Released theatrically by Warner Bros. under the Family Entertainment label on November 15, 1996, the film presents a fictional alternate history of what happened between Jordan's initial retirement from the NBA in 1993 and his comeback in 1995, in which he becomes embroiled in events involving Bugs Bunny and his friends. Space Jam opened at No. 1 in the US and grossed over $230 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing basketball film of all-time. The film marks the first appearance of new Looney Tunes character Lola Bunny.
On a summer night in 1973, a young Michael Jordan is practicing basketball. His father steps out and tells him it's bedtime, but lets him make a few more shots. Jordan shoots while making several wishes like going to the University of North Carolina, playing on a championship team, joining the NBA, going on to play baseball, and successfully scores every shot. Impressed, Jordan's father jokingly asks if next he is going to wish he could fly, and Jordan turns to make one final shot.
In 1996, Jordan announces his retirement from professional basketball to follow his now deceased father's career as a baseball player. However, it becomes evident that he is not as skilled in baseball as he was in basketball. Jordan is assigned a publicist and assistant, the bumbling Stan Podolak, to make his new career less bumpy. Elsewhere, in outer space, an intergalactic amusement park called Moron Mountain faces dwindling popularity, so its owner, Mr. Swackhammer, sends his diminutive minions, the Nerdlucks, to capture the Looney Tunes as new entertainment. The Looney Tunes live in an animated world called "Looney Tunes Land" hidden in the center of the Earth, but ignore the Nerdlucks' threats and challenge them to a game of basketball.
The Nerdlucks steal the talents of professional basketball players Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues, leaving them incapable of playing. The Nerdlucks absorb the talent, transforming into the gigantic "Monstars" who easily intimidate the Looney Tunes. While playing golf with Bill Murray, Larry Bird and Stan, Jordan is sucked down a hole and is recruited by Bugs Bunny to help the Tunes win against the Monstars. Jordan at first refuses, saying he does not play basketball anymore, but changes his decision after he is insulted and humiliated by the Monstars when they squash him into the shape of a basketball and bounce him around like one. He then sends Bugs and Daffy Duck to his house to retrieve his basketball gear.
Meanwhile, Stan has been digging out the golf hole to find Jordan, but spots Bugs and Daffy leaping down another one and pursues them, reuniting with Jordan in the Tunes' world and joins their team, the Tune Squad. Another new recruit is Lola Bunny, a skilled basketball player whom Bugs falls in love with. On the day of the match, the Monstars dominate the first half, leaving the Looney Tunes unconfident. Stan overhears a conversation between the Monstars and Swackhammer, learning of how they gained their talent and informs Jordan and the Tune Squad. Bugs and Jordan convince the rest of the Tune Squad to fight back and the first quarter of the second half allows the Tunes to catch up using old school gags and Acme weaponry. During a timeout, Jordan raises the stakes of the game with Swackhammer: a win by the Tune Squad would require the Monstars to give their stolen talents back to the NBA players, while a Monstars win would get Jordan as a new attraction.
To ensure his victory, Swackhammer has the Monstars play rough and injure all of the Tune Squad until only Jordan, Bugs, Daffy, Lola and Stan are left. Stan becomes the fifth player and manages to score, but is literally flattened by the Monstars and is removed from the court to be inflated. The referee, Marvin the Martian, informs Jordan that unless the team gets a fifth player, they will have to forfeit the game, at which point Murray appears and volunteers to be the team's fifth member. In the final seconds of the game, Jordan gains the ball and manages to use cartoon physics to extend his arm and score the winning points. Murray retires from the sport and the Monstars blast Swackhammer to the Moon in a rocket when Jordan makes them realize that they do not have to take his abuse anymore. Jordan convinces them to give up the stolen talents, and the Looney Tunes agree to recruit the reformed Nerdlucks in their ensemble. Jordan and a recovered Stan return to the surface, the Nerdlucks dropping them off at Jordan's next baseball game. Later on, the two visit the incapacitated basketball players and return their talent. The players invite Jordan to a three-on-three match, but when he declines, they question his loss of talent. In 1995, Jordan returns to the Chicago Bulls to resume his basketball career.Michael Jordan as himself, an NBA shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls who retires to pursue a career in baseball.
Brandon Hammond portrays a younger Jordan.
Wayne Knight as Stanley "Stan" Podolak, a publicist and assistant who helps Michael Jordan.
Theresa Randle as Juanita Jordan, Michael's supportive wife.
Bill Murray as himself, an actor and Jordan's friend.
Larry Bird as himself, the Boston Celtics forward and Jordan's friend.
Charles Barkley as himself, the Phoenix Suns power forward who gets his talent stolen by Pound.
Patrick Ewing as himself, the New York Knicks center who gets his talent stolen by Bang.
Shawn Bradley as himself, the Philadelphia 76ers center who gets his talent stolen by Blanko.
Larry Johnson as himself, the Charlotte Hornets power forward who gets his talent stolen by Bupkus.
Muggsy Bogues as himself, the Hornets point guard who gets his talent stolen by Nawt.
