Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), often referred to simply as Birdman, is a 2014 American black comedy-drama film co-written, co-produced, and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. It stars Michael Keaton, with a supporting cast of Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts. The story follows protagonist Riggan Thomson, a faded Hollywood actor famous for his role as superhero Birdman, as he struggles to mount a Broadway adaptation of a short story by Raymond Carver.
Aside from a few shots near the beginning and end, Birdman appears to be filmed in a single shot, an idea the director had since the film's conception. This required an atypical production approach, with many elements of post-production needing to be considered before principal photography. As a result the script took two years to write, the cast went through several weeks of meticulous rehearsals, and during shooting takes were cut for the slightest mishaps. It was filmed in New York City during the spring of 2013 with a budget of $$16.5 million, jointly financed by New Regency and Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film premiered the following year in August where it opened the 71st Venice International Film Festival.
Birdman was given a limited theatrical release in the United States on October 17, 2014, followed by a wide release on November 14, and has grossed more than $$76 million worldwide. It garnered critical acclaim, with praise particularly directed to the cast's performance and Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography. It is widely considered to be one of the best films of 2014, and has received multiple awards and nominations. These include winning Best Screenplay and Best Actor at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards, Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture at the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards, and nine nominations at the 87th Academy Awards, the joint most for the ceremony with The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film won four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood actor famous for playing the superhero Birdman in blockbuster movies decades earlier. Riggan is tormented by the voice of Birdman, who criticizes him, and he sees himself performing feats of levitation and telekinesis. Riggan hopes to reinvent his career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". The play is produced by Riggan's best friend and lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), and also stars Riggan's girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and first-time Broadway actress Lesley (Naomi Watts). Riggan's daughter Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering addict, serves as his assistant.
During rehearsals, a light fixture falls onto Ralph, an actor Riggan and Jake agree is terrible; Riggan tells Jake he caused the light to fall so he could replace Ralph. Through a connection with Lesley, Riggan replaces Ralph with the brilliant but volatile method actor Mike (Edward Norton), refinancing his house to fund his contract. The first previews go disastrously: Mike breaks character over the replacement of his gin with water, and attempts to rape Lesley during a sex scene. Riggan reads early press coverage and is incensed that Mike has stolen the attention, but Jake encourages him to continue. When Riggan catches Sam using marijuana, she tells him he does not matter and his play is a vanity project.
Backstage during the final preview, Riggan sees Sam and Mike flirting. He accidentally locks himself out of the theater and has to walk in his underwear through Times Square to get back inside; his popularity explodes online. Afterwards, he runs into influential critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), who tells him she hates Hollywood celebrities who "pretend" to be actors, and promises to "kill" his play with a negative review. Riggan gets drunk and passes out in the street. The next day, he hallucinates a conversation with Birdman, who tries to convince him to make another Birdman film, and sees himself flying through New York City back to the theater.
On opening night, Riggan uses a real gun for the final scene in which his character kills himself, and shoots his nose off onstage. He earns a standing ovation from all but Tabitha, who leaves during the applause. In the hospital, Jake tells Riggan that Tabitha gave the play a rave review, dubbing his suicide attempt as the creation of a new form of method acting she calls "Super-Realism". After Sam visits Riggan, he dismisses Birdman and sees birds then climbs onto the window ledge. When Sam returns, Riggan is gone. She looks down at the street, then up at the sky and smiles.