Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead

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Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead
Don't Tell Mom The Babysitters Dead.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStephen Herek
Produced by
Written by
Music byDavid Newman
CinematographyTim Suhrstedt
Edited byLarry Bock
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • June 7, 1991 (1991-06-07)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million
Box office$25.1 million[1]

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead is a 1991 American coming-of-age black comedy film directed by Stephen Herek and starring Christina Applegate, Joanna Cassidy, Josh Charles and David Duchovny. The plot focuses on seventeen-year-old Sue Ellen Crandell, whose mother leaves for a two-month summer vacation in Australia, putting all five siblings in the care of an evil tyrannical elderly babysitter. When the babysitter suddenly dies in her sleep, Sue Ellen assumes the role as head of the household to prevent her mother from returning home early. She fakes a resume to get a job in the fashion industry, but proves capable and lucky enough to succeed. Initially unsuccessful on the big screen and poorly received by critics, the film later achieved a cult following on VHS and cable television.


Sue Ellen Crandell is a 17-year-old high school graduate in Los Angeles who, due to a lack of funds, cannot go to Europe for the summer with her friends. She is about to head to college in the fall. However, when her divorced mother goes on a vacation to Australia with her boyfriend, Sue Ellen looks forward to an entire summer of freedom with her siblings: twin slacker and stoner Kenny, 14-year-old ladies' man Zach, 13-year-old tomboy Melissa, and 11-year-old television fanatic Walter. Much to Sue Ellen's dismay, her mother hires a live-in babysitter, Mrs. Sturak, a seemingly sweet, humble old woman who assures Mrs. Crandell that she can take care of all five children. As soon as Mrs. Crandell leaves, Mrs. Sturak shows her true colors as an evil tyrant, quickly drawing the ire of the children. However, she soon dies of a heart attack. After her body is discovered by Sue Ellen, the children agree to stuff the babysitter in a trunk and drop her off at a local funeral home and keep her car. They discover that the envelope given to Mrs. Sturak by their mother with their summer money is empty; she had it on her when they delivered her body to the funeral home.

With no money to pay the family's bills, Sue Ellen finds work at a fast food restaurant called Clown Dog. Despite a budding relationship with her co-worker named Bryan, she quits because of the obnoxious manager. Sue Ellen then forges an extensive résumé under the guise of a Vassar-educated young fashion designer and applies at General Apparel West (GAW), hoping to secure a job as a receptionist. However, Rose Lindsey, a company executive, finds her résumé so impressive that she offers Sue Ellen a job as an executive assistant, much to the chagrin of Carolyn, a receptionist on Rose's floor who was initially in line for the job. While the kids have dinner at a Chuck E. Cheese's that night, Mrs. Sturak's car is stolen by drag queens, forcing Sue Ellen to call in a favor from Bryan to bring them home. Sue Ellen then obtains the keys to her mother's Volvo, and begins stealing from petty cash at GAW to support the family, intending to return it when she receives her paycheck.

At work, the inexperienced Sue Ellen has to balance the adult responsibilities thrust upon her while still trying to enjoy herself as a teenager. The double life strains her relationship with Bryan when she discovers that he and Carolyn are brother and sister. Sue Ellen then finds herself tested when she learns that GAW is in danger of going out of business. She takes it upon herself to create a new clothing line and Rose suggests holding a fashion show to exhibit their new designs. Sue Ellen offers to host the party, convincing her siblings to help clean up the house, beautify the yard, and act as caterers. Although she manages to pull off the party, it comes to an end when Mrs. Crandell comes home early and catches Sue Ellen in the act, forcing her to confess her lie in front of everyone. While apologizing to Rose after the party, Sue Ellen learns that her unique designs had saved GAW. Rose offers Sue Ellen the job as her personal assistant, which she respectfully declines in favor of going to college first. Rose tells Sue Ellen that she can "pull some strings" to get her in to Vassar and they make plans to get together for dinner.

