Upgrade (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byLeigh Whannell
Written byLeigh Whannell
Produced by
CinematographyStefan Duscio
Edited byAndy Canny
Music byJed Palmer
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 10 March 2018 (2018-03-10) (SXSW)
  • 1 June 2018 (2018-06-01) (United States)
  • 14 June 2018 (2018-06-14) (Australia)
Running time
100 minutes
  • Australia
  • United States
Budget$3 million[3]
Box office$17 million[3]

Upgrade is a 2018 Australian cyberpunk action film[4][5] written and directed by Leigh Whannell and starring Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, and Harrison Gilbertson. The film follows a technophobe who is implanted with a chip that allows him to control his body after a mugging left him paralyzed.[6] The film was produced by Jason Blum, under his Blumhouse Productions banner.

After premiering on 10 March 2018 at South by Southwest, the film was released on 1 June 2018 in the United States by OTL Releasing and Blumhouse Tilt, and on 14 June 2018 in Australia.[7] The film received positive reviews from critics, who called it "one part The Six Million Dollar Man, one part Death Wish revenge fantasy", and praised the film's dark humor and action sequences.[8]


Grey Trace, a mechanic, asks his wife Asha, a tech company employee, to help him return a refurbished car to his client Eron Keen, a renowned tech innovator. While visiting his home, Eron reveals his latest creation, a multi-purpose chip called STEM with almost unlimited potential. Returning home, Grey and Asha's self-driving car malfunctions and crashes. Four men attack the couple. Asha is killed and Grey is shot in the neck, severing his spinal cord.

Grey returns home months later as a quadriplegic, under the care of his mother, Pamela. Asha's death and the inability of Detective Cortez to identify their attackers causes Grey to sink into depression. After a suicide attempt, he is soon visited by Eron, who convinces him to accept a STEM implant, claiming it would allow him to walk again. Grey regains control of his limbs and Eron has Grey sign a non-disclosure agreement, requiring Grey to pretend to still be paralyzed. While watching a drone video feed of his wife's murder, Grey hears STEM speak in his mind. STEM says it can help Grey get revenge and quickly identifies one of the assailants, Serk Brantner, from the video.

Grey breaks into Serk's home and finds proof Serk was "upgraded" with cybernetic implants, and finds messages connecting him with a local bar called the Old Bones. Serk arrives and attacks Grey, but STEM convinces Grey to allow it to take full control of his body, and easily outmatches and overpowers Serk, violently killing him. Although Cortez later sees drone footage of Grey’s wheelchair approaching Serk’s house, his paralysis negates him as a suspect.

Eron has tracked STEM's movements and berates Grey for potentially exposing STEM. Grey reveals STEM is speaking to him; taken aback by the news, Eron demands that Grey stop his investigation. Grey proceeds to the Old Bones and finds Tolan, another of the assailants. After subduing Tolan and his men, Grey allows STEM to torture Tolan to death, obtaining the name of the assailants' ringleader, Fisk, and alluding that Asha's company hired them to kill her. Leaving the bar, Grey stumbles, and STEM informs him that Eron is attempting to shut them down remotely and bring Grey to custody by sending a security team. Fisk arrives at the bar and manages to extract information where Grey is heading from Tolan's eye memory footage. STEM directs Grey to a nearby hacker, formerly known as Jamie, and Grey manages to reach the hacker's address just as STEM shuts down completely, rendering Grey paralyzed again. The hired hacker manages to remove STEM's input guard and leaves just as Fisk arrives, denying Eron remote access to STEM. Fisk kills Eron's incoming security team. Grey, with STEM's abilities restored, kills Fisk's remaining companion, Wen, and goes home.

Grey returns home only for Pamela to see him walking, forcing him to reveal STEM's existence. Cortez arrives to interrogate them after finding Grey's wheelchair abandoned at the Old Bones; she leaves after planting a listening device on Grey's jacket. Grey now wishes to give up the hunt, but STEM explains that Fisk will track them down and kill them. STEM then reveals that the hack gives him free control of Grey’s body. On the way to Fisk, Grey is pursued by Cortez on the highway. STEM causes an automated car to malfunction and crash into Cortez’s car. Cortez returns to Grey's home, where Pamela explains STEM to her.

Grey and STEM find Fisk, who reveals he was only hired to paralyze Grey so he could be implanted, and that Asha’s death was merely collateral. Fisk’s own upgrades outpace Grey's movements, enabling him to gain the upper hand and subdue Grey, but Grey, realizing that Serk is Fisk's brother, mockingly taunts him and brags about the murder and Serk's final moments. With Fisk emotionally distracted, STEM is able to kill him. Fisk's phone reveals messages from Eron, suggesting that he had orchestrated all the events.

