Harriet the Spy (film)

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Harriet the Spy
Harriet the Spy (1996 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bronwen Hughes
Produced by Marykay Powell
Screenplay by Douglas Petrie
Theresa Rebeck
Story by Greg Taylor
Julie Talen
Based on Harriet the Spy 
by Louise Fitzhugh
Starring Michelle Trachtenberg
Rosie O'Donnell
Music by Jamshied Sharifi
Cinematography Francis Kenny
Edited by Debra Chiate
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (Viacom)
Release dates
  • July 10, 1996 (1996-07-10)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $13 million
Box office $26,570,048 (domestic)

Harriet the Spy is a 1996 children's film adaptation of the 1964 novel of the same name by Louise Fitzhugh, and starring Michelle Trachtenberg (in her film debut) as the title character.

This film was directed by Bronwen Hughes (in her feature film directing debut), produced by Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies and Rastar. It was the first film that was produced under the Nickelodeon Movies banner, and the first of two film adaptations of the Harriet the Spy books. In theaters, the remake pilot episode of Hey Arnold! from 1996 was shown before the film and received a PG rating from the MPAA.

The film was shot in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Florida, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada.[citation needed]


Harriet M. Welsch (Michelle Trachtenberg) is an eleven-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 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 mainly 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. Mrs. Welch 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 believes 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'll 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 finds 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 mocking Sport's father for barely earning any money. Everyone finds that they're 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 tell Harriet's teacher Miss Elson (Nancy Beatty) to search Harriet every day for notebooks, much to Harriet's embarrassment. One day, during art, Rachel Hennessey "accidentally" pours blue paint all over Harriet. The other students claim to help clean her up when they are really just smearing the paint around on her, and when Marion pours more paint on Harriet's hair, Harriet slaps her face with great force, leaving a blue hand print. As a result of this, Harriet does things to get back at everyone individually, then exposes to them that Marion's father left her because he never loved her. She then carries out some of her other plans, including cutting off a chunk of Laura's hair, messing up one of Janie's science experiments, and making a fake picture of Sport in a maid's outfit, severely damaging their emotional state and humiliating them.

Harriet's parents find out 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 has to do two things: apologize and lie. Harriet then tries to apologize to Sport and Janie, even though they reject her at first (they later, however, get tired of being treated unfairly in Marion's bully group and quit). She also shares her opinion with Miss Elson about how getting appointed as the editor of the sixth grade paper wasn't being done in a fair way, and she get selected herself by her classmates, who get Marion's occupation as the editor voted out. 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 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.[1] 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 double its $13,000,000 budget.

Home media release[edit]

Harriet the Spy was released onto VHS on February 25, 1997. The film was later released on DVD on May 27, 2003, with no special features whatsoever.


The film has received mixed reviews from critics and it currently has a 48% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Winner/Nominee 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 from Wizards of Waverly Place in the title role.


External links[edit]