Death Becomes Her

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Death Becomes Her
Death Becomes Her.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Robert Zemeckis
Steve Starkey
Written by Martin Donovan
David Koepp
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography Dean Cundey
Edited by Arthur Schmidt
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • July 31, 1992 (1992-07-31)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $55 million
Box office $149 million[1]

Death Becomes Her is a 1992 American black comedy fantasy film directed by Robert Zemeckis and scripted by David Koepp and Martin Donovan, starring Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, and Isabella Rossellini. The film focuses on a pair of rivals who drink a magic potion that promises eternal youth.

Death Becomes Her won the Academy Award for Visual Effects. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a commercial success, grossing $149 million at the box office.


In 1978, narcissistic, manipulative Madeline Ashton performs in a campy musical version of Sweet Bird of Youth on Broadway. She invites long-time rival Helen Sharp, an aspiring writer, backstage along with Helen's fiancé, plastic surgeon Ernest Menville. Ernest is smitten with Madeline, soon breaking off his engagement with Helen to marry her. Helen winds up in a psychiatric hospital after fixating upon Madeline. Obese and depressed, Helen feigns rehabilitation and is released, plotting revenge on Madeline.

Seven years later, Madeline is living in Beverly Hills with Ernest, but they are miserable together. Madeline's career has faded, and Ernest is an alcoholic reduced to working as a reconstructive mortician. Receiving an invitation to a party celebrating Helen's new book, Madeline rushes to a spa where she regularly receives extensive facial treatments. Understanding Madeline's situation, the spa owner gives her the business card of Lisle von Rhoman, a woman who specializes in youth rejuvenation. Madeline dismisses the spa owner's advice.

Madeline and Ernest attend the party for Helen's novel, Forever Young, and discover Helen is slim, youthful and beautiful. Dumbfounded and depressed by Helen's appearance, Madeline goes to see her young lover but discovers he is with a woman his own age. Dejected, Madeline drives to Lisle's home. Lisle is a mysterious, wealthy socialite who claims to be 71, but looks many decades younger. She reveals to Madeline the secret of her beauty: an extremely expensive potion that promises eternal life and an ever-lasting youthful appearance. Madeline purchases and drinks the potion and is rejuvenated. As a condition of purchase, Madeline must disappear from public life after ten years to keep the existence of the potion secret. Lisle warns Madeline to take good care of her body because she is going to be in it for a long, long time.

Helen has seduced Ernest and convinced him to kill Madeline. When Madeline returns home, she and Ernest argue, during which Madeline falls down the stairs and breaks her neck. Believing Madeline dead, Ernest phones Helen for advice, not seeing Madeline stand and approach him with her head twisted backwards. Ernest assumes she has a dislocated neck and drives her to the emergency room. Madeline is told she is technically dead and faints. She is taken to the morgue due to her body having no pulse and a temperature below 80°F. After rescuing Madeline, Ernest takes the sign of her "resurrection" as a miracle, returns home with Madeline and uses his skills to repair her body.

Helen arrives home, demanding information about Madeline's situation. Overhearing Helen and Ernest discussing their plot to stage Madeline's death, Madeline shoots Helen with a double-barreled shotgun. Although the blast causes a gaping hole in her stomach, Helen survives, revealing that she drank the same potion. Fed up with the pair, Ernest prepares to leave but Helen and Madeline convince him to do one last repair on their bodies. They realize their bodies will need constant maintenance and scheme to have Ernest drink the potion to ensure he will always be available.

After bringing Ernest to Lisle, she offers to give him the potion free of charge.[why?] Ernest refuses; he would rather live a normal life than spend an eternity with Madeline and Helen. He pockets the potion and flees, but becomes trapped on the roof. Helen and Madeline implore Ernest to drink the potion to survive an impending fall. Ernest refuses and drops the potion to the ground several stories below, but after falling he lands in Lisle's pool and escapes. After Lisle banishes Madeline and Helen from her group, the pair realize they must rely on each other for companionship and maintenance.

Thirty-seven years later, Madeline and Helen attend Ernest's funeral, where he is eulogized as having lived an adventurous and fulfilling life. The two bicker as they leave Ernest's funeral. They are parodies of their former selves, with cracked, peeling paint and putty covering most of their grey and rotting flesh. Helen trips and teeters at the top of a staircase. After Madeline hesitates to help her, Helen grabs Madeline and the two tumble down the stairs, breaking to pieces. As their disembodied heads roll and totter together, Helen sardonically asks Madeline, "Do you remember where you parked the car?"



Death Becomes Her was a technically complex movie to make, and the production had a fair number of mishaps. For example, in a scene where Helen Sharp and Madeline Ashton are battling with shovels, Meryl Streep accidentally cut Goldie Hawn's face, leaving a faint scar. Streep admitted that she disliked working on a project that focused so heavily on special effects, saying:

My first, my last, my only. I think it's tedious. Whatever concentration you can apply to that kind of comedy is just shredded. You stand there like a piece of machinery—they should get machinery to do it. I loved how it turned out. But it's not fun to act to a lampstand. "Pretend this is Goldie, right here! Uh, no, I'm sorry, Bob, she went off the mark by five centimeters, and now her head won't match her neck!" It was like being at the dentist.[2]

Computer generated imagery (CGI) by Industrial Light and Magic was used to create the skin effects, such as Madeline's twisted neck and stretching skin, and the shotgun hole through Helen's abdomen.


The score was composed by American film composer Alan Silvestri, who also composed scores of other films directed by Zemeckis.[3]


The film received mixed reviews.[4][5] It currently holds a 45% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews.[6] Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both gave the film a 'thumbs down', commenting that while the film had great special effects, it lacked any real substance or character depth.[7]

Box office[edit]

The film opened at #1 at the box office with $12,110,355 on the same weekend as and ahead of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Bebe's Kids.[8] It went on to earn over $149 million worldwide.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Role Result
Academy Award Best Visual Effects Won
BAFTA Award Best Visual Effects Won
Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical (Meryl Streep) Nominated
Saturn Award Best Actor (Bruce Willis) Nominated
Best Actress (Meryl Streep) Nominated
Best Supporting Actress (Isabella Rossellini) Won
Best Visual Effects Won


  1. ^ "Death Becomes Her at Box Office Mojo". Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Depth Becomes Her". Entertainment Weekly. 2000-03-24. Retrieved 2007-01-25. 
  3. ^ "10 of the Most Underrated Horror Scores!". Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  4. ^ McCarthy, Todd (1992-07-26). "Death Becomes Her". Variety. Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  5. ^ "Death Becomes Her". Entertainment Weekly. 1992-08-14. Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  6. ^ "Death Becomes Her (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  7. ^ "Death Becomes Her review". [1]
  8. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (1994-05-10). "Weekend Box Office `Honors' Tops in a Lackluster Bunch". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-28. 

External links[edit]