Dennis the Menace (film)

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This article is about the American live-action film. For other uses, see Dennis the Menace.
Dennis the Menace
Dennis the menace.jpg
One-sheet poster
Directed by Nick Castle
Produced by
  • John Hughes
  • Richard Vane
Written by John Hughes
Based on Dennis the Menace 
by Hank Ketcham
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Thomas E. Ackerman
Edited by Alan Heim
Distributed by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment
Release dates
  • June 25, 1993 (1993-06-25)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $35 million
Box office $117.2 million

Dennis the Menace (released in the United Kingdom as Dennis to avoid confusion with an identically named character) is a 1993 live-action American family film based on the Hank Ketcham comic strip of the same name. This, however, is not the first live-action Dennis the Menace film: That was Dennis the Menace: Dinosaur Hunter, which premiered on television in 1987.

The film was directed by Nick Castle, written and produced by John Hughes, and distributed by Warner Bros., which released it under its Family Entertainment banner. It concerns the misadventures of a mischievous child (Mason Gamble) with a cowlick and a grin who wreaks havoc on his next door neighbor, Mr. Wilson (Walter Matthau), usually hangs out with his friends, Joey (Kellen Hathaway) and Margaret (Amy Sakasitz), and is followed everywhere by his dog, Ruff.

A direct-to-video sequel, Dennis the Menace Strikes Again, was later released in 1998 without the cast members from this film. It was also followed by a Saturday morning cartoon series called All-New Dennis the Menace.


Dennis Mitchell is a five-year-old boy who lives with his parents, Henry and Alice, and is the bane of next door neighbor George Wilson's existence. Because of his trouble-making but unintentional behavior, his parents often struggle to find suitable babysitters to deal with him. On one night, they manage to get one named Polly and her boyfriend, Mickey, to do so, but repeated doorbell pranks from him push them too far (not knowing he is behind this), and they end up pulling a prank on George when he rings the doorbell to scold Dennis after finding paint and wood in his food in an earlier incident. While all of this and the rest of the events in town go on, a burglar named Switchblade Sam (said name not mentioned in the film, only in the end credits) arrives in town and begins robbing houses, as well as striking fear into the children that he meets.

Dennis' parents are both called away on business trips at the same time, and when everyone they know refuses to look after him, they turn to George and his wife, Martha (who loves Dennis and sees him as a surrogate grandson), to look after him. George is further irritated by him spilling bath water on the bathroom floor, swapping chemicals, and bringing his dog, Ruff, into the house for a while. All of this is happening around the time the Summer Floraganza, a long-awaited event, is scheduled to happen. As a longtime member of the local garden club, George is chosen to host it. He is excited to have this honor, as he has been growing and nurturing a rare plant for forty years. After growing for the said length of time, its flower finally blooms, only to die several seconds later.

Alice gets stuck at the airport due to a thunderstorm, thus forcing Dennis to stay with the Wilsons for an extra night, which coincides with the unveiling of the plant and its blooming to the members of the garden club. While that is happening, he is sent away for causing trouble (namely overturning the dessert table when he pushed a black button, which he found out opened the garage door), when he hears Switchblade Sam robbing the house. He goes downstairs, and finds George's gold coins missing. He runs outside to tell him just as the flower is reaching the peak of its bloom, which distracts everyone away and causes George, Martha, and all the guests to miss its entire lifespan. Not knowing about the robbery, George becomes upset and completely loses it to the point of uprooting the flower and going over to censure Dennis, by revealing to him how much he has no use for him, and that he doesn't want to know or see him anymore. Shortly thereafter, in a fit of brokenheartedness, Dennis gets on his bike (with a wagon attached) and rides off into the night, eventually bumping into Switchblade Sam in the woods. Switchblade Sam then abducts him, intending to use him as a hostage.

Dennis' parents return home and learn of his departure, and they, the authorities, his friends (Joey, Margaret, Gunther, and all the neighborhood kids), and George (who feels intense guilt and remorse after remembering all the things he said to him including the harsh things that caused his running away, and having now discovered his house was indeed burglarized and that Dennis actually had pure intentions when he tried to tell him) search all night for him. Around the same time, Dennis unintentionally but effectively defeats Switchblade Sam by tying him up and handcuffing him, losing the key, and repeatedly setting him on fire, amongst other things. He returns to George's house the next morning with Switchblade Sam in his wagon, having also recovered George's gold coins, and Switchblade Sam is taken into police custody by a slightly amused sheriff who had previously advised him to leave town. Dennis and George make up, and the Mitchells and Wilsons become friends on better terms. That night, George explains that he's learned some things about kids: kids are kids, and that one has to play by their rules, roll with the punches, and expect the unexpected. Just then, Dennis accidentally throws a flaming marshmallow which hits him in the forehead.

The film's end credits are accompanied with Dennis inadvertently humiliating his mother's egotistical coworker, Andrea, while she is using a copy machine. He impishly whacks the "PRINT" button and runs away, with other workers looking on. The paper feeder sucks up Andrea's scarf, her head gets pinned facedown on the scanner bed, and the machine relentlessly flashes its blinding light in her eyes as it repeatedly "takes her picture" and spews out page after page of black-and-white "photos" showing her various agonized facial expressions as she writhes about on the scanner bed.


Production notes[edit]

Mason Gamble won the role of Dennis Mitchell after beating out a reported 20,000 other children who had auditioned for the film.[1] The script was written to use certain references from both Back to the Future (also starring Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson) and Home Alone (also written and produced by John Hughes and starring Macaulay Culkin ).

The film premiered on 25 June 1993. It is known simply as Dennis in the UK to avoid confusion with an unrelated British comic strip, also called "Dennis the Menace", which also debuted in 1951.


The film's music was composed by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith, who was John Hughes' first and only choice to write it.

Additionally, three old-time pop hits were featured in the film: "Don't Hang Up" by The Orlons, "Whatcha Know Joe" by Jo Stafford (from the 1963 album Getting Sentimental over Tommy Dorsey), and "A String of Pearls" by Glenn Miller.

Video game[edit]

The film also spawned a platforming video game for the Amiga, Super Nintendo, and Game Boy consoles. The stages for it include Mr. Wilson's house, the great outdoor,. and a boiler room among others.


The film was a success at the box office. Against a $35 million budget, it grossed $51.3 million domestically and a further $66 million overseas to a total of $117.3 million worldwide,[2][3] despite generally negative reviews from film critics.[4][5] On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a "rotten" rating of 23%, with the general consensus saying, "Walter Matthau does a nice job as Mr. Wilson, but Dennis the Menace follows the Home Alone formula far too closely."

Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "There's a lot to like in Dennis the Menace. But Switchblade Sam prevents me from recommending it."[6] Mason Gamble received a Razzie Award nomination for Worst New Star but also won "Best Youth Actor Leading Role in a Motion Picture: Comedy" at the 15th Youth in Film Awards.


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