The lead actor, Brandon Lee, was accidentally mortally wounded on the set during filming by a defective blank, only eight days before the film would have completed production. Unfinished scenes that were to feature him were dealt with a re-written format in the script, a stunt double and digital special effects. The film is dedicated to Lee and his fiancée, Eliza.
On October 30, Devil's Night in Detroit, Police Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) is at the scene of a crime where Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) has been beaten and raped, and her fiancé Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) has died on the street outside after being stabbed, shot, and thrown out the window. The couple were to be married the following day on Halloween. As he leaves for the hospital with Shelly, Albrecht meets a young girl, Sarah (Rochelle Davis), who says that she is their friend, and that they take care of her.
One year later, Sarah visits the graves of Eric Draven and Shelly Webster. After she leaves, a crow lands on Eric's grave stone and taps it; later that night, Eric comes back to life and climbs out of his grave. Meanwhile, a low level street gang, headed by T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), is setting fires in the city. Eric goes to his old apartment and finds it derelict. He has flashbacks to the murders, remembering that those responsible were T-Bird and his gang: Tin Tin, Funboy, and Skank. Eric soon discovers that any wounds he receives heal immediately. Guided by the crow, he sets out to avenge his and Shelly's murders by killing the perpetrators.
The crow helps Eric locate Tin Tin; Eric kills him by stabbing him in each vital organ, in alphabetical order, with his own knives and then takes his coat. He then goes to the pawn shop where Tin Tin pawned Shelly's engagement ring the year before. Eric forces the owner, Gideon, to return the ring. Eric then tosses rings telling Gideon each of them is a life - a life Gideon helped destroy. He lets Gideon live so that he can warn the others and blows up his shop. Eric then meets up with Albrecht, explains who he is and why he is here. Eric finds Funboy getting high with Sarah's drug-addict mother, Darla. After killing Funboy with an overdose of morphine, Eric talks to Darla, taking the drug out of her arm seemingly by magic and making her realize that Sarah needs her to be a good mother. He later visits Albrecht, at his house. Albrecht tells him what he knows about Shelly's death and that he watched as she suffered for thirty hours before dying. Eric touches Albrecht and receives from him the pain felt by Shelly during those hours. The next day, Sarah and her mother begin to repair their strained relationship. Sarah goes to Eric's apartment and talks to him. She tells him that she misses him and Shelly. Eric explains that, even though they cannot be friends anymore, he still cares about her.
As T-Bird and Skank stop at a convenience store to pick up some supplies, Eric arrives and kidnaps T-Bird. Skank follows the pair to the docks and witnesses Eric kill T-Bird by tying him to the driver's seat of his car and forcing him to drive it off the edge of the pier where it explodes and sinks into the harbour. Skank escapes and goes to Top Dollar, a top-level criminal who controls all the street gangs in the city. Top Dollar and his lover/half-sister Myca have become aware of Eric's actions through various reports from witnesses (including Gideon, whom Top Dollar killed afterward). Top Dollar holds a meeting with his associates where they discuss new plans for their Devil's Night criminal activities. Eric arrives looking for Skank. A gun fight ensures the deaths of nearly all present, and Eric kills Skank by throwing him out of a window. Top Dollar, Myca, and Grange (Top Dollar's right-hand man) escape.
Eric, having finished his quest, returns to his grave. Sarah goes to say goodbye to him and he gives her Shelly's engagement ring. She is then abducted by Grange, who takes her into the church where Top Dollar and Myca are waiting. Through the crow, Eric realizes what has happened and goes to rescue her. Grange shoots the crow as it flies into the church, making Eric lose his invincibility. Myca grabs the wounded crow, intending to take its mystical power. Albrecht arrives, intending to pay his respects to Eric, just after Eric is shot and wounded. Top Dollar grabs Sarah and climbs the bell tower as a fight ensues, and Grange is killed by Albrecht. The crow escapes Myca's grip, pecking her eyes out and sending her down the bell tower to her death. When Albrecht is wounded, Eric climbs to the roof of the church on his own. There, Top Dollar admits ultimate responsibility for what happened to Eric and Shelly. In their fight, Eric, despite being fatally stabbed in the back, gives Top Dollar the thirty hours of pain he absorbed from Albrecht; the sensation sends Top Dollar over the roof of the church to be impaled on the horns of a gargoyle. Sarah and Albrecht go to the hospital, and Eric is reunited with Shelly at their graves. Sarah ends the film with a narration: "If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever."
Brandon Lee died of a gunshot wound on March 31, 1993, after an accidental shooting on set at EUE Screen Gems Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina.
