Oliver! (film)

Oliver! is a 1968 British musical drama film directed by Carol Reed, written by Vernon Harris, and based on the stage musical of the same name. Both the film and play are based on Charles Dickens's novel Oliver Twist. The film includes such musical numbers as "Food, Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself", "As Long as He Needs Me", "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two", and "Where Is Love?". Filmed at Shepperton Film Studio in Surrey, it was a Romulus Films production and was distributed internationally by Columbia Pictures.

British theatrical release poster
Directed byCarol Reed
Produced byJohn Woolf
Screenplay byVernon Harris
Based onOliver!
by Lionel Bart
Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens
StarringRon Moody
Oliver Reed
Harry Secombe
Shani Wallis
Mark Lester
Jack Wild
Music byLionel Bart
John Green
CinematographyOswald Morris
Edited byRalph Kemplen
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 26 September 1968 (1968-09-26)
Running time
153 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$10 million
Box office$77.4 million

At the 41st Academy Awards for 1968, Oliver! was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture, Best Director for Reed, and an Honorary Award for choreographer Onna White. At the 26th Golden Globe Awards, the film won two Golden Globes: for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and Best Actor – Musical or Comedy for Ron Moody.

The British Film Institute ranked Oliver! the 77th greatest British film of the 20th century. In 2017, a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine ranked it the 69th best British film ever.[1]


Act 1

At a workhouse in Dunstable, England, the governors hold a sumptuous banquet while the orphans are served their daily gruel and dream of enjoying "Food, Glorious Food". Forced by some of the other boys, Oliver approaches Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Bumble and asks for more to eat. Enraged, Bumble takes Oliver to the governors for punishment ("Oliver!"). Paraded in the street to be sold to the highest bidder ("Boy for Sale"), Oliver is purchased by an undertaker. When his apprentice insults Oliver's mother, Oliver attacks him and is thrown in the cellar. Alone in the dark, surrounded by empty coffins, Oliver wonders "Where Is Love?" before escaping through a window grate.

After a week on the road, Oliver reaches London. He meets the Artful Dodger, who takes him under his wing ("Consider Yourself"). Dodger brings Oliver to a hideout for young pickpockets led by Fagin, who instructs the gang in the art of stealing, declaring that "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" to get by. Fagin later meets with Bill Sikes, a burglar. Sikes's girlfriend, Nancy, ponders her life ("It's a Fine Life").

In the morning, Nancy and her friend Bet arrive at the hideout to collect Sikes's money. The boys mock Oliver for his manners, which Nancy finds charming. Dodger attempts to be just as gentlemanly ("I'd Do Anything"). Fagin sends the boys out for the day, entrusting Oliver to Dodger ("Be Back Soon"). Dodger steals a wallet from Mr. Brownlow, but Oliver is apprehended instead. Fearing Oliver will lead the police to the gang, Fagin and Sikes send Nancy to court. Oliver is too terrified to speak, but before the verdict is finalized, a witness arrives and proclaims Oliver's innocence. Brownlow takes Oliver in, while Sikes and Fagin send Dodger to follow them, to Nancy's displeasure.

Act 2

Oliver wakes up in Mr. Brownlow's house, and happily watches from his balcony the merchants and inhabitants of Bloomsbury Square singing about this particular morning being so beautiful ("Who Will Buy"). Meanwhile, Fagin and Bill decide to abduct Oliver and bring him back to the den with Nancy's help. Nancy, who has come to care for Oliver, at first refuses to help, but Bill physically abuses her, forcing her into obedience. In spite of this, Nancy still loves Bill, and believes he loves her too ("As Long as He Needs Me").

The next morning at Mr. Brownlow's house in Bloomsbury, Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver to return some books to the library. As Oliver stops to enjoy a puppet show with other children, Nancy and Bill appear and grab Oliver. They bring him back to Fagin's den, where Nancy saves Oliver from a beating from Sikes after the boy tries to flee. Nancy remorsefully reviews their life, but Bill maintains that any living is better than none. Fagin tries to act as an intermediary. Left alone, Fagin wonders what his life might be like if he became an honest man ("Reviewing the Situation"); however, after thinking of various excuses, he elects to remain a thief.

