The Brother from Another Planet

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The Brother from Another Planet
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Sayles
Written byJohn Sayles
Produced byPeggy Rajski
Maggie Renzi
StarringJoe Morton
Darryl Edwards
Steve James
Bill Cobbs
David Strathairn
CinematographyErnest R. Dickerson
Edited byJohn Sayles
Music byMason Daring
John Sayles
Denzil Botus
Distributed byCinecom Pictures
Release date
  • September 7, 1984 (1984-09-07) (United States)
Running time
108 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box officeover $4 million[3]

The Brother from Another Planet is a 1984 American science fiction film, written and directed by John Sayles. The low-budget film stars Joe Morton as an extraterrestrial trapped on Earth. The film is in the public domain.[4][5]


A mute space alien crash-lands his ship on Ellis Island. Other than his three-toed feet which he keeps covered, he resembles a black human man. He manages to blend in with the people he encounters and engages in one-sided conversations with various denizens of New York City. He secures housing through a new acquaintance at a Harlem bar. Able to heal wounds and fix machines by holding his hand over them, he repairs an arcade cabinet there, leading to him gaining a job as a technician. Two men in black, keen on the mute alien's whereabouts, begin to track him and interrogate the people he has encountered. They seek to return him to the planet from which he escaped.



The premise for the film came about from a series of dreams Sayles had while making the film Lianna, the first involving alien car salesman called Assholes from Outer Space, the second a film noir take on Bigfoot, and the third and final being about an extraterrestrial who looks like a black man in Harlem which Sayles loved and cherry piciking elements from the other two dreams wrote the first draft of the screenplay in a little under a week.[6]

Director John Sayles has described The Brother from Another Planet as being about the immigrant experience of assimilation.[7] Extras from the film described it as "The Black E.T. movie."[8]

Sayles spent part of his MacArthur Fellows "genius" grant on the film, which cost $350,000 to produce.[2]

Sayles also invested his own money acquired from cable sales of Return of the Secaucus 7 as well writing fees for his work adapting The Clan of the Cave Bear and its sequel The Valley of Horses.[6]

The film was shot on location in Harlem with a predominantly black cast and crew.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Variety called The Brother from Another Planet a "vastly amusing but progressively erratic" film structured as a "series of behavioral vignettes, [many of which] are genuinely delightful and inventive"; as it continues, the film "takes a rather unpleasant and, ultimately, confusing turn."[1] Vincent Canby called it a "nice, unsurprising shaggy-dog story that goes on far too long" but singled out "Joe Morton's sweet, wise, unaggressive performance."[9] Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, saying "the movie finds countless opportunities for humorous scenes, most of them with a quiet little bite, a way of causing us to look at our society", noting that "by using a central character who cannot talk, [Sayles] is sometimes able to explore the kinds of scenes that haven't been possible since the death of silent film."[10]

The A.V. Club, in a 2003 review of the film's DVD release, said the film's superhero scenes are "often unintentionally silly, but again, Sayles shapes a catchy premise into a subtler piece, using Morton's 'alien' status as a way of asking who deserves to be called an outsider in a country born of outsiders"; commenting on the DVD, they noted its "marvelous" audio commentary track by Sayles, "who moves fluidly from behind-the-scenes anecdotes to useful technical tips to unpretentious dissections of his own themes."[11]

Paul Attanasio wrote: "Sayles is no storyteller; despite the verve of its language, The Brother From Another Planet eventually sags of its own weight. And all his movies are hampered by an almost shocking ignorance of filmmaking fundamentals -- he just doesn't know where to put his camera. The movie would have benefited from more attention to the bounty hunters, whose difficulties with Harlem culture would have balanced the Brother's strange ease of assimilation. Instead, the plot takes a centrifugal turn as the Brother roots out a scag baron whose drugs are poisoning the community."[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Variety Staff (December 31, 1983). "The Brother From Another Planet". Variety. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  2. ^ a b Richard Corliss (October 1, 1984). "Blues for Black Actors". Time. Archived from the original on September 12, 2012. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  3. ^ a b Gerry Molyneaux, John Sayles, Renaissance Books, 2000 p 135
  4. ^ Brother From Another Planet: The Movie That Brought Historic Black Experiences to Sci-Fi - MovieWeb
  5. ^ Critics At Large : Digging into the Past: Watching Public Domain Films Online
  6. ^ a b c Jones, Alan (September 1984). "The Brother from Another Planet". Cinefantastique. p. 15. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  7. ^ Jawetz, Gil (June 6, 2002). "The Return of The Brother from Another Planet: The John Sayles Interview". Retrieved 2012-09-09.
  8. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (25 October 1983). "John Sayles is Secure at Last". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Vincent Canby (September 14, 1984). "Sayles's Brother". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  10. ^ Roger Ebert (January 1, 1984). "The Brother From Another Planet". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  11. ^ Noel Murray (October 14, 2003). "Return Of The Secaucus 7 (DVD) / Men With Guns (DVD) / The Brother From Another Planet (DVD) / Lianna (DVD)". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
  12. ^ Attanasio, Paul (1984-11-16). "Listen to 'Brother'". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2023-04-26.

External links[edit]