Grumpy Old Men (film)

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Grumpy Old Men
Grumpy Old Men .jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDonald Petrie
Produced by
Written byMark Steven Johnson
Music byAlan Silvestri
CinematographyJohn E. Jensen
Edited byBonnie Koehler
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 25, 1993 (1993-12-25)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$35.1 million
Box office$70.2 million[1]

Grumpy Old Men is a 1993 American romantic comedy film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Ann-Margret, along with Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ossie Davis, and Buck Henry and directed by Donald Petrie. The screenplay was written by Mark Steven Johnson, who also wrote the sequel Grumpier Old Men (1995). The original music score was composed by Alan Silvestri. This was the sixth film starring both Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and their first pairing since 1981's Buddy Buddy.


Widower retirees John Gustafson (Lemmon), a former high school history teacher, and Max Goldman (Matthau), who was a television repairman, are childhood friends, longtime rivals and next-door neighbors in Wabasha, Minnesota. Their rivalry began decades earlier when John married Max's high school sweetheart, May. John and May had two children, daughter Melanie (Daryl Hannah) and son Brian, who was killed in Vietnam, but May's infidelity led John to divorce her after twenty years. Max went on to marry a woman Amy and had a son, Jacob (Kevin Pollak), who eventually became mayor of Wabasha. Max never regretted marrying Amy, and thought their marriage was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Despite their differences, both men lead boring and lonely single lives, and share a love for ice fishing, as well as competing, arguing, insulting, and pulling cruel practical jokes on each other such as John tossing a dead fish into Max's truck and later breaking his prized fishing pole and Max controlling John's television with a universal remote control without his knowledge and using a hose to cause the snow on his roof to fall off and bury him.

John, however, has one more issue that he keeps from everyone. He is in arrears to the Internal Revenue Service for over $57,000 in back taxes and penalties; a major plot point involves John's increasingly desperate efforts to avoid contact with IRS Agent Elliot Snyder (Buck Henry), who is after him to collect the debt. He even keeps the secret from Melanie, who is having her own problems as she and her husband Mike are separated and appear headed for divorce. This does bring some joy to John, as he always hated Mike.

Things become complicated when a beautiful, free-spirited college professor Ariel Truax (Ann-Margret) moves in across the street. Both Max and John are instantly taken with Ariel, and both men make efforts to try and woo her. Even though Ariel is friendly with both men, she eventually gravitates to John due to their shared background in education and interest in intellectual pursuits and this eventually leads to John's first intercourse since 1978.

Max, angry at what he perceives as John stealing his woman again, finally snaps when he finds his prized pole outside his fishing shanty, which John fixed for him. He retaliates by ramming John's fishing shanty with his truck and pushing it into thin ice. John is able to escape, then confronts Max as to why he felt the need to almost kill him. Max accused him of stealing Ariel from him like he done with May. Irritated, John reminds him that he's much better off with Amy since she was a better wife for him and much more loving. He mentions that had he allowed May and Max to marry, he would've had to suffer a miserable marriage with her. This is because John knew of her sexual prowess and she would've likely cheated on Max with other men. He also mentions that he and Ariel made a better connection. John's father breaks up the fight, shaming the two men for acting like children in their fighting and demands they behave themselves because they're scaring the fish away. Max shames John, however, reminding him that he will soon not have anything to offer Ariel once the IRS takes his house. Later that night John decides to let Max have his way and ends his relationship with Ariel, who is both hurt and offended and tells John that he will regret it.

John then falls into a deep depression as Max begins to court Ariel more seriously. Christmas Eve soon arrives and John's depression turns to anger as Melanie arrives to spend the holiday with Mike, her estranged husband, in tow as the two have apparently reconciled for Christmas. His frustrations finally boil over and he launches into a tirade toward his son-in-law in how much he's hated Mike for cheating on Melanie all those years and orders him out of his house. Remembering Ariel's warning, John tells Melanie that her happiness should be her only concern and he wants her to reconsider reconciling with Mike by divorcing him. Before storming out to go to the bar, he talks to Jacob briefly

Jacob, meanwhile, comes to spend Christmas Eve with his father and reveals the news to Max after he pays Melanie a visit. At Melanie's request, Jacob asks Max to go down to the local bar and talk to John about what's been going on. When Max says he does not want to, Jacob calls him out for his attitude. After come convincing from him, Max finally agrees and goes down to the bar to talk to John.

