Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mike Judge|
|Screenplay by||Mike Judge|
by Mike Judge
|Music by||John Frizzell|
|Edited by||David Rennie|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$12.2 million|
Office Space is a 1999 American comedy film written and directed by Mike Judge. It satirizes the everyday work life of a typical mid-to-late-1990s software company, focusing on a handful of individuals fed up with their jobs. It stars Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Cole, Stephen Root, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, and Diedrich Bader.
Office Space was shot in Dallas and Austin, Texas. It is based on Judge's Milton cartoon series and was his first foray into live-action filmmaking and his second full-length motion picture release, following Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. His 2009 film Extract is also set in an office and was meant to be a companion piece to Office Space.
The film's sympathetic depiction of ordinary information technology workers garnered a cult following within that field, but it also addresses themes familiar to white-collar employees and the workforce in general. It was a box office disappointment, making $12.2 million against a $10 million production budget. But after repeated airings on Comedy Central, it sold well on home video, and has become a cult film.
Several aspects of the film have become popular Internet memes. A scene where the three main characters systematically destroy a dysfunctional printer after being laid off has been widely parodied, by Family Guy, Ted Cruz's presidential campaign, and many amateurs. Swingline introduced a red stapler to its product line after the Milton character used one painted that color in the film.
Peter Gibbons is a programmer at a company called Initech who is frustrated and unmotivated at his job. His co-workers include fellow programmers Samir Nagheenanajar (who is annoyed that nobody can pronounce his last name correctly) and Michael Bolton (who hates having the same name as the famous singer, whom he despises), and Milton Waddams, a meek collator who is mostly ignored by the rest of the office. The staff constantly suffer under callous management, especially Initech's smarmy vice president Bill Lumbergh, whom Peter loathes. They are further agitated by the arrival of consultants Bob Slydell and Bob Porter, who are brought in to help the company downsize.
Peter's girlfriend Anne persuades him to attend an occupational hypnotherapy session, but Dr. Swanson, the therapist, dies of a heart attack while hypnotizing Peter. Peter wakes up the next morning newly relaxed, and he ignores repeated phone calls from Lumbergh, who had been expecting him to work over the weekend. He also ignores calls from Anne, who responds by angrily breaking up with him and admitting that she has been cheating on him, confirming his friends' suspicions. The following workday, Peter decides to skip work and asks Joanna, a restaurant waitress, out for lunch. Joanna and Peter bond over their shared loathing of idiotic management and love of the television series Kung Fu.
When Peter finally shows up at work, he casually disregards office protocol, including violating Initech's dress code, taking Lumbergh's reserved parking spot, refusing to follow Lumbergh's directions, and removing a cubicle wall that blocks his view out the window. The consultants are impressed by his frank insights into the office problems, and they decide to promote him. They also confide that Michael and Samir's jobs will be eliminated; Peter relays this news to them, and the trio decide to get even by infecting Initech's accounting system with a computer virus designed to divert fractions of pennies into a bank account. They believe that such transactions are small enough to avoid detection but will result in the accrual of a substantial amount of money over time. On Michael and Samir's last day at Initech, the pair along with Peter steal a frequently malfunctioning printer, which the three take to a field and smash to pieces to vent their frustration as the Geto Boys' "Still" plays on the soundtrack.
At a barbecue, Peter learns that Joanna had previously slept with a colleague identified as "Lumbergh". He assumes it to be his boss and confronts Joanna in disgust. She questions the morality of his financial scheme, and the two split up. Peter then discovers that a bug in Michael's code has caused their virus to steal over $300,000 in only a few days, which is far more conspicuous. Meanwhile, Joanna has finally stood up to her boss and quit, and Peter has discovered that she slept with a different "Lumbergh." Peter admits to her that the scheme was a bad idea and that he plans to accept responsibility for the crime, and they reconcile. He writes out a confession and slips it under Lumbergh's office door late at night, along with traveler's cheques for the stolen money.
Milton, meanwhile, has become increasingly disgruntled at his treatment by management, to the point that he has mumbled threats about setting the building on fire. The next morning, he enters Lumbergh's office to reclaim a red Swingline stapler that was taken from him. Peter arrives at work fully expecting to be arrested, but he finds instead that his problem has solved itself. The Initech building is engulfed in flames, and all evidence of the missing money has been destroyed. Peter finally finds a job that he likes, doing construction work with his next-door neighbor Lawrence, while Samir and Michael both get jobs at Initech's rival. While hauling away rubble from the fire, Peter finds Milton's stapler and keeps it, claiming he knows someone who is looking for it. Meanwhile, Milton is seen lounging on the beach at a Mexican resort, having found the traveler's cheques Peter left in Lumbergh's office, but he is still not happy, and is heard complaining about his beverage and threatening to take his business to a competitor.
