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.
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, who assumes the role as head of the house for her siblings when the babysitter her mother hired suddenly dies in her sleep. Although only a moderate success theatrically, the film later achieved a cult following on VHS and cable television.

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead was released in theaters on June 7, 1991, and grossed $25.1 million on a budget of $10 million. It received generally negative reviews from critics.


Sue Ellen Crandell (Christina Applegate) 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 (Concetta Tomei) 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 (Keith Coogan), 14-year-old ladies' man Zach (Christopher Pettiet), 13-year-old tomboy Melissa (Danielle Harris), and 11-year-old television fanatic Walter (Robert Hy Gorman). Much to Sue Ellen's dismay, her mother hires a live-in babysitter, Mrs. Sturak (Eda Reiss Merin), 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 (Josh Charles), 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 (Joanna Cassidy), 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 (Jayne Brook), 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. However, Sue Ellen is furious to discover that her siblings have stolen most of the petty cash funds from her purse to buy extravagant gifts; Zach purchases a diamond ring for his girlfriend Cynthia, and Walter orders a state-of-the-art home entertainment center for the house.

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. Furthermore, resentful of Sue Ellen's promotion, Carolyn and her coworker Bruce (David Duchovny) repeatedly try to discredit her accomplishments — even going so far as to make a copy of Sue Ellen's driver's license to prove she is only a teenager — but Rose views the efforts as nothing more than petty jealousy on Carolyn's part. On top of it all, Sue Ellen has to rebuff the frequent sexual advances of Rose's philandering boyfriend, Gus (John Getz), who also works with the company.

When she learns that GAW is in danger of going out of business, Sue Ellen takes it upon herself to create a new clothing line, and Rose suggests holding a fashion show to exhibit their new designs. With no petty cash left to rent a banquet hall, 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 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]

Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 33% approval rating from 30 reviews. The critical consensus reads, "It has an amusing enough premise, but Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead will just leave viewers pining for the madcap hijinks promised by the title".[7]

Despite the critical response on 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 would be produced by The Mark Gordon Company.[8] As of January 2020, 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 (1991)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  8. ^ ""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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