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What About Bob?

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What About Bob?
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrank Oz
Screenplay byTom Schulman
Story by
Produced byLaura Ziskin
CinematographyMichael Ballhaus
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Music byMiles Goodman
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution[1]
Release date
  • May 17, 1991 (1991-05-17)
Running time
99 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$39 million[3]
Box office$63.7 million (US)[2]

What About Bob? is a 1991 American comedy film directed by Frank Oz and starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss.[4] Murray plays Bob Wiley, a mentally unstable patient who follows his egotistical psychotherapist Dr. Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss) on vacation. When Bob befriends the other members of Leo's family, the patient's problems push the doctor over the edge. The film received positive reviews and grossed $63.7 million in the US.


Bob Wiley suffers from multiple phobias which makes leaving his New York City apartment difficult. Despite regular therapy, he makes little progress and he constantly seeks reassurance from his therapists. Exhausted by Bob's high-maintenance needs and invasion of personal boundaries, one therapist refers him to the egotistical Dr. Leo Marvin, who believes his recently published book Baby Steps will make him a household name. Bob feels good about their initial session, but Leo dismisses him in a rush, as he is leaving for a month-long family vacation. Unable to cope, Bob contacts Leo via his telephone exchange and tries to find out where he is, but Leo dismisses him. Then, Bob pays someone to impersonate Leo's sister Lily to get past the switchboard operator again. However, Leo tells Bob he cannot trust him if he continues to lie. He then disguises himself as a homicide detective, telling the switchboard operator that Bob committed suicide and discovers Leo is at Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.

Annoyed, Leo suggests Bob "take a vacation" from his problems. He seems to have made a breakthrough, but the next morning, he tells Leo that he will also be vacationing at Lake Winnipesaukee as a guest of the Guttmans, who hold a grudge against Leo for purchasing the lakeside home they had been saving for years to buy. Leo rejects Bob's attempts at friendship to maintain professional distance, but Bob bonds with Leo's family. Bob begins to enjoy life, going sailing with Anna and helping Siggy learn how to dive, which Leo had been unsuccessfully trying for years. After Leo aggressively pushes Bob into the lake, Leo's wife Fay forces him to apologize. She then invites Bob to dinner and he accepts, believing that Leo's hostility against him is either accidental or part of his therapy. After dinner, a thunderstorm forces Bob to spend the night. He stops touching everything with tissues, progressing in overcoming his germaphobia. Leo wants Bob out of the house early the next morning before Good Morning America arrives to interview him about Baby Steps. The TV crew, oblivious to Leo's reluctance, suggest also having Bob on the show. Leo humiliates himself during the interview, while Bob is relaxed and speaks highly of Leo, the family, and the book, inadvertently stealing the spotlight.

Leo attempts to have Bob institutionalized, but he is soon released after befriending the hospital staff. He tells them therapy jokes, demonstrating his sanity and showing that he has made real progress thanks to his time with the Marvin family. Forced to retrieve Bob, Leo abandons him in the middle of nowhere, but he quickly gets a ride back to Leo's while various mishaps delay Leo. Returning after nightfall, Leo is surprised by the birthday party planned by Fay and is delighted to see his beloved sister Lily. When Bob appears, putting his arm around Lily, Leo attacks him. Still oblivious to Leo's feelings, Fay explains so Bob finally understands and he agrees to leave.

Leo breaks into a general store, stealing a shotgun and 20 pounds of explosives and kidnaps Bob at gunpoint. He leads him deep into the woods and ties him up with the explosives, calling it "death therapy", and returns to the house, gleefully preparing his cover story. Believing the explosives are props as a metaphor for his problems, Bob applies Leo's "Baby Steps" approach and frees himself of his restraints and remaining fears. Bob reunites with the Marvins and praises Leo for curing him. Leo asks where the explosives are, as Bob says they are in the house, which promptly explodes into flames, to the Guttmans' delight. Leo is rendered catatonic and institutionalized.

Bob later marries Lily and, upon their pronouncement as husband and wife, the still-catatonic Leo finally regains his senses and screams, "No!", but the sentiment is lost in the family's excitement at his recovery, and Leo is forced to accept Bob as his new brother-in-law. A closing text reveals that Bob went back to college and became a psychologist, then wrote a best-selling book titled Death Therapy, for which Leo is suing him for the rights.



