Drop Dead Fred

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

Drop Dead Fred is a 1991 British-American black comedy fantasy film directed by Ate de Jong, produced by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and Working Title Films and released and distributed by New Line Cinema.

Rik Mayall starred as the title character: a happy, anarchic, and mischievous imaginary friend of a young girl named Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates) and 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.


Elizabeth Cronin is an unassertive and repressed woman, dominated by her controlling mother Polly. While taking her lunch break from work, she 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, a man walking down the street breaks into her car to steal her purse, and then her car. Forced to run back to work at the courthouse, she arrives late and loses her job. As she leaves the courthouse, she runs into an old friend, Mickey, who brings up childhood memories they shared, which includes memories of Elizabeth's childhood imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred. Mickey explains how only Elizabeth could see Drop Dead Fred, and everybody else thought she was crazy.

After a pep talk from her friend Janie, Elizabeth moves back into her mother's home, having nowhere else to go. While rummaging through her childhood bedroom closet, Elizabeth finds the taped-shut jack-in-the-box that Polly supposedly trapped Drop Dead Fred in years ago. She places the box by the window and gets into bed. A series of flashbacks reveals that while he caused havoc for her, he also gave her happiness and a release from her oppressive mother.

Elizabeth wakes up to find the jack-in-the-box slowly playing music. She removes the tape and the box continues to play itself, faster and faster, until Drop Dead Fred flies out of it, finally freed after all these years. 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 even makes Elizabeth attack a person playing a violin in a shopping mall.

Worried by Elizabeth's recent strange 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. Charles now wants her back and she is overjoyed, until Fred discovers he is still cheating on her with Annabella. Heartbroken, she tells Fred that she cannot leave Charles, because she is scared of being alone. They escape to a dream sequence in which she is finally able to reject him, stand up to Polly, and declare 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 into her eternal subconscious.

Upon awakening from the dream, Elizabeth dumps Charles and asserts herself to Polly, who blames her for her father leaving home. Before leaving, she reconciles with Polly and encourages her to find a friend to escape her own loneliness. She goes to her friend Mickey's house and they both express interest in becoming more than friends. When his daughter Natalie comes up to them and blames Fred for mischief that has just prompted her nanny to quit, Elizabeth realizes that he is now with Natalie. She can no longer see him, but he is now leading another, and she smiles contentedly.



Tim Burton and Robin Williams were offered the role of director and Fred respectively. They turned the project down.[2]

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]

The film, 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.[1]

Critical response[edit]

Drop Dead Fred was critically panned upon release but has gone on to become a cult film.[2][3] Leonard Maltin stated that "Phoebe Cates' appealing performance can't salvage this putrid mess...recommended only for people who think nose-picking is funny."[citation needed] On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 11% based on 35 reviews.[4] Gene Siskel gave the film zero stars and said "This is easily one of the worst films I've ever seen."[5] 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?"[6]

Peter Freedman of the Radio Times called it a "largely uninteresting and unfunny comedy" and "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."[7] 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".[8]

Writing for Mystical Movie Guide, Carl J. 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."[9]


  1. ^ a b "Drop Dead Fred (1991)". Box Office Mojo. 1991-07-02. Retrieved 2014-06-10.
  2. ^ a b Mark Harrison (September 1, 2017). "Drop Dead Fred: Looking Back On A Cult Classic". Den of Geeks. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  3. ^ Stone, Loryn (16 December 2017). "Drop Dead Fred – The Cult Classic Rife with Hypocrisy". PopLurker.
  4. ^ "Drop Dead Fred". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Margaret Lyons (April 28, 2009). "'Drop Dead Fred' remake: Let's not flick boogers at it just yet". EW.com.
  7. ^ Peter Freedman (1991). "Drop Dead Fred – review". Radio Times.
  8. ^ Angie Errigo (1 January 2000). "Drop Dead Fred". Empire magazine.
  9. ^ "Review of Drop Dead Fred". Mystical Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 2002-12-16.

External links[edit]