Upon its release, The Fly was critically acclaimed, as was Goldblum's tour de force performance. Despite being a gory remake of a classic made by a controversial, non-mainstream director, the film was a huge commercial success, the biggest of Cronenberg's career.
It was the top-grossing film in the United States for two weeks, earning a total domestic gross of $40,456,565. Audiences reacted strongly to the graphic creature effects and the tragic love story, and the film received much attention at the time of its release.
David Cronenberg was surprised when The Fly was seen by some critics as a cultural metaphor for AIDS, since he originally intended the film to be a more general analogy for disease itself, terminal conditions like cancer and, more specifically, the aging process:
If you, or your lover, has AIDS, you watch that film and of course you'll see AIDS in it, but you don't have to have that experience to respond emotionally to the movie and I think that's really its power.
This is not to say that AIDS didn't have an incredible impact on everyone and of course after a certain point people were seeing AIDS stories everywhere so I don't take any offense that people see that in my movie.
For me, though, there was something about The Fly story that was much more universal to me: aging and death--something all of us have to deal with.
Film critic Gene Siskel named The Fly as the tenth best film of 1986. In 1989, Premiere and American Film magazines both conducted independent polls of American film critics, directors and other such groups to determine the best films of the 1980s, and The Fly appeared on both lists.
The Fly holds a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 46 reviews. In 2005, Time magazine film critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel included The Fly in their list of the All-TIME 100 Greatest Movies.
Time later named it one of the 25 best horror films. The film was ranked #33 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics Association named The Fly the 32nd scariest film ever made.
In 2008, the American Film Institute distributed ballots to 1,500 directors, critics and other people associated with the film industry in order to determine the top ten American films in ten different genre categories.
Cronenberg's version of The Fly was nominated under the science fiction category, although it did not make the top ten. It was also nominated for AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills and AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions and the quote "Be afraid. Be very afraid." was nominated for AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes.
Veronica's warning to Tawny in the film--"Be afraid. Be very afraid." was used as the film's marketing tagline, and became so ingrained in popular culture (as it—and variants—have appeared in countless films and TV series) that a large number of people who are familiar with the phrase have no idea that it originated in The Fly.
Many genre fans and film critics at the time thought that Jeff Goldblum's performance would receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination, but this did not come to pass. Gene Siskel subsequently stated that Goldblum most likely "got stiffed" out of a nomination because the older academy voters generally do not honor horror films.
The Fly won the following awards: Academy Best Makeup and Hairstyling Award; Saturn Best Actor, Best Makeup, & Best Horror Film Awards.
The Fly was nominated for the following awards: BAFTA Best Makeup and Hair Award; Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation Award; Saturn Best Actress & Best Director Awards.
Sequels: Whereas the 1958 original was followed by two sequels, Cronenberg has said that the stories in his films have definitive beginnings and endings, and he has never considered making a sequel to one of his own films, although others have made sequels to Cronenberg films, including Scanners (1981).
The Fly II (1989) was directed by Chris Walas, the man behind the makeup and creature effects of both films, and is a direct continuation of The Fly. It features Veronica Quaife giving birth to Brundle's mutant son before dying, and focuses on the Bartok company's attempts to get the Telepods working again.
David Cronenberg was not involved with the project. The only actor to return for the sequel was John Getz as an embittered Stathis Borans. Veronica Quaife appears briefly in the film, and is played by Saffron Henderson, since Geena Davis declined to reprise the role.
Jeff Goldblum appears in archival footage of Seth Brundle in two scenes, including the post-teleportation interview segment that was deleted from the first film, but put to good use for the sequel.
An early treatment for a sequel, written by Tim Lucas, involved Veronica Quaife dealing with the evils of the Bartok company.
Brundle's consciousness had somehow survived within the Telepod computer, and the Bartok scientists had enslaved him and were using him to develop the system for cloning purposes.
Brundle becomes able to communicate with Veronica through the computer, and he eventually takes control of the Bartok complex's security systems to gruesomely attack the villains.
Eventually, Veronica frees Brundle by conspiring with him to reintegrate a non-contaminated version of his original body. Cronenberg endorsed this concept at the time.
Geena Davis was open to doing a sequel (and only pulled out of The Fly II because her character was to be killed in the opening scene), while Goldblum was not (although he was okay with a cameo), and this treatment reflects that.
However, a later treatment written by Jim and Ken Wheat was used as the basis for the final script, written by Frank Darabont. Mick Garris also wrote a treatment, with elements incorporated into the final film.
In the 1990s, Geena Davis was reportedly involved with an alternate sequel to The Fly, to be directed by her then-husband, Renny Harlin, titled Flies. The script was said to feature a story where Veronica does not die in childbirth, and instead gives birth to twin boys.