Thom Barry as James R. Jordan, Sr., Michael's father.
Penny Bae Bridges as Jasmine Jordan, Michael's daughter.
Dan Castellaneta and Patricia Heaton as basketball fans.
Billy West as Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd
Dee Bradley Baker as Daffy Duck, Tasmanian Devil and Toro
Bob Bergen as Marvin the Martian, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Hubie and Bertie
Bill Farmer as Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam and Sylvester the Cat
Maurice LaMarche as Pepé Le Pew
June Foray as Granny
Kath Soucie as Lola Bunny, a female rabbit who plays for the Tune Squad. Lola is a new character introduced in this film.
Frank W. Welker as Charles, Michael's pet bulldog who menaces both Bugs and Daffy when they are in Michael's house.
Danny DeVito as Mr. Swackhammer, the proprietor of the intergalactic theme park "Moron Mountain" who seeks new attractions to save his failing business.
Colleen Wainwright as Sniffles, a tiny mouse.
Pound, the orange leader of the Nerdlucks, is voiced by Jocelyn Blue as a Nerdluck and Darnell Suttles as a Monstar.
Bang, the belligerent green Nerdluck, is voiced by June Melby as a Nerdluck and Joey Camen as a Monstar.
Bupkus, the giggly and crazy purple Nerdluck, is voiced by Catherine Reitman as a Nerdluck and Dorian Harewood as a Monstar.
Blanko, the dim-witted and gangly blue Nerdluck, is voiced by Charity James as a Nerdluck and Steve Kehela as a Monstar.
Nawt, the diminutive and clever red Nerdluck, is voiced by Colleen Wainwright as a Nerdluck and T. K. Carter as a Monstar.
The soundtrack sold enough albums to be certified as 6x Platinum. It also served as a high point for musical artist R. Kelly, whose song "I Believe I Can Fly" not only was a hit, but earned him two Grammy Awards. Other tracks included a cover of Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like an Eagle" (by Seal), "Hit 'Em High (The Monstars' Anthem)" (by B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J, and Method Man), "Basketball Jones" (by Barry White & Chris Rock), "Pump up the Jam" (by Technotronic), "I Turn to You" (by All-4-One) and "For You I Will" (by Monica). The movie's title song was performed by the Quad City DJ's.
There was a licensed pinball game by Sega based on the film, a video game for the PlayStation, Sega Saturn and MS-DOS by Acclaim, and a handheld LCD game by Tiger Electronics.
Warner Home Video released the film on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD on March 11, 1997. The VHS tape was re-printed and re-released through Warner Home Video's catalog promotions: the Warner Bros. 75th Anniversary Celebration (1998), Century Collection (1999), Century 2000 (2000) and Warner Spotlight (2001). The film was re-released on DVD on July 25, 2000. On October 28, 2003, the film was released as a 2-disc special edition DVD including newly made extras such as a commentary track and a featurette. On November 6, 2007, the movie was featured as one of four films in Warner Home Video's 4-Film Favorites: Family Comedies collection DVD (the other three being Looney Tunes: Back in Action (released seven years after Space Jam), Osmosis Jones and Funky Monkey). On February 8, 2011, the first disc of the previous 2-disc edition was released by itself in a movie only edition DVD and on October 4, the film was released for the first time in widescreen HD on Blu-ray which, save for an hour of classic Looney Tunes shorts, ported over all the extras from the 2003 2-disc edition DVD. A double DVD and Blu-ray release, paired with Looney Tunes: Back in Action, was released on June 7, 2016. On November 15, 2016, Warner Bros. released another Blu-ray for Space Jam, to commemorate the movie's 20th Anniversary.
Toys were released coinciding with the film, including various action figures released by Playmates under the short lived banner "WB Toy". The toys had limited articulation and paired Michael Jordan or another characters of the movie (Charles Barkley and the Monstars with a Looney Tunes character and accessories). Some figures depicted Michael Jordan as a basketball player, a baseball player and a golf player. The line included stuffed toys, decorated basketballs, as well as a McDonald's Happy Meal promotion.
On the critical response aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 38%, based on 53 reviews, with an average rating of 5.1/10. The site's consensus reads, "A harmless mishmash of basketball and animation that'll entertain kids but leave adults less than thrilled." On Metacritic, it has a score of 59 out of 100, based on reviews from 22 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Space Jam a thumbs up, as did Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, although his zeal was more subdued. In his print review, Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 stars, noting, "Space Jam is a happy marriage of good ideas—three films for the price of one, giving us a comic treatment of the career adventures of Michael Jordan, crossed with a Looney Tunes cartoon and some showbiz warfare. ... the result is delightful, a family movie in the best sense (which means the adults will enjoy it, too)." Siskel focused much of his praise on Jordan's performance, saying, "He wisely accepted as a first movie a script that builds nicely on his genial personality in an assortment of TV ads. The sound bites are just a little longer." Leonard Maltin also gave the film a positive review (three stars), stating, "Jordan is very engaging, the vintage characters perform admirably ... and the computer-generated special effects are a collective knockout." Todd McCarthy of Variety praised the film for its humor. He also praised the Looney Tunes' antics and Jordan's acting.
