Drop Dead Fred

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Drop Dead Fred
Drop dead fred ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAte de Jong
Screenplay byCarlos Davis
Anthony Fingleton
Story byElizabeth Livingston
Produced byPaul Webster
CinematographyPeter Deming
Edited byMarshall Harvey
Music byRandy Edelman
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
(North America)
Rank Film Distributors
(United Kingdom)
Release date
  • May 24, 1991 (1991-05-24) (United States)
  • October 11, 1991 (1991-10-11) (United Kingdom)
Running time
101 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$6.788 million (est.) or £3,650,000[1]
Box office$14.8 million (domestic)[2]

Drop Dead Fred is a 1991 black comedy fantasy film directed by Ate de Jong, produced by PolyGram and Working Title and released and distributed by New Line Cinema. Rik Mayall stars as Drop Dead Fred, the happy, anarchic, and mischievous imaginary friend of a young girl named Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates) and the nemesis of her overbearing mother Polly (Marsha Mason). He causes chaos around her home and neighborhood, but nobody can see him except her. When she grows up and has an emotional crisis, he returns to "cheer her up" in his own unique way, causing more chaos than ever before. The supporting cast included Carrie Fisher, Ron Eldard, Tim Matheson, and Bridget Fonda.


Unassertive and repressed Minneapolis court reporter Elizabeth Cronin is blamed by her controlling mother Polly for her recent divorce. On her lunch break, Elizabeth visits her husband Charles, from whom she is separated, hoping to sort out their problems. He reasserts his desire for a divorce and says that he is in love with another woman, named Annabella.

While she is at a public phone, first a man breaks into her car to steal her purse, and another steals the car itself. Forced to run back to work at the courthouse, she arrives late and gets fired. As she leaves the courthouse, she runs into childhood friend Mickey Bunce, who brings up memories they shared, including those of Elizabeth's imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred. Mickey reminds her how everybody else thought she was crazy. A series of flashbacks show that though he caused havoc, he also gave her happiness and a release from her oppressive mother. One day, while she and Fred were making a mess on the dinner table, she heard her mother coming and she imagined him hiding in a jack-in-the-box. Polly, fed up with Elizabeth playing with Fred, took the jack-in-the-box and taped it shut, essentially taking Fred away from her. The event left Elizabeth traumatized, and her father Nigel left not long after.

After a pep talk from her friend Janie, Elizabeth moves back into her mother's, having nowhere else to go. She finds the taped-shut jack-in-the-box that Polly trapped Fred inside in her childhood bedroom. She removes the tape, releasing Fred. He agrees to help her feel better, which she believes will only happen when she wins back Charles. However, his childish antics do more harm than good. He sinks Janie's houseboat, causes havoc at a restaurant, and tricks Elizabeth into attacking a violinist in a shopping mall.

Worried by Elizabeth's recent odd behavior, Polly takes her to a (children's) psychologist. In the waiting room, Fred is seen meeting up with the imaginary friends of other patients, who are all children. The doctor prescribes medication to rid her of Fred, whom he and Polly believe is a figment of her imagination. She also changes her appearance and wardrobe. The medication also has the effect of slowly killing Fred. Charles now wants her back and she is overjoyed until Fred discovers he is still cheating with Annabella and tells her. Heartbroken, she tells Fred that she cannot leave Charles because she is scared of being alone. She then passes out. They escape to a dream sequence in which she is able to reject Charles and stand up to Polly, declaring she is no longer afraid of her. She frees her imprisoned childhood self. Fred tells her that she no longer needs him, so they kiss and he disappears.

Upon awakening, Elizabeth dumps Charles and stands up to Polly. Before leaving, she reconciles with Polly and encourages her to find a friend to escape her own loneliness. Days later she visits Mickey and his daughter Natalie, who blames Drop Dead Fred for the mischief that just causes her nanny to quit. Elizabeth realizes Fred is now with Natalie, although she cannot see him anymore.



