Matilda (1996 film)

Matilda is a 1996 American family comedy fantasy film co-produced and directed by Danny DeVito, and written by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord. Based on Roald Dahl's novel of the same name, the film stars Mara Wilson as the title character, DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz and Pam Ferris. The film is about a young genius girl named Matilda Wormwood, who develops psychokinetic abilities and uses them to deal with her disreputable family and Agatha Trunchbull, the ruthless, oppressive and tyrannical principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byDanny DeVito
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onMatilda
by Roald Dahl
Music byDavid Newman
CinematographyStefan Czapsky
Edited by
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • August 2, 1996 (1996-08-02)
Running time
98 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$36 million[2]
Box office$33 million[3]

Produced by DeVito's Jersey Films and released theatrically in the United States on August 2, 1996 by TriStar Pictures, the film received predominantly positive reviews from critics but was a box office bomb, grossing only $33 million in the United States on a $36 million budget.[2]


Young genius Matilda Wormwood is regularly ignored and mistreated by her parents, Harry and Zinnia, and her brother, Michael. She is smart and independent, and she goes to the public library where she finds solace in the fictional worlds found in the books.

When Matilda's parents refuse to send her to school, she resolves to punish her father for this; first by adding hydrogen peroxide bleaching agent to his hair tonic; and then by gluing his hat to his head. Unlucky things begin to happen around Harry when Matilda gets angry with him. When Harry rips up the library's copy of Moby-Dick and forces Matilda to watch television, Matilda becomes increasingly enraged, and the television set explodes.

One of Harry's car dealership customers is Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical elementary school principal at Crunchem Hall. Harry sells her a car in exchange for her admitting Matilda as a pupil. At school, Matilda makes friends but discovers Trunchbull's harsh punishments of the students. Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, takes a liking to Matilda. Miss Honey requests Matilda be moved up to a higher class, but Trunchbull refuses.

Miss Honey tells the Wormwoods about Matilda's genius-level intellect but they refuse to believe her. Matilda discovers that her father is under surveillance by FBI agents Bob and Bill because of his illegal dealings. Her parents refuse to believe her, as they assume that the agents are Zinnia's illicit lovers and speedboat salesmen.

As a prank, one of Matilda's new friends puts a newt in Trunchbull's water jug to frighten her. Trunchbull accuses Matilda, whose anger at the injustice leads her to telekinetically tip the glass over, splashing the newt onto Trunchbull. Honey invites Matilda over to her house for tea. Honey reveals a secret: when she was two, her mother died, so her father invited his stepsister-in-law, Miss Trunchbull, to live with them and look after her. However, Trunchbull abused her. When Honey was five, her father died of an alleged suicide and left everything to Trunchbull. Matilda and Honey sneak into Trunchbull's house to obtain some of Honey's belongings, and they barely escape before Trunchbull catches them.

Matilda trains her telekinetic power by making objects fly around the house. She thwarts the FBI agents who threaten to put her in an orphanage. She returns to Trunchbull's house to scare her with telekinesis. Trunchbull finds Matilda's hair ribbon. The next day, Matilda reveals her powers to Honey, but Trunchbull visits the class in an attempt to get Matilda to admit her "crimes". Matilda magically writes a message on the blackboard, pretending to be the vengeful soul of Miss Honey's deceased father who accuses Trunchbull of murdering him. Trunchbull attacks the students, but Matilda keeps them safe. Matilda and the other students force her out. Honey moves back into her father's house.

Later, the FBI uncovers enough evidence to prosecute Harry, leading the Wormwoods flee to Guam. They stop by Honey's home to fetch Matilda, who would rather be adopted by Honey. Zinnia is remorseful for not understanding her daughter, and both parents sign Matilda's adoption papers. Matilda lives a happy life with Honey, who becomes the new principal of Crunchem Hall.


