Billionaire media mogul Bill Parrish is considering a merger between his company and another media giant, and is about to celebrate his 65th birthday with an elaborate party planned by his eldest daughter, Allison. He begins to hear mysterious voices, which he tries with increasing difficulty to ignore. His youngest daughter, Susan, a resident in internal medicine, is in a relationship with one of Bill's board members, Drew. She is considering marriage, but Bill can tell she's not passionately in love. When she asks for the short version of his impassioned speech, he simply says, "Stay open. Who knows? Lightning could strike!"
Susan meets a vibrant young man at a coffee shop. She is instantly enamored but fails to even get his name. Minutes after their encounter (but unbeknownst to her), the man is struck by multiple cars in what appears to be a fatal motor vehicle accident. Death arrives at Bill's home in the uninjured body of the young man, explaining that Bill's impassioned speech has piqued his interest. Given Bill's "competence, experience, and wisdom", Death says that for as long as Bill will be his guide on Earth, Bill will not have to die. Making up a name on the spot, Death is introduced to the family as "Joe Black".
Bill's best efforts to navigate the next few days, knowing them now to be his last, fail to keep events from going rapidly out of his control. Drew is secretly conspiring with a man bidding for Parrish Communications. He capitalizes on Bill's strange behavior and unexplained reliance on Joe to convince the board of directors to vote Bill out as Chairman, using information given to him inadvertently by Bill's son-in-law, Quince, to push through approval for the merger which Bill had decided to oppose. Quince is devastated.
Susan is confused by the appearance of Joe, believing him to be the young man from the coffee shop, but eventually falls deeply in love with him. Joe is now under the influence of human desires and becomes attracted to her as well. After they make love, Joe asks Susan, "What do we do now?" She replies, "It'll come to us." Bill angrily confronts him about his relationship with his daughter, but Joe declares his intention to take Susan with him for his own.
As his last birthday arrives, Bill appeals to Joe to recognize the meaning of true love and all it encompasses, especially honesty and sacrifice. Joe comes to understand that he must set aside his own desire and allow Susan to live her life. He also helps Bill regain control of his company, exposing Drew's underhanded business dealings to the board by claiming to be an agent of the Internal Revenue Service and threatening to put Drew in jail.
The party is in full swing, with jazz music, cake and speech by Bill. He makes his peace with his daughters. Susan tells Joe that she has loved him ever since that day in the coffee shop.
Joe realises that Susan loves the unknown man, not him, and the realization crushes him slightly. Even mastering his emotions powerfully he balks at telling Susan who he really is, although she seems to intuit his true identity. Struggling to comprehend the enormity of the situation, Susan cannot label Joe as Death. She says finally, "You're . . . you're Joe". He promises her "you will always have what you found in the coffee shop." On a hillock in the grounds above the party in full swing below, Bill expresses trepidation: "Should I be afraid?" Joe replies "Not a man like you", showing his respect for Bill. Fireworks begin to pop in the distance; Susan watches Joe and her father walk out of view.
She is stunned as "Joe" reappears alone, bewildered, this time as the young man from the coffee shop. He is uninjured and cannot account for how he got there. Susan accepts that her father is gone, and rekindles the romantic spark she had shared with the young man. "What do we do now?" she asks. "It'll come to us," Joe replies, as the two of them descend towards the twinkling lights of the party.Brad Pitt as Joe Black / Young Man in Coffee Shop
Anthony Hopkins as Bill Parrish
Claire Forlani as Dr. Susan Parrish
Jake Weber as Drew
Marcia Gay Harden as Allison Parrish
Jeffrey Tambor as Quince, Allison's husband
Lois Kelly-Miller as Jamaican Woman
David S. Howard as Eddie Sloane
June Squibb as Helen
Stephen Adly Guirgis as Hospital Receptionist
Most of William Parrish's country mansion scenes were shot at the Aldrich Mansion in Rhode Island. The penthouse interiors and Parrish Communications offices were sets built at the 14th Regiment Armory in the South Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.
The place where Susan and the Young Man from the Coffee Shop first meet is Broadway Restaurant, at 2664 Broadway and West 101st Street, Manhattan.
Meet Joe Black opened on November 13, 1998, and grossed $15,017,995 domestically upon its opening weekend (11/13-15) at #3, behind The Waterboy's second weekend and the opening of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.
While the film had a disappointing domestic box office return of $44,619,100, it fared much better overseas. Taking in an additional $98,321,000, the movie grossed a worldwide total of $142,940,100.
As Meet Joe Black was one of the few films showing the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, it was reported that droves of Star Wars fans bought tickets for the film, only to leave after the trailer showed.
Meet Joe Black received mixed reviews from critics, with most complimenting the performances but criticizing the film's three hour length, the slow pacing and the screenplay. Roger Ebert gave it three stars, but disliked the peripheral story lines and overly drawn-out ending. He concluded that despite its flaws, "there's so much that's fine in this movie". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded it Four Stars, but thought that most of the characters were one-dimensional. Anthony Hopkins received uniform praise for his performance, with Travers opining that Hopkins' Bill Parrish was the only fully realized character in the film; Mick LaSalle commented that "Hopkins' acting is so emotionally full that the tiniest moments...ring with complexities of thought and feeling." Brad Pitt, on the other hand, received a mixed response, with LaSalle calling the performance so bad "it hurts" and Berardinelli calling it "execrable".
The film has a 51% "Rotten" response from Rotten Tomatoes, with the site's consensus calling the film "Glacially slow, [and] uneventful." It earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Remake or Sequel.
A two-hour version was made to show on television and airline flights, by cutting most of the plotline involving Bill Parrish's business. As Brest derided this edit of his film and disowned it, the director's credit was changed to the Hollywood pseudonym Alan Smithee.