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Meet Joe Black

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Martin Brest
Alan Smithee
Produced by Martin Brest
Written by Bo Goldman
Kevin Wade
Starring Brad Pitt
Anthony Hopkins
Claire Forlani
Jake Weber
Marcia Gay Harden
Jeffrey Tambor
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki
Editing by Joe Hutshing
Michael Tronick
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) November 13, 1998
Running time Original cut
181 min.
Alan Smithee cut
129 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $90 million
Gross revenue $142,940,100
Preceded by Death Takes a Holiday (remake)

Meet Joe Black is a 1998 romantic drama produced by Universal Studios and starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Claire Forlani, loosely based on the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday (originally by Paramount Pictures, but now owned by Universal through EMKA, Ltd.).



The movie opens with an introduction to the guide, Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), who doubts that he will live for many more years. Indeed, he is approached in his home and work by what he thinks are hallucinations, wherein Death himself has come with the intention of escorting him to the afterlife. Bill, touched by his dream-like brush with mortality, expresses his desire for his daughter, Susan (Claire Forlani), to live a life with passion. She is considering marriage, but her father is not favorably impressed by her relationship. When she asks for the short version of his impassioned speech, he simply says, "Stay open. Who knows? Lightning could strike!"

Shortly after hearing this advice, Susan meets a vibrant young man of whom she is instantly enamored. Immediately after this encounter (and unbeknownst to her), the man dies in a collision with two cars. Death returns to Bill's home in the form of the young man, explaining that Bill's impassioned speech has piqued his interest after an eternity of boredom. Given Bill's "competence, experience, and wisdom", Death has chosen him and tells Bill that in return for a delay, Bill shall be his guide on Earth. Notably, during his time on Earth, Death's personality alters to become mildly curious, ruminative, and gentle, having been worldly, sardonic, and arrogant until he revealed his appearance.

Death then places himself at Bill's right hand under the name 'Joe Black' and establishes his place in Bill's home and work, instructing Bill to reveal his identity to nobody. This last task is complicated when the Board of Directors of Bill's corporation are urging a union with a larger company at the instigation of Susan's fiancé (and Parrish board member), Drew (Jake Weber). After a tense board meeting wherein Bill advises the board against the merger, Joe ventures into the city to explore it. He visits Susan at the hospital where she works as a doctor and in doing so, observes the human aspect of mortality, which was apparently unknown to him. A dying Guyanese patient recognizes him as a spirit; upon learning that he is Death, she asks to be taken to the afterlife. Joe instead soothes her pain and promises to take her later.

He returns to visit Bill, who describes his late wife, to whom he was strongly attached. Their conversation is interrupted by Drew, who is bothered by the reversal of Bill's decision regarding the merger. Bill becomes angry at the prospect of the company that he built becoming compromised, believing that a man should leave something of integrity in his passing, whereupon Joe cautions "Easy, Bill; you'll give yourself a heart attack and ruin my vacation." Realizing that Joe could end his delay at any time, Bill unprecedentedly arranges for dinner with his family two nights in a row, prompting their anxiety. Bill attempts a broken and awkward speech focusing on the idea of family, after which he invites them all back for dinner again the next night. Touched by his feelings, they all agree, with one exception: Drew, who is angered by the presence of Joe Black (who appears to have taken the ear of Bill Parrish and disrupted Drew's plans). He is even more rankled by the increasing closeness between Susan and Joe. After a number of snide comments aimed at Joe during dinner, Drew confronts Susan about her feelings for Joe, which ends in Drew's uncertainty. After a flirtatious conversation with Joe, who has overheard the argument with Drew, Susan is warned by Bill not to become attached to this mysterious stranger.

During the next day, Drew has secretly gathered the board of the company, advising them that Bill Parrish has been unconditionally influenced by "Mr. Joe Black" and telling them that the rival company has clarified its offer: It will accept Parrish Communications with or without its chairman. After a scene wherein Parrish is reminded of the importance to himself of his family when he distresses his other daughter, Allison (Marcia Gay Harden), who is trying to organize Bill's sixty-fifth birthday party, he answers the door to Drew, who starkly threatens that the board will see him removed from the chair. Drew then leaves, angrily announcing to Susan that this is "the end of my chapter with the Parrishes. And the end began with this guy," indicating Joe, who has also followed. After a tense and crude standoff, Drew leaves Susan and Joe alone. They are interrupted by Bill, who shows concern for his daughter.