- Ron Livingston as Peter Gibbons
- Jennifer Aniston as Joanna
- Stephen Root as Milton Waddams
- Gary Cole as Bill Lumbergh
- David Herman as Michael Bolton
- Ajay Naidu as Samir Nagheenanajar
- Diedrich Bader as Lawrence
- John C. McGinley as Bob Slydell
- Joe Bays as Dom Portwood
- Alexandra Wentworth as Anne
- Richard Riehle as Tom Smykowski
- Paul Willson as Bob Porter
- Kinna McInroe as Nina
- Todd Duffey as Brian
- Greg Pitts as Drew
- Mike McShane as Dr. Swanson
- Orlando Jones as Steve
- Mike Judge (credited as "William King") as Stan
- Jack Betts as Judge
Office Space originated in the series of four animated Milton short films that Judge created about an office worker by that name. They first aired on Liquid Television and Night After Night with Allan Havey, and later aired on Saturday Night Live. The inspiration came from a temp job which he had that involved alphabetizing purchase orders and another job as an engineer for three months in the Bay Area during the 1980s, "just in the heart of Silicon Valley and in the middle of that overachiever yuppie thing, it was just awful".
Peter Chernin, head of 20th Century Fox, where Judge had a deal, wanted to make a film out of the Milton character. Judge said "You don't want to know what he does at home after work". Instead he suggested an ensemble cast–based film; someone at the studio responded with Car Wash but "just set in an office".
The setting of the film reflects a prevailing trend that Judge observed in the United States. "It seems like every city now has these identical office parks with identical adjoining chain restaurants", he said in an interview. "There were a lot of people who wanted me to set this movie in Wall Street, or like the movie Brazil, but I wanted it very unglamorous, the kind of bleak work situation like I was in".
Judge wrote a treatment in 1996, and the script after the first season of King of the Hill. Fox president Tom Rothman was happy with the draft as he was looking for lighter material to balance the event movies like Titanic that dominated the studio's output at the time. He considered it "the most brilliant workplace satire I'd ever read". Despite that, Judge hated the ending and wished he could have completely rewritten the third act.
David Herman was the only actor Judge had had in mind for a specific part: Michael Bolton. Herman had been trying to leave his seven-year contract at MADtv, but the show would not let him. So, at its next table reading, he managed to get himself fired by screaming all his lines. Despite the usual warning that he would never work in Hollywood again, Greg Daniels said they could always find a place for him on King of the Hill, where he had been doing some voice work; soon after he read Judge's Office Space script and was delighted with it.
At the first read-through of the script, Judge decided not to voice Milton and just listen. He was pleased with Herman's performance, and felt Stephen Root improved on his own take on Milton, but none of the other actors felt right. Judge was ready to give up on the film, but Rothman said it worked and just needed the right actors.
According to Judge, while Fox at first told him to just get the best actors possible since the film's budget would not be large enough to consider bankable stars, the studio soon changed its mind. In the wake of the success of Good Will Hunting, he was advised to get that film's stars, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Again, he almost changed his mind about the film (Rothman said in 2019 that while A-list stars are often unlikely to take roles in low-budget productions, those films should nevertheless make the effort to attract them). He had agreed to meet with Damon in New York, but then Ron Livingston's agent asked if his client could audition for the lead. Casting director Nancy Klopper was impressed, and after Judge saw the video he told the studio that he wanted Livingston in the part.
Jennifer Aniston was cast to accommodate Fox's desire to have a recognizable star in the film, although they were concerned that her part was so small; the subplot involving her battle with her boss over her "flair" was added as a result and she was written out of the sex-dream sequence, along with dialogue indicating she actually had slept with Lumbergh. However, she had liked the script since she was not getting many other films like that at that point, and also knew Livingston from high school. Kate Hudson also read for the part.
After casting the Indian American Ajay Naidu as Samir, who had originally been written as Iranian, the character was rewritten to be Jordanian, and Naidu worked with a dialect coach to get the accent right. John C. McGinley auditioned for Lumbergh, but was ultimately cast as Slydell. Judge says that after Gary Cole read for Lumbergh, there was no doubt as to who would play him. "He made the character 10 times funnier." A casting search in Texas yielded Greg Pitts for Drew, but no one who could play the Tchotchkie's manager, so Judge took that role himself.