Grey enters Eron's home and confronts him, but is held at gunpoint by Cortez before he can kill Eron. Eron confesses how STEM forced him to do its bidding, having long since come to dominate all aspects of Eron's life in pursuit of its goal to become human, and that it wants to kill Eron as he is the only person capable of creating another STEM. STEM then kills Eron and attempts to kill Cortez, but Grey fights for control over his own body, managing to stab his own hand. While attempting to shoot himself as a last resort, he suddenly wakes up in a hospital room, not paralyzed; Asha enters and explains he has been unconscious for days following their crash.

In reality, Grey is still in Eron's home. STEM, now in complete control, explains to Cortez that the psychological strain has finally broken Grey's mind, leaving Grey stuck in a fantasy where he can be with Asha, and allowing STEM to fully possess his body; this was STEM's objective all along. Grey yields to his ideal dream state, while STEM kills Cortez and leaves.



Writer and director Leigh Whannell

The film was originally titled STEM.[9] Whannell wrote the first draft at least six years before making the film.[10] Principal photography on the film began in March 2017 in Whannell's hometown of Melbourne. The chase scene taking place on the southern section of the Craigieburn bypass Hume Freeway (M31) goes the opposite direction to what would have been normal traffic flow to appear that it was filmed in a left hand drive country. Editing took place in Sydney.[9][10]

Logan Marshall-Green based Grey's movement while under STEM's control on that of the character Zenyatta in the video game Overwatch.[11]

Cinematographer Stefan Duscio shot the film with Arri Alexa XT and Alexa Mini cameras and Panavision C- and E-Series anamorphic lenses.[12] The unusual camerawork during the fight scenes was achieved by attaching a phone to Marshall-Green and having the Alexa Mini track the gyroscope of the phone.[12][13]


After premiering on 10 March 2018 at South by Southwest and winning the Midnighters Award, [14] the film was released on 1 June in the United States, and 14 June in Australia by Blumhouse Tilt.[citation needed]

Upgrade is setup for retail in 2 packages, Blu-ray with Digital HD[15] & DVD[16] on 28 August 2018.


Box office[edit]

In the United States, Upgrade was released on 1 June 2018, alongside Adrift and Action Point, and was projected to gross around $3 million from 1,457 theaters in its opening weekend.[17] It ended up debuting slightly above estimates with $4.6 million and finished sixth at the box office. It was the second best opening for a BH Tilt film, after The Darkness' $4.95 million in 2016.[18] It made $2.2 million in its second weekend, finishing ninth.[19]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 88% based on 193 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Like its augmented protagonist, Upgrade's old-fashioned innards get a high-tech boost–one made even more powerful thanks to sharp humor and a solidly well-told story."[20] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 67 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[21] Audiences polled by PostTrak gave the film a 78% overall positive score and a 46% "definite recommend".[18]

In The Sunday Times (UK) Ed Potton muses, "apart from a few flimsy special effects... this is a satire that cleaves dangerously close to reality at times."[22] Emily Yoshida, writing for New York magazine's blog Vulture, said, "A great and grimy little screw-turner of sci-fi schlock, the kind that they truly don't make anymore, the kind that would make Carpenter and Cameron proud."[23] In a less positive review, Charles Bramesco of The Guardian said, "While Whannell wrestles with warring desires to fret over the techno oblivion we’re hurtling towards or have a laugh about it, that conflict manifests in a disappointing tonal clash that robs the film of the low-rent fun it could be having."[24]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients Result Ref.
AACTA Awards 3 December 2018 Best Original Screenplay Leigh Whannell Nominated [25]
Best Editing Andy Canny Nominated
Best Original Music Score Jed Palmer Nominated
Best Sound Will Files, P.K. Hooker, Andrew Ramage Nominated
Best Production Design Felicity Abbott, Katie Sharrock Nominated
Best Visual Effects or Animation Kate Bernauer, Aevar Bjarnason, Matt Daly, Jonathan Dearing, Angelo Sahin Nominated
Best Hair and Makeup Larry Van Duynhoven, Chiara Tripodi Nominated
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards February 25, 2019 Best Wide Release Leigh Whannell Nominated [26]
Best Actor Logan Marshall-Green Nominated
Saturn Award 13 September 2019 Best Science Fiction Film Nominated [27][28]
SXSW Film Awards 13 March 2018 Audience Award – Midnighters Leigh Whannell Won [14]

Television series[edit]

Leigh Whannell explained that the film was written as a standalone film without any expectations of a sequel.[29] Based on prerelease tracking, Whannell said a sequel was unlikely.[13]

On 16 August 2018, producer Jason Blum said he had plans for a potential sequel.[30] In February 2020, Leigh Whannell expressed enthusiasm for making a follow-up, saying "I loved making that film, so I'd love to do it with a bit more money." Blum restated that he "would love an Upgrade sequel" and that although there were no immediate plans, it was something on both of their minds.