John is not happy to see Max, and Max's lack of awareness of why John is so upset further adds to his frustration. He tries to thank John for fixing his fishing pole, thinking that was the reason. John is irritated and finally admits that the whole situation involving Ariel is the reason. He loves her very much and thinks Max doesn't understand how hurt he was in having to let her go and the other problems he had in his life. Before leaving to head back home, John tells Max off there is no difference trying to reason with him because he got his way. However, Max is not willing to let the dispute end that way and takes off after John to try and set things right. Unfortunately, John suffers a massive heart attack and Max finds him in a snow pile on the way. Later that evening, as John clings to life, Max decides that, after all he had been through, John deserved to be happy and tells Ariel the next morning what happened to John. The two reconcile as John recovers.

Meanwhile, Max decides to try to make an effort to help John with his tax debt and talks to Agent Snyder. The man is unsympathetic and reminds Max that because of the late penalties, the only way that John could pay the debt is to sell his house and his possessions inside to raise the money. Angered over Snyder's arrogance, Max resorts to his usual pranks, including barricading the front door of John's house, to get even. Jacob is able to help by using his power as mayor to get the local courts to block the seizure temporarily and Snyder is eventually buried under falling snow from the roof.

Winter turns to spring, and John and Ariel get married. Melanie sees Jacob in the graveyard and tells him that she has reconsidered reconciling with Michael. As a wedding gift, Max reveals to John that he was able to get John's tax debt reduced to the just over $13,000 that John originally owed and that Max paid it off himself. Max then goes off to a local dance sponsored by the VFW to find a date of his own. A newly single Melanie who is officially divorced and Jacob, left home alone, begin a new romance with each other.



The screenplay of Grumpy Old Men was written by Mark Steven Johnson, a film student at Winona State University (Minnesota).


Grumpy Old Men was one of the biggest surprise hits of the year at the time of its release.[2][3] The film opened on December 25, 1993, with a weekend gross of $3,874,911. However, its numbers gradually became stronger, earning a domestic total of $70 million, well above its budget of $35 million.[4] The film was released in the United Kingdom on May 27, 1994.[5]

Critical reaction[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 63% based on 40 reviews, with a rating average of 5.8/10.[6] On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average rating to reviews, the film has a score of 53 out of 100, based on 16 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[7] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[8]

Caryn James of The New York Times called the film "the kind of holiday movie a lot of people are searching for." He went on to explain that this is because "It's cheerful, it's well under two hours and it doesn't concern any major social blights, unless you think Jack Lemmon tossing a dead fish into Walter Matthau's car is cause for alarm."[9]

Despite rating it with two stars out of four, and giving it a mixed review about the film's credibility and diction, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times concluded his review by saying that "Matthau and Lemmon are fun to see together, if for no other reason than just for the essence of their beings."[10]

Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times said, "Watching Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau sparring with each other in Grumpy Old Men is like watching an old vaudeville routine for the umpteenth time." Rainer added, "They play off their tics and wheezes with the practiced ease of old pros but there's something a bit too chummy and self-congratulatory about it all."[11]

American Film Institute recognition:

Home media[edit]

Grumpy Old Men was first released on DVD on June 25, 1997. On August 22, 2006, the film was made available in a DVD "Double Feature" pack along with its sequel Grumpier Old Men. On July 7, 2009, the film was made available by itself on Blu-ray. The "Double Feature" pack was later released onto Blu-ray on February 23, 2010. The Blu-ray releases marked the first time both films have been available in widescreen since the LaserDisc releases. None of the Blu-ray releases contain any special features.[13]


A sequel, entitled Grumpier Old Men, was released on December 22, 1995, with Lemmon, Matthau and Ann-Margret all reprising their roles and Mark Steven Johnson again writing the script.


  1. ^ "Grumpy Old Men (1993)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  2. ^ "Not Grumpy or Old". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  3. ^ "Weekend Box Office : 'Mrs. Doubtfire' Still Cleaning Up". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  4. ^ "Grumpy Old Men (1993) - Box Office Mojo". IMDB. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  5. ^ "UK Weekend Box Office 27th May 1994 - 29th May 1994". Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  6. ^ "Grumpy Old Men (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  7. ^ "Grumpy Old Men reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  8. ^ "CinemaScore".[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Caryn James (December 24, 1993). "Review/Film; Cheerful, Short and No Big Blights". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  10. ^ Roger Ebert (December 24, 1993). "Grumpy Old Men :: :: Reviews". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  11. ^ Peter Rainer (December 25, 1993). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Grumpy': Hearts, Flowers, Whoopee Cushions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved June 30, 2012.
  13. ^ Broadwater, Casey (March 17, 2010). "Grumpy Old Men / Grumpier Old Men Blu-ray Review". Retrieved September 13, 2012.

External links[edit]