Bumble and Corney pay a visit to Brownlow after he begins searching for Oliver's origin. They present a locket belonging to Oliver's mother, who arrived at the workhouse penniless and died during childbirth. Brownlow recognizes the locket as his niece's and throws the two out, enraged that they chose to keep the trinket and information to themselves until they could collect a reward for it. Meanwhile, in an attempt to introduce Oliver to a life of crime, Sikes forces Oliver to take part in a house robbery. The robbery fails when Oliver accidentally awakens the occupants, but he and Sikes get away. While Sikes and Oliver are gone, Nancy, fearful for Oliver's life, goes to Brownlow, confessing her part in Oliver's kidnapping. However, she refuses to state the name of Fagin or Bill Sikes for her own protection. She promises to return him to Brownlow at midnight at London Bridge. She then goes to the tavern. When Sikes and Oliver appear, Sikes orders his dog Bullseye to guard the boy. Nancy starts up a lively drinking song ("Oom-Pah-Pah"), hoping that the noise will distract Sikes. Bullseye, however, alerts Sikes, who gives chase.

As Oliver and Nancy share a farewell embrace at London Bridge, Sikes catches up and grabs both of them and throws Oliver aside. Nancy then tries to pull Sikes away, angering him. He then drags her behind the staircase of London Bridge and bludgeons her to death. He then takes off with Oliver, but Bullseye returns to the scene of Nancy's murder and alerts the police. The dog leads Brownlow and an angry mob to Fagin's hideout. Sikes arrives at Fagin's den and demands money, revealing that he killed Nancy. Upon seeing the approaching mob, Fagin and the boys flee. Sikes runs off with Oliver, using him as a hostage. During the evacuation, Fagin loses his prized possessions, which sink into mud. Sikes attempts to flee to an adjacent roof but is shot dead in the process by the police. Fagin makes up his mind to change his ways for good. Just as he is about to walk away a reformed character, Dodger appears with a wallet he stole earlier. They dance off into the sunrise together, happily determined to live out the rest of their days as thieves while Oliver returns to Brownlow's home for good.


Musical numbers

  • 1 "Overture"
  • 2 "Main Title"
  • 3 "Food, Glorious Food"/"Oliver!" – Orphans/Mr. Bumble/Widow Corney
  • 4 "Oliver, Oliver!" – Mr. Bumble/Orphans
  • 5 "Boy for Sale" – Mr. Bumble
  • 6 "Where Is Love?" – Oliver
  • 7 "Consider Yourself" – Dodger/City of London
  • 8 "Pick a Pocket or Two" – Fagin/Pickpockets
  • 9 "It's a Fine Life" – Nancy/The Crippled Crowd
  • 10 "I'd Do Anything" – Dodger/Pickpockets
  • 11 "Be Back Soon" – Fagin/Pickpockets
  • 12 "Entr'acte"
  • 13 "Who Will Buy?" – City of London/Oliver
  • 14 "As Long as He Needs Me" – Nancy
  • 15 "Reviewing the Situation" – Fagin
  • 16 "Oom-Pah-Pah" – Nancy/The Three Cripples Crowd
  • 17 "Reviewing the Situation" (reprise) – Fagin/Dodger
  • 18 "Finale" ("Where Is Love?"/"Consider Yourself") – Ensemble