In May 2020, it was reported that the sequel was being reworked into a television series, with Whannell, in addition to directing the series, would co-create the series alongside Tim Walsh, who will serve as showrunner and both men will serve as executive producers. Blumhouse Television is set to produce the series alongside UCP, who have set up a writers room. The plot of the series is that it is set a few years after the events of the film, with an evolved version of STEM and new host, with the government using STEM as a way to curb criminal activity.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (31 May 2018). "Film Review: 'Upgrade'". Variety. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  2. ^ Upgrade at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b "Upgrade (2018)". The Numbers. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  4. ^ Yamato, Jen (1 June 2018). "'Upgrade' director Leigh Whannell brings sci-fi action thrills to our tech-obsessed times". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ Houghton, David (4 September 2018). "Matrix-level action and MCU charisma: Why Upgrade is the best sci-fi action movie of the year (that you've probably missed)". GamesRadar+.
  6. ^ McNary, Dave (15 December 2016). "Prometheus Actor Logan Marshall-Green to Star in Sci-Fi Movie Stem". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  7. ^ McNary, Dave (24 January 2018). "Shailene Woodley's Adrift Set for June Release in Deadpool 2 Slot". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  8. ^ Giles, Jeff (31 May 2018). "Adrift Gets There Eventually". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  9. ^ a b Noonan, John (9 March 2017). "Leigh Whannell's Blumhouse Film, STEM, Shoots in Melbourne". Filmink. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  10. ^ a b Ha, Anthony (1 June 2018). "'Upgrade' director Leigh Whannell talks low-budget worldbuilding". Techcrunch. Oath Inc. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  11. ^ Miller, Gregory E. (31 May 2018). "'Upgrade' actor: It takes serious training to play a cyborg vigilante". New York Post.
  12. ^ a b Bizzaca, Caris (24 January 2019). "Camera and lenses of 9 Aussie films from 2018". Screen Australia. Retrieved 30 May 2020.
  13. ^ a b Couch, Aaron (1 June 2018). "'Upgrade' Director Leigh Whannell on Box-Office Pressures and Visiting 'Aquaman' Set". The Hollywood Reporter.
  14. ^ a b Barkan, Jonathan (17 March 2018). "SXSW 2018: Leigh Whannell's Upgrade Wins Audience Award". Dread Central. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  15. ^ "Upgrade + Digital HD with Ultraviolet". Amazon. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  16. ^ "Upgrade". Amazon. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  17. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (30 May 2018). "'Solo' Second Weekend To Induce Post-Memorial Day Slumber at B.O. – Preview". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  18. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (3 June 2018). "'Solo' Hits Asteroid With $29M-$30M; 'Action Point' Condemned To $2M+: Post-Memorial Day Blues at the B.O." Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 3 June 2018.
  19. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (10 June 2018). "'Ocean's 8' Steals Franchise Record With $41.5M Opening – Final Sunday Update". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  20. ^ "Upgrade (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  21. ^ "Upgrade Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  22. ^ Potton, Ed. "Potton, Ed: Upgrade (2018)". Times (UK). News UK. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  23. ^ Potton, Ed. "Yoshida, Emily: Upgrade (2018)". Vulture. New York. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  24. ^ "Yoshida, Emily: Upgrade (2018)". The Guardian. 31 May 2018. Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  25. ^ "Winners & Nominees". www.aacta.org.
  26. ^ @shudder (25 February 2019). "Thanks to everyone for getting in your votes for @FANGORIA's 2019 Chainsaw Awards! So much well-deserved recognition, and we're proud to see MANDY and TERRIFIED bring home wins" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  27. ^ Hammond, Pete (15 July 2019). "'Avengers: Endgame', 'Game Of Thrones' Lead Saturn Award Nominations". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  28. ^ Mancuso, Vinnie (15 July 2019). "'Avengers: Endgame', 'Game of Thrones' Lead the 2019 Saturn Awards Nominations". Collider. Archived from the original on 16 July 2019. Retrieved 20 April 2020.
  29. ^ Thompson, Simon. "Leigh Whannell On 'Upgrade,' Sequels And The Kids Movie He Wants To Make". Forbes.
  30. ^ Blum, Jason (16 August 2018). "Jason Blum on Twitter". Blumhouse. Twitter. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  31. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (28 May 2020). "'Upgrade': TV Series Sequel To Leigh Whannell's Sci-Fi Movie In Works At Blumhouse & UCP, Writers Room Set". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 28 May 2020.

External links[edit]