Before Frank Oz was hired to direct, Garry Marshall was considered, and Woody Allen was approached to play Dr. Marvin. Allen was also considered to direct and possibly co-write the script with Tom Schulman.[5] However, because Allen had always generated his own projects rather than getting handed an existing property to make his own, Oz was hired to direct.[6] Allen also declined the role of Dr. Marvin, thus Richard Dreyfuss was ultimately cast.[7] Patrick Stewart was also considered for the role.[8] Early in development, Robin Williams was attached to the project.[5]


What About Bob? was filmed in and around the town of Moneta, Virginia, located on Smith Mountain Lake.[9] For the scene in which Bob accidentally blows the house up, producers used a 3/4-sized model replica of the actual house that they detonated on a nearby lot.[9] The scenes of Bob arriving in town on the bus with his goldfish were filmed in downtown Moneta, which was repainted for the movie. The local institute where Leo tries to commit Bob is actually the local Elks National Home for retirees in the nearby town of Bedford, Virginia.[10] Scenes were also shot in New York City. According to Oz, Murray was "really frightened" about filming in the city.[11] Murray said that he improvised a lot in the film.[12]

Production difficulties[edit]

Oz has confirmed in interviews that there was conflict on the set during the making of the film.[11][13] In addition, both Murray and Dreyfuss have stated in separate interviews that they did not get along with each other during filming:

It's entertaining—everybody knows somebody like that Bob guy. [Richard Dreyfuss and I] didn't get along on the movie particularly, but it worked for the movie. I mean, I drove him nuts, and he encouraged me to drive him nuts.[14]

— Bill Murray, March 19, 1993 interview with Entertainment Weekly

How about it? Funny movie. Terribly unpleasant experience. We didn't get along, me and Bill Murray. But I've got to give it to him: I don't like him, but he makes me laugh even now. I'm also jealous that he's a better golfer than I am. It's a funny movie. No one ever comes up to you and says, "I identify with the patient". They always say, "I have patients like that. I identify with your character". No one ever says that they're willing to identify with the other character.[15]

— Richard Dreyfuss, October 8, 2009 interview with The A.V. Club

Oz himself also verified that there was a feud between Murray and Dreyfuss:

I was just trying to get the best out of both of them. Richard is a very structured person. And I'm not that structured. And Billy is very unstructured. So you have that opposite going also. And as a matter of fact, I just wrote Richard a letter, after all these years, because I was looking at that movie, and I realized how brilliant Richard's work was. But yes, they didn't get along. And in my perverse directorial intent, I was very pleased [laughs]. They're not supposed to get along. It's not that I was simpatico with Bill, but I leaned more towards the ideas that Bill had. But I am so grateful to Richard for his performance.[16]

— Frank Oz, January 28, 2021 interview with Rolling Stone

In subsequent interviews, Dreyfuss reiterated what he said of his experience working with Murray,[17][18] notably when he appeared at Fan Expo Canada in 2017.[19] Dreyfuss further alleged in 2019 that at one point during the production, Murray screamed at him while intoxicated, telling him "Everyone hates you! You are tolerated!" and then threw an ashtray at him.[20] When Murray appeared on The Howard Stern Show in 2014, Howard Stern asked him if he intended to irritate Dreyfuss. Murray responded: "I really try to make the other actor look good whenever I can (...) In this particular film, annoying Dreyfuss, which I kind of got to enjoy I gotta confess—but I didn't try to annoy him off the screen."[21][22] Although neither of them have crossed paths since the release of the film, Dreyfuss confirmed in a 2020 interview that he has forgiven Murray.[23]

Producer Laura Ziskin recalled having a disagreement with Murray that resulted in his tossing her into a lake.[24][25][26] Ziskin confirmed in 2003: "Bill also threatened to throw me across the parking lot and then broke my sunglasses and threw them across the parking lot. I was furious and outraged at the time, but having produced a dozen movies, I can safely say it is not common behavior".[25][26]

In April 2022, following the suspension of the Being Mortal production, Dreyfuss's son Ben tweeted a recollection about Murray's on-set behavior towards his father and Ziskin: "Bill Murray had a meltdown during [What About Bob?] because he wanted an extra day off and Laura said no and he ripped her glasses off her face and my dad complained about his behavior and Bill Murray threw an ashtray at him." Ben also added, "Everyone walked off the production and flew back to L.A. and it only resumed after Disney hired some bodyguards to physically separate my dad and Bill Murray in between takes."[27][28]

Profits lawsuit[edit]

In April 2015, Richard Dreyfuss sued The Walt Disney Company over the film's profits. Dreyfuss has claimed that Disney refused to hire his chosen auditor, Robinson and Co. Christine Turner Wagner, widow of Turner & Hooch (1989) producer Raymond Wagner, was also involved with the lawsuit.[29][30][31][32][33][34]


Box office[edit]

What About Bob? was released in the United States and Canada on May 17, 1991. During its opening weekend it grossed a total of $9.2 million from 1,463 theaters—an average of $6,299 per theater—making it the highest grossing film of the weekend, ahead of F/X2 ($3.9 million) and Madonna: Truth or Dare ($3.4 million), both in their second weekend.[35] In its second weekend—taking place over the extended 4-day Memorial Day holiday—What About Bob? fell to the number 2 position with an $11.2 million gross, placing it behind Backdraft ($15.7 million) and ahead of Hudson Hawk ($7.1 million), both films making their debut.[36] What About Bob? fell to the number 3 position in its third weekend with a $6.4 million gross, behind the debut of Soapdish ($6.7 million) and ahead of Thelma & Louise ($4.2 million), in its second weekend.[37]