The film used mostly young unknowns, among them Mark Lester (Oliver), Shani Wallis (Nancy) and Jack Wild as The Artful Dodger, but also featured Hugh Griffith, an Oscar winner for Ben-Hur, in a role as the Magistrate. Harry Secombe, who played Mr. Bumble, was well known in Britain but not in the United States, and Oliver Reed, who played Bill Sikes, had just begun to make a name for himself. Producer John Woolf suggested Oliver Reed for the role to the director Reed, without knowing that the two were in fact related. Ron Moody, who was also well known in Britain but not the US, recreated his London stage performance, after Peter Sellers, Dick Van Dyke and Peter O'Toole reportedly turned down the role. Elizabeth Taylor turned down the role of Nancy as well. Julie Andrews was also considered. Director Reed also had Shirley Bassey in mind, but his choice was rejected by Hollywood studio bosses who felt that the public was not ready for a Black Nancy.[2] Classical actor Joseph O'Conor, not well known in the U.S., played Mr. Brownlow.

Filming at Shepperton Studios, England, commenced on 23 June 1967.[3]


The screenplay was adapted from both Lionel Bart's musical and Dickens's novel. The screenplay was written by Vernon Harris, and the film was directed by Sir Carol Reed, who was also Oliver Reed's uncle. A few of the songs from the stage production were not used in the movie, although they often make appearances in the incidental music. For example, the music of Sikes' song "My Name" can be heard when the character first appears, and several other times whenever he is about to commit some nefarious deed.


The film omits "I Shall Scream", one of the songs sung by Mr. Bumble and the widow Corney (whose roles are larger in the stage version than in the film) and "That's Your Funeral", which is sung by the Sowerberrys at their funeral parlour. It also omits nearly all of the reprises of the show's other songs, with the exception of the songs "Who Will Buy?" and the comical "Reviewing the Situation", giving the second half of the film a more serious, gloomy quality than Act II of the stage production. Bill Sikes’ song "My Name" was also omitted, however, the recurrence of the instrumental for this song in the soundtrack suggests that it may have been filmed.

There is also an extension of the song "Boy for Sale" where there is an extra verse, plus a faster middle section, followed by a slower section, where Mr. Bumble attempts to auction off Oliver at Three Pounds Ten, with no takers. The song "Where Is Love" uses a different last half the second time.

In the film, "Food, Glorious Food" and "Consider Yourself" were sung by the choristers of the Temple Choir in London, conducted by Sir George Thalben-Ball.

Additional notes

The beginning section of Dickens's novel, in which Oliver is born in the workhouse, was never filmed, although there is evidence that it was supposed to have been. Still photos of this section exist in an Oliver! novelisation for children, published in 1968.

In this same Oliver! storybook, Nancy has a final moment in which, after being fatally bludgeoned by Bill Sikes, she gasps out her dying words to Mr. Brownlow, but there is nothing to indicate that this was actually filmed, so it may have been dramatic license on the part of the authors of the storybook. However, when Brownlow runs down the steps of London Bridge toward Nancy, she is clearly still alive – her feet are seen to be moving. The film, rather than following through on this, then cuts away to a scene showing Sikes trying to kill his bull terrier for fear that the dog may lead the police to him, and when the film returns again to Brownlow, Nancy has already died.


Box office

The film earned $10.5 million in rentals at the North American box office (US/ Canada rentals)[4] and took $77,402,877 worldwide,[5][6] making it the seventh highest-grossing film of 1968.

Critical response

Oliver! received widespread acclaim from critics. It was hailed by Pauline Kael in her review published in The New Yorker as being one of the few film versions of a stage musical that was superior to the original show, which she suggested she had walked out on. "The musical numbers emerge from the story with a grace that has been rarely seen since the musicals of René Clair."[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film four out of four stars."Sir Carol Reed's Oliver! is a treasure of a movie," he wrote. "It is very nearly universal entertainment, one of those rare films like The Wizard of Oz that appeals in many ways to all sorts of people. It will be immediately exciting to the children, I think, because of the story and the unforgettable Dickens characters. Adults will like it for the sweep and zest of its production. And as a work of popular art, it will stand the test of time, I guess. It is as well-made as a film can be." He particularly admired Carol Reed's working relationship with the children in the film: "Not for a moment, I suspect, did Reed imagine he had to talk down to the children in his audience. Not for a moment are the children in the cast treated as children. They're equal participants in the great adventure, and they have to fend for themselves or bloody well get out of the way. This isn't a watered-down lollypop. It's got bite and malice along with...romance and humor." Although he stated that the film's roadshow presentation was a minor problem for children, who are not used to long films,[8] he loved the production design, musical adaptation score, and casting and acting, particularly that of Ron Moody and Jack Wild. He concluded, "Oliver! succeeds finally because of its taste. It never stoops for cheap effects and never insults our intelligence. And because we can trust it, we can let ourselves go with it, and we do. It is a splendid experience."[9] He later named the film as the seventh best film of 1968.[10]

