Little Man Tate

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Little Man Tate
Little man tate ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJodie Foster
Written byScott Frank
Produced by
CinematographyMike Southon
Edited byLynzee Klingman
Music byMark Isham
Distributed by
Release date
  • October 18, 1991 (1991-10-18)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million
Box office$25 million

Little Man Tate is a 1991 American drama film directed by Jodie Foster (in her directorial debut) from a screenplay written by Scott Frank. The film stars Adam Hann-Byrd as Fred Tate, a seven-year-old child prodigy who struggles to self-actualize in social and psychological settings that largely fail to accommodate his intelligence. It also stars Foster, Dianne Wiest, Harry Connick Jr., David Hyde Pierce, Debi Mazar and P.J. Ochlan.

Little Man Tate was released theatrically on October 18, 1991 by Orion Pictures to critical and commercial success. Reviewers praised Foster's direction, Frank's screenplay and the performances of the cast. The film grossed $25 million domestically, on a $10 million budget.


Dede Tate is a young working-class woman of average intelligence raising her seven-year-old son, Fred. Fred shows every indication of being a genius. Fred's reading and mathematics abilities are remarkable, and he plays the piano "at competition level," but his intellect has isolated him from his public school classmates.

Fred's abilities come to the attention of Jane Grierson, a former music prodigy and now a psychologist running a school for gifted children. She asks permission from Dede to admit Fred to the school, in order to develop his intellectual gifts in ways that a public school cannot. Dede is reluctant, preferring that Fred have a more normal upbringing, but when no friends come to Fred's seventh birthday party, Dede consents.

Fred joins other brilliant young people, and participates in Jane's Odyssey of the Mind event for part of the spring. There he meets one of his heroes, who is one of Jane's prized pupils, the brilliant but slightly bizarre "Mathemagician" Damon Wells, a whiz at math who wears a black cape wherever he goes. After Fred unintentionally upstages Damon at one of the competitions at Odyssey of the Mind, Damon is upset with Fred. Damon however warms up to Fred when out horseback riding on Jane's ranch, and is Fred's first insight to a world outside academia. Damon tells him, "it's not the size of a man's IQ that matters; it's how he uses it". Jane attempts to become more nurturing, but is unable to relate to Fred as anything other than a case study.

Fred is later enrolled at a university, where he studies quantum physics while his mother, aunt and cousins travel to Florida for the summer. An adult student named Eddie accidentally hits Fred with a globe when goofing around. To make it up to Fred, Eddie takes him out for a ride on his moped and shows him things such as how to shoot pool; it is good for Fred to spend time with someone who is not a genius. However, when Fred walks into Eddie's room while Eddie is in bed with a coed, Fred runs out and Eddie chases after him. Eddie explains that he cannot be a babysitter for Fred; although he enjoys Fred's company, Fred needs to find friends closer to his own age. The return to isolation takes its toll on Fred, as he suffers from nightmares in which he is treated as a freak and an outsider.

Jane is asked to bring Fred onto a TV panel discussion show on the topic of gifted children. Fred attends but breaks down. He claims his mother is dead, and recites a childish poem (a word-for-word repetition of a poem by one of his former grade school classmates) before taking off his microphone and walking out of the studio. Dede witnesses some of this as it is being broadcast, and flies back to New York. Jane is unable to find Fred, but Dede discovers him back at their apartment, and embraces him.

One year later, Fred has adjusted to the pressures of being a child genius, particularly after an even younger student is admitted to Jane's school. Dede hosts a well-attended birthday party for Fred, reconciling Fred's emotional development with his intellect.



Jodie Foster, who is herself a former child prodigy, was immediately impressed by the film's narrative and was interested in directing it. Orion Pictures was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time and was skeptical about Foster directing the film. They ultimately agreed after she offered to act in the film without payment. The film includes certain autobiographical elements from Foster's life.

Most of the film was shot in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati. Other locations include the Cincinnati neighborhood of Clifton; the Village of Indian Hill; the University of Cincinnati's McMicken Hall; Miami University's Alumni Hall, Upham Hall, Hall Auditorium and the Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity House, in Oxford, Ohio; and both the Wexner Center and the Ohio Theater in Columbus, Ohio.


Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend in North America, Little Man Tate was #6 at the box office, grossing $2.3 million. The film grossed a total of $25 million domestically, against a $10 million budget becoming a commercial success.[2]

Critical response[edit]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 73% based on 30 reviews, with an average rating of 6.30/10.[3] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 71 out of 100 based on 5 reviews, indicating "generally favourable reviews".[4]

Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four and commented on how the film's premise is similar to Foster's life, saying; "Little Man Tate is the kind of movie you enjoy watching; it's about interesting people finding out about themselves and as Foster creates this little man who sees a lot and knows a lot but is only gradually beginning to understand a lot, we can hear echoes, perhaps, of a young girl who once found it more interesting to study French than get her picture in the fan magazines".[5]


  1. ^ "Little Man Tate (1991)". BBFC. Retrieved January 9, 2022.
  2. ^ Little Man Tate. Box Office Mojo.
  3. ^ "Little Man Tate". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 24, 2022.
  4. ^ "Little Man Tate Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (October 18, 1991). "Little Man Tate", Chicago Sun-Times

External links[edit]