The film was released on April 16, 2004, by Lionsgate, grossing $13 million in the United States over its opening weekend, and reached a total gross of $54 million against a budget of $33 million. It has a 29% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Marvel Comics and Lionsgate began development on a sequel, The Punisher 2, which instead became the 2008 reboot Punisher: War Zone after Jane and Hensleigh left the project due to creative differences. This would be the final film produced by Artisan Entertainment.
A smuggling operation in Tampa Bay results in the deaths of Bobby Saint, the son of mafia boss Howard Saint, and Otto Krieg, the arms dealer. Krieg is revealed to be undercover FBI agent and Delta Force veteran Frank Castle on his final mission before retirement. Enraged over the death of his son, Howard Saint acquires confidential information regarding Krieg and learns of his true identity. He orders Castle killed at a family reunion, while his wife Livia requests that his family be killed as well. At the reunion, Saint's men, among them Quentin Glass and Bobby's identical twin, John, kill Castle's entire family and shoot Castle, leaving him for dead. Castle survives and is nursed back to health by a local fisherman.
With the police and FBI unable to pursue the killers, Castle moves into an abandoned apartment occupied by three outcasts, Joan, Bumpo and Dave, and begins his mission to bring the Saints down. With information provided by Mickey Duka, one of Saint's more benevolent associates, Castle studies the Saint family and learns their every move, in the process discovering Glass to be a closeted homosexual. He openly attacks Saint's business and sabotages his partnership with his Cuban partners.
Saint discovers Castle is alive and sends assassins to kill him. The first, Harry Heck, ambushes Castle on a bridge but is killed when Castle slits his throat with a ballistic knife. The second, a Russian behemoth, nearly beats Castle to death in his own apartment. Castle kills him by dousing his face in boiling oil and pushing him down a flight of stairs, breaking his neck. John, Glass and the goons arrive for Castle. The tenants hide Castle and refuse to disclose his location, despite Glass pulling Dave's piercings out with pliers. They leave a goon to intercept Castle, but Castle kills him after they leave.
With Mickey's help, Castle arranges for Glass to be at certain places posing as an anonymous blackmailer while planting Livia's car in the same location, and ultimately placing one of Livia's earrings in Glass's bed, leading Saint to believe they are having an affair. Saint confronts and kills Glass in his own home by stabbing him to death, and throws Livia onto a railroad, where she is ran over by a train. With Saint despondent, Castle assaults Saint's club and kills every last member of his mob, among them John, though Saint, wounded, escapes. Castle pursues him and shoots him fatally. As Saint lies dying, Castle reveals his machinations that led Saint to kill his friend and wife, and ties him to a car leading to a car park laced with explosives; killing Saint in the ensuing explosion.
Castle returns home and prepares to kill himself with his mission fulfilled, but sees a vision of his wife and changes his mind, instead deciding to continue to fight crime as the Punisher. He leaves some of Saint's money as a farewell gift to the tenants for protecting him, and leaves to pursue his next target. The movie ends by showing Castle standing alone in the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, as he vows, "Those who do evil to others, killers, rapists, psychos, sadists... will come to know me well. Frank Castle is dead. Call me... The Punisher."
Hensleigh and Arad said in many interviews that Jane was the first and only actor to be asked to play the title role. Arad had previously pursued Jane for other roles in Marvel Studios films. He turned down The Punisher twice, as he did not see himself as a superhero actor. Jane said, when asked the second time to play the Punisher, that he became interested when Arad sent Tim Bradstreet's artwork of the character. After learning more about the Punisher, he accepted. Jane went on to read as many Punisher comics he could find to understand the character, and became a fan of the Punisher in the process. Jane trained for six to seven months with the United States Navy SEALs and gained more than twenty pounds of muscle for the part.
Marvel Studios began development for a new Punisher film as early as 1997. In 2000, Marvel made a long-term agreement with Artisan Entertainment to turn 15 of their characters into films and TV shows, among them The Punisher with Gale Anne Hurd to produce. The Punisher marked Marvel’s first major independent release as an equity owner, whereby it contributes characters and creative support to lower-budget pics in exchange for a financial stake in the negative cost. Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh signed on in April 2002, and The Punisher also became his directing debut. The story and plot were mainly based on two Punisher comic book stories, Welcome Back, Frank and The Punisher: Year One. Hensleigh explained he had to excise much of the influence from Welcome Back, Frank as it would have likely been a four-hour-long film.
Before filming began, Hensleigh was not given the budget he wanted or needed from the studio, Hensleigh knew that most action pictures get a budget of around $64 million. He was only given $33 million, with only $15.5 million going towards the shooting budget and post-production for the film, with only 52 days to shoot, which is half the time allocated for most action pictures. Most of Hensleigh's original script had to be edited and re-written many times due to budget issues. According to the DVD commentary, the first scene in the film would have been a battle set in Kuwait during the Gulf War, but they were unable to film this scene as a result of the budget cuts.
Principal photography for The Punisher began in July 2003 on location in Tampa, Florida. The Florida location was first chosen at the insistence of screenwriter Michael France, who advised Marvel and Artisan that "it would be cheap to shoot [there] - that they'd get a lot more for their money than in New York or Chicago" as well as wanting to use "both sunny locations, and dark, industrial locations" in the screenplay. For inspiration, Hensleigh and cinematographer Conrad W. Hall looked at dozens of action films from the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Dirty Harry series, The Getaway, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde. In an interview, Hensleigh also stated the film pays homage to Mad Max and William Shakespeare's Othello, though while he was inspired by Othello, the characters were reversed for the film, making the Punisher the instigator of the jealousy which leads to Howard Saint murdering his best friend and wife.
