To Die For

To Die For is a 1995 criminal comedy-drama film, made in a mockumentary format, directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Buck Henry, based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, which in turn was inspired by the story of Pamela Smart. It stars Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, and Joaquin Phoenix. Major supporting roles feature Illeana Douglas, Wayne Knight, Casey Affleck, Kurtwood Smith, Dan Hedaya, and Alison Folland. Kidman was nominated for a BAFTA and won a Golden Globe Award and a Best Actress Award at the 1st Empire Awards[2] for her performance. Her character has been described as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder in the scientific journal BMC Psychiatry.[3]

To Die For
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGus Van Sant
Produced byLaura Ziskin
Screenplay byBuck Henry
Based onTo Die For
by Joyce Maynard
Music byDanny Elfman
CinematographyEric Alan Edwards
Edited byCurtiss Clayton
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • May 20, 1995 (1995-05-20) (Cannes)
  • October 6, 1995 (1995-10-06) (United States)
Running time
106 minutes
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
Budget$20 million
Box office$21.3 million[1]

The film includes cameos by George Segal, David Cronenberg, author Maynard, and screenwriter Henry. It features original music by Danny Elfman.


Suzanne Stone (Kidman) has always been obsessed with being on television, aspiring to become a world-famous broadcast journalist. She marries Larry Maretto (Dillon), using his family restaurant business to keep herself financially stable, and takes a job as a part-time secretary at a local cable station, WWEN, in the hopes of climbing the network ladder. Through relentless persistence, she's eventually promoted to doing the station's evening weather report.

When Larry starts telling her to take time off from her career to start a family and help out at the restaurant, Suzanne immediately begins plotting to get rid of him. To this end, she uses the high school subjects of the TV documentary she's been making, Teens Speak Out; she seduces one of them, Jimmy Emmett (Phoenix), and manipulates him and his friends, delinquent Russell Hines (Affleck) and shy Lydia Mertz (Folland), into killing Larry. With the help of Russell and Lydia, Jimmy ultimately commits the murder.

Though Larry's death is ruled as the result of a botched burglary, the police stumble across a Teens Speak Out clip of Suzanne at Jimmy's school, hinting at a relationship between the two. The teens are arrested and connected to the crime scene. Lydia makes a deal with the police to converse with Suzanne while wearing a wire, and Suzanne unwittingly reveals her hand in the murder. However, despite this damning evidence, Suzanne argues that the police had resorted to entrapment and is released on bail.

Basking in the media spotlight, Suzanne fabricates a story about Larry being a drug addict who was murdered by Jimmy and Russell, his purported dealers. Jimmy and Russell are sentenced to life in prison. Russell gets his sentence reduced while Lydia is released on probation. Meanwhile, Larry's father, Joe, realizes Suzanne was behind his son's death and uses his Mafia connections to have her murdered. The hitman lures Suzanne away from her home, kills her, and then places her beneath a frozen lake.

Lydia gains national attention by telling her side of the story in a televised interview, becoming a celebrity. Larry's sister, Janice, practices her figure skating on the frozen lake where Suzanne's corpse is hidden.



To Die For is a mixture of styles, combining a traditional drama with darkly comic direct-to-camera monologues by Kidman's character, and mockumentary interviews, some tragic, with certain of the other characters in the film.[4]

The film and the novel it is based on were both inspired by the facts that emerged during the trial of Pamela Smart, a school media services coordinator who was imprisoned for seducing a 16-year-old student and convincing him to kill her husband.[5]

The role of Suzanne Stone was originally offered to Meg Ryan, who turned down the part and the $5 million salary offered.[6] Kidman, who was later cast in the role, was paid $2 million.[7]

Critical reception

The film was screened out of competition at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.[8] To Die For currently holds an 88% "certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 56 reviews. another aggregator Metacritic, has assigned a weighted average of 86 out of 100 based on 23 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[9]

Katherine Ramsland of Crime Library describes the film as an example of a work displaying women with antisocial personalities; Ramsland describes Suzanne as a "manipulator extraordinaire" who harms people through third parties.[10]

In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin called the film "an irresistible black comedy and a wicked delight" and added, "[it] takes aim at tabloid ethics and hits a solid bull's-eye, with Ms. Kidman's teasingly beautiful Suzanne as the most alluring of media-mad monsters. The target is broad, but Gus Van Sant's film is too expertly sharp and funny for that to matter; instead, it shows off this director's slyness better than any of his work since Drugstore Cowboy ... Both Mr. Van Sant and Ms. Kidman have reinvented themselves miraculously for this occasion, which brings out the best in all concerned."[11]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said of Kidman, "[she] brings to the role layers of meaning, intention and impulse. Telling her story in close-up – as she does throughout the film – Kidman lets you see the calculation, the wheels turning, the transparent efforts to charm that succeed in charming all the same ... her beauty and magnetism are electric. Undeniably she belongs on camera, which means it's equally undeniable that Suzanne belongs on camera. That in itself is an irony, a commentary or both."[12]

Emanuel Levy wrote, "mean-spirited satire, told in mock-tabloid style, this film features the best performance of Nicole Kidman to date (better than The Hours for which she won an Oscar), as an amoral small-town girl obsessed with becoming a TV star."[13][14]

American Film Institute recognition:


  1. "To Die For (1995)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  2. "Empire Awards Past Winners - 1996". Bauer Consumer Media. 2003. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  3. Hesse M, Schliewe S, Thomsen RR; Schliewe; Thomsen (2005). "Rating of personality disorder features in popular movie characters". BMC Psychiatry. London: BioMed Central. 5: 45. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-5-45. PMC 1325244. PMID 16336663.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. "A ROLE TO DIE FOR A JUICY PART HELPS NICOLE KIDMAN ESCAPE HER IMAGE AS TOM CRUISE'S WIFE". Sun Sentinel. 5 October 1995. Retrieved 13 November 2010.
  5. "'To Die For’ killer teacher Pamela Smart may get payday in lawsuit" , ""
  6. "An Actress To Die For", Time
  7. Thomson, David (2006). Nicole Kidman. Bloomsbury.
  8. "Festival de Cannes: To Die For". Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  9. To Die For, retrieved 10 October 2019
  10. Ramsland, Katherine. "Women Who Kill, Part Two - Crime Library on". Archived from the original on 23 May 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  11. Maslin, Janet (27 September 1995). "Movie Review - To Die For; She Trusts in TV's Redeeming Power -". Archived from the original on 21 May 2011. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  12. LaSalle, Mike (6 October 1995). "Film Review-- Kidman Monstrously Good in `To Die For'". Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  13. "To Die For". 29 September 1995.
  14. "To Die For - Emanuel Levy".
  15. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees" (PDF).
  16. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF).
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