Judge made the transition from animation to live-action with the help of Tim Suhrstedt, the film's director of photography, who taught him about lenses and where to put the camera. Judge says, "I had a great crew, and it's good going into it not pretending you're an expert". Principal photography began in Texas in May 1998.
It did not start off well. By the third day of shooting, temperatures had risen over 100 °F (38 °C), and smoke from fires in Mexico was filling the sky over Austin, making it white. Suhrstedt says that forced the postponement of the opening traffic-jam scene until it cleared.
Studio executives who saw the dailies were not happy with the footage that Judge was getting. He remembers them telling him, "More energy! More energy! We gotta reshoot it! You're failing! You're failing!" They also asked for Livingston to smile more. But at that point, only the early scenes had been filmed; Judge told the studio that happier scenes would come later. Livingston says he heard they believed he was on drugs and were considering firing him.
In addition, Fox did not like the gangsta rap music used in the film. Rothman told him he had to take it out, and Judge said after production he would do so if the next focus group also disliked it. A young man in that focus group said the fact that the characters worked in an office but listened to gangsta rap was one of the things he liked about the movie, and Rothman relented.
The scene where Peter, Ron and Samir take their office printer out into a field and batter it to pieces was inspired by Judge's experience with his own printer while writing Beavis and Butt-head Do America. He told his cowriter Joe Stillman that he was so frustrated by it that when he was done with the script he planned to take it out into a field and destroy it while videotaping the process. Suhrstedt says the whole sequence was largely improvised, but Naidu adds that they were trying to do it in a way that evoked how the Mafia would do it to someone it wanted to punish or kill; Livingston thus played his part like the "don", circling behind Naidu and Herman while they struck the blows with bat, feet and fists. Years afterward, Naidu says, he met some actual mafiosi in New York who told him that they were huge fans of the film, and the scene was "authentic".
McGinley says the film contains many improvised moments. "It was like jazz on that set". One example he recalled was when Paul Willson as Bob Porter cannot pronounce Samir's last name: "Naga ... Naga ... well, not gonna work here anymore anyway." Naidu, for his part, improvised the break dancing, which he did with local friends after shooting his scenes during the day.
The improvisation also helped solve some problems with the script. Originally Bolton was to refer to the singer he shared his name with as a "no-singing asshole". However, Herman recalled, it was decided that the film could not say that since it would imply he did not sing his own songs, so he came up with "no-talent ass-clown".
Judge was very exacting in his demands for how the Initech set looked; he said regularly that it had to seem "oppressive". The production went as far as screen-testing different types of gray cubicles; Judge also wanted the cubicles to be tall so that Lumbergh would have to lean in to be seen from Peter's desk. Considerable effort was also expended to making sure the TPS reports looked realistic.
The glasses Root wore to play Milton had lenses so thick that the actor had to wear contact lenses to see through them. Even so he still had no depth perception; he had to practice reaching for the stapler and was as a result grateful it had been painted red. Swingline provided the stapler after the filmmakers could not get permission to use either the Boston or Bostitch brands from their manufacturer.
Judge hated the onesheet poster that the studio created for Office Space, which depicted an office worker completely covered in Post-it notes. He said, "People were like, 'What is this? A big bird? A mummy? A beekeeper?' And the tagline 'Work Sucks'? It looked like an Office Depot ad. I just hated it. I hated the trailers, too and the TV ads especially". McGinley, too, felt it looked like Big Bird from the Sesame Street children's series, and that he would not go to see such a film. For the home release Judge was upset that the same image was used, albeit with Milton peeking over the man from behind.
The studio also had a man live in a Plexiglas cube above Times Square for five days. Livingston, when he visited the cube for press events, found that most reporters preferred to talk to the man in the cube and not him. He was not surprised, as tracking for the movie was not good and "there was a foregone conclusion that it wasn't going to open well." Producer Michael Rotenberg elaborated that "[i]t took a few research screenings to realize that audiences often have issues with satire."
Another problem Rothman conceded later, was that they couldn't put Aniston on the poster due to her small role. Later he admitted that the marketing campaign did not work and said, "Office Space isn't like American Pie. It doesn't have the kind of jokes you put in a 15-second television spot of somebody getting hit on the head with a frying pan. It's sly. And let me tell you, sly is hard to sell".
