The plot focuses on John Oldman, a departing university professor, who claims to be a Cro-Magnon (or Magdalenian caveman) who has secretly survived for more than 14,000 years. The entire film is set in and around Oldman's house during his farewell party and is composed almost entirely of dialogue. The plot advances through intellectual arguments between Oldman and his fellow faculty members.
The film begins with Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) packing his belongings onto his truck, preparing to move to a new home. His colleagues show up to give him an impromptu farewell party: Harry (John Billingsley), a biologist; Edith (Ellen Crawford), an art history professor and devout Christian; Dan (Tony Todd), an anthropologist; Sandy (Annika Peterson), a historian who is in love with John; Dr. Will Gruber (Richard Riehle), a psychiatrist; Art (William Katt), an archaeologist; and his student Linda (Alexis Thorpe).
As John's colleagues press him to explain the reason for his departure, he slowly, and somewhat reluctantly, reveals that he is a prehistoric caveman who has lived for more than 14 millennia, and that he relocates every ten years to keep others from realizing that he does not age. He begins his tale under the guise of a possible science-fiction story, but eventually stops speaking in hypotheticals and begins answering questions from a first-person perspective. His colleagues refuse to believe his story. John continues his tale, relating how he was a Sumerian for 2000 years, a Babylonian, and eventually went east to become a disciple of Gautama Buddha. He claims to have been given a chance to sail with Christopher Columbus (admitting that at the time he still believed the earth was flat) and to have befriended Van Gogh (one of whose original paintings he apparently owns, a gift from the artist himself).
In the course of the conversation, each of John's colleagues questions his story based on knowledge from his or her own academic specialty. Harry, the biologist, struggles with how biology could allow for the possibility of a human being living for so long. Art, the archaeologist, questions John about events in prehistory. He exclaims that John's answers, though correct, could have come from any textbook. Will, the psychiatrist, questions if John feels guilt for outliving everyone he has ever known and loved, and threatens John with a gun (which is later revealed to have been unloaded) before temporarily leaving. John then learns from the group that Will's wife had died the previous day after a long illness.
The discussion turns to the topic of religion. John mentions that he is not a follower of a particular religion; though he does not necessarily believe in an omnipotent God, he does not discount the possibility of such a being's existence. Pressed by the group, John reluctantly reveals that in trying to take Buddha's teachings to the west, into the eastern Roman Empire, he became the inspiration for the Jesus story. After this revelation, emotions in the room run high. Edith begins crying. Will demands that John end his tale and give the group a sense of closure by admitting it was all a hoax, and threatens to have John involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation should he refuse to do so. John appears to ruminate over his response before finally "confessing" to everyone that his story was a prank.
John's friends leave the party with various reactions: Edith is relieved; Harry indicates an open mind. After everyone but Will and Sandy has left, Will overhears John and Sandy's conversation, which suggests the story was true after all. John mentions some of the pseudonyms he has used over the years, and Will realizes one was his father's name. Shocked to realize the ageless man is his own father, Will suffers a heart attack and dies. After Will's body has been taken away, Sandy realizes this is the first time John has seen one of his grown children die. John wordlessly gets in his truck and starts to drive to an unknown destination. Then he stops and waits for Sandy, who walks over to the truck.
In order of appearance:David Lee Smith as John Oldman
Tony Todd as Dan
John Billingsley as Harry
Ellen Crawford as Edith
Annika Peterson as Sandy
William Katt as Art Jenkins
Alexis Thorpe as Linda Murphy
Richard Riehle as Dr. Will Gruber
Robbie Bryan as Police Officer
The story is Jerome Bixby's last work, which he completed on his deathbed in April 1998. Bixby dictated the last of his screenplay to his son, screenwriter Emerson Bixby. After Jerome Bixby's death, the script was given to Richard Schenkman to direct on a $200,000 budget.
The film screened at the San Diego Comic-Con Film Festival in July 2007, and premiered theatrically in Hemet, California, and Pitman, New Jersey, in October 2007. It was released on DVD in North America by Anchor Bay Entertainment on November 13, 2007, and became available for digital rental and sale at iTunes on September 22, 2009. It won the grand prize for Best Screenplay and first place for Best Feature at the Rhode Island Film Festival in August 2007.
Producer Eric D. Wilkinson has publicly thanked users of BitTorrent who have distributed the film without express permission, saying that it has lifted the profile of the film far beyond the financier's expectations; he encouraged fans to purchase the DVD or donate.
IGN gave it an 8 out of 10, calling it "intellectual sci-fi". DVD Verdict criticized the heavy-handed ending, saying that one's opinion of the film would be shaped by views on religion.
The film has been nominated for and won numerous awards.2007 – WINNER – 1st place – Best Screenplay - Rhode Island International Film Festival
2007 – WINNER – Grand Prize - Best Screenplay - Rhode Island International Film Festival
2008 – WINNER – Best Film – Montevideo Fantastic Film Festival of Uruguay
2008 – WINNER – Audience Choice Award Montevideo Fantastic Film Festival of Uruguay
2008 – WINNER – Best Director - Fantaspoa – International Fantastic Film Festival of Porto Alegre, Brazil
2008 – WINNER – 2ND place – Best Screenplay - Rio de Janeiro International Fantastic Film Festival (RioFan)
2008 – WINNER – Audience Award: Best Screenplay Film – Fixion-Sars Horror & Fantastic Film Festival of Santiago, Chile
2008 – WINNER – Jury Award: Best Screenplay – Fixion-Sars Horror & Fantastic Film Festival of Santiago, Chile
2008 – WINNER – Best SCI-FI Screenplay - International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, Phoenix, AZ
2008 – WINNER – Best Screenplay - Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre – Int'l Independent Horror, Fantasy & Bizarre, Argentina
2007 – Saturn Award nominee - Best DVD Release - The Man From Earth
2008 – WINNER – DVD Critics Award – Best Non-Theatrical Movie
All music performed by Mark Hinton Stewart."7th Symphony - 2nd Movement" - Written by Ludwig van Beethoven
Lyrics by Richard Schenkman
Music by Mark Hinton Stewart
Performed by Mark Hinton Stewart and Chantelle Duncan
Copyright - BDI Music LTD.
In 2012, Richard Schenkman adapted the film to a play, which received positive reviews.
A Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund a sequel named The Man From Earth II: Man From Earth Millennium was announced in September 2013, but it was not able to collect the minimum-required supporting by October 2013. Another attempt was then made to crowdfund a series, Man From Earth: The Series, based on the film. The second crowd-funding effort completed successfully in August 2014.
A sequel, The Man From Earth: Holocene is currently in production. Filming began on June 2, 2016 and ended on June 16. The producers have stated on Facebook that it may be the first in a series.