Tim Burton and Robin Williams were offered the role of director and Fred respectively. They turned the project down.[3]

Filming began in August 1990, and finished in September that year. Filmed in Minneapolis, a large part of Drop Dead Fred was filmed at Prince's Paisley Park Studios in the suburb of Chanhassen. It has been said that Prince used to visit the set, each evening once filming had stopped for the day, to mess around and admire the costumes and props.


Box office[edit]

Drop Dead Fred, produced on a budget of just under $6.8 million, was released theatrically in North America on May 24, 1991, grossing $3,625,648 on its opening weekend, and $13,878,334 over its entire theatrical run.[2] It made £1,794,121 in the UK.[1]

Critical response[edit]

Drop Dead Fred was critically panned upon release but has gone on to become a cult film.[3][4] On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 11% based on 36 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Tackling mature themes with an infantile sensibility, Drop Dead Fred is an ill-conceived family comedy that is more likely to stir up a headache than the imagination."[5] On Metacritic it has a score of 25% based on reviews from 19 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[6]

Gene Siskel gave the film zero stars and said "This is easily one of the worst films I've ever seen."[7] Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Margaret Lyons asked, "Is it supposed to be hilarious, or a really, really depressing story about the long-term effects of emotional abuse?"[8] Leonard Maltin stated that "Phoebe Cates' appealing performance can't salvage this putrid mess...recommended only for people who think nose-picking is funny."[9]

Peter Freedman of the Radio Times called it a "largely uninteresting and unfunny comedy", adding: "It's a nice idea, but it falls between all available stools and ends up as a mess on the floor thanks to the poor execution. It's particularly irritating if you've seen the much better Harvey."[10] Angie Errigo of Empire magazine wrote: "There is scarcely a laugh to be had unless you are six years old or immoderately fond of such wheezes as depositing dog poop on a white carpet."[11]

Writing for Mystical Movie Guide, Carl Schroeder wrote: "The imaginary friend is cavortingly rude for a reason; he served to push the girlchild to do mischief for attention and as a cry for help. Now grown up, the woman has forgotten and is about to lose her soul, so events call for some kind of literal return of her demon to force the exposure of her pain. This psychic crisis is poignantly realistic ... the creature who is visible only to the woman is like a poltergeist energy of her repressed self, a problematic ego container into which her powers of assertion and creativity were poured and stored. The movie's resolution is startlingly beautiful."[12]


  1. ^ a b "Back to the Future: The Fall and Rise of the British Film Industry in the 1980s - An Information Briefing" (PDF). British Film Institute. 2005. p. 22.
  2. ^ a b "Drop Dead Fred (1991)". Box Office Mojo. 1991-07-02. Retrieved 2014-06-10.
  3. ^ a b Mark Harrison (September 1, 2017). "Drop Dead Fred: Looking Back On A Cult Classic". Den of Geeks. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  4. ^ Stone, Loryn (16 December 2017). "Drop Dead Fred – The Cult Classic Rife with Hypocrisy". PopLurker.
  5. ^ "Drop Dead Fred". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  6. ^ "Drop Dead Fred". Metacritic. Retrieved 2020-10-10.
  7. ^ Siskel, Gene (24 May 1991). "'Backdraft': A Spectacle Graced by Fine Acting". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 20 July 2014. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  8. ^ Margaret Lyons (April 28, 2009). "'Drop Dead Fred' remake: Let's not flick boogers at it just yet". Entertainment Weekly.
  9. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2017-11-28). Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide: The Modern Era, Previously Published as Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-525-53631-4.
  10. ^ Peter Freedman (1991). "Drop Dead Fred – review". Radio Times.
  11. ^ Angie Errigo (1 January 2000). "Drop Dead Fred". Empire.
  12. ^ "Review of Drop Dead Fred". Mystical Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 2002-12-16.

External links[edit]