The following morning, Parrish is confronted by Drew and the board of directors, who reiterate their intentions regarding the merger. After Bill's emphatic refusal to accept both the merger and the board's request for the identity of Joe, they vote to make Bill "Chairman Emeritus", thus depriving him of power. After the meeting, Drew reveals to Bill's son-in-law that he was in collusion with the rival company, with the intention of seizing power and then selling off Parrish Communications for a huge profit. Bill and Joe return home, where Bill, disheartened, goes for a nap. Joe comes across Susan; after an awkward moment, they make love. Afterward, he meets with Bill, who defies this union and reminds Joe of his purpose in the universe. Joe disregards Bill's words. Shortly after another encounter with Bill's daughter, Joe realizes that she is not enamored exactly of him, but rather of the man whose body he has assumed. Joe returns to Bill, who tries to entrap Drew. Joe assists by claiming that he is an IRS agent investigating Drew's dealings, a play on the phrase "death and taxes" (a phrase which Black actually states). Bill is restored as chairman and the merger is canceled.

In his speech at the lavish gala celebration, Bill Parrish fondly expresses his appreciation to his daughters for their work preparing it as well as his love for both of them. Joe later escorts Bill out of sight over a nearby bridge, presumably to his death. Joe then sends back to life the young man whose body he borrowed, allowing Susan the chance to pursue a relationship with him. Susan tells him she wishes he could have met her father, indicating that she understands (as hinted earlier) that Joe Black was Death, and that her father is dead. The story ends as both of them are watching the fireworks celebrating her father's birthday.



Although the film's story and characters received praise, many critics felt that its three hour running time was excessive, and thus reaction became mixed, with some critics branding it boring, while others claimed its slow pace made the story more poignant.[1] In a survey of 24 professional critics at Metacritic the film only received a 43 out of 100 rating.

The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films nominated it for a Saturn Award in three categories - Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Music - the film was also nominated in the Worst Remake or Sequel category at the Razzie Awards. Gary Richied of the Westchester Gazette gave the movie a 4 star rating, citing the Academy Award deserving performances by Pitt and Hopkins. It also received positive reviews from Siskel and Ebert, who gave it "Two Thumbs Up", with Ebert adding "there's so much that's fine in this movie".[2]

While the film had a disappointing domestic box office return of $44,619,100, it fared much better overseas. Taking in an additional $98,321,000, the movie grossed a worldwide total of $142,940,100.

A two-hour version was made to show on television and airline flights, by cutting most of the plotline involving Hopkins' character's business. Brest derided this edit of his film and thus disowned it, so the director's credit was changed to the Hollywood pseudonym Alan Smithee.


External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Meet Joe Black is a 1998 film about a media mogul who acts as a guide to Death, who takes the form of a young man to learn about life on Earth and in the process, fall in love with his guide's daughter.

Directed by Martin Brest. Written by Ron Osborn, Jeff Reno, Kevin Wade, and Bo Goldman.
No one can die - while he loves! taglines


