Arthur (1981 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteve Gordon
Written bySteve Gordon
Produced byRobert Greenhut
StarringDudley Moore
Liza Minnelli
John Gielgud
CinematographyFred Schuler
Edited bySusan E. Morse
Music byBurt Bacharach
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • July 17, 1981 (1981-07-17)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million
Box office$95.5 million[1]

Arthur is a 1981 American comedy film written and directed by Steve Gordon. It stars Dudley Moore as Arthur Bach, a drunken New York City billionaire who is on the brink of an arranged marriage to a wealthy heiress, but ends up falling for a common working-class girl from Queens. It was the sole film directed by Gordon, who died in 1982 of a heart attack at age 44.

The film earned over $95 million domestically, making it the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1981.[2] Its title song, "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)", won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Co-written by Christopher Cross, Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen, it was performed by Christopher Cross. Sir John Gielgud also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It was nominated for two other Academy Awards.


Arthur Bach is a spoiled alcoholic from New York City, who likes to be driven in his chauffeured Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith limousine through Central Park. Arthur is heir to a portion of his family's vast fortune, which he is told will be his only if he marries the upper class Susan Johnson, the daughter of a business acquaintance of his father. He does not love Susan, but his family feels that she will make him finally grow up. During a shopping trip in Manhattan, accompanied by his valet, Hobson, Arthur witnesses a young woman, Linda Marolla, shoplifting a necktie. He intercedes with the store security guard on her behalf, and later asks her for a date. Despite his attraction to her, Arthur remains pressured by his family to marry Susan.

While visiting his grandmother, Martha, Arthur shares his feelings for Linda, but is warned again that he will be disowned if he does not marry Susan. Hobson, who has been more like a father to him than Arthur's real father, realizes that Arthur is beginning to grow up, and secretly encourages Linda to attend Arthur's engagement party. Hobson confides in Linda that he senses Arthur loves her. Linda crashes the party, held at the estate of Arthur's father, and she and Arthur eventually spend time alone together, which is tracked by both families. Hobson is later hospitalized, and Arthur rushes to his side, vowing to care for the person who has long cared for him. After several weeks, Hobson dies, and then Arthur, who has been sober the entire time, goes on a drinking binge. On his wedding day, he visits the diner where Linda works and proposes to her. At the church, he jilts Susan, resulting in her abusive father, Burt Johnson, attempting to stab Arthur with a cheese knife, though he is prevented by Martha.

A wounded and groggy Arthur announces in the church that there will be no wedding then passes out soon after. Later, Linda attends to his wounds, and they discuss living a life of poverty. A horrified Martha tells Arthur that he can have his fortune, because no Bach has ever been working class. Arthur declines, but at the last minute, he talks privately to Martha. When he returns to Linda's side, he tells her that he declined again – Martha's dinner invitation, he means – but he did accept $750 million. Arthur's pleased chauffeur Bitterman drives the couple through Central Park.



Gordon originally wrote the title character with an American actor in mind. Prior to the casting of Moore, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Richard Dreyfuss and James Caan were all considered for the role. In addition, Alec Guinness and David Niven were considered for the role of Hobson.[3][4] According to Splitsider, John Belushi was also considered for Arthur.[5] Initially Gordon wanted Moore to perform the role with an American accent, but this proved contentious as Moore had trouble doing so and eventually convinced Gordon to let him use his natural English accent. While some critiques objected to the obvious difference in accent between Arthur and his biological father, others were quick to catch the deeper implication that Hobson taught Arthur to speak.[6] Debra Winger reportedly turned down the role of Linda.[7]

Although the project was initially in the works at Paramount, studio executives eventually dropped the project and Orion Pictures stepped-in.[6] Promoting the film proved to be a challenge, reportedly six ad campaigns were discarded before a final one was decided upon.[6]


Pop singer Christopher Cross was initially asked to score the film, but writer/director Steven Gordon did not feel comfortable with his lack of experience in composing for film and the job was given to Burt Bacharach.[8] Cross was asked to compose a song for the film which he did, "Arthur's Theme", which he wrote with Bacharach along with Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen.[8]


The film received critical acclaim upon its release and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1981. It currently holds an 88% "Fresh" rating from 33 critics on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus reads: "Dudley Moore brings a boozy charm to Arthur, a coming of age tale for a wayward millionaire that deploys energetic cast chemistry and spiffy humor to jovial effect."[9][10][11][12]

The film had a disappointing opening at the box office but improved its performance over its run, becoming the seventh highest-grossing film of the summer.[13] It eventually earned over $95 million domestically, making it the fourth-highest-grossing film of 1981.[14]

Related films[edit]


The film was followed by a sequel in 1988, Arthur 2: On the Rocks. Lead players Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, and John Gielgud reprised their roles, as well as many supporting players such as Geraldine Fitzgerald, Barney Martin, and Ted Ross; Jill Eikenberry did not return.[15] The sequel was a critical and financial failure.[16][17][18]