Office Space was released on February 19, 1999, in 1,740 theatres, grossing USD$4.2 million on its opening weekend. That was eighth overall and second for new releases after October Sky. Herman said he was elated after seeing the film in Los Angeles and hearing it had made $7 million, until friends more familiar with the movie business told him that was a poor performance.
Suhrstedt saw it later in Burbank, and the theater was almost full. He assured Judge that word of mouth would slowly increase the audience. However, in early March Fox pulled it from three-quarters of the screens it had been on after it barely made a million dollars that weekend. The movie's grosses continued to decline precipitously, and after the end of March, when it pulled in less than $40,000 from 75 screens, it was pulled from release altogether. According to Judge, a studio executive blamed the movie exclusively for the failure, telling him "Nobody wants to see your little movie about ordinary people and their boring little lives".
It went on to make $10.8 million in North America. The international release brought an additional $2 million. On home release, 6 million copies in DVD, Blu-ray Disc and VHS sales have been sold since February 12, 2006.
Office Space received positive reviews from critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 79% rating based on 96 reviews, and an average rating of 6.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Mike Judge lampoons the office grind with its inspired mix of sharp dialogue and witty one-liners." Metacritic gives a weighted average score of 68/100, based on reviews from 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore during opening weekend gave the film an average grade of "C+" on a scale ranging from A+ to F.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars and wrote that Judge: "Treats his characters a little like cartoon creatures. That works. Nuances of behavior are not necessary, because in the cubicle world every personality trait is magnified, and the captives stagger forth like grotesques." In his review for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle writes, "Livingston is nicely cast as Peter, a young guy whose imagination and capacity for happiness are the very things making him miserable." In USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna wrote, "If you've ever had a job, you'll be amused by this paean to peons."[dead link]
Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C" rating and criticized it for feeling "cramped and underimagined". In his review for The Globe and Mail, Rick Groen wrote: "Perhaps his TV background makes him unaccustomed to the demands of a feature-length script (the ending seems almost panicky in its abruptness), or maybe he just succumbs to the lure of the easy yuk...what began as discomfiting satire soon devolves into silly farce." In his review in The New York Times, Stephen Holden wrote, "It has the loose-jointed feel of a bunch of sketches packed together into a narrative that doesn't gather much momentum."
In 2008, Entertainment Weekly named Office Space one of "The 100 best films from 1983 to 2008", ranking it at #73.
Disappointed in the film's $12 million domestic gross, Judge decided to move on and began work on what eventually became Extract, a similarly-themed followup to Office Space. Fox suggested that next time, he pay more heed to the studio's casting suggestions. However, he soon learned that the film had not gone unnoticed within the industry. "Jim Carrey invited me to his house. Chris Rock left me the best voicemail ever. I had dinner with Madonna", who found the Michael Bolton character's anger "sexy", Judge said.
Four years later, Judge was working on the Idiocracy screenplay with Etan Cohen. During a break, the two went to an Austin Starbucks, and the baristas were doing impressions of Lumbergh. Cohen asked Judge if they were only doing it because he was present, whereupon the barista turned around and asked the two if they had ever seen the movie.
Other cast members found the film had reached people when strangers began associating them with their characters. Cole said that a year after release, on the service jobs he works when not acting, people began shouting dialogue from the movie at him. Aniston says that even today, when she is eating "at a certain type of restaurant", people will ask if she likes their flair.
Comedy Central premiered Office Space on August 5, 2001; that airing drew 1.4 million viewers. By 2003, the channel had broadcast the film another 35 times. These broadcasts helped develop the film's cult following; Livingston credits the regular airings the film received on the Comedy Central cable channel for making Office Space a cult favorite: "It felt like it kind of went viral before that concept even existed."
Since then, Livingston has been being approached by college students and office workers. He said, "I get a lot of people who say, 'I quit my job because of you.' That's kind of a heavy load to carry." Livingston says that people tell him watching Office Space made them feel better, which he still appreciates.
Office Space has become a cult classic, selling well on home video and DVD. As of 2003[update], it had sold 2.6 million copies on VHS and DVD. In the same year, it was in the top 20 best-selling Fox DVDs. As of 2006[update], it had sold over six million DVDs in the United States alone.
