A Fish Called Wanda

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A Fish Called Wanda
A Fish Called Wanda DVD.jpg
US theatrical release poster
Directed by Charles Crichton
John Cleese
Produced by Michael Shamberg
Written by John Cleese
Story by John Cleese
Charles Crichton
Starring John Cleese
Jamie Lee Curtis
Kevin Kline
Michael Palin
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography Alan Hume
Editing by John Jympson
Studio Prominent Features
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (US)
Release dates
  • July 15, 1988 (1988-07-15) (US & CAN)
  • October 14, 1988 (1988-10-14) (UK)
Running time 109 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $7,500,000
Box office $62,493,712[1]

A Fish Called Wanda is a 1988 heist-comedy film written by John Cleese and Charles Crichton. It was directed by Crichton and stars Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin. Kline won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Otto. Cleese and Palin won BAFTA Awards for Best Lead and Best Supporting for their acting.

After a successful jewel heist, members of the crew attempt to steal the jewels for themselves but find they have been moved. The actual location is known only to the gang leader, but he has been caught by the police. His lawyer becomes a central figure in the attempt to reveal their location.


London-based gangster George Thomason and his right-hand man, Ken Pile, an animal lover with a bad stutter, plan a jewel heist. They bring in two Americans to help: a con artist, Wanda Gershwitz, and "weapons man" Otto West, an Anglophobe who fancies himself an intellectual and hates being (accurately) called stupid. Wanda and Otto are lovers, but hide this fact from George and Ken, pretending to be brother and sister, so Wanda can work her charms on them.

The robbery goes well: the thieves get away with a large sum in diamonds. However, they are briefly spotted during their getaway by Mrs. Coady, an elderly lady walking her three dogs. The group then hide the loot in a safe in an old workshop. Soon after, Wanda and Otto betray George to the police and he is arrested. They return to collect the loot, with Wanda planning to double-cross Otto as well, only to find that George has moved it.

Wanda decides to seduce George's unhappily married barrister, Archie Leach, to find out where the diamonds are located. Leach must endure his vindictive wife, Wendy, and spoiled daughter, Portia, and quickly comes under the spell of Wanda's charms. Otto becomes insanely jealous, and his interference, combined with instances of bad luck, lead Wanda and Archie's attempted liaisons to go disastrously wrong. Wanda reveals that she likes Archie but would only stay with a rich man. He eventually calls off their attempted affair.

Meanwhile, George gives Ken the task of killing Mrs. Coady, the Crown's only eyewitness. During his various attempts to kill her, Ken accidentally kills off her three Yorkshire Terriers one by one. This causes him grief, as well as grave bodily harm as each attempt goes wrong. When he kills the last of her dogs, Mrs. Coady suffers a fatal heart attack, and Ken is ultimately successful in his mission.

Wanda and Otto want George to remain in jail, but with no witness he may get off. At his trial, Wanda gives evidence that will lead to a conviction rather than an acquittal. Archie, stunned by her unexpected testimony, flubs his cross-examination and inadvertently calls her "darling." Enraged, George starts a brawl that leads to everyone fleeing the courtroom. Wendy is attending the trial, and Archie's antics confirm her suspicions of his (unconsummated) affair. She confronts Archie and states that she plans to divorce him.

With his career and marriage in ruins, Archie resolves to cut his losses, steal the loot himself, and flee to South America. Promised less jail time, George tells Archie that Ken knows where the diamonds are. Archie sees Wanda attempting to flee the courthouse and pulls her into his car before racing to Ken's apartment. They review what has happened and he asks why he should take her to South America with him; she counters that she has the key to the safe deposit box where the loot has been moved.

While the court drama is unfolding, Otto has been trying to get Ken to reveal the location of the diamonds. He torments Ken by eating the fish in his aquarium one by one, leaving the fish called Wanda until the end. Ken gives away the location of the diamonds at a hotel near Heathrow Airport. Otto is leaving just as Archie runs into the building; Otto steals Archie's car, taking Wanda with him. Ken tells Archie, as quickly as he can given his stutter, where they are going. The two give chase.

The protagonists all end up at Heathrow. Otto and Wanda recover the diamonds, but Wanda quickly double-crosses Otto and locks him in a cupboard. Otto escapes and is briefly captured by Archie, only to turn the tables. He is about to kill Archie, but Archie manages to distract Otto by pointing out that Americans are not always winners, as shown by the Vietnam War. While they are arguing, Otto is run over by a steamroller driven by Ken, seeking vengeance for eating his fish. Archie joins Wanda on board the plane, a British Airways Boeing 747, which taxis for takeoff. Through the plane window, Otto, who has somehow survived the steamroller attack, curses them until he is blown off as the plane takes off.

A closing text explains what happens to the gang members after the events of the movie. Archie and Wanda move to Rio, start a leper colony and have many children. Ken, his stutter lost, becomes the announcer at Sea World. The immoral Otto moves to South Africa and becomes Minister of Justice (at the time of filming, South Africa was still ruled under apartheid).



The film was an enormous critical and commercial success. Kline received wide acclaim and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work.[2][3] Cleese and Crichton received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.[2] Crichton was also nominated for Best Director,[2] Cleese won a BAFTA for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Curtis received nominations for Leading Actress at the Golden Globes[4][5] and BAFTA awards.[6] Michael Palin won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Role.[7]

In 2000, the readers of Total Film magazine voted A Fish Called Wanda the 37th greatest comedy film of all time.[citation needed] In 2004 the same magazine named it the 41st greatest British film of all time.[citation needed] In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked the film 21st on AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs, its list of the 100 funniest movies ever made.[8] The film is number 27 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".[9] It is also included in the Reader's Digest "100 Funniest Films" list.[10] As of November 2013, the movie holds a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[11] The movie has also caused at least one recorded death from laughter.[12]

Sequels and adaptations[edit]

The principal cast reunited in 1997 for Fierce Creatures (dubbed an "equal" rather than a sequel or prequel, by Kline), playing different roles and meeting less success.[citation needed]

In 2008, it was reported that John Cleese and his daughter, Cynthia (who played his screen daughter, Portia), had started to work on a stage musical version of the film.[13]


  1. ^ "A Fish Called Wanda (1988)". Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ a b c ""The 61st Academy Awards (1989) Nominees and Winners"". Oscars.org. 
  3. ^ ""Nominees & Winners for the 61st Academy Awards"". Oscars.org. August 24, 2012. 
  4. ^ ""Fish Called Wanda, A"". Goldenglobes.org. 
  5. ^ ""The 46th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1989)"". Goldenglobes.org. 
  6. ^ ""Jamie Lee Curtis"". Goldenglobes.org. 
  7. ^ ""Awards Database (1988)"". Bafta.org. 
  8. ^ American Film Institute (June 14, 2000). ""AFI's 100 YEARS...100 LAUGHS"". Afi.com. 
  9. ^ ""Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies List is Laughable"". Projectbravo.com. June 2, 2006. 
  10. ^ Stefan Kanfer. "The Top 100+ Funniest Movies of All Time". Reader's Digest. Retrieved December 16, 2010. 
  11. ^ A Fish Called Wanda at Rotten Tomatoes
  12. ^ 9 People Who Died Laughing - Death - Book of Lists - Canongate Home (version archived by the Internet Archive)
  13. ^ Eden, Richard (June 14, 2008). "Memories of Jamie Lee Curtis make John Cleese sing again". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved April 23, 2010. 

External links[edit]