In 2013, Sony Pictures acquired the film rights to the franchise, and by 2014, had a movie adaptation in development, in collaboration with Sega Sammy's Japan-based studio Marza Animation Planet. Fowler was hired to direct in 2016. After Sony put the project in turnaround, Paramount Pictures acquired it in 2017, and the majority of the cast had signed on by August 2018. Filming took place between September and October 2018 in Ladysmith and Parksville, both on Vancouver Island, and in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was initially scheduled to be released in the United States on November 8, 2019, but after an overwhelmingly negative reaction to the first trailer, Paramount delayed the film to redesign Sonic, whose original design was highly criticized. The redesign was shown in a new trailer, with Sonic's new appearance receiving praise.
Sonic the Hedgehog premiered at the Paramount Theatre on January 25, 2020, and was theatrically released in the United States on February 14, 2020. The film received praise from critics for the cast's performances (particularly Carrey's), Sonic's design, and faithfulness to the source material, but criticism for its plot and perceived lack of originality. The film has grossed $128 million worldwide, and set the record for the biggest opening weekend by a video game-based film in the United States and Canada.
Sonic is an extraterrestrial blue hedgehog who can run at supersonic speeds. His guardian, Longclaw the Owl, encourages him to hide his powers, but Sonic does not listen, resulting in a tribe of echidnas attempting to abduct him. Longclaw gives Sonic a bag of rings which open portals to other planets, using one to send him to Earth while she fights off the echidnas. Sonic spends the next ten years living as a recluse in the town of Green Hills, Montana. He idolizes the local sheriff, Tom Wachowski, and his veterinarian wife, Maddie. Tom has recently been hired by the San Francisco Police Department and is preparing to relocate.
Although he likes his life, Sonic longs for real friends. One night, he plays baseball by himself and, after realizing his loneliness, becomes angry and starts running around the field. The energy Sonic emits creates an electromagnetic pulse (energy surge) that knocks out power across the Pacific Northwest in less than 2 seconds. The United States Department of Defense enlists roboticist and scientific genius Dr. Robotnik to help discover the cause of the outage. Robotnik discovers and tracks Sonic, who hides in the Wachowskis' shed. Just as he is opening a portal to escape through, Sonic is discovered and shot with a tranquilizer by Tom, causing him to drop his bag of rings through the portal, which leads to San Francisco. After Sonic awakens, Tom reluctantly agrees to help Sonic recover the rings. Robotnik invades the house, but Sonic and Tom escape. Robotnik comes across one of Sonic's quills and has Tom declared a domestic terrorist.
Tom and Sonic narrowly evade Robotnik and bond as they journey to San Francisco. Tom learns of Sonic's desire to make at least one real friend. Meanwhile, Robotnik's search for Sonic becomes more obsessive. Sonic disapproves of Tom's decision to leave Green Hills, arguing that he is leaving his true friends. Sonic is injured by one of Robotnik's drones shortly before the two arrive in San Francisco, where Tom is reunited with Maddie. Maddie helps revive Sonic, and the three travel to the Transamerica Pyramid, where Sonic's bag of rings landed. Robotnik and his robots attack them at the top, but Sonic uses the rings to teleport Tom and Maddie back to Green Hills before challenging Robotnik. Using the power of Sonic's quill, Robotnik achieves supersonic speed and pursues Sonic across the world.
Robotnik and Sonic's chase eventually makes it back to Green Hills, where Robotnik incapacitates Sonic. However, Tom intervenes, and Sonic regains his strength after Tom refers to him as a friend. Sonic reclaims the energy that Robotnik is using. With help from Tom, Sonic uses a ring to send Robotnik to a planet made of mushrooms. With Robotnik defeated, Tom and Maddie decide to stay in Green Hills and let Sonic live in their house with them. The US government erases all evidence of the incident, including records of Robotnik's existence. However, Robotnik, still in possession of Sonic's quill, begins plotting his revenge.
Meanwhile, Tails, a fox from Sonic's world, emerges from a ring portal in search of Sonic.
- Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic: An anthropomorphic blue hedgehog with superhuman speed who is on the run from Robotnik and the United States government. Schwartz also provided the facial motion capture for Sonic.
