The film was released on November 27, 2013. It was the last film to be distributed by FilmDistrict, before Focus Features absorbed the company in October 2013. It received a mixed reception from both critics and audiences, with praise towards the acting and visual style, but criticism for the comparisons to the original and adding nothing new to the film. The film was a box office bomb, being one of Lee's worst-performing films of his directing career.
In 1993, alcoholic advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) becomes intoxicated and before passing out, sees a woman with a yellow umbrella. When he wakes, he finds himself locked within a hotel room. His unseen captors provide him with food and hygiene items, but do not explain why he is captive. Joe sees a news report that says his ex-wife Donna was raped and murdered and he is the prime suspect, while their infant daughter Mia was adopted.
Over the next twenty years, Joe works himself into shape, compiles a list of all those who would want to imprison him, and writes letters to eventually give to Mia. One day, he sees an interview with Mia, who says she would forgive her father if she ever saw him.
Joe is drugged shortly thereafter, and wakes to find himself outside with a cell phone and a small amount of money. He spots the woman with the yellow umbrella and gives chase, but ends up running into Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olsen), a nurse that offers to help. He refuses but takes her business card. Joe goes to his friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli) and explains what has transpired. While there, Joe gets a call on his cell phone from a man calling himself the Stranger (Sharlto Copley), mocking him. Joe spends a great deal of effort to determine if any of the men on his list are the Stranger, but they all prove to be innocent. Joe collapses from dehydration, and Chucky calls Marie to help. While he recovers, Marie is taken emotionally by Joe's letters to Mia, and offers to help him further. She is able to help identify a Chinese restaurant that Joe's food came from while imprisoned.
Joe follows a delivery from the restaurant to a warehouse where he was imprisoned, and meets Chaney (Samuel L. Jackson), its owner. Joe tortures Chaney into confessing that the Stranger arranged for his imprisonment. On return to Chucky's bar, Joe finds the Stranger there with the woman with the yellow umbrella, his bodyguard Haeng-Bok. The Stranger says they have kidnapped Mia, but if Joe can determine his identity in 46 hours, he'll let Mia free, give Joe $20 million in diamonds and proof of his innocence in Donna's murder, and the Stranger will even commit suicide.
Joe learns that Chaney and his men are seeking revenge by attacking Marie, and he races there, only to be captured by Chaney. Just as Chaney is about to beat him savagely, the Stranger calls Chaney and offers to pay him for Joe's release, and Chaney lets them go. Marie recognizes the ringtone from the Stranger as the theme song to Evergreen Academy, where Joe attended. At the school, they look through yearbooks; Joe recognizes one student, Adrian Doyle Pryce, and recalls tormenting his sister, Amanda, for her promiscuity, which led to rumors that their father, Arthur, had incestuous relations with them both. As a result, Arthur moved them to Luxembourg, but later murdered his wife and Amanda and committed suicide. Joe calls Chucky with the name, and Chucky confirms Joe's guess that the Stranger is Adrian. Adrian, who has cloned Joe's phone, overhears the conversation, and enraged by Chucky's contempt of him, kills Chucky before Joe can arrive. Joe hides Marie in a hotel for her safety, and they end up having passionate sex, unaware Adrian is watching through hidden cameras.
Joe goes to Adrian's penthouse, defeats Haeng-Bok, and confronts Adrian. Adrian congratulates him, giving him the diamonds and escorting him to where Mia is. However, Adrian asks Joe to think why he had let Joe go in the first place, and shows that the interview with Mia was all a set-up, and "Mia" was a paid actress. Adrian shows Joe that Marie is really his daughter, and had engineered events to this point to make Joe feel what it is like to lose everything. Adrian then fulfills his promise and commits suicide. Shaken, Joe writes Marie a letter saying they can never see each other again, and leaves her most of the diamonds, using the rest to pay Chaney to return him to the captivity of the hotel room.
An American remake of Oldboy previously had director Justin Lin attached. In November 2008, DreamWorks and Universal were securing the rights to the remake, which Will Smith had expressed interest in starring, with Steven Spielberg as director. Mark Protosevich was in talks to write the script, although the acquisition to the remake rights were not finalized. Smith later clarified that Spielberg would not be remaking the film: he would be adapting the manga itself, which is considerably different from the film. In June 2009, the comic's publisher launched a lawsuit against the Korean film's producers for giving the film rights to Spielberg without their permission. Later in November 2009, it was reported that DreamWorks, Spielberg and Smith had stepped back from the project. The producing team announced on 10 November 2009 that the project was dead.
