Harriet the Spy (film)

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Harriet the Spy
Harriet the Spy (1996 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBronwen Hughes
Produced byMarykay Powell
Nava Levin
Screenplay byDouglas Petrie
Theresa Rebeck
Story byGreg Taylor
Julie Talen
Based onHarriet the Spy
by Louise Fitzhugh
Music byJamshied Sharifi
CinematographyFrancis Kenny
Edited byDebra Chiate
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • July 10, 1996 (1996-07-10)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$12 million
Box office$26.6 million

Harriet the Spy is a 1996 American family comedy-drama film based on the 1964 novel of the same name by Louise Fitzhugh. The film stars Michelle Trachtenberg in her film debut, and is the directorial debut of Bronwen Hughes. Produced by Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies and Rastar, it was the first film produced under the Nickelodeon Movies banner and the first of two film adaptations of the Harriet the Spy books. In theaters, the pilot episode of Hey Arnold! called Arnold was shown before the film.


Harriet M. Welsch (Michelle Trachtenberg) is an 11-year-old sixth grader and a young spy/writer who is best friends with Simon "Sport" Rocque (Gregory Smith) and Janie Gibbs (Vanessa Lee Chester). She lives a privileged life with her parents, Violetta and Ben and her nanny, Katherine "Ole Golly" (Rosie O'Donnell), who's the only person who knows all the things that Harriet has been snooping on. Harriet and her friends are enemies with a rich girl named Marion Hawthorne (Charlotte Sullivan). For a while, Harriet lives life very well with being a spy and having fun with Golly.

One night, being home alone with Harriet, Golly invites a friend, Mr. George Waldenstein, over. And after Golly accidentally burns their dinner, the three go out to dinner and a movie instead, where things turn into a disaster. Violetta fires Golly for letting Harriet stay out late, but then she realizes that she still needs her to look after Harriet and begs her to stay. Golly tells her, however, that she was planning to leave soon since she thinks that Harriet is old enough to take care of herself, much to everyone's protests. Shortly before she leaves, Golly encourages Harriet to never give up on her love for observing people just because she will no longer be with her, and promises her that she will be the first to buy her very own autographed copy of Harriet's first novel she sells in the future. After Harriet bids Golly goodbye, she becomes depressed and withdrawn. She even gets caught when investigating the home of Agatha K. Plummer (Eartha Kitt).

The next day, she plays with her friends at the park, and disaster strikes. Marion discovers Harriet's private notebook and begins reading all of Harriet's vindictive comments on her friends out loud, such as how she suspects Janie "will grow up to be a nutcase", and teasing Sport's father for barely earning any money. Everyone finds that they are all cruel and hurtful, and even Sport and Janie turn their backs on Harriet. The kids then create a Spy-Catcher club and torment Harriet on her spy routes.

After running into a police officer, and then getting zeroes on her schoolwork, Harriet gets her notebook taken away by her parents. Her parents request that Harriet's teacher Miss Elson (Nancy Beatty) search Harriet every day for notebooks, much to Harriet's embarrassment. One day, during art, Rachel Hennessey "accidentally" pours blue paint all over Harriet. Harriet quickly realizes the act was intentional, having seen the girls whispering about the plot minutes before it occurred. After Marion purposefully pours a full can of blue paint on Harriet's head, Harriet slaps her and runs out of the school. As a result of this, Harriet does things to get back at everyone individually, including exposing that Marion's father left her because he never loved her, cutting off a chunk of Laura's hair, sabotaging one of Janie's science experiments (triggering an angry response from Janie's parents), and humiliating Sport with a picture of him in a maid outfit. Harriet's revenge plans enrage her classmates, further increasing their hatred for Harriet.

Harriet's parents discover what she has done to her classmates and send her to be evaluated by a psychologist, who assures them that Harriet is fine. Then things start to get better again. Harriet gets her notebook back, and she even gets a surprise visit from Golly, who tells her that in order to make things right again, she must do two things: apologize and lie. When Harriet tells her that it's not worth it, Golly disagrees, and tells Harriet that she is worth it as an individual, and her being an individual will make others nervous (and keep making them feel as such), before finally adding that one of the blessings of life is good friends, and tells Harriet to never give up her friends without a fight.

Harriet then tries to apologize to Sport and Janie, even though they initially reject her (they later, however, get tired of being treated unfairly in Marion's bully group and quit). She also shares her opinion with Miss Elson and the class that the appointment of the editor of the sixth grade paper was done unfairly, who agrees, and opens it up for a vote. Harriet is voted in as editor, by her classmates, replacing Marion. Through one article, she apologizes to everyone, including Marion, and all (except Marion) accept her apology. All is well. On opening night of the 6th grade pageant, Janie, Sport, and Harriet light off a stink bomb as revenge on Marion and dance to James Brown's "Get Up Offa That Thing" until the end of the film.


Box office and release[edit]

The film was released in US theaters on July 10, 1996, and the film grossed $6,601,651 on its opening weekend, averaging about $3,615 per each of the 1,826 screens it was shown on.[2] The film went on to gross a total of $26,570,048 by November 10, 1996, and is considered a modest box office success, earning back more than double its $12 million budget.

Home media release[edit]

Harriet the Spy was released on VHS by Paramount Home Video on February 25, 1997. The cassette also contained two Rugrats music videos, and customers were able to receive $5 rebate if they bought the movie in an orange clamshell case plus two eligible Rugrats videos.

The film was later released on DVD on May 27, 2003.


The film has received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an approval rating of 48% based on reviews from 31 critics. The site's consensus: "Harriet the Spy is a rapid-fire mystery movie that doesn't have much to offer beyond the two decent lead performances."[3] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave it a grade B+.[4]


Year Award Category Recipients Result
1997 1997 Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Movie Actress Rosie O'Donnell Won
Young Artist Awards Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actress Michelle Trachtenberg Won
Best Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young Actress Vanessa Lee Chester Won
Best Family Feature – Drama Nominated
Best Performance in a Feature Film – Supporting Young Actor Gregory Smith Nominated


Another adaptation of Harriet the Spy was released as a television movie in 2010 entitled Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars, with Jennifer Stone in the title role.


  1. ^ https://www.amazon.com/Harriet-Spy-Michelle-Trachtenberg/dp/B0035TVM5U
  2. ^ [http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=harrietthespy.htm Harriet the Spy | work = Box Office Mojo }}
  3. ^ "Harriet the Spy". Rotten Tomatoes.
  4. ^ http://cinemascore.com/publicsearch/index/title/

External links[edit]