- Benjamin L. Valic as young Sonic
- Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik: A mad scientist and inventor who is after Sonic's super-speed powers for world conquest. Carrey described the character as "a madman" and added saying; "He's got 300 IQ so it took a week and a half to prepare" and later said; "Robotnik wants to control humanity with the machines. Sonic is a power that he needs to control the world." Sonic nicknames him "Eggman"—his alias from the video game series—in reference to his egg-shaped robot drones.
- James Marsden as Thomas Michael "Tom" Wachowski: The sheriff of Green Hills who wishes to join the SFPD. He befriends Sonic and aids him in his quest to stop Robotnik. Sonic refers to him as 'The Donut Lord'.
- Tika Sumpter as Maddie Wachowski: Tom's wife who later helps him and Sonic evade Robotnik. She is a veterinarian and referred to as 'The Pretzel Lady' by Sonic.
- Lee Majdoub as Stone: A government agent who works for Robotnik.
- Natasha Rothwell as Rachel: Maddie's sister
- Adam Pally as Wade Whipple: A police officer in Green Hills and Tom's friend.
- Neal McDonough as Major Bennington: A soldier who holds a dislike to Robotnik.
- Frank C. Turner as Crazy Carl: A conspiracist in Green Hills who refers to Sonic as "The Blue Devil".
- Additionally, Colleen Villard, the current voice of Tails in the video game series, reprises her role for the mid-credits scene. Garry Chalk, who previously voiced Grounder and Robotnik in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Underground respectively, appears as a US military officer. Donna Jay Fulks voices Longclaw, an anthropomorphic owl and Sonic's caretaker.
Development for a film adaptation of the Sonic the Hedgehog video games began in 1993 during production of DIC Entertainment's television show Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Michealene Risley, the newly appointed consumer products director who helped greenlight Adventures, negotiated with several Hollywood producers. Sega CEO Tom Kalinske, however, was wary of damaging the brand, citing the commercial and critical failures of the Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter films. Despite Kalinske's concerns, Sega was enthusiastic about a film adaptation. In August 1994, Sega struck a development deal with MGM and Trilogy Entertainment Group, with Pen Densham as the executive producer of the film.
MGM and Sega hired Richard Jefferies, an associate of Risley from her days at Marvel Comics, to write a film treatment. At the time, Sega was developing Sonic X-treme for its next console, the Sega Saturn, and asked Jefferies to feature the Saturn in the screenplay. Jefferies' treatment, entitled Sonic the Hedgehog: Wonders of the World, was submitted in May 1995. While the draft received a positive response among MGM and Sega executives, Sega COO Shinobu Toyoda suggested Kalinske replace Robotnik with a meaner villain. MGM canceled the project after a failed attempt to revive the film at DreamWorks; Jeffries suggested that the film was scrapped as both Sega and MGM wanted a higher share of the profits, while Densham said it followed creative differences between Sega and Trilogy.
In 2013, Sony Pictures Entertainment acquired the rights to produce and distribute a film based on Sonic the Hedgehog. On June 10, 2014, a live-action animated film was announced as a joint venture between Sony Pictures and Marza Animation Planet, a Japan-based subsidiary of Sega Sammy Group who had produced pre-rendered cutscenes for several Sonic the Hedgehog games. It would be produced by Neal H. Moritz by his Original Film banner alongside Takeshi Ito, Mie Onishi, and Toru Nakahara, and written by Evan Susser and Van Robichaux. In February 2016, Sega CEO Hajime Satomi said the film was scheduled for 2018. Blur Studio's Tim Miller and Jeff Fowler were hired in 2016 to develop it; Fowler would make his feature directorial debut, and Miller and Fowler would executive produce. Patrick Casey, Josh Miller, and Oren Uziel were writing the screenplay, while Casey and Miller wrote the story.
On October 2, 2017, Paramount Pictures announced that they had acquired the rights after Sony's Columbia Pictures put the film into a turnaround. Almost all of the production team remained unchanged and intact. In February 2018, it was announced that the film would be released in November 2019.
