of innocence. However, he observed that Spielberg "was stuck too much in a theme park world". Perry Seibert of allmovie gave the film his very low star rating, and described it as the worst film in Steven Spielberg's Career.
The film was nominated for five categories at the 64th Academy Awards. This included Best Production Design (Norman Garwood, Garrett Lewis) (lost to Bugsy), Best Costume Design (lost to Bugsy), Best Visual Effects (lost to Terminator 2: Judgment Day), Best Makeup (lost to Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Best Original Song ("When You're Alone", lost to Beauty and the Beast). It lost the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film to Aladdin, in which Williams co-starred, while cinematographer Dean Cundey was nominated for his work by the American Society of Cinematographers. Hoffman was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (lost to Williams for The Fisher King). John Williams was given a Grammy Award nomination for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media; Julia Roberts received a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress (lost to Sean Young as the dead twin in A Kiss Before Dying).
In 2011, Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly: "There are parts of Hook I love. I'm really proud of my work right up through Peter being hauled off in the parachute out the window, heading for Neverland. I'm a little less proud of the Neverland sequences, because I'm uncomfortable with that highly stylized world that today, of course, I would probably have done with live-action character work inside a completely digital set. But we didn't have the technology to do it then, and my imagination only went as far as building physical sets and trying to paint trees blue and red." Spielberg gave a more blunt assessment in a 2013 interview on Kermode & Mayo's Film Review Show: "I wanna see Hook again because I so don't like that movie, and I'm hoping someday I'll see it again and perhaps like some of it."