On July 11, 2011, Mandate Pictures sent a press release stating that Spike Lee would direct a remake of the South Korean film (ignoring the earlier version's adaptation of the manga) with a screenplay written by Protosevich. Josh Brolin was cast to star in the remake as the lead character, while Christian Bale was reportedly in talks to portray the antagonist character, but it was later reported that Colin Firth had been offered the role. Firth later passed on the role, which was later offered to Clive Owen. In May 2012, Deadline reported that Sharlto Copley had officially been cast as the villain Adrian Pryce. Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson and Nate Parker were all later announced to have joined the cast. Parker was later replaced by James Ransone, due to a scheduling conflict. The film marked Jackson's first time working with director Lee since 1991's Jungle Fever.
Principal photography began in October 2012.
Spike Lee's version was 140 minutes long, but the producers heavily re-edited the film to 105 minutes (re-edits by producers also included the 'one-shot hammer' scene); Lee and Josh Brolin were unhappy with it. Lee even removed his trademark “Spike Lee Joint” for a more impersonal “Spike Lee Film” during the editing process. Brolin has also said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he prefers Lee's version of the film, though it is not clear if this cut will ever be released.
Oldboy received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 41%, based on 138 reviews, with the critical consensus reading, "Suitably grim and bloody yet disappointingly safe and shallow, Spike Lee's Oldboy remake neither surpasses the original nor adds anything new to its impressive legacy." On Metacritic, the film holds a 49 score out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
As of June 4, 2017, it has received a vote of 5.8 out of 10 at the Internet Movie Database, based on 54,813 votes.
Justin Chang of Variety said that "Lee and Protosevich have made a picture that, although several shades edgier than the average Hollywood thriller, feels content to shadow its predecessor’s every move while falling short of its unhinged, balls-out delirium."
Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com gives three of four stars, saying: "Because the Internet moves with the speed and ferocity of a hornet swarm, there's a chance that by the time you read this, Spike Lee's American remake of "Oldboy" will already have been stung to death. If so, too bad. This American version of Park Chan-Wook's Korean thriller is Lee's most exciting movie since "Inside Man"—not a masterpiece by any stretch, but a lively commercial genre picture with a hypnotic, obsessive quality, and an utter indifference to being liked, much less approved of."
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, in a one and a half star review noted that "The revenge in Oldboy is neither sweet nor sour; it's just drab.
Eric Kohn, in a largely positive review at Indiewire said: "It's been so long since Lee made such a thoroughly amusing work that fans should have no problem excusing its messiness. But make no mistake... Oldboy is all over the place, sometimes playing like a subdued melodrama and elsewhere erupting into flamboyance and gore."
The film grossed $885,000 in its first five days, one of the weakest Thanksgiving openings of all time, according to Variety. It opened in 18th place at the box office and finished with a worldwide gross of $4.9 million, against its $30 million budget, making it a box office bomb.
The film's advertising agency was also accused of taking advantage of the creative artist Juan Luis Garcia, who created posters for the film. According to an open letter posted by Garcia on his official website, the agency was asking him to work for too low of an offer, saying that the "exposure" would be more important. Garcia claimed the posters were used and imitated for promotion of the film without paying compensation or credit to the artist. Spike Lee responded on his Twitter account saying: "I Never Heard Of This Guy Juan Luis Garcia, If He Has A Beef It's Not With Me. I Did Not Hire Him, Do Not Know Him. Cheap Trick Writing To Me. YO". He also addressed this further on Instagram, "Why Should I Pay Someone Who I Never Met Nor Had Any Contact With Ever? He Never Made Any Deal With Me. Why Don’t You Pay Me For Your Stupid Text On Thanksgiving Day?". The issue was eventually settled. Garcia replaced the letter on his website with a message saying "A big Thank You to everyone who contacted me regarding the Oldboy posters. Spike Lee, Art Sims, and I have settled our differences and can put it behind us."