Christopher Nolan saved 'Donnie Darko' from straight to cable TV

Ben Arnold
Donnie Darko (Credit: Flower Films)

Donnie Darko is a bona fide cult classic, the movie which gave us the Gyllenhaals, a memorable cover of Mad World and a superb cameo role for Patrick Swayze.

But according to its director Richard Kelly, it almost ended up going direct to the small screen and potentially being lost forever.

It was only thanks to Interstellar director Christopher Nolan, who, it emerges, was a fan of the movie and began pulling strings.

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“Sometimes, the wind is at your back. Sometimes, it’s at your front,” Kelly told The Guardian.

“Darko was a disaster at Sundance too. No one remembers that, but it was. I’m grateful for any rosy glow of hindsight.

“I remember it took us almost six months to sell the movie. It almost went directly to the Starz network. We had to beg them to put it in theaters.

“Christopher Nolan stepped in and convinced Newmarket to put it in theaters.”

Though it made only $7.5 million at the box office – having cost - $4.5 million to make, it picked up business on DVD, and was also a critical hit.

Richard Kelly and Dwayne Johnson (Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

However, Kelly's next movie, the comedy thriller Southland Tales starring Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore and Justin Timberlake, was battered by critics, with a commercial disaster to follow.

Having cost $17 million, it made only $375,000 at the box office.

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A sequel to Donnie Darko, not made by Kelly but based on his characters, emerged in 2009, called S. Darko and centring on Donnie's sister Samantha.

That too was panned by critics.

Kelly told Popmatters in 2017: “I hate it when people ask me about that sequel because I had nothing to do with it. And I hate it when people try and blame me or hold me responsible for it because I had no [involvement].

“I don’t control the underlying rights to [the Donnie Darko franchise]. I had to relinquish them when I was 24 years old. I hate when people ask me about that because I’ve never seen it and I never will, so… don’t ask me about the sequel.”