Although Janet Maslin of The New York Times criticized the film's animation, she later went on to say that the film is a "fond tribute to [the Looney Tunes characters'] past." Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune complained about some aspects of the movie, stating, "...we don't get the co-stars' best stuff. Michael doesn't soar enough. The Looney Tunes don't pulverize us the way they did when Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng or Bob Clampett were in charge." Yet overall, he also liked the film, giving it 3 stars and saying: "Is it cute? Yes. Is it a crowd-pleaser? Yup. Is it classic? Nope. (Though it could have been.)" TV Guide gave the movie only two stars, calling it a "cynical attempt to cash in on the popularity of Warner Bros. cartoon characters and basketball player Michael Jordan, inspired by a Nike commercial." Margaret A. McGurk of The Cincinnati Enquirer gave the film 2 1/2 stars, saying, "Technical spectacle amounts do nothing without a good story."
Veteran Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies director Chuck Jones was highly critical of the film. In a 1998 interview, he expressed his views that the film was "terrible" and said, as a man who worked with the characters for almost thirty years, the story was deeply flawed. "I can tell you, with the utmost confidence," he said, "Porky Pig would never say 'I think I wet myself.'" Jones also added that, had the film been more true to the source material, Bugs Bunny would not have enlisted the help of Jordan or the other Looney Tunes characters to defeat the Monstars "and moreover, it wouldn't have taken him an hour and a half. Those aliens, whether they were tiny or colossal, would've been dealt with in short order come the seven minute mark."
Space Jam was a box office success. At the end of its run, it grossed approximately $90.4 million in the United States and an estimated $230–$250 million internationally. As of July 2017, Box Office Mojo ranks it as the highest grossing basketball film of all time.
The film made its television premiere on ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney on November 14, 1999.1997 ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards
Won: Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures (Diane Warren for the song "For You I Will")
Won: Top Box Office Films (James Newton Howard)
1997 Annie Awards
Won: Best Individual Achievement: Technical Achievement
Nomination: Best Animated Feature
Nomination: Best Individual Achievement: Directing in a Feature Production (Bruce W. Smith and Tony Cervone)
Nomination: Best Individual Achievement: Producing in a Feature Production (Ron Tippe)
1997 Grammy Awards
Won: Best Song Written Specifically for Motion Picture or for Television (R. Kelly for the song "I Believe I Can Fly")
1997 MTV Movie Awards
Nomination: Best Movie Song (R. Kelly for the song "I Believe I Can Fly")
1997 Satellite Awards
Nomination: Best Motion Picture- Animated or Mixed Media (Daniel Goldberg, Joe Medjuck, Ivan Reitman)
1997 World Animation Celebration
Won: Best Use of Animation in a Motion Picture Trailer
1997 Young Artist Awards
Nomination: Best Family Feature- Animation or Special Effects
The Monstars make a cameo in the Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain episode "Star Warners" (a parody of Star Wars). Jordan himself, who was a spokesman for MCI Communications before the film was made, would appear with the Looney Tunes characters (as his "Space Jam buddies") in several MCI commercials for several years after the film was released before MCI merged with WorldCom and subsequently Verizon Communications. Bugs had previously appeared with Jordan as "Hare Jordan" in Nike ads for the Air Jordan VII and Air Jordan VIII. In 2013, Yahoo! Screen released a parody of ESPN's 30 for 30 about the game shown in the film. The short dates the game as taking place on November 17, 1995, although Jordan's real-life return to basketball occurred on March 18.
In February 2014, Warner Bros. announced a potential sequel set to star LeBron James. Charlie Ebersol was set to produce, with a script by his brother, Willie. Representatives of James denied the claim that he would be involved. In May 2014, James was quoted as saying, "I've always loved Space Jam. It was one of my favorite movies growing up. If I have the opportunity, it will be great." In July 2015, James and his production company, SpringHill Entertainment, signed a deal with Warner Bros. for television, movies and digital content after receiving positive reviews for his acting role in Trainwreck. On May 2, 2016, Justin Lin was said to be in talks to direct the sequel; co-writing the screenplay with Andrew Dodge and Alfredo Botello. In August 2016, the Sneaker Bar Detroit company said that the movie is still in the works. On November 15, 2016, the film's anniversary, a teaser trailer, in the form of a Nike advertisement, was released on Twitter under #MonstarsBack. On December 1, 2016, Bugs Bunny and the Monstars returned in a Foot Locker commercial starring Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler.
In a November 2016 interview with Mr. Wavvy, Space Jam director Joe Pytka revealed that following the first film's success, he had been pitched a "really weird" idea for a sequel that would have starred pro golfer Tiger Woods, with Jordan in a smaller role. Pytka explained how the idea came from an out of studio script conference, with people who worked on the original film allegedly involved. Ultimately, nothing materialized from the idea. Producer Ivan Reitman participated in similar interview with Mr. Wavvy, also in November 2016, in which he also revealed an idea he had for a sequel, though his sequel would have starred Jordan.