During shooting, Lionsgate (then known as Lions Gate Films) purchased Artisan. In an interview with Hensleigh, Hensleigh said that even though the film is distributed under the Lionsgate imprint, they had nothing to do with the film. Lionsgate never gave a green light for the film to be made. The film was still under Artisan Entertainment.
The character of Microchip was originally included in an earlier Michael France draft (along with the character Jigsaw), but was excised from later drafts because of director Jonathan Hensleigh's distaste for him. Instead the character of Mickey Duka (who was heavily based upon the character Mickey Fondozzi) serves as an ally of Frank Castle. Regarding the exclusion of Microchip, Hensleigh had this to say:
"There are a couple of years where I didn't want to go; Microchip, the battle van, all that stuff where it got really high-tech; we’re not going there at all. I deemed that too complicated, too lacking of the spirit of the sort of urban vigilante. The Punisher doesn’t just go around blowing people away; he uses guile and cunning just as much as he does weaponry and physical combat."
The Punisher opened in 2,649 theaters on April 16, 2004, and grossed $13.8 million over its opening weekend, ranking at #2 at the box office. The film has a US gross of $33.8 million and a foreign gross of $20.9 million, giving it a worldwide total of $54.7 million.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator reports that 29% of 167 surveyed critics gave it a positive review; the average rating is 4.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "A good cast fails to elevate this overly violent and by-the-numbers revenge flick." Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two stars, stating, "The Punisher is so grim and cheerless, you wonder if even its hero gets any satisfaction from his accomplishments." Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter said, "By the end, the Punisher's greatest adversaries emerge as an unwelcome trio known as jokey, hokey, and hammy."
A few reviewers have defended the film, stating that, compared to most comic book-based films, it is a well-done throwback to the old-school action films of the 1960s and 1970s. Critic A.O. Scott stated, "But lightness is not among Hensleigh's gifts. Making his directorial debut after a successful run as a screenwriter and producer (on projects like Die Hard with a Vengeance, Jumanji, and The Rock) he has clearly conceived The Punisher as a throwback to the leathery, angry urban revenge movies of the 1970s."
Drew McWeeny of Ain't It Cool News said of the style of the film that "The Punisher has more in common with the work of Don Seigel and John Frankenheimer than it does with the work of Michael Bay or Simon West. Which isn't to say that it's the equal of those classics, but at least Hensleigh's got the right idea. ... The Punisher is pulp, served up gritty and ugly and brutal. It's not jam-packed full of one-liners. What humor there is in the film is dark."
The film was released via DVD on September 7, 2004 and sold nearly 1.8 million copies in its first five days and netted $10.8 million in rentals its first week, making it number-one in DVD sales that week.
An extended cut DVD was released on November 21, 2006 with 17 minutes of additional footage, most of which revolves around the character Jimmy Weeks (Russell Andrews), and Castle realizing that it was his friend who had sold him out to Howard Saint. In retaliation, Castle forces Weeks to commit suicide. Features also include a black-and-white stop-motion animated scene, set in Kuwait, based on and partially done by artist Tim Bradstreet, and a Punisher comic-book gallery. An extended version of "In Time" by Mark Collie also appears in the closing credits of the extended-cut DVD. This version does not include the special features on the standard DVD release.
The Punisher was released via Blu-ray Disc on June 27, 2006.Won
Taurus World Stunt Awards
Taurus World Stunt Awards
The score to The Punisher was composed and conducted by Italian composer Carlo Siliotto. Director Jonathan Hensleigh wanted the music to be very emotional, and was aware of Siliotto's previous work which led to him being chosen. When scoring the film Siliotto saw Frank Castle as a tragic figure stating, "This man, Frank Castle, is somebody who has a slaughtered family. He comes through that slaughter, and becomes a punisher. But he's a sad man - he drinks, and has bad memories always coming to him. There's a lot in the film, and at times it is like a modern version of a classic tragedy - like Othello."
Prior to release, a novelization was written by D.A. Stern and released in March 2004.
Cancelled sequel and reboot
Lions Gate Entertainment planned to produce a direct sequel titled The Punisher 2, with Avi Arad, chairman and CEO of Marvel Studios, stating that the second film would "become the fifth Marvel property to become a sequel." Jonathan Hensleigh said that he was interested in working with Thomas Jane again for The Punisher 2. Jane said that the villain for The Punisher 2 would be Jigsaw. The project, however, lingered in development for over three years. Jonathan Hensleigh completed a first draft of the script before pulling out around 2006. John Dahl was in talks to direct the film but pulled out due to script quality issues and the studio not wanting to spend a lot of money on the project. In a statement on May 15, 2007 and in two audio interviews Thomas Jane said that he pulled out of the project due to creative differences and the budget of the film being cut, in addition to director Walter Hill being turned down as director by Lionsgate. After reading the new script by Kurt Sutter, Jane stated:
What I won't do is spend months of my life sweating over a movie that I just don't believe in. I've always loved the Marvel guys, and wish them well. Meanwhile, I'll continue to search for a film that one day might stand with all those films that the fans have asked me to watch.
In Summer 2007, Marvel Studios announced that Lexi Alexander would direct the film as a result of Dahl pulling out, and that actor Ray Stevenson would play the Punisher in the new film, thus replacing Thomas Jane. The Punisher 2 then became Punisher: War Zone, a reboot of The Punisher film series with no connection to the 2004 film. The reboot was released on December 5, 2008. This is the second time the film series has been rebooted, after the 2004 production rebooted 1989's The Punisher.
Jane reprised the role of Frank Castle in the 2005 video game The Punisher.
In July 2012, Jane reprised his role as Frank Castle in the unofficial short film Dirty Laundry, which premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con International. The 10-minute film also stars Ron Perlman.