Matilda (1996 film)

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"Matilda (film)" redirects here. For the unrelated 1978 film, see Matilda (1978 film). For the title character, see Matilda Wormwood.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Danny DeVito
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Matilda
1988 novel 
by Roald Dahl
Narrated by Danny DeVito
Music by David Newman
Cinematography Stefan Czapsky
Edited by
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • August 2, 1996 (1996-08-02)
Running time
98 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $36 million[2][3]
Box office $62 million[4]

Matilda is a 1996 American fantasy comedy film directed by Danny DeVito. The screenplay by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord is based on Roald Dahl's novel of the same name. The film was released by TriStar Pictures on August 2, 1996 and stars Mara Wilson, DeVito (who also serves as the narrator), Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, and Pam Ferris.


Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson) is a child prodigy with a bright personality, but her parents, Harry and Zinnia (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman), neglect and mistreat her. At age four, she discovers the local library and walks there every day to read while her father is at work, her mother playing bingo and her older brother, Michael (Brian Levinson), is at school.

At age six-and-a-half, Matilda begins to lose patience with her parents, expressing a desire to go to school. In retaliation to her father constantly berating her, she replaces his hair tonic with her mother's hair dye, which turns his hair an unhealthy blond. He takes his children to his workshop, where he reveals that the cars he sells are faulty. Matilda accuses him of being dishonest and he belittles her, so she responds by putting super-super-glue on his hat, forcing Zinnia to cut it off of his head. She reads a borrowed library copy of Moby-Dick, which Harry rips up while her family watches television. When he forces her to watch with them, she grows increasingly angry and the television set suddenly explodes.

Agatha Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) is the principal of a rundown elementary school, Crunchem Hall. Harry enrolls Matilda there, where she befriends several children and learns of Trunchbull's violent nature and overtly harsh punishments of the students. Matilda's teacher, Jennifer Honey (Embeth Davidtz), is a kind woman who adores her class and takes an immediate liking to Matilda. She requests to Trunchbull that Matilda be moved up to a higher class, but Trunchbull refuses. That night, Miss Honey pays the Wormwoods a visit to encourage them to spend more time with Matilda, but they snub her. Meanwhile, Matilda discovers that her family is under surveillance by FBI agents (Paul Reubens and Tracey Walter) due to her father's illegal dealings, but her parents refuse to believe her.

Trunchbull goes to Miss Honey's class for a weekly "checkup" to belittle the students. As a prank, Lavender (Kiami Davael), one of Matilda's friends, places a newt in Trunchbull's water jug to frighten her. Upon discovery of the newt, Trunchbull accuses Matilda, whose anger at the injustice leads her to telekinetically tip the glass over, splashing water and the newt on Trunchbull. Afterward, Miss Honey invites Matilda to her house for tea. On the way, they pass Trunchbull's house, and Miss Honey reveals a secret of hers: When she was two, her mother died, so her father, Magnus, invited his stepsister-in-law, Trunchbull, to live with them and look after her. However, Trunchbull regularly abused her. When Miss Honey was five, her father died of an alleged suicide. Eventually, she moved into a small cottage. She and Matilda sneak into Trunchbull's house while she is out in order to obtain some of Miss Honey's belongings, but her unexpected return leads to a cat-and-mouse chase, with them only barely escaping without revealing themselves.

When Matilda's telekinetic powers manifest again during an argument with her father, she trains herself to use them at her own will. She returns to Trunchbull's house and uses her telekinesis to wreak havoc in an attempt to scare her away. She almost flees, but Trunchbull finds Matilda's hair ribbon and realizes that she was there. The following day, Trunchbull visits Miss Honey's class again to get Matilda to admit her guilt. Matilda uses her powers to write a message on the blackboard, posing as the ghost of Magnus, and accusing Trunchbull of murdering him. Trunchbull attacks the students, but Matilda keeps them out of harm's way with her powers, and they force Trunchbull out of the school. Miss Honey subsequently moves back into her true home.

The FBI finally uncovers enough evidence to prosecute Harry, and the Wormwoods prepare to flee to Guam. They stop by Miss Honey's house to pick up Matilda, but she refuses to go with them and suggests Miss Honey adopt her. In that moment, a remorseful Zinnia laments not understanding her daughter better. She and Harry subsequently sign the adoption papers that Matilda had kept for a long time. They escape and Matilda lives a happy life with Miss Honey, who becomes the new principal of Crunchem Hall.


  • Mara Wilson as Matilda Wormwood
    • Alissa and Amanda Graham, Trevor and James Gallagher as Matilda – newborn
    • Kayla and Kelsey Fredericks as Matilda – 9 months
    • Amanda and Caitlin Fein as Matilda – toddler
    • Sara Magdalin as Matilda – 4 years
  • Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood
    • DeVito also narrates the film.
  • Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood
  • Embeth Davidtz as Miss Jennifer "Jenny" Honey
    • Amanda and Kristyn Summers as Miss Honey – 2 years
    • Phoebe Pearl as Miss Honey – 5 years
  • Pam Ferris as Agatha Trunchbull
  • Brian Levinson as Michael Wormwood
    • Nicholas Cox as Michael – 6 years
  • Paul Reubens as FBI Agent Bob
  • Tracey Walter as FBI Agent Bill
  • Kiami Davael as Lavender
  • Jacqueline Steiger as Amanda Thripp
  • Kira Spencer Hesser as Hortensia
  • Jimmy Karz as Bruce Bogtrotter
  • Jean Speegle Howard as Miss Phelps
  • Marion Dugan as Cookie
  • Emily Eby as Maggie
  • Jon Lovitz as Mickey, host of The Million Dollar Sticky


Two songs are featured in the film. One of them, "Send Me on My Way" by Rusted Root, is played twice: when four-year-old Matilda is left alone at her house, making pancakes, and at the end of the film, set to a montage of Matilda and Miss Honey playing at Miss Trunchbull's former house. The other song is Thurston Harris's "Little Bitty Pretty One", played when Matilda is learning to control her telekinetic powers.

The film's original score was composed by David Newman.


The film received critical acclaim at the time of its release. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a "fresh" rating of 90%.[5] In the United States, it earned $33 million in contrast to its $36 million budget.[2][3] It fared better during its worldwide release and ended up earning back nearly double its original budget[citation needed] as well as on home video and television.

Home media[edit]

In 2013, Wilson and her former costars from the film had a reunion to celebrate its 17th anniversary and it being released on Blu-ray.[6] The reunion scene was featured in the Blu-ray release.[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Satellite Awards
    • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (Danny DeVito)
  • Young Artist Award
    • Best Performance in a Feature Film — Leading Young Actress (Mara Wilson)
    • Best Performance in a Feature Film — Supporting Young Actress (Kira Spencer Hesser)

The film was submitted for an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, but wasn't nominated.


  1. ^ "MATILDA (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. August 14, 1996. Retrieved July 24, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Matilda (1996) – Box office / business". IMDb. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Matilda at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ "Matilda (1996)". 
  5. ^ "Matilda". August 2, 1996. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Matilda reunion: Former child star Mara Wilson catches up with Danny DeVito and Embeth Davidtz – Daily Mail Online". Mail Online. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Mara Wilson On 'Matilda' Reunion: It Was 'Just Heartwarming'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 

External links[edit]