Sue Ellen and Bryan make up, but are soon interrupted by Mrs. Crandell, who inquires about Mrs. Sturak's whereabouts. As the credits roll, the scene cuts away to the cemetery, where two morticians look over a gravestone that reads "Nice Old Lady Inside, Died of Natural Causes."



The core idea of the film was, according to writers Neil Landau and Tara Ison, born in the mid-1980s; Landau was inspired by the 1983 film Risky Business, where a high-schooler protagonist is similarly thrust into the adult world, and manages to hold out his own. The first draft, titled The Real World, was finished in 1987, and auctioned off to 20th Century Fox, but was soon put away. Fox had wanted a lighter-themed film than Landau and Ison originally had in mind; they had envisioned "an actor like Winona Ryder in the starring role."[2] Landau would later also be uneasy with Stephen Herek, then known for Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, being set to direct the film.[2]

In 1989, the film was picked up by Outlaw Productions, who attracted Christina Applegate to the project through her then-co-star at Married With Children, Ed O'Neill. Joanna Cassidy was cast as Rose Lindsey after a suggestion by Landau. The film was one of David Duchovny's early roles, before he achieved mainstream success; casting director Sharon Bialy had trouble convincing the studio to hire him. Jennifer Love Hewitt was originally cast as Melissa, but had to back out as Disney Channel would not release her from a television show she starred in.[2]

After the production ended, the studio was forced to change the name because of conflict with the MTV's new TV series of the same name, and settled on the current title. Landau was initially unimpressed with the lighthearted title, but accepted it after seeing Johnny Carson make a pun on the title on TV.[2]


The film was released on June 7, 1991, bringing in $4.2 million on the opening weekend and a total U.S. and Canada gross of $25,196,249,[1] making a small profit, below the filmmakers' expectations. However, it achieved success on VHS and HBO airings; reportedly, $1 million was spent on video rental store advertisements.[2]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Several reviewers compared the movie unfavorably to the then-recent hit Home Alone, with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone stating: "Blame the smash of 'Home Alone' for the new herd of kids-on-the-loose movies. Let's hope none are dumber than this one."[3][4] He added that "There's no telling how the unflatteringly photographed Applegate delivers a comic line on the big screen, because [screenwriters] Tara Ison and Neil Landau haven't written her any," and concluded by calling the movie "the film equivalent of processed cheese."[3] Kathleen Maher of The Austin Chronicle described the movie as "Home Alone meets Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and then visits Working Girl."[5] Roger Ebert was slightly more positive, awarding the film 2 out of 4 stars and calling it "a consumerist, escapist fantasy for teenage girls."[6] Desson Howe of The Washington Post was also slightly more enthused about the movie, stating that while it "isn't quite as dead as you might expect, it doesn't exactly pulsate with originality." He ended by complimenting the "subversive elements" which distinguished its otherwise "familiar, pre-sold air."[4]

Despite the unenthusiastic critic response at release, the film went on to achieve a cult following on VHS and television.[2]

In June 2010, reports surfaced that a remake of the film was to be produced by The Mark Gordon Company.[7] As of a November 2019, production has not begun.


  1. ^ a b "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (1991)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 9 July 2018. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Wieselman, Jarrett (June 4, 2015). "How "Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead" Went From D.O.A. To Beloved Cult Classic". BuzzFeed News. Archived from the original on 29 September 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  3. ^ a b Peter Travers (1991-06-07). "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 2018-04-12. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  4. ^ a b Desson Howe (1991-06-07). "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  5. ^ Kathleen Maher (1991-06-07). "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead". Austin Chronicle. Archived from the original on 2018-04-12. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  6. ^ Roger Ebert (1991-06-07). "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead Review". Archived from the original on 2018-04-12. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  7. ^ ""Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" Remake is Coming". Archived from the original on 26 October 2014. Retrieved 26 October 2014.

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