William Parrish

  • Don't blow smoke up my ass, you'll ruin my autopsy.
  • When I introduce you, and I tell them who you are, I don't think anyone will stay for dinner.
  • Love is passion, obsession, someone you can't live without. If you don't start with that, what are you going to end up with? Fall head over heels. I say find someone you can love like crazy and who'll love you the same way back. And how do you find him? Forget your head and listen to your heart. I'm not hearing any heart. Run the risk, if you get hurt, you'll come back. Because, the truth is there is no sense living your life without this. To make the journey and not fall deeply in love - well, you haven't lived a life at all. You have to try. Because if you haven't tried, you haven't lived.
  • I thought I was going to sneak away tonight. What a glorious night! Every face I see is a memory. It may not be a perfectly... perfect memory. Sometimes we've had our ups and downs, but we're all together, And you're mine, for a night. And I'm going to break precedence and tell you my one candle wish: that you would have a life, as lucky as mine where you can wake up one morning and say, "I don't want anything more." 65 years, don't they go by in a blink?
  • You never know, lightning could strike.
  • I want you to sing with rapture and dance like a dervish.
  • You're not Death. You're just a kid in a suit.
  • Thank you, Drew. Yeah. I did enjoy -- or rather I was interested in meeting John Bontecou, yesterday. And -- impressive, I suppose. But... But, it did get me to thinking. See, I started in this business because this is what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn't going to write the great American novel, but I also knew there was more to life than buying something for a dollar and selling it for two. I'd hoped to create something, something which could be held to the highest standards. And what I realized was I wanted to give the news to the world, and I wanted to give it unvarnished. The more we all know about each other, the greater the chance we will survive.

Sure, I want to make a profit. You can't exist without one. But John Bontecou is all profit. Now if we give him license to absorb Parrish Communications, and he has his eye on a few others after us, in order to reach the world you will have to go through John Bontecou. And not only will you have to pay him to do this, far more important, you'll have to agree with him.

Reporting the news is a privilege and a responsibility, and it is not exploitable. Parrish Communications has earned this privilege. John Bontecou wants to buy it. As your Chairman, I urge you to agree this company is not for sale

Joe Black

  • Careful Bill, you'll give yourself a heart attack and ruin my vacation.
  • Thank you for loving me.
  • I can't believe you people. I come for you, and you want to stay, I let you stay and you want to go.
  • Should you choose to test my resolve in this matter, you will be facing a finality beyond your comprehension, and you will not be counting days, or months, or years, but milleniums in a place with no doors.
  • You got enough nice pictures?
  • Hello Bill.
  • Do you have any peanut butter?


  • Allison: I should have my head examined again.
  • Susan Parrish: Love, passion, obsession, all those things you told me to wait for, well, they've arrived. What are you afraid of, Dad? That I'll fall head over heels for Joe? Well, I have.
  • Jamaican Woman: It nice it happen to you. Like you come to the island and had a holiday. Sun didn't burn you red-red, just brown. You sleep and no mosquito eat you. But the truth is, it bound to happen if you stay long enough. So take that nice picture you got in your head home with you, but don't be fooled. We lonely here mostly too. If we lucky, maybe, we got some nice pictures to take with us.


William Parrish: Hello? Is anyone here? [Louder] I said is anyone here?
Joe Black: Quiet down
William Parrish: Where are you?
Joe Black: I'm here
William Parrish: What is this a joke, right? Some kind of elaborate practical joke? Heh, at my fortieth reunion we delivered a casket to the class presidents hotel room and uh--
Joe Black: Quiet
William Parrish: [backing out of library]
Joe Black: Where are you going Bill?
William Parrish: I uh...
Joe Black: The great Bill Parrish at a loss of words? The man from whose lips fall "rapture" and "passion" and "obsession"? All those admonitions about being "deliriously happy, that there is no sense in living your life without" all the sparks and energy you give off, the rosy advice you dispense in round pear shaped tones.
William Parrish: What the hell is this? [Creaking, Joe Black appears in faded window] Who are you?
Joe Black: Just think of millenniums multiplied by eons compounded by time without end. I've been around that long. But it's only recently your affairs here have piqued my interest. Call it boredom. The natural curiosity of me the most lasting and significant element in existence has come to see you.
William Parrish: About what?
Joe Black: I want to have a look around before I take you.
William Parrish: Take me where?
Joe Black: It requires competence wisdom and experience, all those things they say about you in testimonials. And you’re the one.
William Parrish: The one to do what?
Joe Black: Show me around, be my guide. And in return you get...
William Parrish: I get what?
Joe Black: Time: minutes, days, weeks, lets not get encumbered by detail, what matters is that I stay interested. [Pause] Yes...
William Parrish: 'Yes' what?
Joe Black: 'Yes' is the answer to your question.
William Parrish: What question?
Joe Black: Oh Bill, come on. The question. The question you've been asking yourself with increased regularity, at odd moments, panting through the extra game of handball, when you ran for the plane in Delhi, when you sat up in bed last night and hit the floor in the office this morning. The question that is in the back of your throat, choking the blood to your brain, ringing in your ears over and over as you put it to yourself.
William Parrish: 'The question'...
Joe Black: Yes Bill the question. [Moves from glass into shadowy area] The question.
William Parrish: Am I going to die?
Joe Black: [approaches Bill. Stops] Yes.

