The War of the Roses (film)

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The War of the Roses
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Danny DeVito
Produced by James L. Brooks
Arnon Milchan
Screenplay by Michael J. Leeson
Based on Novel:
Warren Adler
Narrated by Danny DeVito
Music by David Newman
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Edited by Lynzee Klingman
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 8, 1989 (1989-12-08)
Running time
116 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $50 million
Box office $160,188,546[2]

The War of the Roses is a 1989 American black comedy film based upon the 1981 novel The War of the Roses by Warren Adler. The film follows a wealthy couple with a seemingly perfect marriage. When their marriage begins to fall apart, material possessions become the center of an outrageous and bitter divorce battle.

This is the third film to co-star Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito, after Romancing the Stone and its sequel, The Jewel of the Nile. DeVito directed the film, which also had producer James L. Brooks and actor Dan Castellaneta working on a project outside of The Simpsons. The opening title sequence was created by Saul Bass.

In both the novel and the film, the married couple's family name is Rose, and the title is an allusion to the battles between the Houses of York and Lancaster at the end of the Middle Ages.


Lawyer Gavin D'Amato is in his office discussing a divorce case with a client. Noticing the man's determination to divorce his wife, Gavin decides to tell him the story of one of his clients, a personal friend of his.

17 Years Earlier. Oliver Rose, a student at Harvard Law School, meets Barbara at an auction, where they bid on the same antique. Oliver chats Barbara up and they become friends. When Barbara misses her ferry home, the two end up spending the night together at a local hotel. Eventually the two marry and have two children, Josh and Carolyn. Over the years, the Roses grow richer, and Barbara finds an old mansion whose owner has recently died, purchases it and devotes her time to making a home there. However, cracks seem to be forming in the family as they both begin to disaprove to how they raise their two children as Barbara feels that spoiling Josh and Carolyn with candy is a good thing which that she never had growing up from her own parents. As a result, both Josh and Carolyn become very obese at a young age, and do not try to lose weight until they graduate from high school and begin to attend college. As Oliver becomes a successful partner in his law firm, Barbara, who was a doting and loving wife early in the marriage, appears to grow restless in her life with Oliver, and begins to dislike him immensely.

Oliver, for his part, cannot understand what he has done to earn Barbara's growing contempt, despite his controlling, self-centered, and generally dismissive behavior toward her. When Oliver believes he is suffering a heart attack, (actually a hiatal hernia) the day after an argument, Barbara (after her initial shock and concern) realizes she felt a sense of relief that he might be dead. She tells him so, adding that she no longer loves him and wants a divorce and Oliver accepts. Feeling that it might not be wise to represent himself, Oliver hires Gavin as his legal counsel on a retainer.

Tension arises between Oliver and Barbara during negotiations when it becomes clear that she wants the house and everything in it. When Barbara's lawyer uses Oliver's final love note to her (which he had written in the hospital) as leverage against him in their legal battle, she refuses to back down. Barbara initially throws Oliver out of the house, but he moves back in after discovering a loophole in the divorce that allows him to stay. As a result, Barbara immediately begins plotting to remove Oliver herself, even trying to seduce Oliver's lawyer Gavin into siding with her instead.

In an effort to win the house, Oliver offers his wife a generous monthly allimony, as well as half of everything they have. Barbara becomes more stubborn and wants everything, including the house and all of it contents as well as the cars, pets, and children. Barbara claims that she has earned it by putting the house together and making it home they both wanted. She raised his children in the house and in her mind the home belongs to her. Oliver refuses to accept her terms, claiming that he had to work to provide for her, the family, and the home. He cannot let her have everything that he worked so hard for be given away. Realizing that his client is in a no-win situation, Gavin advises Oliver to give in to all of Barbara's demands, let her have the house and everything he owns and start all over again with a new life for himself. In response, Oliver fires Gavin and takes matters into his own hands. At this point, Oliver and Barbara embark on a personal war by spiting and humiliating each other in every way possible, even in front of friends and potential business clients. Both begin destroying the house furnishings; the stove, furniture, Staffordshire ornaments, and plates. Another fight results in a battle where Barbara nearly kills Oliver by using her monster truck to run over Oliver's prized sports car, a classic Morgan 4/4. In addition, Oliver accidentally runs over Barbara's cat in the driveway with his car. When Barbara finds out, she retaliates by trapping him inside his in-house sauna, where he nearly succumbs to heatstroke and dehydration.

While the kids are away at college, Oliver eventually calms down and attempts to make peace with Barbara over an elegant dinner, but reaches his breaking point when Barbara serves him a pâté which she implies was made from his dog (the dog is later seen to actually be alive and well outside). Oliver attacks Barbara, who flees into the attic. Oliver boards up the house to prevent Barbara from escaping, while Barbara loosens the chandelier to drop on Oliver in yet another attempt to kill him. When their live-in German housekeeper Susan returns home in the middle of the climactic battle, she senses something is terribly wrong and discreetly contacts Gavin for help. By the time Gavin arrives, Oliver and Barbara's quarrel has culminated in the two hanging dangerously from the unsecured chandelier. During this time, Oliver admits to Barbara that despite their hardships, he always loved her, but Barbara does not respond. Before Gavin can come inside with a ladder, the combined weight of Barbara, Oliver and the chandelier is too much for the electrical wires, which snap and sends them crashing violently to the floor. In his final breaths, Oliver reaches out to touch Barbara's shoulder, but Barbara uses her last ounce of strength to knock his hand away, firmly asserting her feelings for him even in death.

Finishing his story, Gavin presents his client with two options: either proceed with the divorce and risk facing a horrific bloodbath in court, or go home to his wife to settle their differences properly. The client chooses the latter, and Gavin, satisfied, calls his wife to tell her he is on his way home and that he loves her.


Home media[edit]

The War of the Roses was released on DVD on December 18, 2001. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen format; and features director commentary with Danny DeVito, deleted scenes, computer sketches, storyboards, still galleries, 4 theatrical trailers, and 6 TV advertisements


Upon its release, the film was a success with critics and a box office hit, bringing in $83.7 million domestically in U.S. box office receipts, and $160,188,546 worldwide.[2]

The film maintains a positive 82% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[3]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Subject Result
BAFTA Award Best Adapted Screenplay Michael J. Leeson Nominated
Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear[4] Best Director Danny DeVito Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy James L. Brooks Nominated
Arnon Milchan Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Michael Douglas Nominated
Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Kathleen Turner Nominated

Cultural impact[edit]

In German-speaking regions, since the film's release, the word Rosenkrieg (meaning "Roses war", or less literally, "War of the Roses") has come to denote such a bitter fight for material possessions, as depicted in the film (and often also for custody of the children)[5] with most speakers completely unaware of the word's origins.


External links[edit]