In the scene in which Lee was accidentally shot, Lee’s character walks into his apartment and discovers his fiancée being beaten and raped by thugs. Actor Michael Massee's character fires a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 629 revolver at Lee as he walks into the room. A previous scene using the same gun had called for inert dummy cartridges fitted with bullets, but no powder or primer, to be loaded in the revolver. For close-up scenes which utilize a revolver, where the bullets are clearly visible from the front, and do not require the gun to actually be fired, dummy cartridges provide a more realistic appearance than blank rounds, which have no bullet. Instead of purchasing commercial dummy cartridges, the film's prop crew, hampered by time constraints, created their own by pulling the bullets from live rounds, dumping the powder charge then reinserting the bullets. However, they unknowingly left the live percussion primer in place at the rear of the cartridge. At some point during filming, the revolver was apparently discharged with one of these improperly-deactivated cartridges in the chamber, setting off the primer with enough force to drive the bullet partway into the barrel, where it became stuck (a condition known as a squib load). The prop crew either failed to notice or failed to recognize the significance of this issue.
In the fatal scene, which called for the revolver to be actually fired at Lee from a distance of 12–15 feet, the dummy cartridges were exchanged for blank rounds, which feature a live powder charge and primer, but no bullet, thus allowing the gun to be fired without the risk of an actual projectile. As the production company had sent the firearms specialist home early, responsibility for the guns was given to a prop assistant who was not aware of the rule for checking all firearms before and after any handling. Therefore, the barrel was not checked for obstructions when it came time to load it with the blank rounds. Since the bullet from the dummy round was already trapped in the barrel, this caused the .44 Magnum bullet to be fired out of the barrel with virtually the same force as if the gun had been loaded with a live round, and it struck Lee in the abdomen, mortally wounding him. He was rushed to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, NC, where he underwent six hours of surgery. However, attempts to save him were unsuccessful, and Lee was pronounced dead at 1:03 pm on March 31, 1993, at the age of 28. The shooting was ruled an accident.
After Lee's death, the producers were faced with the decision of whether or not to continue with the film. Lee had completed most of his scenes for the film and was scheduled to shoot for only three more days. The rest of the cast and crew, except for Ernie Hudson, whose brother-in-law had just died, stayed in Wilmington. Paramount, which was initially interested in distributing The Crow theatrically (originally a direct-to-video feature), opted out of involvement due to delays in filming and some controversy over the violent content being inappropriate given Lee's death. However, Miramax picked it up with the intention of releasing it in theatres and injected a further $8 million to complete the production, taking its budget to approximately $23 million. The cast and crew then took a break for script rewrites of the flashback scenes that had yet to be completed. The script was rewritten by Walon Green, Rene Balcer and Michael S. Chernuchin, adding narration and new scenes. Lee's stunt double Chad Stahelski was used as a stand-in and CGI was used to digitally superimpose Lee's face onto the head of the double. The beginning of the movie, which had not been finished, was rewritten, and the apartment scene remade using computer graphics from an earlier scene of Lee.
The Crow was a sleeper hit at the box office. The film opened at № 1 in the United States in 1,573 theaters with $11,774,332 and averaging $7,485 per theater. The film ultimately grossed $50,693,129, above its $23 million budget. It ranked at #24 for all films released in the US in 1994 and 10 for R-rated films released that year.
The Crow has an approval rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 50 reviews and an average rating of 7 out of 10. The critical consensus states: "Filled with style and dark, lurid energy, The Crow is an action-packed visual feast that also has a soul in the performance of the late Brandon Lee." The film also has a score of 71 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 14 critics, indicating "Generally favourable reviews."
Reviewers praised the action and visual style. Rolling Stone called it a "dazzling fever dream of a movie", Caryn James writing for The New York Times called it "a genre film of a high order, stylish and smooth", and Roger Ebert called it "a stunning work of visual style". The Los Angeles Times praised the film also.
Lee's death was alleged to have a melancholic effect on viewers; Desson Howe of The Washington Post wrote that Lee "haunts every frame" and James Berardinelli called the film "a case of 'art imitating death', and that specter will always hang over The Crow". Berardinelli called it an appropriate epitaph to Lee, Howe called it an appropriate sendoff, and Ebert stated that not only was this Lee's best film, but it was better than any of his father's (Bruce Lee). Critics generally thought that this would have been a breakthrough film for Lee, although James disagreed. The changes made to the film after Lee's death were noted by reviewers, most of whom saw them as an improvement. Howe said that it had been transformed into something compelling. James, although terming it a genre film, said that it had become more mainstream because of the changes.
