The Good Son (film)

The Good Son is a 1993 American psychological thriller film directed by Joseph Ruben and written by English novelist Ian McEwan. It stars Macaulay Culkin, Elijah Wood, Wendy Crewson and David Morse.

The Good Son
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoseph Ruben
Produced byJoseph Ruben
Mary Ann Page
Written byIan McEwan
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyJohn Lindley
Edited byGeorge Bowers
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • September 24, 1993 (1993-09-24)
Running time
86 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$17 million
Box office$60.6 million[2]


As a 12-year-old living in Nevada, Mark Evans has recently experienced the death of his mother, Janice. Heading for a business trip to Tokyo, he is driven by his father, Jack, to the home of his uncle Wallace and aunt Susan in Maine, where he will stay during the winter break. Mark is reintroduced after 10 years to his extended family, including his cousins Connie and Henry. Mark and Henry get along at first and Henry seems to be nice and well-mannered. However, Henry displays an abnormal fascination with death, as he talks about the death of Mark's mother and that of his younger brother Richard, making Mark feel uneasy.

Henry begins to display psychopathic behavior, which Mark is unable to tell Wallace and Susan about due to Henry's dark threats. One of Henry's violent actions is throwing a dummy off a bridge and on to the highway, causing a massive vehicle pileup. Later, Henry plans to kill Connie. Afraid that something might happen to her, Mark spends the night in her room. The next morning, Mark awakens to find Henry has taken Connie ice skating. At the pond, Henry purposely throws Connie toward thin ice. The ice collapses and Connie nearly drowns but she is rescued and taken to the hospital. Despite not believing Mark initially, Susan becomes suspicious and sitting in the dark, out of view, is able to interrupt Henry when he visits Connie's room, planning to suffocate her. Susan finds a rubber duck that Henry has hidden in his shed. It had once belonged to Richard and was with him in the bathtub the night he drowned, after which it went missing. When Susan confronts Henry, he coldly reminds her that the toy had belonged to him before it had been Richard's. Henry flips the demeanor and kindly asks for the rubber duck back but Susan refuses. Henry tries to take it from her and after a violent tug-of-war, he takes the toy and runs in the cemetery where he throws it down the well.

As Susan and Mark grow closer, Henry insinuates he will kill Susan rather than let Mark continue to develop a relationship with her. When the fight breaks out between the two boys, Wallace locks Mark in the den. Henry asks a suspicious Susan to go for a walk with him, while Mark escapes the den and chases after them. Susan confronts Henry, asking him if he killed Richard. Henry confesses by asking her what if he did. Horrified by her son's true nature, Susan tells Henry that he needs help but Henry flees into the woods as he refuses. Susan gives chase and upon arriving at a cliff, Henry shoves her over the edge. As Susan dangles precariously, Henry picks up a large rock he intends to drop on Susan but Mark intervenes and tackles him. They fight and Henry viciously tries his best to kill Mark, but Mark gets the better of Henry. Susan manages to pull herself up on to the clifftop and is just in time to dive forward and grab hold of the boys as they roll over the edge. Lying flat on the rock she hangs on to both boys, one in each hand. Henry holds on with both hands but Mark's one-handed grip begins to slip. With only enough strength to save one of them, Susan, realizing the malevolence in Henry's nature, reluctantly releases him and he falls to his death. Susan pulls Mark up from the ledge and they look down upon Henry's corpse on the rocks below before it is washed away into the ocean and they both share an emotional embrace.

When Mark returns home to Nevada, he reflects upon Susan's choice to save him instead of Henry and wonders if she would make the same choice again but knows it is something he will never ask her.


  • Elijah Wood as Mark Evans. A 12-year-old boy from Nevada. After his mother passes away, he is sent to Maine to stay with his aunt and uncle while his father is away on a business trip in Tokyo.
  • Macaulay Culkin as Henry Evans, Mark's psychopathic cousin.
  • Wendy Crewson as Susan Evans, Mark's aunt and Henry's mother.
  • David Morse as Jack Evans, Mark's father and Wallace's younger brother.
  • Daniel Hugh Kelly as Wallace Evans, Mark's uncle, Jack's older brother and Henry's father.
  • Jacqueline Brookes as Alice Davenport, a child psychologist.
  • Quinn Culkin as Connie Evans, Henry's little sister.
  • Ashley Crow as Janice Evans, Jack's wife and Mark's mother.
  • Rory Culkin as Richard Evans, Henry’s younger and deceased brother (photo only).


Following the completion of his novel The Child in Time, English novelist Ian McEwan was invited by 20th Century Fox to write a screenplay "about evil - possibly concerning children." McEwan recalled, "The idea was to make a low budget, high class movie, not something that Fox would naturally make a lot of money on." Despite being well received, the end result was deemed insufficiently commercial by the parties that commissioned it and it floated around Hollywood until being discovered by independent producer Mary Ann Page. Enthusiastic about the script, originally sent to her as a writing sample, Page tried to get the project off the ground for three and a half years. The film was briefly set up at Universal Studios, during which Brian Gilbert was attached as director. In 1988, Michael Klesic was originally cast in the role of Henry Evans. The film was soon after put on hold due to a lack of funding.