The 2011 version was first reported in 2008 with news that Arthur was to be remade by Warner Bros., with British actor/comedian Russell Brand in the lead role.[19] Brand confirmed this during his March 10, 2009 appearance on The Howard Stern Show. The remake was an overall critical and financial failure.[20][21]

Foreign versions[edit]

The film had three Indian remakes. One was the 1984 Hindi-language film Sharaabi, the second was the 1985 Kannada-language film Nee Thanda Kanike, and the third was another 2004 Hindi Tumsa Nahin Dekha.[citation needed]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[22] Best Actor Dudley Moore Nominated
Best Supporting Actor John Gielgud Won
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Steve Gordon Nominated
Best Original Song "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)"
Music by Burt Bacharach
Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen
American Movie Awards Best Supporting Actor John Gielgud Won
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Most Performed Feature Film Standards "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)"
Music by Burt Bacharach
Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen
British Academy Film Awards[23] Best Supporting Artist John Gielgud Nominated
Best Original Music Burt Bacharach Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[24] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Arthur Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Dudley Moore Won
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Liza Minnelli Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture John Gielgud Won
Best Original Song – Motion Picture "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)"
Music by Burt Bacharach
Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[25] Best Supporting Actor John Gielgud Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[26] Best Supporting Actor Won
Best Screenplay Steve Gordon Runner-up
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen Won


The film is No. 10 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies," and No. 53 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Laughs.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

In popular culture[edit]

The animated series The Critic starring Jon Lovitz[30] shows a parody of Arthur called Arthur 3: Revenge of the Liver, where the character of Arthur Bach is shown intoxicated and is informed that he has cirrhosis of the liver.[31]

In 2020, the film was honored at the On Cinema at the Cinema Seventh Annual Oscar Special. Film expert Gregg Turkington hosted a special sneak preview of the film's 40th anniversary celebration, which was planned for the 2021 Oscar Special.[32]


  1. ^ "Arthur, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  2. ^ "1981 Domestic Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  3. ^ Lenburg, Jeff (2001). Dudley Moore: An Informal Biography. iUniverse. ISBN 978-0595182688.
  4. ^ Pollack, Dale (November 27, 1981). "'Arthur' success even surprised Joffe". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  5. ^ Evans, Bradford (March 3, 2011). "The Lost Roles of John Belushi". Splitsider. Archived from the original on May 17, 2018. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Cormier, Roger. "10 Rich Facts About Arthur". Mental Floss. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  7. ^ Thomson, David (February 27, 1994). "FILM / Up where she belongs: A decade ago Debra Winger had the film world at her feet. A year ago her career seemed to be on its last legs. Now she is back, with an Oscar nomination. David Thomson is a fan". The Independent. London. Retrieved August 18, 2018. She turned down the soft female leads in hits such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Arthur.
  8. ^ a b Prato, Greg (October 18, 2013). "Christopher Cross". Songfacts. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  9. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 17, 1981). "Dudley Moore Stars as Screwball in 'Arthur'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Arthur". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved January 23, 2014 – via
  11. ^ "Cinema: Hobson's Choice". Time. August 3, 1981. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  12. ^ "Arthur". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  13. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (September 9, 1981). "Hollywood Is Joyous Over Its Record-Grossing Summer". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
  14. ^ "1981 Domestic Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  15. ^ "Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988)". IMDb. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  16. ^ Arthur 2: On the Rocks at Rotten Tomatoes
  17. ^ Easton, Nina (July 12, 1988). "Weekend Box Office results, July 1988". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  18. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 8, 1988). "Review/Film; Moore and Minnelli in 'Arthur 2'". p. C8. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  19. ^ "Russell Brand as Arthur?". December 4, 2008. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  20. ^ "Arthur (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  21. ^ "Brand: 'Arthur' remake was a bad idea". Irish Examiner. Cork. February 18, 2013. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  22. ^ "The 39th Academy Awards (1967) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 24, 2011.
  23. ^ "The 35th BAFTA Awards (1982) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 24, 2011.
  24. ^ "The 39th Golden Globe Awards (1982) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved April 11, 2017.
  25. ^ "Film Critics Announce Top Honors". The Press-Courier. December 14, 1981. Retrieved December 28, 2017 – via Google News Archive.
  26. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 21, 1981). "Critics Vote 'Reds,' Burt Lancaster the Best of '81". The New York Times. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
  27. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  28. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  29. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  30. ^ The Critic, retrieved April 17, 2019
  31. ^ See the New You (December 17, 2008), Arthur3.wmv, retrieved April 17, 2019
  32. ^ Letterboxd: The Seventh Annual 'On Cinema' Oscar Special, retrieved March 9, 2020

External links[edit]