During the American Civil War, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) served as a Confederate cavalryman until his commanding officer, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) ordered him to burn down a hospital. Hex refused, and was forced to kill his best friend, Turnbull's son Jeb. After the war, a vengeful Turnbull and his right-hand man, Burke (Michael Fassbender), tie up Hex and force him to watch as his house is burned down with his wife and son inside. Turnbull then brands Hex's face with his initials and leaves him to die. Days later, American Indians revive Jonah with their mystical powers. As a result of his resurrection, Jonah acquires the ability to temporarily resurrect the dead. When Turnbull apparently dies in a hotel fire, Hex satisfies his hunger for vengeance by turning to bounty hunting. He also sears the branded side of his face with a hatchet blade, preferring a mass of scar tissue to Turnbull's initials.
In 1876, Turnbull, alive and well, hijacks a train carrying components of an experimental "superweapon", slaughtering its military guards and civilian passengers alike. When informed of the theft, President Grant (Aidan Quinn) surmises that Turnbull is planning a terrorist attack for July 4, during the celebration of the American centennial. Grant instructs Army Lieutenant Grass (Will Arnett) to find Hex and hire him to stop Turnbull.
Jonah spends the night in a brothel with Lilah (Megan Fox), a prostitute attracted to the disfigured man for more than just professional reasons. As he prepares to leave the next morning, Grass' men burst in and tell him that Turnbull is still alive. They show him a captured thug from the train hijacking who told them Turnbull is headed northwest, before dying during interrogation. Jonah briefly resurrects the man, who knows only that he was recruited by ex-Confederal Colonel Slocum (Tom Wopat), who is running an illegal deathmatch pavilion in South Carolina.
With the help of a corrupt Washington aristocrat, Adleman Lusk (Wes Bentley), Turnbull tracks down and steals the remaining components of the weapon, invented by Eli Whitney.
When Hex confronts Slocum in South Carolina, Slocum refuses to talk, sarcastically telling Hex to ask Turnbull's dead son, Jeb, where his father is. Jonah says that is a good idea, then overpowers Slocum's men and throws Slocum himself into the ring, to be killed by his own fighters. After setting fire to the ring, he frees a dog being tormented by Slocum's handlers, which starts to follow him around.
In a cemetery in Gettysburg, Jonah digs up and resurrects Jeb (an uncredited Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Jonah apologizes for killing Jeb, and says that his father has to be stopped before he murders more people. Jeb reveals that his father is at Fort Resurrection, and then returns to the afterlife.
After entering the fort, Jonah confronts Turnbull, killing several of his men, but Turnbull escapes and Hex receives a near-fatal wounding from Burke, but is able to escape. He collapses in a field, hovering near death for several days. Turnbull, anticipating that Hex will return, sends Burke to bring him "something Hex loves," so Burke kidnaps Lilah from the brothel. Turnbull test-fires the "superweapon" on a small town in Georgia, which is leveled to the ground, killing hundreds of civilians. When President Grant receives the news, his aide reports that they have no idea where in the country Turnbull will strike, and that they do not have enough military manpower to guard every centennial celebration.
Hex is found by his Native American allies, who perform a ceremony that heals him. Back on his feet, he relays a message to Lt. Grass that Turnbull plans to attack Washington, D.C., then rides to Independence Harbor alone to stop him. When Jonah attempts to infiltrate the harbor where Turnbull's ironclad warship is anchored, Burke spots him and attacks him. Hex overpowers and kills him, then resurrects him just so Hex can incinerate his body completely. Turnbull holds Lilah at gunpoint and forces Jonah to surrender. With Jonah and Lilah captive in the hold of his ship, Turnbull steams toward Washington, D.C. A monitor commanded by Lt. Grass intercepts Turnbull, but is quickly destroyed with the weapon, which has been mounted on the bow.
