Drop Dead Fred

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Drop Dead Fred
Drop dead fred ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ate De Jong
Produced by Paul Webster
Screenplay by Carlos Davis
Anthony Fingleton
Story by Elizabeth Livingston
Music by Randy Edelman
Cinematography Peter Deming
Edited by Marshall Harve
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Universal Pictures
(Later release)
Release dates
  • April 19, 1991 (1991-04-19)
Running time
99 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Box office $13,878,334 (USA)[2]

Drop Dead Fred is a 1991 British-American fantasy comedy film directed by Ate De Jong, produced by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and Working Title Films and released and distributed by New Line Cinema. Although promoted as a lighthearted children's film, there are notable adult themes and gags, with elements of black comedy, emotional abuse, mental illness, bizarre visual and make-up effects, gross-out humor and some profanity.

Rik Mayall stars as the title character: a happy, anarchic, and mischievous imaginary friend of a young girl named Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates) and arch nemesis of her overbearing mother Polly (Marsha Mason). Drop Dead Fred causes chaos around the home and neighborhood, but nobody can see Fred except Elizabeth. When Elizabeth grows up and has an emotional crisis, Fred returns to "cheer her up" in his own unique way, causing more chaos than ever before. The supporting cast includes Carrie Fisher, Ron Eldard, Tim Matheson, and Bridget Fonda.


Lizzie Cronin is an unassertive and repressed woman, domineered by her controlling mother Polly. While taking her lunch break from work, Lizzie calls her husband Charles, from whom she is separated, hoping to sort out their problems. He reasserts his desire for a divorce and says that he is in love with another woman named Annabella. While Lizzie is at the public phone, first her purse is stolen, then her car. Forced to walk back to work, she arrives late and loses her job. Polly then appears, again takes control, and brings Lizzie back to the home where she grew up.

While rummaging through past belongings in the closet of her childhood bedroom, Lizzie finds a taped-shut jack-in-the-box. After removing the tape and turning the crank, Lizzie frees her former imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred (who was apparently her "jack"). Through a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that while Fred caused havoc for Lizzie, he also gave her happiness and a release from her oppressive mother. Fred agrees to help Lizzie become happy again, which she believes will only happen when she wins back her husband. However, Fred's childish antics do more harm than good.

Worried by Lizzie's recent strange behavior, Polly brings her daughter to a psychologist. In the waiting room, Fred is seen meeting up with other patients' imaginary friends. The doctor prescribes medication to rid her of Fred, whom he and Polly believe is a figment of Lizzie's imagination. Lizzie also changes her appearance and wardrobe. Charles now wants her back and Lizzie is overjoyed, until Fred discovers he is still cheating on Lizzie with Annabella. Heartbroken, Lizzie tells Fred that she cannot leave Charles, because she is scared of being alone. The two escape to a dream sequence in which Lizzie is finally able to reject Charles, stand up to her mother Polly and declare she is no longer afraid of her. Fred tells Lizzie that she does not need him anymore, they kiss and he disappears into her eternal subconscious.

Upon waking from the dream, Lizzie leaves Charles and asserts herself to her mother, who blames Lizzie for her father leaving home. Before leaving, Lizzie reconciles with her mother, and encourages her to find a friend to escape her own loneliness. Lizzie goes to her friend Mickey's house, and on meeting, they both express interest in becoming more than just friends. After Mickey's daughter Natalie comes up to them and blames Drop Dead Fred for mischief that has just prompted her nanny to quit, Lizzie realizes that Fred is now with Natalie. Lizzie can no longer see Fred, but he is now leading another. She just smiles.



Box office[edit]

Drop Dead Fred was released theatrically in North America on April 19, 1991, and fared well (for an independent film), grossing $3,625,648 on its opening weekend, and $13,878,334 over its entire theatrical run.[2] It was Working Title's first financial hit and was (for a time) the most successful independent film released in Australia.

Critical response[edit]

The film received negative reviews; Leonard Maltin stated that "Phoebe Cates' appealing performance can't salvage this putrid mess... recommended only for people who think nose-picking is funny."[citation needed] Rotten Tomatoes gave Drop Dead Fred a score of 9% based on 34 reviews.[3]

Although the film was usually cited as a comedy, some critics also took note of its psychological aspects. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Margaret Lyons asked, "...is it supposed to be hilarious, or a really, really depressing story about the long-term effects of emotional abuse?"[4] Writing for Mystical Movie Guide, Carl J. Schroeder wrote, "The imaginary friend is cavortingly rude for a reason; he served to push the girlchild to do mischief for attention and as a cry for help. Now grown up, the woman has forgotten and is about to lose her soul, so events call for some kind of literal return of her demon to force the exposure of her pain. This psychic crisis is poignantly realistic... The creature who is visible only to the woman is like a poltergeist energy of her repressed self, a problematic ego container into which her powers of assertion and creativity were poured and stored. The movie's resolution is startlingly beautiful..."[5]


  1. ^ "DROP DEAD FRED (12)". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Drop Dead Fred (1991)". Box Office Mojo. 1991-07-02. Retrieved 2014-06-10. 
  3. ^ "Drop Dead Fred". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
  4. ^ 'Drop Dead Fred' remake: Let's not flick boogers at it just yet, Entertainment Weekly, April 28, 2009
  5. ^ "Review of Drop Dead Fred". Mystical Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 2002-12-16. 

External links[edit]