William Parrish: You want me to be your guide?
Joe Black: You fit the bill, Bill.

William Parrish: [Walking along a crowded sidewalk] You know, I got to thinking. With you here and seemingly occupied, how's your work going, I mean, elsewhere?
Joe Black: While you were shaving this morning, you weren't just shaving.
William Parrish: What do you mean?
Joe Black: You were hatching ideas, making plans, arriving at decisions, right?
William Parrish: Yeah, I guess so
Joe Black: So you get the concept. While part of you is doing one thing, another part of you is doing another, perhaps even attending to the problems of your work. Correct?
William Parrish: Of course
Joe Black: So you understand the idea. Congratulations, Bill. Now multiply that by infinity, take that to the depth of forever, and you still will barely have a glimpse of what I'm talking about. [Bill stops, Joe keeps walking, Bill takes Joes arm and stops him from getting hit by a car...again]

Drew: ...the truth is, joining John Bontecou is every bit as certain as death and taxes.
Joe Black: Death and taxes?
Drew: Yes.
Joe Black: Death and taxes?
Drew: Yes.
Joe Black: What an odd pairing.

William Parrish: You know about money, don't you?
Joe Black: It can't buy happiness?

Jamaican woman: Obeah.
Joe Black: {Jamaican accent] Rahtid. Obeah evil. I not evil, woman.
Jamaican woman: And what you is then?
Joe Black: I from the next place.
Jamaican woman: You waitin' here to take us? Like you is the bus driver to there?
Joe Black: No, man, I on 'oliday.
Jamaican woman: Some spot you pick. [Groans faintly] The pain. Pain is bad, bad.
Joe Black: I don't have nothin' to do with these things, you know.
Jamaican woman: Make it go away.
Joe Black: Doctor Lady make it alright.
Jamaican woman: Uh-uh. Not this pain. This pain go through and through me. Make it go away.
Joe Black: I can't, sister.
Jamaican woman: You can, mister. Take me to that next place.
Joe Black: It's not your time now.
Jamaican woman: Make it time.
Joe Black: You can't fool with the way things got to be.
Jamaican woman: [whimpering] Please...
Joe Black: [pauses] Close your eyes. Go on, sister. [Puts his hands on her, woman smiles and opens her eyes slowly] Soon.

Drew: And who would've thought... you, an IRS agent.
Joe Black: Death and Taxes.

Susan Parrish: Tell me you love me now.
Joe Black: I love you now. I love you always.

Joe Black: I don't care Bill. I love her.
William Parrish: How perfect for you - to take whatever you want because it pleases you. That's not love.
Joe Black: Then what is it?
William Parrish: Some aimless infatuation which, for the moment, you feel like indulging - it's missing everything that matters.
Joe Black: Which is what?
William Parrish: Trust, responsibility, taking the weight for your choices and feelings, and spending the rest of your life living up to them. And above all, not hurting the object of your love.
Joe Black: So that's what love is according to William Parrish?
William Parrish: Multiply it by infinity, and take it to the depth of forever, and you will still have barely a glimpse of what I'm talking about.
Joe Black: Those were my words.
William Parrish: They're mine now.

William Parrish: You're at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong woman!
Joe Black: Are you threatening me?
William Parrish: Yeah, I certainly hope so.

William Parrish: It's hard to let go, isn't it?
Joe Black: Yes it is, Bill.
William Parrish: Well that's life. What can I tell you?

Susan Parrish: What will we do now?
Joe Black: It will come to us.

William Parrish: Should I be afraid?
Joe Black: A man like you?


  • No one can die - while he loves!
  • He's Expecting You.
  • Meet Joe Black: Sooner or Later Everyone Does


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