Early drafts for the film featured Sonic's "Super Sonic" form from the video games. However, the ideas was discarded, as Fowler felt "[i]t didn't make sense to obviously bring in the Super Sonic thing just yet", and wanted the film to focus on the origins of Sonic and Robotnik's relationship. Early drafts also featured more scenes in Sonic's world, with Tails being presented as Sonic's best friend in his world. Another draft also featured Tails as a main character in the film. However, Tails' role was eventually reduced to a cameo in a post-credits scene when the filmmakers choose to develop the story around Sonic being alone on Earth, and choose to instead use Tails in order to tease a potential sequel.
On May 29, 2018, it was reported that Paul Rudd was in talks for a lead role as Tom, "a cop who befriends Sonic and will likely team up to defeat Dr. Robotnik", but was later denied. A day later, it was announced that James Marsden was cast in an undisclosed role, but later revealed to be Tom Wachowski. In June 2018, Tika Sumpter was cast. Jim Carrey was cast to play the villain, Dr. Robotnik. In August 2018, Ben Schwartz joined as the voice of Sonic. Schwartz, a fan of the original video games, was chosen for the role after Fowler and Miller casted him for a test reading as they pitched the project to several studios. Having enjoyed his performance, they officially casted Schwartz as the voice of Sonic. A few days after Schwartz' casting, Adam Pally and Neal McDonough were cast. Debs Howard and Elfina Luk joined the cast the following November. Riff Raff was cast in an undisclosed role, but was cut from the film.
Principal photography began in mid-September 2018 and ended in Vancouver, Ladysmith, and Vancouver Island on October 16, 2018. Post-production and additional photography took place in October in New York, where Carrey shot his scenes.
Visual effects and design
The visual effects are provided by Moving Picture Company (MPC), Marza Animation Planet, Blur Studio, Trixter, and Digital Domain. The production team created a realistic version of Sonic using computer animation, adding fur, new running sneakers, two separate eyes, and a more humanlike physique. They used Ted, the living teddy bear from the Ted films, as a reference to insert a CGI character into a real-world setting. Executive producer Miller said: "It would be weird and it would feel like he was running around nude if he was some sort of otter-like thing. It was always, for us, fur, and we never considered anything different. It's part of what integrates him into the real world and makes him a real creature." According to Miller, Sega was not "entirely happy" with the design of Sonic's eyes.
According to animator Max Schneider, Paramount expected that Sonic fans would object to the redesign but that general audiences would not care, as had been the case with their 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. He said Paramount felt the design gelled with the real-world setting and characters. On May 2, 2019, in response to the near-universal criticism of the design, Fowler announced on Twitter that Sonic would be redesigned. The film was delayed from its original release date of November 8 to February 14, 2020 as a result. Artist Tyson Hesse, who worked on previous Sonic the Hedgehog media, was brought on to lead the redesign. Sonic was given larger and differently colored eyes, new sneakers, white gloves, and a less humanlike body to better resemble Sonic's video game design. Sonic was redesigned by the Japan-based Marza Animation Planet. The redesign added an estimated $5 million to the production budget, took around five months, and was achieved without stressful overtime.
In February 2019, Tom Holkenborg, who previously worked with executive producer Miller on Deadpool, was hired to compose the score. The soundtrack was released alongside the film on February 14, 2020 in both digital and physical formats. Riff Raff, who had a role in the film but was cut, appears on the soundtrack. An original song, "Speed Me Up" by Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla Sign, Lil Yachty, and Sueco the Child, appears on the soundtrack; the single was released on January 24 by Atlantic Records. "Speed Me Up" received 15 million streams, along with 1.8 billion views for the "Speed Me Up" TikTok challenge. "Friends" by Hyper Potions, which previously appeared as the opening theme of Sonic Mania, also appears, along with arrangements of tracks from Masato Nakamura's score for the original Sonic the Hedgehog (1991). Holkenborg attempted to capture the feel of Nakamura's soundtracks for the Sonic and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) games, using Yamaha FM synthesizers similar to the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive console's YM2612 sound chip.
