Principal photography on the film began in 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was released in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D in 2015. Despite the film grossing nearly $245 million worldwide, it was met with negative reviews from critics and audiences alike.
At a video-game arcade in 1982 with his friend Will Cooper, 13-year-old Sam Brenner discovers he can master the games by spotting patterns. Participating in a video-game championship, he loses in a match with obnoxious arcade player Eddie Plant in Donkey Kong. A videocassette with footage of the event is included in a time capsule that is launched into space.
33 years later, Brenner has become an installer of home-theater systems while Cooper is the President of the United States. In Guam, a U.S. military base is attacked by UFOs of Galaga that turn pieces of the base into small glowing cubes and one of the soldiers is abducted.
While working at the home of divorcée Violet Van Patten and her son Matty, Brenner is summoned to the White House. To his surprise, he finds Violet is also headed there as a lieutenant colonel. Upon seeing the video footage and meeting with Ludlow "The Wonder Kid" Lamonsoff, a friend he made at the video game tournament, Brenner determines the aliens have found the videocassette images to be a declaration of war and are attacking with a spacecraft resembling those of their classic video games. This is affirmed when the aliens interrupt a television broadcast, challenging Earth to a battle where if the aliens win three rounds, they will conquer the Earth. Brenner and Cooper are unable to stop one of the attacks as Arkanoid paddles sling balls of light to destroy the Taj Mahal, and another person is abducted.
Brenner and Ludlow train Navy SEALs to play the old games. Violet develops light cannons that are effective against the aliens. In London, the aliens attack in the form of the video game Centipede, but as the soldiers are unable to beat them (as they forgot to shoot at the heads), Brenner and Ludlow step in and shoot them down. Following the victory, the aliens send congratulations and a "trophy" in the form of the dog from Duck Hunt to an old woman (who appeared earlier at the London attack).
Ludlow and Cooper retrieve Eddie, who had been serving a prison sentence for fraud. In New York City, the team discovers it must participate as the ghosts against Pac-Man. Toru Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man, flees after his hand is bitten off by him. Using Mini Cooper cars, Brenner, Ludlow, and Eddie overcome the task, but Violet notices that something about Eddie is off, as he moved at supersonic speeds around the board. They win Q*Bert as a trophy, but the aliens (as Hall & Oates) later declare that someone cheated and the contest for the planet has been forfeited. Matty discovers Eddie used a speed cheat, thus revealing that he is the one that cheated. When the aliens' mother ship suddenly appears, Eddie flees from it, but Matty is abducted by the aliens.
As revenge for Earth cheating, the aliens launch a massive attack using characters from all sorts of classic video games on Washington, D.C. Cooper joins the team, while Ludlow stays to fight. An alien takes the form of Lady Lisa, a character on whom Ludlow had a crush since childhood. Ludlow persuades Lady Lisa to choose love, and she sides with the humans; Eddie, wishing to make amends, returns to fight as well. Brenner, Violet and Cooper are summoned to the mother ship where they face the alien leader who takes the form of Donkey Kong on the game's starting level with the aliens' captives at the top. As the group dodges barrels and fireballs, Brenner feels depressed and loses hope, until Matty reveals to him that Eddie was cheating, restoring his confidence, and Brenner eventually throws a hammer to defeat Donkey Kong. The aliens' characters then self-destruct.