The film was widely compared to other films, particularly Tim Burton's Batman movies and Blade Runner. Critics described The Crow as a darker film than the others; Ebert called it a grungier and more forbidding story than those of Batman and Blade Runner, and Todd McCarthy of Variety wrote that the generic inner city of Detroit portrayed in The Crow "makes Gotham City look like the Emerald City".
The distinctive features of the film for most critics were the fast-paced action and visual style. The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and the production design by Alex McDowell were praised. While the plot and characterization were found to be lacking, these faults were considered to be overcome by the action and visual style. The cityscape designed by McDowell and the production team was described by McCarthy as rendered imaginatively. The film's comic book origins were noted, and Ebert called it the best version of a comic book universe he had seen. McCarthy agreed, calling it "one of the most effective live-actioners ever derived from a comic strip". Critics felt that the soundtrack complemented this visual style, calling it blistering, edgy and boisterous. Graeme Revell was praised for his "moody" score; Howe said that it "drapes the story in a postmodern pall."
Negative reviews of the film were generally similar in theme to the positive ones but said that the interesting and "OK" special effects did not make up for the "superficial" plot, "badly-written" screenplay and "one-dimensional" characters.
The Crow is mentioned in Empire's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time; it ranked at number 468. It has since become a cult film. The World Championship Wrestling star Sting got inspiration for his "crow" character from the movie.
In 1995, Graeme Revell won a BMI film music award for his score and Stone Temple Pilots won the MTV Movie Award for Best Song for "Big Empty". Also at the MTV Movie Awards, the film was nominated for Best Film, and Brandon Lee was nominated for Best Male Performance. The film received four Saturn Award nominations from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA, for Best Costumes, Best Director, Best Horror film and Best Special Effects. At the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards the film won Best Wide-Release Film and Brandon Lee won Best Actor.
The original soundtrack album for The Crow features songs from the film, and was a chart-topping album. It included work by The Cure (their song, "Burn", became the film's main theme), The Jesus and Mary Chain, Rage Against the Machine and Helmet, among many others.
Several groups contributed covers. Nine Inch Nails rendered Joy Division's "Dead Souls", Rollins Band covered Suicide's "Ghost Rider" and Pantera performed Poison Idea's "The Badge". The song "Big Empty" was not the Stone Temple Pilots' original choice for the soundtrack; they first recorded a version of "Only Dying", which they had recorded earlier as Mighty Joe Young in demo form, but it was replaced following Lee's death.
The bands Medicine and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult make cameo appearances in the film, on stage in the nightclub below Top Dollar's headquarters.
The Crow: Original Motion Picture Score consists of original, mostly orchestral music, with some electronic and guitar elements, written for the film by Graeme Revell.
In 1996, a sequel was released, called The Crow: City of Angels. In this film, Vincent Pérez plays Ashe Corven, who, along with his son Danny, is killed by criminals. Ashe is resurrected as a new Crow. The character of Sarah (Mia Kirshner) reappears in this film and assists Ashe. The film was followed by a television series and two direct-to-video sequels, each with a different person as The Crow.
The Crow: Stairway to Heaven was a 1998 Canadian television series created by Bryce Zabel and starring Mark Dacascos in the lead role as Eric Draven, originally played by Brandon Lee.
The second sequel, The Crow: Salvation, was released in 2000. Directed by Bharat Nalluri, it stars Eric Mabius, Kirsten Dunst, Fred Ward, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe and William Atherton. It is loosely based on Poppy Z. Brite's novel The Lazarus Heart. After its distributor cancelled the intended theatrical release due to The Crow: City of Angels' negative critical reception, The Crow: Salvation was released directly to video with mixed reviews.
The third sequel, The Crow: Wicked Prayer, was released in 2005. Directed by Lance Mungia, it stars Edward Furlong, David Boreanaz, Tara Reid, Tito Ortiz, Dennis Hopper, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Danny Trejo. It was inspired by Norman Partridge's novel of the same title. It had a one-week theatrical première on June 3, 2005, at AMC Pacific Place Theatre in Seattle, Washington, before being released to video on July 19, 2005. Like the other sequels, it had a poor critical reception, and it was considered the worst of the four films.
The Crow: 2037 was a planned sequel written and scheduled to be directed by Rob Zombie in the late 1990s; however, it was never made.
On December 14, 2008, Stephen Norrington announced in Variety that he planned to write and direct a "reinvention" of The Crow. Norrington distinguished between the original and his remake: "Whereas Proyas' original was gloriously gothic and stylized, the new movie will be realistic, hard-edged and mysterious, almost documentary-style." Ryan Kavanaugh then announced on November 23, 2009, that his company, Relativity Media, was in negotiations with Edward R. Pressman for both the film's rights and financing.
