Little Darlings

Little Darlings is a 1980 American teen comedy-drama film starring Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol and featuring Armand Assante and Matt Dillon. It was directed by Ronald F. Maxwell.[1] The screenplay was written by Kimi Peck and Dalene Young and the original music score was composed by Charles Fox. The film was marketed with the tagline "Don't let the title fool you", a reference to a scene in which Randy comments on Angel's name, to which Angel replies, "Don't let the name fool you."

Little Darlings
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRonald F. Maxwell
Produced byStephen J. Friedman
Screenplay byKimi Peck
Dalene Young
Story byKimi Peck
StarringTatum O'Neal
Kristy McNichol
Armand Assante
Matt Dillon
Maggie Blye
Nicolas Coster
Marianne Gordon
Music byCharles Fox
CinematographyBeda Batka
Edited byPembroke J. Herring
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
March 21, 1980 (US)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$36,326,249

Critic Roger Ebert said of the film that it "somehow does succeed in treating the awesome and scary subject of sexual initiation with some of the dignity it deserves."[2]


A group of teenage girls from Atlanta go to summer camp, and, unbeknownst to the adults, two of them make a bet as to which one will lose her virginity first, with all the girls in camp betting money on the contest. The girls involved in the contest are opposites and rivals: cynical, suspicious and streetwise poor girl Angel Bright (played by Kristy McNichol) and naive, prissy and romantic rich girl Ferris Whitney (played by Tatum O’Neal). The rest of the girls divide into two "teams", each rooting for and egging on either Ferris or Angel. The two girls then choose guys they want to lose their virginity with. Angel targets Randy, a boy from the camp across the lake, and Ferris attempts to seduce Gary Callahan, the (much older) camp counselor.

The girls also engage in typical teenage camp behavior, like food fights and singing around a campfire.

Both girls discover that sex is not what they thought it would be.

Ferris thinks of love as romance and wine and flowers. She imagines herself swept off her feet by Gary. When she lies about "making love" with him, the biological aspect manifests itself in Gary getting in trouble for having sex with a fifteen-year-old. She discovers that physical sex can have ugly consequences. Her attitude is now more grounded in reality; she has become more like street-wise Angel.

Meanwhile, street-wise Angel approaches the same issue from the other side and learns the opposite lesson. She views winning the contest as a purely biological act, "no big deal" and "nothing," as her mother told her. But when she tries to do "it" with Randy in a boathouse, she becomes confused by scary feelings she did not know she had. She behaves defensively, like she doesn't want it. Randy, now also confused, is put off by her recalcitrance and leaves.

Angel sees that sex is more than just a mechanical function she can cynically turn on and off. It involves feelings and caring and love. Sex is important, and something she deeply wants. As Randy leaves, she tearfully protests, "But I like you!"

She meets Randy a few days later with a much improved attitude--one closer to Ferris'. This time she pays attention, not to condoms and clothing, but to Randy and her feelings about him. As the novel describes it, "All her fear and resistance melted as they kissed. Soon, she didn't know who was touching whom, only that it was wonderful and right and fine."

Angel has sex in the boathouse, but doesn't tell the other girls. Ferris remains a virgin and lies about an evening of romantic passion ("We had chilled Chablis; the darkness enveloped us.")

In the end, Ferris discovers that love involves biological sex, which is not necessarily romantic, and Angel discovers that biological sex involves powerful emotions that touch her deeply and transform her soul. Finally, Angel becomes relaxed and happy.



The film was made by Stephen Friedman's King's Road Productions. Paramount agreed to provide $5.3 million to make it in exchange for $14.3 million to market and develop the film.[3]

Little Darlings was filmed in Hard Labor Creek State Park, 50 miles east of Atlanta during the summer of 1979. The signs and props built for the film remain for visitors to see. The gas station men's room (condom) scene was filmed in downtown Rutledge, the town nearest the park. The meeting place for the busses at the beginning and ending were filmed in a parking lot near the offices of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the old Omni Coliseum can be seen in the background including in the last scene of the movie. When Ferris is driven into town, they pass the Swan House, indicating that her family lives in Buckhead, a wealthy part of town to the north of the city.

Soundtrack and licensing issues

The film was notable for having a contemporary pop soundtrack, with music by artists like Blondie, Rickie Lee Jones, Supertramp, The Cars, and Iain Matthews. The original video release—on blue box VHS and laserdisc—kept the soundtrack intact, however, many songs in the film such as Supertramp's "School", John Lennon's "Oh My Love" and The Bellamy Brothers' "Let Your Love Flow" were removed from the second round of home releases—VHS red box—due to licensing issues, and were replaced with sound-alikes. As of 2019, the film has not been released on DVD or Blu-ray, but was briefly available for digital video rental on iTunes and Amazon with the original soundtrack. Currently it's been made available once again on Amazon's video service. Turner Classic Movies aired the original theatrical version, letterboxed, and with all original music and credits intact, on January 7, 2012. Lionsgate has announced the release of the film on DVD, however it was later canceled.


The film made $19.4 million at the box office. It sold to television for $2.7 million and to ancillary markets (eg cable) for $1.2 million, meaning it made a profit of $3.8 million.[3]

Little Darlings received a mixed critical reception and currently holds a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on seven reviews.[4]

TV version

Little Darlings was shown on television in a heavily edited version which had all the sex-related scenes and dialogue removed, giving the impression that, instead of trying to lose their virginity, Angel and Ferris were engaged in competition simply to make a guy fall in love with them. The deleted scenes were replaced with alternate footage not seen in the theatrical version, including a scene in which Angel rescues Ferris from drowning in the lake during a thunderstorm. Some additional music was also used in this version. Director Ron Maxwell has stated that he had no participation in this TV version and does not approve of it.

Awards and honors

Nominee: Second Best Young Actress in a Major Motion Picture - Kristy McNichol


  1. The New York Times, Little Darlings (1980) Overview
  2. Little Darlings By Roger Ebert,, March 25, 1980
  3. Moreland, Pamela (12 July 1981). "Loser at Box-Office, Often Lucrative on the Box: Pay TV, Videodiscs and In-Flight Film Deals Leading Investors to the Movies". Los Angeles Times. p. g1.
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