Hollywood Flashback: 'The Lawnmower Man' Explored Virtual Reality in 1992

The Lawnmower Man Still - Photofest - P 2018
Courtesy of Photofest

The sci-fi feature was dubbed "unexceptional" by THR's film critic, but director Steven Spielberg hopes to find more success with 'Ready Player One,' his upcoming adaptation of Ernest Cline's novel.

With Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg now has his own VR epic. He'd probably be happy if his estimated $175 million-budgeted film made more than five times its cost the way 1992's The Lawnmower Man did ($6 million to $32 million box office). But he'd probably like to avoid other aspects of the first VR-themed movie's release.

Like the THR review: "Frankenstein meets Virtual Reality in The Lawnmower Man, an otherwise unexceptional sci-fi feature," was the first sentence. (And he has: Ready was hailed as a "rollicking adventure through worlds both bleak and fantastic" in its THR review.) And then there was the problem of the source material.

Spielberg's film is based on a novel by Ernest Cline. Lawnmower sprung from a short story by Stephen King, who sued for "misleading and deceptive use" of his name. King's story was about a suburbanite run over and dismembered by the workman he hires to mow his lawn. The New Line version is about a dull gardener whose IQ is raised via VR experiments. Jeff Fahey played the gardener, and, two years before he took on 007, Pierce Brosnan was the mad scientist.

"Stephen liked the movie," says director Brett Leonard. "He called me and told me that. What he didn't like was it was marketed as being 'from the mind of Stephen King.' His story was one scene in the movie. The virtual reality part had nothing to do with his story." 

This story first appeared in the March 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.