Editors' Choice

The Story Behind Joss Whedon’s 2005 Feature Film – Serenity

Ben Migono / January 2, 2017

Serenity is a sci-fi action adventure feature film written and directed by the creator of Firefly, Joss Whedon. It premiered on the 30th of September, 2005. The film is rated PG-13 and has a total runtime of 119 minutes. To date, this film has an 8.0 rating on IMDB based on the votes from nearly 250,000 members. Metacritic has it listed with a Metascore of 74 and a user score of 8.4. It’s ranked at #74 for The Best Movies of 2005, it’s the 9th most discussed film of 2005, and it’s the 25th Most Shared Movie of 2005. The film opened at number 2 in the box office while earning $40,000,000. Whedon chose to title the film Serenity because Fox held the rights to the name “Firefly.”


The story pretty much picked up right where Firefly had left off and everyone from the original cast reprised their roles for the film. We see the crew of Serenity do their best to harbor River Tam (Summer Glau) who is on the run from an assassin who’s hot on their tail. The crew are caught between the Alliance and the monstrous Reavers and as anyone who’s a fan of the original series can expect, Serenity is chock full of humor, political undertones, and Grade A storytelling.



Whedon started conceptualizing the film soon after Firefly had been canceled. He approached Barry Mendel (a producer) about making a lower-budget television movie. Barry introduced Whedon to a Universal Studios executive named Mary Parent who was a fan of the show. They signed a deal right away even though Joss had yet to write the script. They never set out to make the next Star Wars, but they also didn’t want to make a super campy B-Movie either. They had a bigger budget, more than the show would’ve ever had, so it allowed them to broaden the scope of what was feasible and make something that would honor the show, its fans, the story, and the characters that everyone came to fall in love with.



Universal officially acquired the rights to Firefly from Fox and in September of 2004, the film deal was publicly announced. The studio’s main reason for greenlighting the project so quickly was because the fans of the series were so active. Firefly’s DVD sales were insane, selling out in less than 24 hours. Whedon based the script for Serenity on story ideas he had began to flesh out for the second season of the show. Sadly, some of the most beloved characters in the series were killed off in the film because the actors portraying them could not commit to potential sequels due to scheduling conflicts. For those who have yet to see the film, we’ll refrain from telling you who exactly you’ll be saying goodbye to.  



Whedon originally wanted an 80-day shoot with a budget of over $100 million USD, but Universal Studios would not approve it so Whedon had to make some logistical compromises. In the end, the movie was shot in 50, 10-hour days and cost $39 million – Whedon’s budget was set at $40 million. It took an army of set designers (23 crews – that’s 23 separate groups of people working in coordination) 14 long weeks to recreate the interior of the Serenity, using photos and images from the DVD’s.


Whedon utilized a clever viral marketing campaign to hype up the film. He anonymously released a series of short low quality black and white videos titled Session 416 or the R. Tam Sessions. The videos were released on various websites and messageboards and were not released in chronological order. They featured Whedon acting as River’s therapist while River was held captive by the Alliance. The videos document her transformation from a child to the unstable young woman we meet in Firefly.