In the hold, Lilah picks her handcuffs and frees herself and Jonah. She holds off the guards while Jonah rushes up to the deck to stop Turnbull. Turnbull gains the upper hand and orders the weapon to fire. The weapon blankets Washington with a volley of delay-action bomb shells, and Turnbull gives the order for the trigger shell to be launched. But Hex and Turnbull's fight takes them down into the engine room, where Hex throws his tomahawk into the weapon's belt feeder, trapping the trigger shell. He then brutally beats Turnbull and traps his neck in a gear, before saving Lilah. The pair jump into the water just as the trigger shell ignites in the engine room, killing Turnbull and all his men. The next day, President Grant rewards Jonah with a large sum of money, a full pardon, and offers him a job as Sheriff of the entire United States. Jonah declines, but assures the president that if they need him, they'll be able to find him. Lilah is waiting for him outside the White House, and they leave the city together.
In the last scene, Jonah visits Jeb's grave to apologize for having to kill his father, then rides out of the cemetery with his dog.
- Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex: A disfigured bounty hunter and the film's antihero. Brolin initially hated the script, but changed his mind, growing to like its tongue-in-cheek tone.
- John Malkovich as Quentin Turnbull: The main antagonist; the man who killed Jonah Hex's family and disfigured Jonah.
- Megan Fox as Lilah Black: A gun-wielding prostitute and Hex's love interest, whose real name is Tallulah Black just like in the comics, but goes by Lilah for short and doesn't have scars on her body or a missing left eye like her comics counterpart.
- Michael Fassbender as Burke: A bowler hat-wearing, tattooed, psychopathic Irishman and Turnbull's right-hand man. Fassbender likens his character to that of The Riddler and Malcolm McDowell's performance in A Clockwork Orange, saying he mainly found his character when he tried on the derby bowler.
- Will Arnett as Lieutenant Grass: A Union soldier who enlists Hex as a bounty hunter.
- Michael Shannon as Dr. Cross Williams: The ringleader of a gladiator circus. The studio planned to have Williams in a recurring character if a sequel surfaced.
- Wes Bentley as Adleman Lusk, a corrupt politician.
- Aidan Quinn as Ulysses S. Grant: 18th President of the United States (Quinn was only on set for 3 days for this role).
- Lance Reddick as Smith: An armorer of sorts who supplies Hex with his new weapons.
The film also includes John Gallagher, Jr. as Lieutenant Evan, Tom Wopat as Colonel Slocum, and Julia Jones as Cassie; as well as an uncredited Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Jeb Turnbull. Mastodon guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds also made a small cameo appearance.
Prior to Brolin's casting, actor Thomas Jane petitioned the studio for the role, hiring a make-up artist to give him the appearance of Jonah Hex. Jane voiced Hex in the 2010 animated short DC Showcase: Jonah Hex.
In 2000, 20th Century Fox developed a one-hour adaptation based on the character to television with producers Akiva Goldsman and Robert Zappia involved, but the project did not make it to production. By July 2007, Warner Bros. Pictures held feature film rights to the character and sought to produce a film. Goldsman paired with Andrew Lazar as producers, and Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor adapted the screenplay, which adopted an incarnation of the comic books that combined the Western genre with supernatural elements. In October 2008, Josh Brolin entered talks to be cast as Jonah Hex under the direction of Neveldine and Taylor. In November 2008, Neveldine and Taylors stepped down from being directors due to creative differences with the studio. The studio explored the possibility of hiring Andy Fickman or McG and by January 2009, it chose Jimmy Hayward to direct Jonah Hex. By the following February, Brolin was set to star alongside John Malkovich, who was cast as the antagonist Quentin Turnbull. Legendary Pictures paired with Warner Bros. Pictures to co-finance the film. Filming began in Louisiana in April 2009.
- Main article: Jonah Hex: Revenge Gets Ugly EP
On September 2, 2009, Ain't It Cool News reported that heavy metal band Mastodon were scoring the film. Troy Sanders, bassist/vocalist of Mastodon, on their contribution to the film:
"Some of it was heavy, some of it was very moody," Sanders said. "A lot of it was spacey, Melvins B-sides, Pink Floyd-like, surreal outer space, like Neil Young's Dead Man. Swirling, nausea music." Sanders added that the collaboration felt natural: "Since day one, we've always written albums thinking the music was the score of a movie. Then we'll create the lyrics or storyline on top of that, as if we're writing the dialog to match the movie's cinematography."