  • Mara Wilson as Matilda Wormwood
    • Alissa and Amanda Graham, Trevor and James Gallagher as Newborn Matilda
    • Kayla and Kelsey Fredericks as 9-months-old Matilda
    • Amanda and Caitlin Fein as 2-year-old Matilda
    • Sara Magdalin as 4-year-old Matilda
  • Embeth Davidtz as Miss Jennifer Honey
    • Amanda and Kristyn Summers as 2-year-old Miss Honey
    • Phoebe Pearl as 5-year-old Miss Honey
  • Pam Ferris as Agatha Trunchbull
  • Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood and the Narrator
  • Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood
  • Brian Levinson as Michael Wormwood
    • Nicholas Cox as 6-year-old Michael
  • 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
  • Jean Speegle Howard as Mrs. Phelps
  • Marion Dugan as Cookie
  • Jimmy Karz as Bruce Bogtrotter
  • Jon Lovitz (uncredited) as Mickey on "The Million Dollar Sticky"


Pam Ferris (Miss Trunchbull) incurred several injuries during production on the film. The climactic scene where she is whacked by blackboard erasers required her to keep her eyes open, causing chalk dust to get caught in her eyes and necessitating several trips to the hospital to get her eyes washed out.[4] The scene where Trunchbull whirls Amanda Thripp (Jacqueline Steiger) by her pigtails required a harness to support the little girl, the wires of which were threaded through the pigtails and then looped around Ferris's fingertips to give her grip. As she swung her around the centrifugal force grew too great and tore the top part of Ferris' finger, requiring 7 or 8 stitches.[4]

The Crank House, in Altadena, stood in for Miss Trunchbull's house.[5] The exterior of Matilda's house is located on Youngwood Drive in Whittier,[6] while the library she visits is the Pasadena Public Library on East Walnut Street in Pasadena.[7]

Mara Wilson's mother, Suzie Wilson, died of breast cancer during filming.[8] The film was dedicated to her memory.[9]


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, a frequent collaborator of DeVito.


The film was released on August 2, 1996.

Home media

The film was released on VHS in pan and scan and LaserDisc in widescreen on December 10, 1996 from Columbia TriStar Home Video.[10] In 1997, it was released on a bare-bones dual sided DVD containing fullscreen and widescreen.

In 2013, Wilson and her costars from the film had a reunion to celebrate its 17th anniversary and it being released on Blu-ray.[11] The reunion scene was featured in the Blu-ray release.[12]


Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, Matilda holds an approval rating of 90% based on 21 reviews with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Danny DeVito-directed version of Matilda is odd, charming, and while the movie diverges from Roald Dahl, it nonetheless captures the book's spirit."[13]

Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times praised the film's oddity, giving it three stars out of a possible four and writing: "Trunchbull is the kind of villainess children can enjoy, because she is too ridiculous to be taken seriously and yet really is mean and evil, like the witch in Snow White. And since most children have at one time or another felt that their parents are not nice enough to them, they may also enjoy the portrait of Matilda's parents."[14] Writing for Empire, Caroline Westbrook gave the film a rating of three stars and praised DeVito's clever direction.[15]

Box office

Despite receiving positive reviews, Matilda was a box office bomb, having only earned $33 million in the United States.[2][3]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Recipient Result
YoungStar Award Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Comedy Film Mara Wilson Won
Cinekid Lion Audience Award Best Director Danny DeVito Won
Oulu International Children's Film Festival Starboy Award Won
Satellite Awards Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical Nominated
Young Artist Award Best Performance in a Feature Film — Leading Young Actress Mara Wilson Nominated
Best Performance in a Feature Film — Supporting Young Actress Kira Spencer Hesser Nominated


  1. "MATILDA (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. August 14, 1996. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  2. Matilda at Box Office Mojo
  3. "Matilda (1996)".
  4. Lazarus, Susanna (September 26, 2016). "9 fascinating facts from behind the scenes of Matilda". Radio Times. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  5. Andrew Lasane (October 22, 2014). "The Real-World Locations of Iconic Movie Homes". Complex magazine. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  6. "Whittier's film highlights include 'Back to the Future". Whittier Daily News. July 8, 2013. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  7. Russo, Stacy Shotsberger (2008). The Library as Place in California. McFarland & Company. p. 108. ISBN 9780786431946.
  8. Cerio, Gregory (April 29, 1996). "Lessons in Courage". 45 (17). People. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  9. "Mara Wilson - Matilda Star: 'Danny Devito and Perlman Helped Me When Mum Lost Cancer Battle'". Contact WENN. June 4, 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  11. Leonara Epstein (December 2, 2013). "Watch "Matilda" Cast Members Reenact Scenes As Grown-Ups". Buzzfeed. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  12. "Mara Wilson On 'Matilda' Reunion: It Was 'Just Heartwarming'". The Huffington Post. December 2, 2013. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  13. "Matilda". Rotten Tomatoes. August 2, 1996. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  14. Ebert, Roger (August 2, 1996). "Matilda". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  15. Westbrook, Caroline (January 2000). "Matilda". Retrieved June 7, 2019.
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