The team is hailed as heroes and a peace agreement is reached with the aliens. Eddie apologizes to Brenner for cheating in his life. Although Ludlow is saddened that Lady Lisa is gone, Q*Bert transforms its likeness to Lady Lisa. Brenner and Violet become a couple, while Eddie gets to meet Serena Williams and Martha Stewart. A year later, Lady Lisa and Ludlow are married and have Q*Bert children.Adam Sandler as Sam BrennerAnthony Ippolito as 13-year-old Sam Brenner
Kevin James as U.S. President Will CooperJared Riley as 13-year-old Will Cooper
Michelle Monaghan as Lieutenant Colonel Violet van Patten
Peter Dinklage as Eddie PlantAndrew Bambridge as 13-year-old Eddie Plant
Josh Gad as Ludlow LamonsoffJacob Shinder as 8-year-old Ludlow Lamonsoff
Brian Cox as Admiral James Porter
Sean Bean as Corporal Hill (SAS Officer)
Jane Krakowski as First Lady Jane Cooper
Affion Crockett as Sergeant Dylan Cohan
Ashley Benson as Lady Lisa
Matt Lintz as Matty
Lainie Kazan as Mickey Lamonsoff
Dan Aykroyd plays the emcee of the 1982 video game championships. Nick Swardson plays an NYPD Pac-Man victim. Dan Patrick, Robert Smigel, and Steve Koren play White House reporters. Celebrities Serena Williams, Martha Stewart, Ricardo Montalbán, Madonna, Daryl Hall and John Oates have cameo roles as themselves. Matt Frewer reprises his role as Max Headroom, a part he made famous during the 1980s. Steve Wiebe, a previous Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. World Record holder, plays a military scientist. Denis Akiyama portrays Professor Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man, while the real Iwatani has an uncredited cameo role as an arcade repairman. Fiona Shaw plays the British Prime Minister. Carlos Alazraqui as the uncredited voice of Q*bert.
The character Eddie Plant's physical appearance and personality is styled after real-life Pac-Man and Donkey Kong champion Billy Mitchell.
Director Tom McCarthy played Michael the Robot, while screenwriter Tim Herlihy played a Defense Secretary. Sandler's wife Jackie played President's Assistant Jennifer, while their children appear elsewhere in the film: Sadie plays Cooper's sister at the lemonade stand, and Sunny plays a Sweet Scout Girl. Jared, Sandler's nephew, plays a White House Junior Aide, Producer Allen Covert plays an abusive citizen, while his kids Hannah and Abigail plays an Arcader Choir Girl and another Classroom Scout Girl. Kevin James's children Sienna and Shea Joelle play other Classroom Scout Girls.
The film is a feature-length adaptation of Patrick Jean's video-game themed short film, Pixels. Adam Sandler hired Tim Herlihy to write the film, a draft that Herlihy had said that everybody at the studio "hated". Eventually he and Sandler came up with the concept of having Kevin James be the President of the United States and rewrote the film incorporating this element. In July 2012, Tim Dowling was hired to re-write the film. Seth Gordon was attached to executive produce and possibly direct the film. Chris Columbus became involved in the project in May 2013. Columbus said he first met Sandler to discuss a possible remake of Hello Ghost, and as he left the meeting, the director was handed a script for Pixels. The script affected Columbus, who considered it "one of the most original ideas I had seen since the Amblin days" and a good opportunity to harken back to the 1980s comedies he worked in. Characters from classic arcade games such as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Frogger, Galaga and Donkey Kong, among several others, were licensed for use in the film.
There were originally plans to include a scene where the Great Wall of China is damaged, but the concept was removed from the script in hopes to improve the film's chances in the Chinese market.
On February 26, 2014, it was announced that Adam Sandler would play the lead role in the film, while Kevin James and Josh Gad were in early talks to join the cast. On March 28, Peter Dinklage was also in final talks to join the film, playing the fourth and final male lead. Jennifer Aniston was originally considered for the female lead, but declined because of scheduling conflicts. On April 4, Michelle Monaghan joined the film to star as the female lead. James plays the U.S. president, who teams up with Sandler's character, a former champion, to save the planet. Gad plays a conspiracy-theory-obsessed genius with bad social skills, Dinklage is Sandler's character's brash former video game-playing nemesis, and Monaghan plays a weapons developer for the military and a love interest for Sandler. On June 11, Brian Cox joined the cast, and plays military heavyweight Admiral Porter. The part of "Lady Lisa", a beautiful warrior from the fictional 1980s video game Dojo Quest, was offered to Elisha Cuthbert, but she turned down the role, which went to Ashley Benson. On July 9, Jane Krakowski joined the cast as the First Lady.
In a May 2015 interview commemorating Pac-Man's 35th anniversary, former Pac-Man champion and leading expert Billy Mitchell, after whom Dinklage's character is modeled, was asked his opinion about Dinklage's performance. While acknowledging that the character was indeed based on him, Mitchell responded that he thought of Dinklage as a "good guy" and somebody he "could look up to", but also added that he got "picked on it a lot", as people would tell him he "got beat up by a little guy, finally".