Following the successes of Home Alone and The Silence of the Lambs, which respectively demonstrated the appeal of both a movie about kids and of an "extreme thriller," Fox itself chose to revisit the project, which they now saw as viable. Director Michael Lehmann (Heathers) became attached, Laurence Mark was appointed as a co-producer and McEwan was called in for rewrites. Mary Steenburgen was cast as Susan and Jesse Bradford had replaced Klesic as Henry because he had grown too old to play the part. McEwan was optimistic about the project and by November 1991, sets were being built in Maine for a production that would cost approximately $12 million. This progress was suddenly interrupted when Kit Culkin, Macaulay Culkin's father and manager, at the time a notoriously influential force in Hollywood due to the child's stardom, wanted his son to star in the film. Wishing to prove Macaulay's capacity in a dark role, he made his part in The Good Son a condition for his appearing in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Fox agreed enthusiastically due to Culkin's bankability.

As the movie was originally scheduled to shoot at the same time as Home Alone 2, the start date for The Good Son was pushed back for a year, making Steenburgen no longer available and having her replaced by Wendy Crewson but also enabling Elijah Wood's involvement. Director Lehmann and producer Mark conflicted with the imposition, leading both to leave the project. The demanding Culkin would go on to insist that his daughter Quinn receive a role in the film and vetted replacement director Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy). Furthermore, the budget had risen to an estimated $20 million. McEwan found himself performing further rewrites that continued to simplify the story to satisfy Ruben's comparatively mainstream tastes and was ultimately unceremoniously removed from the project altogether when another screenwriter was commissioned, Ruben's frequent collaborator David Loughery. Despite this, McEwan was awarded sole writing credit in arbitration when he contested a shared credit.[3]


The Good Son was theatrically released on September 24, 1993. It was released on VHS in 1994. A DVD of the film was released on September 11, 2012.[4] A Blu-ray release of The Good Son was announced on October 25, 2016[5] and was released on August 1, 2017.[6]

Elmer Bernstein's score to The Good Son was released in 1993 by Fox Music.[7] The score was orchestrated by Emilie A. Bernstein and Patrick Russ.

A tie-in novel was published alongside the movie's release in 1993, written by Todd Strasser. The novel elaborates on the movie, detailing how Henry was born a sociopath, rather than being some personification of evil. In the novel, Henry's mother Susan eventually discovers that Henry is unable to understand emotions like love and sorrow and that pleasure derived from selfish actions and the torment of others are the few things he truly feels. The book also concludes differently from the movie, ending with Mark returning to Uncle Wallace's home in Maine one year later. Mark and Susan visit Henry's grave, which includes an epitaph: "Without Darkness There Can Be No Light".


The Good Son earned US$44,789,789 at the North American box office revenues, and another $15,823,219 in other territories, for a total worldwide box office take of $60,613,008.[8][9] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[10]

Roger Ebert, who deemed the film inappropriate for children, awarded it half a star, calling the project a "creepy, unpleasant experience".[11] He and Gene Siskel later gave it "Two Thumbs Down":[12] Many critics criticized the casting of Culkin because of his comedic image from Home Alone.[13][14] Hal Hinson of The Washington Post stated that "the mere presence of the adorable boy star...seems to throw the whole film out of whack, making the picture play more like an inadvertent comedy than a thriller."[15] As of December 2018 the film has a 26% overall score on Rotten Tomatoes.[16]


  1. "THE GOOD SON - British Board of Film Classification". Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  2. "The Good Son (1993) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  3. Durrant, Sabine (August 19, 1993). "FILM / 'I thought nothing could possibly go wrong. Huh': Ian McEwan was happy with his first Hollywood film. It was small but classy. Then along came Macaulay Culkin's dad . . . Sabine Durrant reports". The Independent. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  4. "The Good Son". Amazon. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  5. Webmaster (October 25, 2016). "The Good Son Blu-ray". Archived from the original on October 29, 2016. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  6. "The Good Son Blu-ray". Archived from the original on December 31, 2012. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  7. "The Good Son (Soundtrack) - Elmer Bernstein - Songs, Reviews, Credits - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  8. "The Good Son (1993) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  9. Fox, David J. (September 28, 1993). "Weekend Box Office : 'Son' Finds Good in Evil at Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  10. "CinemaScore".
  11. The Good Son review from the Chicago Sun-Times
  12. The Good Son from At the Movies
  13. Jonathan Rosenbaum (July 25, 2007). "The Good Son". The Chicago Reader. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  14. Desson Howe (January 1, 2000). "'The Good Son' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  15. Hal Hinson (September 14, 1993). "'The Good Son' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  16. "The Good Son". Retrieved December 30, 2018.
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