The film grossed more than $68 million at the box office in the United States and over $80 million worldwide, thus making a large profit on its $7.2 million budget. The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score, the last to receive the award.
"The Kid" is the talented but troubled frontman of his Minneapolis-based band The Revolution. To escape his difficult home life – his father is verbally and physically abusive, and his mother is emotionally abusive – he spends his days rehearsing and his nights performing at the First Avenue nightclub. First Avenue's three house band slots are held by The Revolution, the flashy Morris Day and his group The Time, and Dez Dickerson and his group The Modernaires. Morris, aware that The Revolution's guitarist Wendy and keyboardist Lisa are frustrated by the Kid's unwillingness to play their compositions, lobbies Billy Sparks, the nightclub's owner, to replace The Revolution with a girl group which Morris is already forming. He targets the Kid's girlfriend Apollonia – an aspiring singer and new arrival in Minneapolis – to lead his group, and tries to persuade her that the Kid won't help her because he's too focused on himself. She eventually joins Morris's group, which Morris names Apollonia 6. When she reveals her partnership to the Kid, he becomes furious and slaps her, as his father had struck him earlier.
At the club, the Kid responds to the internal band strife, the pressure to draw more crowds, and his strained private life with the uncomfortably personal "Darling Nikki". His performance publicly humiliates Apollonia, who runs off in tears, and angers both Morris and Billy, worsening his situation. Billy confronts the Kid, castigating him for bringing his personal life onto the stage and warning him that he's wasting his musical talent like his father did. The debut of Apollonia 6 is a success, and Billy warns the Kid that his First Avenue slot is at risk. The Kid seizes Apollonia from a drunken Morris and the two argue and fight; Apollonia then abandons him. Returning home, he finds the house in tatters, with his mother nowhere to be found. When he turns on the basement light, his father – who had been lurking in the basement with a loaded handgun – shoots himself in the head. In a frenzy after a night of torment, the Kid tears apart the basement to release his anger, only to find a large box of his father's musical compositions. The next morning, the Kid picks up a cassette tape of one of Wendy and Lisa's compositions, a rhythm track named "Slow Groove", and begins to compose.
That night at First Avenue, all is quiet in The Revolution's dressing room until The Time stops by to taunt the Kid about his family life. Once on stage, the Kid announces that he will be playing "a song the girls in the band wrote", dedicated to his father – revealed to be "Purple Rain". As the emotional song ends, the Kid rushes from the stage and out the back door of the club, intending to ride away on his motorcycle. However, before he can mount his motorcycle, he realizes that the crowd is thrilled by his new song. The Kid returns to the club, to be greeted by the approval of his fellow musicians and the embrace of a teary-eyed Apollonia. The Kid returns to the stage for two encores with The Revolution, to the wild approval of the crowd (even Morris); overlaid scenes show the Kid visiting his father and mother in the hospital and sorting his father's compositions in the basement, accompanied by Apollonia. A montage of all the songs plays as the credits roll.
Purple Rain was written by Albert Magnoli and William Blinn, and produced by Prince's managers Robert Cavallo, Joseph Ruffalo and Steven Fargnoli. Prince developed the concept during his 1999 Tour. The original script by Blinn was darker. Later Magnoli was brought aboard and rewrote it. The film was directed and edited by Magnoli in his feature film directorial debut.
Prince intended to cast Vanity, leader of the girl group Vanity 6, but she left the group before filming began. Her role was initially offered to Jennifer Beals (who turned it down because she wanted to concentrate on college) before going to Apollonia Kotero, a virtual unknown at the time. Prince had seen her appearance on the February 1983 episode of Tales of the Gold Monkey, in which she played a saucy island girl who was sleeping with a German man of the cloth. Excluding Prince and his onscreen parents, almost every character in the movie is named after the actor who plays him or her.
After the character change from Vanity to Apollonia, the script was drastically revised, and many dark scenes were cut. Some of these scenes include Prince and Apollonia having sex in a barn (a concept which was the story behind the 1985 song "Raspberry Beret"); Prince going to Apollonia 6's rehearsal and engaging in a physical fight with the members of The Time; and a scene which featured Prince's mother talking to him about her shaky relationship with his father. In addition, many scenes such as the "Lake Minnetonka" scene, Apollonia first meeting Morris, and the railyard scene were cut down because of time constraints. Many clips from these scenes were featured, however, in the trailer for the movie as well as the "When Doves Cry" montage.
Although Warner Bros. considered the film "outrageous" at the time, it was accepted for distribution after an internal debate. Music industry PR man Howard Bloom advocated for it.
Principal photography took place almost entirely in Minneapolis: the film features many local landmarks, including the Crystal Court of the IDS Center (also shown in segments of the opening credits to The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and the legendary First Avenue nightclub. First Avenue was paid $100,000 for use of the club in filming; it was closed for 25 days.
The Huntington Hotel, where Apollonia stayed, is located on Main Street in downtown Los Angeles. In the film, it is supposed to be across the street from First Avenue. The motorcycle Prince rides in the film is a customized Hondamatic Honda CM400A.
The film is tied into the album of the same name, which spawned two chart-topping singles, "When Doves Cry" and the opening number "Let's Go Crazy", as well as "Purple Rain", which reached number two. The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. The soundtrack sold over 15 million copies in America alone, and 25 million worldwide. The film also coincided with spin-off albums by The Time (Ice Cream Castle) and Apollonia 6 (their self-titled album)."Let's Go Crazy" – Prince and the Revolution
"Jungle Love" – The Time
"Take Me with U" – Prince and the Revolution featuring Apollonia
"Modernaire" – Dez Dickerson and the Modernaires
"The Beautiful Ones" – Prince and the Revolution
"God (Love Theme from Purple Rain)" – Prince
"When Doves Cry" – Prince
"Computer Blue" – Prince and the Revolution
"Darling Nikki" – Prince and the Revolution
"Sex Shooter" – Apollonia 6
"The Bird" – The Time
"Purple Rain" – Prince and the Revolution
"I Would Die 4 U" – Prince and the Revolution
"Baby I'm a Star" – Prince and the Revolution
The film was a commercial success. Purple Rain currently holds a 67% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 45 reviews, with the consensus: "Purple Rain makes for undeniably uneven cinema, but it's held together by its star's singular charisma – not to mention a slew of classic songs." It also holds a 52/100 rating on Metacritic.
The film was a box office success, grossing $68,392,977 in the United States.
Purple Rain was first released on DVD on February 3, 2004. The film was first released on Blu-ray on July 24, 2007 and was released on Blu-ray again with a new master on October 4, 2016 as part of the Prince Movie Collection.
The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score, currently the last to receive the award. It was nominated for two Razzie Awards: Worst New Star for Apollonia Kotero and Worst Original Song for "Sex Shooter".
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
"Let's Go Crazy" – Nominated
2006: AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
Purple Rain is the only feature film that Prince starred in but did not direct. A semi-sequel, Graffiti Bridge, was released in 1990.
After Prince's death on April 21, 2016, MTV aired the film following a music video marathon. VH1 also showed the movie the same night, as well as throughout the next couple of days. Due to the film's parental and inappropriate content, both MTV and VH1 edited Purple Rain in order for the film to be shown on public television. Theater chains AMC and Carmike also announced that they would be screening the film at a limited number of theaters the following week. These special tribute screenings lasted from April 27 – May 1, 2016.