Kingpin (1996 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bobby Farrelly
Peter Farrelly
Produced by Brad Krevoy
Steve Stabler
Bradley Thomas
Written by Barry Fanaro
Mort Nathan
Starring Woody Harrelson
Randy Quaid
Vanessa Angel
Bill Murray
Music by Freedy Johnston
Cinematography Mark Irwin
Edited by Christopher Greenbury
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • July 4, 1996 (1996-07-04)
Running time
113 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $27 million
Box office $25,023,434

Kingpin is a 1996 American sports comedy film directed by the Farrelly brothers and starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, and Bill Murray.

The film stars Harrelson as an alcoholic ex-professional bowler who becomes the manager for a promising Amish talent played by Quaid. It was filmed in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania[2] (as a stand-in for Scranton), Amish country, and Reno, Nevada.


Flashy young bowler Roy Munson wins the 1979 Iowa state bowling championship and leaves home to turn professional. In his professional bowling tour debut, he defeats established pro Ernie McCracken, who takes the loss poorly and seeks revenge. McCracken convinces Roy to join him in a plot to hustle a group of local amateur bowlers. When the amateurs realize they are being conned, McCracken flees while Roy is beaten and loses his hand when it is forced into the ball return, ending his career.

17 years later Roy uses a prosthetic hand and is living in Scranton, Pennsylvania where he sells novelty items (like fluorescent condoms) with little success and drinks heavily. On a sales visit to a nearby bowling alley, Roy catches sight of a man named Ishmael Boorg rolling a respectable game. Roy tries to convince Ishmael to turn pro, with Roy acting as manager. Ishmael declines the offer, explaining that he is from the local Amish community and that his bowling hobby is a secret. Roy then sees a poster in a bowling magazine advertising a $1 million winner-take-all tournament in Reno, Nevada. Learning that Ishmael's family is about to lose their farm to the bank for the exact amount of his cut of the prize money, Roy eventually convinces Ishmael's family to let him join Roy on a trip to Reno.

Roy discovers that the childlike Ishmael is not aware of some of bowling's basic rules and skills, but after some coaching Ishmael's game steadily improves. The duo earn money while traveling to Reno through Ishmael's success in various local tournaments and by hustling bowlers in cash games. One night they agree to a high stakes private game against a wealthy bowling enthusiast named Stanley Osmanski, which Ishmael wins, but Stanley attacks the duo after discovering that the roll of cash Roy put up was mostly Monopoly money. As the group flee Osmanski's mansion, they are joined by his girlfriend Claudia who had also been a victim of Osmanski's violence. Claudia proceeds to travel with them, annoying Roy who suspects Claudia has ulterior motives and is distracting Ishmael.

Arriving in Reno the group runs into McCracken, who is now a national bowling superstar. It is revealed that McCracken had previously been romantically involved with Claudia. McCracken insults and makes fun of Roy, and infuriates Ishmael to the point where he attempts to punch McCracken but instead hits a wall and breaks his hand, leaving him unable to bowl. Later on, Claudia disappears with the duo's funds after being discovered by Stanley, leaving Roy and Ishmael broke. Feeling distraught, Ishmael convinces Roy that they still have a chance to win the $1,000,000 – if Roy will bowl.

Though initially hesitant, Roy finally agrees and enters the tournament, rolling the ball with his prosthetic rubber hand. He rediscovers his previous talent and wins his first several rounds, ending up in the televised finals against McCracken. During the final match Ishmael's brother, who had been sent by the Boorg family to find Ishmael, shows up and takes him back to Pennsylvania. When Roy realizes he is alone, he begins to struggle and McCracken ultimately wins the tournament by one pin.

Afterwards, Roy is again living in Pennsylvania when he is visited by Claudia, who explains she had disappeared with Stanley in Reno in an attempt to keep him from hurting Roy and Ishmael. She confesses her love for Roy and offers him money earned from gambling on McCracken in the final match. Roy responds that he has already earned $500,000 in an endorsement deal for Trojan condoms that plays on his "rubber man" nickname, based on his prosthetic hand and given to him during the Reno tournament. Claudia told Roy that she took the money and told Stanley she is running off with McCracken. But she never did, the only way Stanley stop looking for her and give McCracken his payback what he did to Roy and Ishamel.

Later, Ishmael is back living on his farm when he suddenly discovers Roy and Claudia in his family's home. Ishmael's parents explain that Roy and Claudia told them about Ishmael's forbidden bowling career, but also about the moral strength and decency he showed during his travels. Roy tells them how Ishamel straightened Roy and Claudia's life out. Roy and Claudia drive away together after paying off the Boorg family's debts with Roy's endorsement check.


Professional baseball pitcher Roger Clemens appears in a cameo as the character Skidmark during the restaurant scene. Professional bowlers Parker Bohn III, Randy Pedersen and Mark Roth appear as opponents that Roy Munson defeats on his way to the final match in Reno against McCracken.

The film also features several musical acts. Jonathan Richman (who would play an even bigger musical role in the Farrelly brothers' next film There's Something About Mary) fronts the band performing in the restaurant scene, while Urge Overkill performs the national anthem at the tournament in Reno. In the film's final scene Blues Traveler perform their song "But Anyway" while dressed in traditional Amish clothing.


Kingpin earned $25,023,434 at the box office.

The film initially received mixed reviews; Rotten Tomatoes currently gives the film a score of 50% based on 38 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8 out of 10. The consensus states: "Kingpin has its moments, but they're often offset by an eagerness to descend into vulgar mean-spiritedness."[3]

However the film had some notable champions and has since commonly featured on cable television. Roger Ebert had one of the more noteworthy positive reviews, giving it 3.5 out of 4 stars.[4] Gene Siskel also endorsed the film, putting it on his list of the ten best films for 1996.

The film is ranked #68 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".[5]

Home media[edit]

When released on DVD, Kingpin came in its original PG-13 theatrical version (113 minutes) and an extended, R-rated version (117 minutes).


Lin Shaye attended a 1996 live airing of a Professional Bowlers Tour event in Wichita, Kansas, to both promote the film and present the winner (Jess Stayrook) with the winner's trophy and prize money. Stayrook defeated Butch Soper, who had won the first three matches.


  1. ^ "KINGPIN (12)". British Board of Film Classification. June 6, 1996. Retrieved November 12, 2014. 
  2. ^ "City lands good share of movies". The Vindicator. December 10, 1995. Archived at Google News. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  3. ^ "Kingpin (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-02-03. 
  4. ^ Roger Ebert. "Kingpin". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  5. ^

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