After a failed marriage proposal to his girlfriend Robin Harris, Steven M. Kovacs moves into his own apartment. Taking advice from his friend Rick, Steven bribes cable guy, Ernie "Chip" Douglas, to give him free movie channels, which he does. Chip gets Steven to hang out with him the next day and makes him one of his "preferred customers."
Chip takes Steven to the satellite dish responsible for sending out television signals. Steven tells his problems with Robin to Chip, who advises him to admit his faults to Robin and invite her over to watch Sleepless in Seattle. Steven takes Chip's advice, and Robin agrees to watch the movie with him. Chip begins acting more suspiciously, running into Steven and his friends at the gym and leaving several messages on Steven's answering machine. When Robin arrives to watch the movie, the cable is out, due to Chip, who intentionally sabotaged Steven's cable. Chip fixes the cable under the condition that they hang out again, to which Steven agrees.
Chip takes Steven to Medieval Times, where Chip arranges for them to battle in the arena, referencing the Star Trek episode "Amok Time." Chip behaves aggressively, nearly killing Steven, who eventually bests him in combat. When they arrive at Steven's home, Chip reveals that he's installed an expensive home theater system in his living room. Chip and Steven later host a party and with Chip's help, Steven sleeps with Heather, who later Chip reveals is a prostitute and Steven throws Chip out.
Chip tracks down Robin, who is on a date with another man. When the man goes to the bathroom, Chip severely beats him and tells him to stay away from Robin. He later upgrades Robin's cable, saying that it is on Steven and Robin decides to get back together as a result. Steven tells Chip that they cannot be friends, hurting Chip, which sets Chip on a series of vengeful acts. He gets Steven arrested for possession of stolen property, although Steven is released on bail.
During a dinner with his family and Robin, Steven is horrified to see Chip in attendance. Steven tells him to leave, but Chip tells him to play along or he will show everyone a picture of Steven with the prostitute. The evening goes from bad to worse, with Steven punching Chip after the latter implies he slept with Robin. Steven is fired from his job when Chip sends out a video of Steven insulting his boss that was recorded on a hidden camera in his apartment.
After doing some investigating, Rick tells Steven that Chip has been fired from the cable company for stalking customers, and uses the names of television characters as aliases such as Chip Douglas from My Three Sons and Larry Tate from Bewitched. Chip calls Steven that night, telling him he is paying Robin a visit. Steven tracks them down to the satellite dish, where Chip holds Robin hostage. After a physical altercation and a chase, Steven is able to save Robin. As the police arrive, Chip goes into a speech on how he was raised by television and apologizes to Steven for being a bad friend. Chip dives into the satellite dish, knocking out the television signal to the entire town, just as the verdict in a highly publicized trial similar to the "Lyle and Erik Menendez" killing is about to be revealed.
Chip survives the fall, but injures his back. As Steven and Robin reunite, Steven forgives Chip and asks for his real name. Chip jokingly replies "Ricky Ricardo". Chip is later taken to the hospital in a helicopter. When one of the paramedics addresses him as "buddy", Chip asks the paramedic if he is truly his buddy, to which the paramedic replies "Yeah, sure you are", causing Chip to smile deviously.
First-time screenwriter Lou Holtz, Jr. had the idea for The Cable Guy while working as a prosecutor in Los Angeles, declaring that he once saw a cable company employee in the hallway of his mother's apartment and started thinking, "What's he doing here so late?" The screenplay became the subject of a bidding war, won by Columbia Pictures at a price of $1 million. The role of the Cable Guy was originally written for Chris Farley, who turned it down due to scheduling difficulties. Jim Carrey joined the production, receiving a then-record $20 million to star. Following Carrey's signing, Columbia hired Judd Apatow to produce. The studio rebuffed Apatow's interest in directing, but accepted his suggestion to invite Ben Stiller, star of his eponymous show on which Apatow had worked.
The original screenplay by Lou Holtz, Jr. was a lighter comedy, described by Apatow as "a What About Bob? annoying-friend movie" where the Cable Guy was a likable loser who intrudes upon the cable subscriber's life, but never in a physically threatening way. Carrey, Apatow and Stiller liked the setup of "somebody who is really smart with technology invading somebody's life", and opted to add slapstick and darker tones, changing into a satire of thrillers such as Cape Fear, Unlawful Entry and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. The dialogue would also fit Carrey's style of comedy.