Rotten Tomatoes awards the film an 82% "fresh" rating based on 33 reviews, with an average score of 7.9/10; the critics' consensus reads: "It has aged somewhat awkwardly, but the performances are inspired, the songs are memorable, and the film is undeniably influential."[11]


The Academy Film Archive preserved Oliver! in 1998.[12]


Oliver! was the last G-rated film to receive an Academy Award for Best Picture. It was the last movie musical to win the award until Chicago thirty-four years later, though others have been nominated such as Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, All That Jazz, Beauty and the Beast, and Moulin Rouge!. Oliver! also had the distinction of being the last British film to win Best Picture until Chariots of Fire 13 years later.

Category Nominee Result
41st Academy Awards[13]
Best Picture John Woolf Won
Best Director Carol Reed Won
Best Actor in a Leading Role Ron Moody Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Jack Wild Nominated
Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay Vernon Harris Nominated
Best Cinematography Oswald Morris Nominated
Best Musical Adaptation Score John Green Won
Best Art Direction Art Direction: John Box; Set Decoration: Terence Marsh Won
Best Sound Buster Ambler, John Cox, Jim Groom, Bob Jones and Tony Dawe Won
Best Costume Design Phyllis Dalton Nominated
Best Film Editing Ralph Kemplen Nominated
Honorary Academy Award Onna White Won
26th Golden Globe Awards[14]
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Oliver! Won
Best Director Carol Reed Nominated
Best Actor – Musical or Comedy Ron Moody Won
Best Supporting Actor Hugh Griffith Nominated
New Star of the Year – Actor Jack Wild Nominated
6th Moscow International Film Festival[15]
Special Prize Carol Reed Won
Best Actor Ron Moody Won

Home media

Oliver! was released on DVD for the first time by Columbia Pictures in 2005 with only two special features; a photo gallery and a behind the scenes featurette. The motion picture soundtrack (housed in a DVD case) was also released with the DVD. It was an exclusive and contained only fourteen songs from the movie. Oliver! was then released in 2013 on a Region B Blu-ray containing all the special features as the DVD release excluding the film's extra disc soundtrack. That same year, Twilight Time released a Blu-ray edition of the film available on their website, but limited to 3,000 copies, which has since sold out. Sony Pictures re-released a Blu-ray edition of the film on 11 December 2018.


  1. "The 100 best British films". Time Out. Retrieved 26 October 2017
  2. "I'd do anything to be a judge on I'd Do Anything ... but all they offered me was a one-minute slot, says the original Nancy | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. 22 March 2008. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  3. Archived 24 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  5. "Box Office Information for Oliver!". The Numbers. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
  6. "Box Office and Business for Oliver!". IMDb. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
  7. Pauline Kael Going Steady, p.202
  8. Ebert, Roger. "Oliver! Movie Review & Film Summary (1968) – Roger Ebert".
  9. Ebert, Roger (22 December 1968). "Oliver! Movie Review & Film Summary (1968)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  10. Ebert, Roger (15 December 2004). "Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967-present". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 7 July 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  11. "Oliver!". Rotten Tomatoes. 1968. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  12. "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  13. "The 41st Academy Awards (1969) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  14. Oliver! on IMDb
  15. "6th Moscow International Film Festival (1969)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
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