On March 25, 2014, the Ontario Media Development Corporation confirmed that the film would be shot in Toronto from May 28 to September 9 at Pinewood Toronto Studios. Principal photography on the film commenced in Toronto, Ontario on June 2, 2014, using downtown streets decorated to resemble New York City. Given sequences such as the Pac-Man chase happened at night, often the filmmakers would close the streets off from traffic at 7 PM, and redecorate to resemble New York until it was dark enough, filming from 9:30 PM up to 5:30 AM. On July 29, filming was taking place outside of Markham, Ontario. Filming was also done in the Rouge Park area, and extras were dressing in costume at Markham's Rouge Valley Mennonite Church. On August 4, actors Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage and Ashley Benson were spotted in Toronto filming scenes for the film on Bay Street, which was transformed into a city block in Washington, D.C., and littered with wrecked vehicles and giant holes in the pavement. The Ontario Government Buildings was doubled to transform into a federal office building in Washington. Actors were aiming at aliens, which could not be seen, but were added later with CGI.
On August 26, 2014, filming took place in Cobourg. Filming was completed in three months, with 12 hours of shooting a day.
Most of the visual effects for Pixels were handled by Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks, with nine other VFX companies playing supporting roles, all under the leadership of supervisor Matthew Butler and producer Denise Davis. Early tests began on October 2013, with the majority of the effects work starting after principal photography wrapped in September 2014, and finishing by June 2015. The video game characters would be built out of boxy voxels to resemble the low resolution pixel-based arcades, while also emitting light and having raster scan defects in its animation to appear more like they came from a CRT monitor. Along with the actual sprite sheets, a major inspiration to build the 3D versions was the cabinet art, where Imageworks visual effects supervisor Daniel Kramer considered that "was the intention the game creators wanted their technology to be, but the technology couldn't live up to creating that." The most complex characters to model were Q*Bert, which interacted the most with humans and had the problem of looking round despite being built out of cubes, and Donkey Kong, who the animators wanted to make sure remained recognizable even in different angles.
The musical score was composed by Henry Jackman, who also worked as composer for the 2012 3D Disney computer-animated feature film Wreck-It Ralph. In June 2015, American rapper Waka Flocka Flame released a single entitled "Game On", featuring Good Charlotte, which serves as part of the film's soundtrack. The Queen song "We Will Rock You" was also remade to fit into the film's Donkey Kong scenes.
The film was originally scheduled to be released on May 15, 2015, but on August 12, 2014, the release date was changed to July 24, 2015. In the United States and Canada, it was released in the Dolby Vision format in Dolby Cinema, which is the first ever for Sony. It was released in China on September 15, 2015.
The first trailer was released on March 19, 2015 and received 34.3 million global views in 24 hours, breaking Sony's previous record held by The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (22 million views in 2014). The second trailer was released on June 13, 2015. Upon release of the trailer, fans of the TV series Futurama noted similarities between a 2002 episode of the show and the trailer. Fans said the events and characters in the episode, "Anthology of Interest II", are strikingly similar to those in the trailer.
Sony created an "Electric Dreams Factory Arcade" with many of the arcade games featured in the film for various fan conventions, such as the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con and the 2015 Wizard World Philadelphia. In Brazil, a promotional video was released on July 2, 2015, showing Adam Sandler interacting with Monica and Jimmy Five from local comic Monica's Gang.
Columbia Pictures hired Entura International to send Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices to websites hosting user-uploaded videos of the film. The company proceeded to file DMCA takedown notices indiscriminately against several Vimeo videos containing the word "Pixels" in the title, including the 2010 award-winning short film the film is based on, the official film trailer, a 2006 independently produced Cypriot film uploaded by the Independent Museum of Contemporary Art, a 2010 university work by a student of the Bucharest National University of Arts, a royalty free stock footage clip and an independently produced project. The takedown notice sent by Entura stated that the works infringe a copyright they had the right to enforce, and once the notice was made public, it was withdrawn.
Pixels was released on Blu-ray (3D and 2D) and DVD on October 27, 2015. According to the-numbers.com, the domestic DVD sales are $7,181,924 and the Blu-ray sales are $6,426,936.
Pixels grossed $78.7 million in North America and $164.9 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $244.9 million. The film cost $110 million to produce but after rebates had its budget reduced to $88 million. Additionally another $57 million was spent on prints and advertising putting its total cost at $145 million.