What About Bob? remained in the top-ten highest-grossing films for seven weeks.[38] In total, What About Bob? grossed $63.7 million compared to its $39 million budget, making it the 15th highest-grosing film of 1991.[38][39][3] This also made it Buena Vista's second highest-grossing live action film of the year behind Father of the Bride.[40]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 82% approval rating based on reviews from 44 critics and an average rating of 6.50/10. The site's consensus reads: "Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss' chemistry helps make the most of a familiar yet durable premise, elevating What About Bob? into the upper ranks of '90s comedies".[41]

When the television program Siskel and Ebert reviewed the film, Roger Ebert gave the film a "thumbs up" rating praising the different performances of Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss onscreen together as well as most of the film's humor. He said it was Bill Murray's best film since Ghostbusters in 1984. Gene Siskel gave it a "thumbs down" rating and felt Murray gave a very funny and enjoyable performance in the film, but was rather upset by the Dreyfuss character and his angry and arrogant behaviors. He felt it would have been funnier if Dreyfuss had not given such an angry performance in the film and said that Dreyfuss ultimately ruined the film for him.[42] Leonard Maltin said it is "a very funny outing with Murray and Dreyfuss approaching the relationship of the road runner and the coyote". Maltin faulted the film only for its ending, which he found very abrupt and silly.[43] Lou Cedrone from The Baltimore Sun criticized the film: "It is too predictable and deals with a situation that is more irritating than amusing".[44]

Bravo ranked it number 44 on their 2013 list of the "100 Funniest Movies", behind Shampoo and Pee-wee's Big Adventure.[45]


  1. ^ a b c "What About Bob? (1991)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
  2. ^ a b "What About Bob? (1991)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved February 21, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Andreeva, Nellie (January 25, 2017). "'What About Bob?' Female Reboot Gets Comedy Pilot Order At NBC". Deadline. Retrieved May 22, 2019. was a critical and boxoffice success
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  22. ^ Polowy, Kevin (May 17, 2021). "'What About Bob?' at 30: Richard Dreyfuss called Bill Murray an ashtray-throwing 'Irish drunken bully.' Now he's ready to forgive". Yahoo! Entertainment. Retrieved May 3, 2024.
  23. ^ "Richard Dreyfuss on facing down sharks, aliens, and his own demons". CBS News. February 23, 2020. Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  24. ^ Labrecque, Jeff (August 27, 2013). "Bill Murray: Curious case of Hollywood's white whale". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
  25. ^ a b Brownfield, Paul (February 29, 2004). "What about Bill? (Page 2 of 4)". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  26. ^ a b Horn, John; Goldstein, Patrick (October 5, 2003). "Even on loose sets, barbarian behavior rare". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on January 5, 2017. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  27. ^ Polowy, Kevin (April 22, 2022). "Bill Murray's history of on-set misbehavior resurfaces after latest movie is shut down". Yahoo! Entertainment. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  28. ^ Gariano, Francesca; Dasrath, Diana (April 24, 2022). "Allegations made against Bill Murray and his caustic on-set behavior resurface on social media". TODAY.com. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  29. ^ Johnson, Ted (April 9, 2015). "Richard Dreyfuss Sues Disney Over 'What About Bob?' Profits". Variety. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  30. ^ Gardner, Eriq (April 9, 2015). "Richard Dreyfuss Sues Disney Over 'What About Bob?'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  31. ^ Patten, Dominic (April 9, 2015). "Disney Slammed By Richard Dreyfuss Over 'What About Bob?' Profits". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  32. ^ McCown, Alex (April 10, 2015). "Richard Dreyfuss is suing Disney over the profits for What About Bob?". The A.V. Club. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  33. ^ Shoard, Catherine (April 10, 2015). "Richard Dreyfuss Sues Disney over What About Bob? 24 years after Release". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  34. ^ "Richard Dreyfuss sues Disney over What About Bob?". BBC News. April 10, 2015. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  35. ^ "Domestic 1991 Weekend 20 May 17-19, 1991". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on December 9, 2022. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  36. ^ "Domestic 1991 Weekend 22 May 31-June 2, 1991". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on December 9, 2022. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  37. ^ "Domestic 1991 Weekend 23 June 7-9, 1991". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on February 10, 2023. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  38. ^ a b "Only the Lonely". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on May 22, 2023. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
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  40. ^ Putzer, Gerald (January 6, 1992). "'Terminator 2' Takes Ring In $200 Million Year". Variety. p. 5.
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  42. ^ Siskel, Gene; Ebert, Roger (June 1, 1991). "Soapdish/What About Bob?/Hudson Hawk/Only the Lonely". At the Movies. Season 5. Episode 38. ABC.
  43. ^ Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide ISBN 0-451-21265-7
  44. ^ Cedrone, Lou (May 17, 1991). "'What About Bob?' It's awful, that's what". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on July 22, 2015. Retrieved July 20, 2015.
  45. ^ "Bravo's Top 100 Funniest Movies". IMDB. Retrieved May 27, 2024.

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