Norrington later stepped out of the project and, on April 7, 2011, it was announced that 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo had been chosen to direct the film, which has since been regarded as a remake. Tucker Tooley of Relativity Media was chosen serve as executive producer, while Jose Ibanez, Jon Katz and Jesus de la Vega were to serve as co-producers. Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper was in talks to play the lead. It was reported on April 20, 2011, that the project was undergoing some legal battles. In late June 2011, Relativity Media announced their plans to continue in mid-lawsuit and had tapped Alex Tse, who co-wrote Watchmen. In mid-August 2011, it was announced that Cooper had dropped out due to scheduling difficulties and Mark Wahlberg, who was originally in talks for the lead in 2010, was again up for the part, with additional rumors of Channing Tatum or Ryan Gosling possibly taking the role, as well as James McAvoy. In October 2011, it was reported that Fresnadillo had departed the project as well. It was confirmed in January 2012 that Francisco Javier Gutiérrez had signed on to direct the remake, with Edward R. Pressman and Jeff Most on producing duties.
In June 2012, producer Edward R. Pressman assured fans that "the original 1994 Crow film holds a special place in my heart. The current film is a 'reinvention' of James O'Barr's graphic novel for the 21st century. We're thrilled to have teamed with director Javier Gutiérrez and screenwriter Jesse Wigutow on this story, which remains true to the core of Eric Draven's plight for revenge. On the news of future remakes, however, O'Barr stated: "[...] I don't have great expectations. I think the reality is, no matter who you get to star in it, or if you get Ridley Scott to direct it and spend 200 million dollars, you're still not gonna top what Brandon Lee and Alex Proyas did in that first ten million dollar movie." On April 19, 2013, it was announced that Tom Hiddleston was in talks to play Eric. That same month, there were reports that Hiddleston would not be doing the film, but that Alexander Skarsgård was being eyed for the part. A week later, however, Skarsgård stated that he was not attached to the film.
On May 4, 2013, Deadline reported that Luke Evans had been cast as Eric Draven. Evans reaffirmed to Superhero Hype that the film would be as faithful as possible to the original. On July 3, 2013, The Crow's creator James O'Barr was named as the creative consultant of the film. In an October 2015 interview, O'Barr would discuss what had changed his mind about the reboot, and efforts to make the reboot a more faithful adaptation of the comic book, while remaining respectful to the original film. On November 21, 2013, Schmoes Know had reports that Norman Reedus was up for the role of a character named "James", and that Kristen Stewart had at one time been considered for the part of Shelly. In December 2014, the studio hired Corin Hardy to direct the film. Evans told Den of Geek in an interview that he might not do the film, and it was later revealed that Evans has dropped out of the film due to other projects. On February 9, 2015, O'Barr told Blastr in an interview that he was interested in Sam Witwer for the role.
As of October 24, 2014, the film was set to start production in the spring of 2015. On February 25, 2015, it was reported that Jack Huston would be starring in the film. On March 14, 2015, O'Barr confirmed to Dread Central at the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention that Huston had been cast as Draven in the reboot, and at a Q&A during the convention he further confirmed that Jessica Brown Findlay had been cast as Shelly Webster. On May 20, 2015, Deadline reports that Andrea Riseborough is in talks to co-star as the female version of Top Dollar. On June 15, 2015, according to Variety reported two stories: Forest Whitaker is in negotiations for a role and Huston has dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, but Relativity Studios are looking at Nicholas Hoult and Jack O'Connell for the role of Draven. On July 31, 2015, The Hollywood Reporter reported that production on the reboot stalled because of Relativity Media's bankruptcy. O'Barr told comicbook.com in an interview that the film will still happen. The Wrap reported that filming on the reboot was going to start in March 2016 with Corin Hardy on board as director, but Hardy dropped out on the film. On June 15, 2016, Deadline reports that Hardy may return to the reboot. On August 10, 2016, Jason Momoa is reporting in talks to star in the film as he post a photo of him with Hardy who's still going to direct the reboot on his Instagram account. On September 6, 2016, The Wrap reports that Momoa is cast and filming will begin in January 2017. On November 17, 2016, The Hollywood Reporter has reported that Davis Films, Highland Film Group, and Electric Shadow have acquired the rights to finance, produce, and distribute the film now titled The Crow Reborn from Relativity but may lose both Momoa and Hardy. In September 2017, it was announced that Sony will distribute the film.
The Crow was first released on VHS on September 14, 1994. On October 18, 2011, The Crow was released on Blu-ray. The consensus among high-definition enthusiast sites is that the video and audio quality are excellent.