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 (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; The first live-action film to feature Dennis 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 the film 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. The film 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 Henry (Robert Stanton) and Alice (Lea Thompson), and is the bane of next door neighbour, George Wilson's (Walter Matthau) existence. One morning George pretends to be asleep to avoid dealing with Dennis. Dennis enters his bedroom, sees Mr. Wilson asleep surrounded by prescription medication, and assumes he's sick. To make him better, Dennis flings an aspirin pill into George’s mouth with a sling shot. This causes George to gag, and spit out the pill, as Dennis flees home. When Dennis arrives home, his parents learn of the incident, but because both of them are working, Dennis's mother Alice, has to take Dennis to stay with Margaret's family for the day. Dennis isn't happy about this, because Margaret is mean to him. When they arrive, he and Margaret, along with Dennis's 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, and accidentally spills paint on the ground. He fervently attempts to vacuum it up, but ends up spilling a glob of paint and splinters into Mr. Wilson's grill, while he's cooking chicken, and Mr. Wilson tastes the paint as he eats it. That night, Dennis has a set of babysitters; Polly and Mickey. He plays doorbell pranks on then, and they retaliate by sticking a thumbtack to the doorbell and preparing water and flour to douse on the prankster. However, Mr. Wilson goes over to Dennis's house, against his wife Martha's (Joan Plowright) wishes, to find out what Dennis knows about the paint in his grill, but when he rings the doorbell, he pricks his thumb, and gets water and flour dumped on him, much to his wife's amusement. Meanwhile, a burglar named Switchblade Sam (Christopher Lloyd) arrives in town and begins robbing houses, as well as striking fear into the children that he meets.

Dennis’ parents are having increasing difficulty getting people to watch Dennis when they both work. Sadly, for George, he and Martha are charged with the task of caring for the troublesome boy, as both of Dennis' parents are called away on business trips, the same weekend. Martha loves Dennis as if he were her own grandson, as she and George are childless, and she enjoys telling Dennis bedtime poems that her mother told her. Alternatively, George is further irritated by him spilling bath water on the bathroom floor, replacing his nasal spray with mouthwash, and his mouthwash with toilet cleanser, and even releasing the dog; Ruff into the house.

Fortunately for George he has been selected to host the Summer Floraganza. He has been growing a rare night-blooming orchid for forty years especially for the event; Despite the investment the flower dies shortly after blooming. Alice’s flight is delayed by a storm and Dennis remains for the night of the orchard’s blooming. Martha is understanding, but George is deeply dismayed about this. But, at Martha's insistence, he grudgingly lets Dennis stay outside for the party with a firm warning to behave himself. However, after Dennis plays with the garage door opener causing it to knock over the dessert table and make a huge mess, George angrily sends Dennis inside. Dennis hears Switchblade Sam robbing the house, he goes downstairs and finds George's gold coins missing. Just as the flower is to bloom Dennis distracts the viewers to alert Mr. Wilson of the robbery, distracting him and the others long enough to miss the flower's brief blooming span. Irate about his forty year investment gone to waste and everything else, George severely chastises Dennis, causing him to flee on his bike. On his travel Switchblade Sam abducts Dennis.

Dennis’ parents arrive home soon after, and learn of his absence and contact the authorities and friends to search for Dennis.

George joins them, as he now feels intense guilt about what he said, especially since he really had been robbed. Dennis unintentionally defeats Switchblade by handcuffing him to a rope. He returns to George's house the next morning with Switchblade Sam in his wagon, having also recovered George's gold coins. Sam is also taken into police custody, by an amused sheriff. Dennis and George make amends, and the Mitchells and Wilsons are also on better terms. That night, George explains that he's learned some things about children: "Kids are kids, you have to play by their rules. If you can't do that, you're headed for trouble. You have to roll with the punches. You have to expect the unexpected."


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 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 this film.

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 the game include Mr. Wilson's house, the great outdoors and a boiler room among others.


Dennis the Menace was a success at the box office. Against a $35 million budget, the film 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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