Misery (film)

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Misery (1990 film poster).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Rob Reiner
Produced by
Screenplay by William Goldman
Based on Misery
by Stephen King
Music by Marc Shaiman
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld
Edited by Robert Leighton
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • November 30, 1990 (1990-11-30)
Running time
107 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million[2]
Box office $61.3 million

Misery is a 1990 American thriller film based on Stephen King's 1987 novel of the same name and starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth, and Frances Sternhagen about a psychotic fan who holds an author captive and forces him to write her stories.

Directed by Rob Reiner, the film received critical acclaim for Bates's performance as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes, and Bates won the 1990 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role,[3] making Misery, as of 2017, the only Stephen King adaptation to be an Oscar-winning film.[4] The 'hobbling' scene in the film was ranked #12 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[5]


Famed novelist Paul Sheldon is the author of a successful series of Regency romance novels featuring a character named Misery Chastain. Wanting to focus on more serious stories, he writes a manuscript for a new novel that he hopes will launch his post-Misery career. While traveling from Silver Creek, Colorado to his home in New York City, Paul is caught in a blizzard and his car goes off the road, rendering him unconscious. A nurse named Annie Wilkes finds Paul and brings him to her remote home.

Paul regains consciousness and finds himself bedridden with broken legs and a dislocated shoulder. Annie claims to be his "number one fan" and talks a lot about him and his novels. Out of gratitude, Paul lets Annie read his new manuscript. While feeding him, she is angered by the profanity in his new work and spills soup on him but apologizes. Soon after, Annie reads the latest Misery novel, discovers that Misery dies at the end of the book and flies into a rage. She reveals to Paul that nobody knows where he is, and locks him in his room.

The next morning, Annie forces Paul to burn his new manuscript. When he is well enough to get out of bed, she insists he write a new novel titled Misery's Return, in which he brings the character back to life. Paul complies, believing Annie might kill him. One day, when Annie is away, Paul sneaks out and begins stockpiling his painkillers. He tries poisoning Annie during dinner, but fails. Paul later finds a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about Annie's past. He discovers that she was tried for the deaths of several infants, but the trial collapsed due to lack of evidence. Annie had quoted lines from his Misery novels during her trial. Annie later drugs Paul and straps him to the bed. When he wakes, she tells him that she knows he has been out of his room and breaks his ankles with a sledgehammer to prevent him from escaping again.

The local sheriff, Buster, is investigating Paul's disappearance. When a shopkeeper informs the sheriff he has sold Annie considerable quantities of typing paper, Buster pays Annie a visit. When he finds Paul drugged in the basement, Annie shoots Buster and tells Paul that they must die together. He agrees, on the condition that he must finish the novel in order to "give Misery back to the world". He conceals a can of lighter fluid in his pocket.

When the manuscript is done, Paul asks for a single cigarette and a glass of champagne, to which Annie complies. Using the match Annie gives him, Paul sets the manuscript on fire, and as Annie rushes to save it, he hits her over the head with the typewriter. They fight and Annie is killed.

Eighteen months later, Paul, now walking with a cane, meets his agent, Marcia, in a restaurant in New York City. The two discuss his first non-Misery novel, and Marcia tells him about the positive early buzz. Paul replies that he does not care, and that he wrote the novel for himself. Marcia asks if he would consider a non-fiction book about his captivity, but Paul declines. Seeing a waitress, he imagines her as Annie. The waitress says she is his "number one fan", to which Paul uncomfortably responds, "That's very sweet of you".



Producer Andrew Scheinman read Stephen King's novel Misery on an airplane, and later recommended it to his director partner at Castle Rock Entertainment, Rob Reiner. Reiner eventually invited famed writer William Goldman to write the film's screenplay.[6] Given that Reiner was a director with a career of comedies, once he read the novel he identified with the theme of "a guy who needed a new challenge, who needs to push himself and grow". King had refused to sell the novel's adaptation rights because of how other works of his were mishandled in film translations, but eventually let Reiner do Misery after his 1986 film Stand by Me,[citation needed] an adaptation of King's novella "The Body"

Reiner worked closely with Goldman on the screenplay, with the director explaining that "We got rid of the most gory and horrific parts. I wanted to concentrate on the idea of this chess match between the artist and his fan."[citation needed]

In the original novel, Annie Wilkes severs one of Paul Sheldon's feet with an axe. Goldman loved the scene and argued for it to be included, but Reiner insisted that it be changed so that she only breaks his ankles. Goldman subsequently wrote that this was the correct decision as amputation would have been too severe.[7]

The part of Paul Sheldon was originally offered to William Hurt (twice), then Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, and Robert Redford, but they all turned it down.[8] Warren Beatty was interested in the role, wanting to turn him into a less passive character,[9] but eventually had to drop out as post-production of Dick Tracy extended. Eventually someone suggested James Caan, who agreed to play the part. Caan commented that he was attracted by how Sheldon was a role unlike any other of his, and that "being a totally reactionary character is really much tougher."[10] According to Reiner, it was Goldman who suggested that Kathy Bates, then unknown, should portray Annie Wilkes.[11]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received an 89% rating; the consensus reads, "Elevated by standout performances from James Caan and Kathy Bates, this taut and frightening film is one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date."[12]