Sonic the Hedgehog was originally scheduled to be released sometime in 2018 by Sony Pictures Releasing, but in February 2018, shortly after taking over the rights, Paramount Pictures rescheduled it to November 15, 2019. The film was later moved a week earlier to November 8, 2019. Following the announcement of Sonic's redesign in May 2019, director Jeff Fowler announced that the film would again be delayed to February 14, 2020, to get "a little more time to make Sonic just right." The film's world premiere took place at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles on January 25, 2020. In May 2019, director Jeff Fowler announced that the planned release date in the country will be postponed to February 14, 2020 due to Sonic's redesign. The film was released in Japan on June 26, 2020 after being postponed from a previous March release due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In China, the release remains postponed indefinitely.
Test footage was screened at the Comic Con Experience in Brazil on December 6, 2018, and was followed by a teaser poster was released on December 10, 2018, revealing the silhouette design of Sonic. It received a mostly negative response from critics and fans, and was compared unfavorably to another 2019 video game film adaptation, Detective Pikachu, which had added fur and skin textures to the Pokémon characters. Sonic's humanoid appearance was described as evoking an uncanny valley response. Former members of Sonic Team, who created the Sonic the Hedgehog games, also expressed surprise. A second poster was leaked online shortly after. Fans complained of a lack of resemblance to the games and criticized the positioning of Sonic's legs, spawning an Internet meme in which users recreated the position. The film's official Twitter account posted an image of Sonic behind a sign reading: "Can't a guy work out?" Images of the Sonic design were leaked in March 2019 to more fan criticism. Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka was "shocked" by the design and felt the ratio of Sonic's head and abdomen was imbalanced.
The first trailer premiered on April 4, 2019, at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, and was released online on April 30. It received near-unanimous criticism, with Gita Jackson of Kotaku calling it "horrific" and "a blight upon this weary earth". Sonic's design was criticized for its humanoid appearance, while some writers found the use of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" jarring. Conversely, CNET's Sean Keane praised the humor and references to the games. Within two days, the trailer was viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube, and had received hundreds of thousands of "dislike" ratings, drastically outnumbering the "like" ratings.
A second trailer revealing the redesigned Sonic was released on November 12, 2019. The trailer received far more positive responses, with many praising Sonic's new design. The tone and the humor also received positive reviews as well as the choice of song with J.J. Fad's "Supersonic". Naka said he felt the new design was "much more Sonic-like". The second trailer received the highest like-to-dislike ratio of any trailer on Google in the last three years. The film's trailers have garnered a total of more than 500 million views worldwide. As a promotional tie-in, the version of Sonic seen in the film was added as a playable character to the Sonic Dash and Sonic Forces mobile games.
On March 20, 2020, Paramount announced that Sonic the Hedgehog would be released to home media earlier than planned, as many film studios took the decision to release earlier in the wake of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic. The digital version was released on March 31, with Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, and DVD versions following on May 19. All home media releases include an original short film entitled Around the World in 80 Seconds. But, in the UK, Sonic the Hedgehog was planned to be released on VOD on April 27 but then was pushed back to April 10 as a result of the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic whilst it was planned to be release on Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, and DVD on June 22 but then was pushed back to June 8 as a result of the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic.
In a promotional interview for the film, Carrey said he could imagine developing Robotnik for a sequel: "I wouldn't mind going to do another one because it was so much fun, first of all, and a real challenge to try to convince people that I have a triple-digit IQ... There is so much room, you know, Robotnik has not reached his apotheosis." In February 2020, Fowler said planned a potential sequel to feature more elements from the video games. In March 2020, Marsden confirmed that he had signed on for multiple sequels, stating, “I believe, I don't know if I'm supposed to say, as many as they want to make. Yeah, that's my somewhat vague answer.”
In April 2020, Marsden expressed interest in a sequel featuring Tails and additional characters from the games, while Fowler expressed interest in featuring Sonic and Tails' friendship from the games and further developing Robotnik. Later that month, Schwartz said he felt a sequel's lack of announcement makes sense because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cowriter Pat Casey said there had been talks about a sequel featuring more elements from the games, but that it had not been approved yet. He expressed interest in a shared universe featuring both Sega and Nintendo characters, but saw it as "unlikely".
A sequel was announced on May 28, 2020, with Fowler returning as director and Casey and Miller returning as writers. It was also confirmed that Tim Miller, Hajime Satomi, and Haruki Satomi will also be returning as executive producers and Neal H. Mortiz, Toby Ascher, and Toru Nakahara as producers.