In 2008, Entertainment Weekly ranked it fifth on its list "25 Great Comedies From the Past 25 Years", despite having originally given the film a poor review. In February 2009, a reunion of many of the cast members took place at the Paramount Theatre in Austin to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the film. Rothman said in 2019 that despite his connection to several films that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, he hopes Office Space will be mentioned before them in his obituary.
"[Office Space] spoke to a generation in a way that few movies have," said John Altschuler, who produced Extract, Judge's later companion piece. "Nobody does this kind of material. It's all about the weirdness of real people in real life."
Several elements of the film have become memes reused in other contexts. "TPS report" has come to connote pointless, mindless paperwork, and an example of "literacy practices" in the work environment that are "meaningless exercises imposed upon employees by an inept and uncaring management" and "relentlessly mundane and enervating". According to Judge, the abbreviation stood for "Test Program Set" in the movie. The PC LOAD LETTER error message has likewise become a stand-in for any confusing, vague message from a computer. The printer scene has been widely parodied, including by one U.S. presidential campaign, and the popularity of Milton's red stapler led the manufacturer to make a real one for sale.
|"Office Space with Michael Bolton"|
In 2015 the comedy website Funny or Die put together several videos in which it spliced in the actual Michael Bolton over Herman in scenes from the film. Most of them were ones which referenced the confusion coming from the character and the singer having the same name. Bolton performed the scenes exactly as Herman had, with one exception: in his conversation with Samir, he turned to the camera and substituted the words "extremely talented" for "no-talent" before "ass-clown".
Before the 2009 Austin reunion screening a printer was destroyed outside the theater, in reference to the scene in the film where Peter, Michael and Samir do that to the dysfunctional printer on the latter two's final day at Initech  That scene has frequently been parodied; often by amateurs, using a similar electronic device, in an open space somewhere, emulating the original's character blocking, camera angles and moves, sound effects and use of slow motion, all set to "Still".
The Fox animated series Family Guy did its own parody of the scene in 2008, during the show's seventh season. In "I Dream of Jesus", the season's second episode, Brian and Stewie Griffin, tired of Peter constantly playing The Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird", steal his 45 rpm single of the song and demolish it in a similar scene. For television a clean version of "Still" had to be used.
During the campaign for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election, Texas senator Ted Cruz ran a political advertisement parodying the scene, mocking likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over allegations she had deleted potentially controversial emails from her personal server.
The red stapler
Stephen Root says he realized the movie's impact when people started asking him to sign their staplers. The red Swingline stapler featured prominently in the film was not available until April 2002 when the company released it in response to repeated requests by fans of the film. Its appearance in the film was achieved by taking a standard Swingline stapler and spray-painting it red.
The website TV Tropes has named its page for the phenomenon where a product's appearance in media creates demand for it in the real world, sometimes sufficient enough for a manufacturer to make a real version of one that had previously only had a fictional existence, "The Red Stapler". Root says when he shows up on sets today, the crew has usually ordered several boxes of Swingline red staplers and left them waiting for him.
In other media
|Office Space: Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Soundtrack album by
|Released||February 18, 1999|
|Genre||Hip hop, Rap|
- Track listing
Shortly after the release of Office Space Judge, despite his disappointment at the movie's lackluster box office, began writing the script for Extract, which he describes as a companion piece. The studio later asked him to put it aside to work on Idiocracy, which it believed would be more commercial. After that film, like Office Space, failed at the box office but became a cult favorite, Judge returned to Extract and it was released in 2009. It similarly makes light of workplace dysfunction, but from the perspective of a manager rather than a worker.
"There's been talk of doing more with Office Space, as a show or sequel, but it's never seemed right", Judge said ahead of the film's 20th anniversary. As for the former possibility, he recalled that because of the film, NBC offered him the chance to shape the American version of the British sitcom The Office, which similarly bases its humor in depictions of the absurdity of white-collar work and its effect on those who do it. Among the material the network sent, however, were some reviews, one of which said the series "succeeds where movies like Office Space failed." He passed.
- 1998 in film
- List of American films of 1998
- List of comedy films of the 1990s
- List of Jennifer Aniston performances
- Mike Judge filmography
- Clockwatchers, 1998 comedy-drama about four female office temps with similar themes
- Dilbert, comic strip with similar characters, setting and themes
- Silicon Valley, comedy series created by Judge set at tech companies
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The trope is named after the red Swingline stapler prominently featured in Office Space. Swingline didn't make full-size red staplers; the one in the film was a black stapler painted red. Then life would imitate art, as people demanded a red version, and they got one.
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