The soundtrack is an hour-long instrumental, including five full songs and numerous smaller musical themes. Selections were added to scenes in the film by composer John Powell (Shrek, The Bourne Identity), and others will be adapted for the London Orchestra for exceptionally epic moments. "We wrote variations on themes for each character, different variables for a bunch of riffs: faster, slower, heavier, lighter," Sanders explained. "It's the Darth Vader approach."
Jonah Hex was released in the United States on June 18, 2010, the same day as the release of Toy Story 3.
Jonah Hex severely failed at the box office, opening at #7 during its debut weekend with only $5,379,365 in 2,825 theaters, averaging $1,904 per theater. On its second weekend the film only managed to gross $1,627,442, falling to #10. The film ended its theatrical run on August 12, 2010, grossing only $10,547,117 in total on a $47 million budget, making it a box office bomb. Due to the film's negative domestic take, it was not widely released internationally, grossing less than $500,000 outside the United States.
The film received largely negative reviews from movie critics. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 12% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 145 reviews, with an average score of 3.5/10. The critical consensus is: "Josh Brolin gives it his best shot, but he can't keep the short, unfocused Jonah Hex from collapsing on the screen."
Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club gave the film a rare "F" rating, stating "the 81 minutes (including credits) of Jonah Hex footage that made it to the screen look like something assembled under a tight deadline, and possibly under the influence." Roger Ebert wrote: "It's based on some DC Comics characters, which may explain the way the plot jumps around. We hear a lot about graphic novels, but this is more of a graphic anthology of strange occult ideas."
The film was named "Worst Picture" of the year by the Houston Film Critics Society at their 2010 awards ceremony. It was given two nominations at the 31st Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Actress (Megan Fox) and Worst Screen Couple (Josh Brolin's face and Megan Fox's accent).
The film was released in the US via DVD and Blu-ray on October 12, 2010 with no special features. It was released in the UK on December 27, 2010 on DVD, Blu-ray and Double Play. Special features include Deleted Scenes, The Inside Story of Jonah Hex and a Picture-In-Picture Commentary.
- Tonner Doll Company, Inc. released in May 2010 Saloon Lilah as a doll.
- NECA has released an assortment of 3 action figures (Hex, Lilah, and Turnbull), and has plans to release prop replicas from the film.
- WizKids has plans to release a HeroClix Battle Pack consisting of Hex, Lilah, and Turnbull.
- DC Direct has plans to release a Jonah Hex bust, a Lilah bust, and a 1:6 scale Jonah Hex Collector Figure.
- Thomas Jane showed interest in playing the part of Jonah Hex to the point of having himself photographed in costume complete with special makeup to recreate the character's massive facial scarring. Jane would later lend his voice for the character in an animated short film.
- Megan Fox's last scene was shot 48 hours before the cast & crew attended San Diego Comic Con in 2009.
- Emile Hirsch was considered to play the lead role.
- Matthew McConaughey was considered for a role.
- In an anecdote on "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" (2009), Josh Brolin revealed that he broke and repaired John Malkovich's thumb while shooting a fight scene.
- The sixteenth film released in select D-BOX enabled cinemas, located in the US and Canada. In D-BOX's words, the motion control technology "adds to the movie's plot and underlying themes of fear, terror and explosive action by offering realistic sensations during most of the film's action scenes."
- Released on the same day with Toy Story 3 (2010). Director Jimmy Hayward was a former animator of Pixar and worked on the first two Toy Story films.
- Cameo: [Brent Hinds] Vocalist and guitarist for progressive metal band Mastodon, makes a cameo appearance during the scene where the train carrying U.S. soldiers comes under attack. Hinds is wearing a U.S. army uniform and can be seen among the other soldiers. Mastodon, recruited by the film's director Jimmy Hayward, wrote the soundtrack for Jonah Hex.
- Lilah, Megan Fox's character, refers to her mother as Mrs. Black, and says Lilah is short for Tallulah. Tallulah Black is a character who Jonah Hex helped get revenge on the man who raped and disfigured her. She eventually becomes a bounty hunter and on-again, off-again lover of Hex.
- Cameo: [gaffer Andy Ryan and cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen] Ryan is the Stunk Crick barber, and Amundsen is the customer he's shaving.