Holtz wrote four additional drafts, each one darker than the previous, before leaving the project and giving Apatow the opportunity to take over the writing. Apatow and Stiller visited Carrey as he was filming Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls in South Carolina, and over a few days, riffed a lot of the set-pieces that were added to the script, and further explored how Carrey wanted to perform the character. The final script had elements so disturbing that Columbia heard many complaints regarding certain scenes. In turn, Apatow declared that the studio did not specifically order removals, "but we took [the scenes] out as part of the natural evolution of our creative process". Stiller stated that he shot every scene with "a dark version and a light version", and that he was surprised that the studio did not object to the violent ending.
The fight sequence at Medieval Times between Chip (Jim Carrey) and Steven (Matthew Broderick) is an homage to the Star Trek episode "Amok Time" — including the use of Vulcan weapons (lirpa), the dialogue and the background music. Director Ben Stiller is an admitted Star Trek fan.
The film grossed $19,806,226 on its opening weekend. It grossed a total $60,240,295 in the North American domestic market, and $42,585,501 outside the U.S, making a total of $102,825,796 worldwide gross, but failed to reach domestic projected numbers Jim Carrey brings to most movies. Despite the critical perception that the movie was a flop, it made a profit in excess of its $47 million production budget. Though most movies are based on domestic box office sales, Jim Carrey's $20 million salary raises the budget to $67 million; plus, the huge advertising campaign places the profit at slim to negative numbers. It has gained cult-like status among moviegoers.
The Cable Guy has been regarded as having a darker tone than most of Carrey's previous work. Audiences had mixed reactions to this change of tone for Carrey and film critics gave mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 54% based on 57 reviews.
The film was on J. Hoberman's Top 10 best of the year. Roger Ebert included The Cable Guy in his worst of the year list for 1996, though colleague Gene Siskel disagreed, calling it "a very good film. (Carrey's) best since The Mask". Ebert's main problems with the film were that he found Carrey's performance so bizarre and creepy that it undermined the entire story, and also that the movie was more of a dark comedy than was necessary for it to work.
The film was also noted for its similarities to the 1979 Australian telemovie The Plumber, which was written and directed by Peter Weir, who would later direct Carrey in The Truman Show (1998).1997 MTV Movie Awards
Best Comic Performance – Jim Carrey (Won)
Best Villain – Jim Carrey (Won)
Best Fight – Jim Carrey vs. Matthew Broderick (Nominated)
1997 Kid's Choice Awards
Favorite Movie Actor – Jim Carrey (Won)
The Cable Guy was released on VHS on December 3, 1996, DVD on September 15, 1997 and Blu-ray on March 1, 2011.
The Cable Guy: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the official soundtrack. It consists of previously unreleased songs, largely of alternative rock and heavy metal bands, and includes the first solo recording by Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains fame. The soundtrack includes Jim Carrey's version of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" which was performed by him in the film. It also includes a song from $10,000 Gold Chain, a side project of Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready. However, it does not include White Zombie's "More Human than Human", which is featured in a dramatic scene of the film.
Cantrell's "Leave Me Alone" served as the soundtrack's promotional vehicle and had a music video. This featured various footage from Cable Guy in a dark manner typical of Cantrell's style. It also had Jim Carrey's haunting face reaching out of a television screen at the observing Cantrell. While the album as a whole was not well received, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic noted that "Leave Me Alone" positively "rocks as hard as any Alice in Chains track."
The track "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand" gained popularity for its appearance in the film and reached #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks in 1996.
- "I'll Juice You Up" – Jim Carrey
- "Leave Me Alone" – Jerry Cantrell
- "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand" – Primitive Radio Gods
- "Blind" – Silverchair
- "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" (The Velvet Underground cover) – $10,000 Gold Chain
- "End of the World is Coming" – David Hilder
- "Satellite of Love" – Porno for Pyros
- "Get Outta My Head" – Cracker
- "Somebody to Love" – Jim Carrey
- "The Last Assassin" – Cypress Hill
- "This Is" – Ruby
- "Hey Man, Nice Shot" (Promo-Only Remix) – Filter
- "Unattractive" – Toadies
- "Download" – Expanding Man
- "This Concludes Our Broadcast Day" – John Ottman