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 sport comedy film directed by the Farrelly brothers and starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, and Bill Murray. It was filmed in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania[2] as a stand-in for Scranton, Amish country and Reno, Nevada.


Roy Munson, a bowling prodigy, wins the 1979 Iowa state amateur championship and plans to leave his tiny (fictional) hometown of Ocelot, Iowa, to go on the Professional Bowlers Tour. He wins his first tournament, defeating an established pro named Ernie McCracken. Soon after, McCracken convinces Roy to help him hustle some bowlers. The con goes badly with McCracken fleeing and letting Roy take the fall when the bowlers mutilate Roy's hand in revenge.

In present day, a down-and-out Roy sports a prosthetic hook covered with a fake rubber hand and sells bowling alley supplies for a living, with little success. Roy resides in a seedy apartment building in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where an unpleasant landlady is constantly after him to pay overdue rent. On a sales call, Roy catches sight of an Amish man, Ishmael Boorg, rolling a respectable game. Roy tries to convince Ishmael to turn pro, with him acting as manager. Ishmael declines the offer as he has little interest in worldly affairs – bowling is his only vice. After having unwanted sex with his repulsive landlady in lieu of rent, Roy sees a headline on a bowling magazine advertising a $1 million winner-take-all tournament in Reno, Nevada. Posing as an Amish man, Roy visits the Boorg family home to try and convince Ishmael to enter the tournament. Ishmael reluctantly agrees when he receives news that the Amish community will lose their land unless a $500,000 payment can be raised. Roy discovers that Ishmael is not as skilled as he first thought, as Ishmael's self-proclaimed 270 average is based on a 15-frame game, instead of the standard 10 frames – based on the notion that the Amish are obligated by tradition to do everything "half-again" as much as everyone else. A disgruntled Roy decides to take Ishmael home, but Ishmael refuses and decides to go to Reno alone. Roy decides to give Ishmael another chance rather than return home to his landlady, and after some coaching along the way Ishmael's game steadily improves.

During the road trip, Roy introduces Ishmael to worldly vices. The pair wind up at a mansion owned by a hoodlum named Stanley, whom they plan to hustle. When Stanley discovers their ploy, he threatens them with violence, but his girlfriend Claudia, tired of Stanley's abuse, helps the pair escape and they all continue on the road to Reno. When Claudia disapproves of Roy's exploitation of Ishmael, Roy tries to abandon her but she thwarts his plan and they begin to fight, at which point Ishmael abandons them both. As they search for him, they make a stop in Ocelot, and Claudia's attitude towards Roy softens when she learns that he was too ashamed of his failure to return home even for his father's funeral. They finally reunite with Ishmael and make their way to Reno. At a Reno hotel, Roy runs into McCracken, who is now a bowling celebrity entered in the $1,000,000 tournament. McCracken insults Roy, and infuriates Ishmael to the point where he takes a swing at him. McCracken ducks and Ishmael hits a wall and breaks his hand, leaving him unable to bowl. To make matters worse, Stanley tracks Claudia to Reno, steals the trio's bankroll, and forces Claudia to leave with him. Hurt and confused by Claudia's apparent betrayal, Ishmael tries to convince Roy that they still have a chance to win the $1,000,000 – if Roy will bowl.

Roy finally agrees and enters the tournament, rolling the ball with his prosthetic rubber hand. Despite all odds, Roy has a Cinderella run through the tournament, defeating both pro bowlers Mark Roth and Randy Pedersen on his way to face McCracken in the final. The two competitors are closely matched heading into the final frame, until Ishmael's brother arrives and orders Ishmael to return home with him immediately. Distracted by his friend's sudden absence, Roy rolls the most difficult of splits (7-10 split) but is miraculously able to convert it, thereby forcing McCracken to roll three strikes to beat him. McCracken ultimately does so, and wins the tournament. Roy sits silently in his chair as McCracken celebrates in an extremely obnoxious fashion, and remains there as the cleaning crew sweep the seats around him. Absorbing all that has happened, with his friends ditching him and frustrated at how close he came to defeating his rival, Roy lets out a loud yell, startling the cleaning crews. The next day, Stanley violently approaches Roy, accusing him of stealing his gambling winnings. Roy tells him that he does not have the money, but reluctantly blames McCracken for his hand mishap. Ultimately, the blame switches to McCracken, with Stanley seeking to find and kill him for stealing his bankroll.

Roy returns to his seedy apartment where he is surprised by an unexpected visitor at his door. Claudia has returned with the bankroll she had taken from Stanley, now doubled since Stanley bet against Roy in the final. She proposes the cash be split three-ways between Roy, Ishmael, and herself, but instead Roy produces a $500,000 check he has received from Trojan condoms for an endorsement deal – thanks to his fake hand which earned him the nickname "Rubber Man" during the ESPN-televised tournament. Roy pointedly states that the money is going to be split "one-way". The story ends with Roy sitting together with Claudia in the Boorg household after giving the $500,000 to the Amish so their community can be saved. Roy has also covered for Ishmael's indiscretions on the road and portrays him as a hero to his family. Roy and Claudia said goodbye to Ishamael. As the credits roll, Roy and Claudia happily drive away together. Claudia and Roy start dating and Claudia fixed Roy's pocket watch and got it working.



The film has received mixed reviews from critics; Rotten Tomatoes currently gives the film a score of 51% based on 36 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]

Roger Ebert had one of the more noteworthy positive reviews, giving it 3.5 out of 4 stars.[4] Gene Siskel enthusiastically endorsed the film, putting it on his list of the ten best films for 1996.[citation needed]

The film is ranked #67 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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