In the United States and Canada, Pixels opened simultaneously with the teen romance Paper Towns, the sports drama Southpaw, and the horror film The Vatican Tapes, across 3,723 theaters. Box office pundits noted that the film's release date caused it to face competition with the first former film and along with the holdovers Ant-Man and Minions, all of which were projected to earn around $20 million. However, some analysts suggested the film could open to as high as $30 million and if it failed to hit $30 million, it could have difficulty being profitable unless it earned a significant audience abroad. It made $1.5 million from its Thursday night showings at 2,776 theaters, and topped the box office on its opening day, earning $9.2 million. Through its opening weekend it grossed $24 million from 3,723 theaters, debuting at second place at the box office, behind Ant-Man.
Outside North America, Pixels opened in the same weekend as its U.S. premiere in 56 countries — which is about 40% of its total foreign market — and grossed $26 million in its opening weekend from 7,594 screens. It added 18 new countries in its second weekend grossing $19.29 million from almost 8,966 screens in 74 territories. It debuted at No. 1 in 23 of the 56 countries and had the biggest opening of all time for Sony in Argentina ($2.3 million) with other notable openings in Mexico ($3.54 million), Brazil ($3.12 million), Germany ($2.5 million) and Russia and the CIS ($2.5 million). It opened in South Korea on Thursday, July 16, 2015, earning an estimated $3.3 million on its opening weekend, debuting at third place behind Pixar's animated film Inside Out and local film Northern Limit Line. It has so far grossed a total of $4.8 million there. It opened in the United Kingdom with $4.2 million (including previews) topping the box office. Pixels opened in China on September 15, earning $11.2 million in its first six days. In total earnings, its largest market outside of the U.S. and Canada are China ($15.3 million), the United Kingdom ($12.8 million), Mexico ($12 million), Germany ($10.2 million) and Venezuela ($10.1 million).
Pixels received negative reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 17% of 172 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 3.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Much like the worst arcade games from the era that inspired it, Pixels has little replay value and is hardly worth a quarter". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 27 out of 100 based on 37 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film one star out of four, calling it "a 3D metaphor for Hollywood's digital assault on our eyes and brains" and deeming it "relentless and exhausting". In Salon.com, Andrew O'Hehir called the film "another lazy Adam Sandler exercise in 80s Nostalgia", as well as "an overwhelmingly sad experience" characterized by "soul-sucking emptiness". The Guardian called it "casually sexist, awkwardly structured, bro-centric" and warned, "Pity the poor souls who go into the comedy blockbuster thinking they've signed up to watch The Lego Movie by way of Independence Day. They'll be disappointed". Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News gave the film no stars and wrote: "Someone please retire Adam Sandler. Pixels is the last straw for this has-been. . . . Every joke is forced, every special effect is un-special. . . . The dipstick Pixels is about as much fun as a joystick and not even half as smart". "It manages to achieve the weird effect of feeling overlong and choppy at the same time, like someone edited the film with a pair of garden shears," wrote Randy Cordova in The Arizona Republic. Kyle Smith wrote in the New York Post that Pixels is "as adolescent as a zit" with jokes "as fresh as the antique store".
"Everything is wrong here," wrote Megan Garber in The Atlantic Monthly, "cinematically, creatively, maybe even morally. Because Pixels is one of those bad movies that isn't just casually bad, or shoot-the-moon bad, or too-close-to-the-sun bad, or actually kind of delightfully bad. It is tediously bad. It is bafflingly bad. It is, in its $90 million budget and 104-minute run time, wastefully bad. Its badness seems to come not from failure in the classic sense—a goal set, and unachieved—but from something much worse: laziness. Ambivalence. A certain strain of cinematic nihilism". Peter Sobczynski, writing for RogerEbert.com, called the premise promising but the execution "abysmal."
Katie Walsh, reviewing for the Chicago Tribune, was more positive, saying "despite [its] unfortunate shortcomings, Pixels has its funny and fresh moments, thanks in large part to the supporting comic actors and inventive special effects". According to a B+ review by Lights Camera Jackson, "Pixels is one of the most original and enjoyable movies of the year ... a smart and often very funny summer action comedy."