Roger Ebert liked the film, stating, "It is a good story, a natural, and it grabs us."[13]

The genre magazine Bloody Disgusting ranked Misery fourth place in its list of "10 Claustrophobic Horror Films".[14]

King himself has stated that Misery is one of his top ten favorite film adaptations, in his collection "Stephen King Goes to the Movies".[15] In his memoir called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King references the movie adaptation of the book, saying:

In the early 1980s, my wife and I went to London on a combined business/pleasure trip. I fell asleep on the plane and had a dream about a popular writer (it may or may not have been me, but it sure to God wasn't James Caan)...[16]

Misery grossed $10,076,834 on its opening weekend, finishing at second at the box office behind Home Alone.[17] It eventually finished with $61 million domestically.[2]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[18]

Annie Wilkes was ranked #17 on AFI's 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains list. [19]


Film score by Marc Shaiman
Released July 1, 1999 (1999-07-01)
Genre Soundtrack
Label Dead Line

The film's score was composed by Marc Shaiman.


William Goldman also adapted the book for the theatre. His play version premiered in 2012 at Bucks County Playhouse.[20][21][22] The adaptation later transferred to Broadway from November 2015 to February 2016, starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf. The play received mixed reviews from theatre critics. Willis was widely criticized for his portrayal as Paul Sheldon with reviewers saying that while the actor tried his best, he "lacked emotion" as the captured character.[citation needed] However, Metcalf was met with widespread critical acclaim for her performance as Annie and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.[citation needed]


The film was remade in India as a Malayalam and Tamil film titled Julie Ganapathi.[23]

Awards and nominations[edit]

1990 film[edit]

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1990 New York Critics Circle Award Best Actress Kathy Bates 3rd place
1991 Academy Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Won
Golden Globe Award Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Award Best Actress Won
Most Promising Actress Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award Best Actress Won
USC Scripter Award William Goldman (screenwriter) & Stephen King (author) Nominated
1992 Saturn Award Best Horror Film Nominated
Best Actor James Caan Nominated
Best Actress Kathy Bates Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Frances Sternhagen Nominated
Best Writing William Goldman Nominated

2015 Broadway production[edit]

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
2016 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Laurie Metcalf Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Set Design David Korins Nominated


  1. ^ "MISERY (18)". British Board of Film Classification. January 7, 1991. Retrieved August 15, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for Misery. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. ^ "Awards for Kathy Bates". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2010-10-31. 
  4. ^ "The Best and Worst of Stephen King's Movies – MSN Movies News". Movies.msn.com. 2012-10-20. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  5. ^ "Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments". listology.com. Retrieved 9 August 2015. 
  6. ^ Goldman, William. Which Lie Did I Tell?, p. 37
  7. ^ Goldman p 40
  8. ^ Goldman p 42-44
  9. ^ Goldstein, Patrick (1990-04-29). "Rob Reiner Takes On 'Misery' : The director follows his hit comedy 'When Harry Met Sally . . . ' with a chiller, his second film taken from a Stephen King novel – Page 2 – Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  10. ^ Finke, Nikki (1990-11-29). "James Caan Enjoying His 'Misery' : Hollywood's Reputed Bad Boy Resurfaces in the Rob Reiner-Directed Psychological Thriller – Page 2 – Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  11. ^ Rob Reiner - Archive Interview Part 6 of 8 on YouTube
  12. ^ Misery at Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (1990-11-30). "Misery :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 
  14. ^ "A Look at the Top 10 Claustrophobic Horror Movies!". bloody-disgusting.com. Retrieved 9 August 2015. 
  15. ^ Stephen King, Stephen King Goes To The Movies, page 579 (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009). ISBN 978-0-340-98030-9
  16. ^ Stephen King, On Writing, page 165 (Simon & Schuster, 2000). ISBN 978-1-4391-5681-0
  17. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 30 – December 2, 1990". Box Office Mojo. 1990-12-02. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  18. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com. 
  19. ^ http://www.afi.com/100years/handv.aspx
  20. ^ "Exclusive InDepth InterView: William Goldman & Will Frears Discuss MISERY Onstage – Is Broadway Next?" Broadway World 26 November 2012 accessed 2 June 2013
  21. ^ "William Goldman Adapts Stephen King's Misery for the Stage; Bucks County Playhouse Will Premiere Thriller" By Kenneth Jones Playbill20 Sep 2012 Archived 2013-01-05 at the Wayback Machine. accessed 2 June 2013
  22. ^ Ted Otten, "Bucks County Playhouse presents stage version of Stephen King's 'Misery'", NJ.com November 23, 2012 accessed 2 June 2013
  23. ^ Balaji, B. "Julie Ganapathi ( 2003)". Thenisai.com. Archived from the original on 29 May 2012. Retrieved 9 August 2015. 

External links[edit]