Dennis the Menace (film)

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This article is about the American live-action film. For other uses, see Dennis the Menace. For the 1986 animated American series, see Dennis the Menace (1986 TV series). For the 1959 American series, see Dennis the Menace (1959 TV series). For the video game, see Dennis the Menace (video game).
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. Pictures
Release dates
  • June 25, 1993 (1993-06-25)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $35 million
Box office $117,270,765

Dennis the Menace (initially 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. It, however, is not the first live-action Dennis the Menace film; that was Dennis the Menace: Dinosaur Hunter, which premiered on television in 1986.

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. Jeannie Russell was the only member of the original television show's cast to appear in the movie.

A direct-to-video sequel called 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 (Mason Gamble) is a five-year-old boy who lives with his parents in Wichita, Kansas. Henry (Robert Stanton) and Alice (Lea Thompson), and is the bane of next door neighbor, George Wilson (Walter Matthau). One morning, Mr. Wilson pretends to be asleep in order to avoid dealing with Dennis. Dennis enters his bedroom, only to find him asleep surrounded by his prescription medication, and assumes he's sick. To make him feel better, Dennis flings an aspirin into his mouth with a slingshot which causes him to gag and spit out the aspirin, as Dennis flees home to his parents.

When Dennis arrives home, his parents learn of the incident he had caused to Mr Wilson and are both angered, but because they are both working, Alice has to take him to stay at Margaret's house for the day. Dennis isn't too happy about this, because she is mean to him. When he arrives, he and Margaret, along with his best friend Joey, venture into the woods to an abandoned tree house and intend to fix it up. Later, while getting paint from a high shelf in the garage, Dennis tries to grab his slingshot, which was taken away from him by his father Henry, and accidentally spills the paint on the ground. He then fervently attempts to vacuum it up, but ends up spilling a glob of paint as it splinters into Mr. Wilson's barbecue grill, while he's cooking chicken, and Mr. Wilson tastes the paint and wood splinters as he eats it. That night, Dennis has a set of babysitters; Polly and her boyfriend, Mickey. He plays doorbell pranks on them and they retaliate by sticking a thumbtack on the doorbell and preparing water and flour to dump on the prankster. However, Mr. Wilson goes over to Dennis's house to prove that Dennis was responsible for the paint in his chicken, against the wishes of his wife, Martha (Joan Plowright), only to ring the doorbell, prick his thumb, and get water and flour dumped on him, much to Martha's amusement. The next morning, Dennis goes over to the Wilson's house to apologize for the events of the previous evening, but finds himself playing with Mr. Wilson's dentures, losing two teeth down the drain, and replacing them with Chiclets gum in the process. This gets noticed when Mr. Wilson gets his picture taken for the newspaper. Meanwhile, a burglar named Switchblade Sam (Christopher Lloyd) arrives in town and begins robbing people's houses, as well as stealing things outdoors and striking fear into children he meets.

Unfortunately for Henry and Alice, they have a difficult time getting people to watch Dennis while they both work. Unfortunately for Mr. Wilson, he and Martha are being charged with the task of caring for the troublesome boy, as both of his parents are being called away on business trips on the same weekend. Martha loves him as if he were her own grandson, as she and George have no children, and she enjoys telling Dennis a bedtime poem that her mother told her. Alternatively, George is further irritated by the boy who spilled bath water on the bathroom floor, replaced his nasal spray with mouthwash, and his mouthwash with toilet cleanser, even brought his pet dog Ruff into the house for a while.

Fortunately for Mr. Wilson he's been selected to host the Summer Floraganza, a long awaited summer event. He has been growing and nurturing a rare night-blooming orchid for about forty years especially for the event. Despite the investment the flower dies shortly after its blooming. Alice’s flight is delayed due to a thunderstorm forcing Dennis to stay at Mr Wilson's for the night of the orchid’s blooming. Martha is understanding, but George is deeply dismayed about this. But, at Martha's insistence, he eventually agrees to let Dennis stay outside for the party only with a firm warning to behave himself. Dennis does not enjoy the party much because the guests pinch his cheeks, and distances himself from the guests. However, in his curiosity, he finds himself pushing a button, which opens the garage door, causing it to knock over the dessert table and make a huge mess. Mr. Wilson sees the mess, he angrily bans Dennis from the party. From inside, Dennis hears Switchblade Sam robbing the house, goes downstairs, and finds Mr. Wilson's gold coins missing. Just as the flower is about to bloom, he alerts Mr. Wilson of the robbery, distracting everyone just long enough to miss the flower's brief blooming span. Furious about his forty year investment gone to waste and everything else, Mr. Wilson severely scolds Dennis, telling him that he does not want to see him or know him anymore and orders him out of his way, sending all the guests home. Dennis tries to apologize, and flees on his bike with a wagon attachted to it and he rides off into the night, he then heads into the park, where he eventually bumps into Switchblade Sam, who abducts him, intending to use him as a hostage.

Dennis's parents Henry and Alice arrive home soon after only to learn of their son's absence. They then contact the authorities and his friends to begin searching for him. Mr. Wilson, now feeling intense guilt and remorse about what he had said, especially since he really had been robbed, joins in the search in his car, and everyone ends up searching for him all night. Meanwhile, Dennis unintentionally but effectively defeats Switchblade Sam by tying him up with rope, setting him on fire twice, accidentally bludgeoning him several times, and handcuffing him and losing the key amongst other things. He then returns to Mr. Wilson's house the next morning with an injured Switchblade Sam in his wagon, having also recovered Mr. Wilson's gold coins. Switchblade Sam is then taken into police custody by an amused sheriff who had advised him earlier to leave town. Dennis and Mr. Wilson make amends, and both the Mitchells and the Wilsons become close friends on better terms. That night, Alice told Mr & Mrs Wilson that she does not have to travel out of town anymore and will stay to work on local projects and Dennis can come to work with her, since they have a daycare center. Mr. Wilson scoffs at this saying he and Martha are will be happy to continue watching Dennis, explaining that he's learned some things about children by saying to both Alice & Henry that kids are kids and they have to play by their rules, roll with the punches and expect the unexpected. Around the same time, just as Dennis is still trying to get the flame out of his marshmallow, the marshmallow lands on Mr Wilson, accidentally hitting him in the forehead.

As the closing credits begins to roll, Andrea, the egotistical co-worker of Dennis's mother finds him sitting near the copying machine as she's using it. He asks to the push the button on the copier, but she arrogantly tells him that he doesn't know what to do. Sure enough, he pushes the "PRINT" button and runs off with other workers, including Dennis's mother, looking on. Andrea gets her scarf sucked into the machine and her head gets pinned face down on the scanner bed and the machine relentlessly flashes its blinding light in her eyes and repeatedly copies her face and spews out page after page of black and white photos showing her various agonized facial expressions as she screams and cries on the scanner bed, eventually getting herself free.


Production notes[edit]

Mason Gamble won the role of Dennis Mitchell after beating out a reported 20,000 other children who had auditioned for it.[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 Devin Ratray).

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 the music score for 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 NES and Game Boy platforms. The stages for it include Mr. Wilson's house, the great outdoors, 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 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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