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Brenda Starr (1989 film)

Brenda Starr is a 1989 adventure film based on Dale Messick's comic strip, Brenda Starr, Reporter and directed by Robert Ellis Miller. It stars Brooke Shields, Timothy Dalton and Jeffrey Tambor.[2]

Brenda Starr
U.S. theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Ellis Miller
Produced byMyron A. Hyman
Written byNoreen Stone &
James D. Buchanan (screenplay)
Jenny Wolkind (aka Delia Ephron) (screenplay)
Noreen Stone &
James D. Buchanan (story)
Dale Messick (characters)
Music byJohnny Mandel
CinematographyFreddie Francis
Peter Stein
Edited byMark Melnick
Distributed byTriumph Releasing Corporation
Release date
May 15, 1989 (France)
April 15, 1992 (USA)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$67,878

The film was shot in 1986; however, it was not released for three years due to lengthy litigation over distribution rights.[3][4]


Mike is a struggling artist who draws the Brenda Starr comic strip for a newspaper. When Brenda comes to life and sees how unappreciated she is by Mike, she leaves the comic. To return her to her rightful place and keep his job, Mike draws himself into the strip.

Within her fictional world, Brenda Starr is an ace reporter for the New York Flash. She is talented, fearless, and smart, and she is a very snappy dresser. The only competition she has is from Libby Lipscomb, the rival paper's top reporter.

Brenda heads to the Amazon jungle to find a scientist with a secret formula, which will create cheap and powerful fuel from ordinary water. There, she must steal the formula from her competition and foreign spies.




In 1981 it was reported Deborah Harry would star in a film version of the comic with George Hamilton as Basil St John.[5]

In 1984, a small production company called Tomorrow Entertainment under Myron Hyman got the rights to make a movie about Brena Starr. The idea was to make a low-budget film that could be a high-quality television movie. Tomorrow hired James Buchanan and Noreen Stone to write a script.[6]

Hyman says he began getting calls from Teri Shields, mother of Brooke. "She said Brooke always wanted to be Brenda Starr," said Hyman. "I guess Brenda was something of a role model to Brooke when she was a little girl. Well, Brooke's a lovely girl and I said of course we'd consider her."[7]

Eventually Teri Shields told Hyman that she also had an investor who wanted to put money into the film. This was Sheik Abdul Aziz al Ibrahim, a brother-in-law of Saudi King Fahd. He offered to cover the budget for the film on three conditions:

  • Brooke Shields played Brenda Starr
  • the film had to be a first-class production made for theaters, not television
  • no advance distribution deal was negotiated.[7]

Hyman agreed. Ibrahim's representatives created Mystery Man Productions, a New York-based company, to finance the film.[8]

Buchanan and Stone eventually were called to the offices of Mystery Man Productions. "They were not people who had ever made a movie," Buchanan said of the representatives. "They said things like, `On page 22, you will introduce a dream sequence.' That kind of thing."[6]

Finance came through the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. The Ibrahim family was among the bank's largest depositors.[8]

Mystery Man hired Robert Ellis Miller to direct, and Bob Mackie designed Brenda Starr's dresses. Delia Ephron came in to rewrite the movie. She subsequently removed her name from the film's credits, using the pseudonym Jenny Wolkind instead.[6][9]

Mystery Man obtained limited rights to the Brenda Starr character from the Tribune Entertainment Co., owners of the comic strip, in April 1986. But the company failed to obtain television rights, something that proved crucial later.[6][10]


Filming started July 1986. Shields filmed it over her summer break from Princeton, where she was studying. The film was shot in Jacksonville, Florida and in Puerto Rico. The budget was originally $15 million.[11]

During filming, Timothy Dalton, who had the male lead, was cast as James Bond for The Living Daylights.

Initial spending on the film was from the Ibrahim cash accounts at the BCCI, but midway through the project Ibrahim began to have second thoughts about the production costs. The film ended up being financed half cash and half in loans from the BCCI.[8][7]

Brooke Shields later recalled she "loved" making the film:

Director Miller said he spent about $15 million to make the movie. Producer Hyman said the budget was about $14 million. Ibrahim associates said an internal audit attributed $22.3 million to the film.[7]

Delays in ReleaseEdit

The film was meant to be released in 1987. "It would have been a hot thing," Miller said. "(Brooke's star) was in the ascendancy. She was 21, just graduating from college and gorgeous."[6]

By May 1987, Phil Isaacs and Hyman, representing Mystery Man, started distribution negotiations with New World Pictures. New World executive Bob Cheren later testified that Hyman said "all rights" to the film were available and a deal was arranged. New World wanted to cash in on the fact that Dalton had been cast as James Bond and the impending surge in comic-book movies such as "Batman" and "Dick Tracy." The film was meant to open theatrically on January 1988.[6]

However Ibrahim later decided he wanted a new deal. "They (the Ibrahim people) just didn't understand the movie business," Hyman said. "They looked at it like real estate or something." One of Ibrahim's representatives said their client was "prepared to keep the film on a shelf and watch it in the desert on Saturday nights" if he could not have the kind of distribution deal he wanted.[7]

Mystery Man kept the film's negative locked up, claiming New World had not signed a contract.

New World then discovered that Tribune, the company that owned the comic, claimed to hold all "Brenda Starr" TV rights. This meant they could not make money on a TV sale. On July 10, 1987 Tribune notified New World that the distribution deal was "unacceptable."[6]

Mystery Man pulled out of the deal. In September, New World sued Tomorrow, Mystery Man and the film's sales agents, claiming fraud, breach of contract and civil conspiracy. Mystery Man sought to block New World from distributing the film.[6]

In December 1987 Shields' mother Terri said "I feel the film's not ready to be released. They need about $60,000 more to re-edit." She was also unhappy with the billing. "Brooke's name is not on top and it's supposed to be. That's in our contract." [13]

New World sold the film to Zambia, Japan, Belgium, Colombia, Norway and Swaziland. In February 1989 New World was bought by Pathe for $189 million.[14]

AM-PM Productions bought rights to Brenda Starr in January 1990. "We saw the picture as definitely a Cinderella story," said a representative "It's sweet, cute, adorable and charming. These are not words Hollywood likes to use."[15]

AM-PM cut the running time from 108 minutes to 96 minutes. A new release date was set in North America - June 7, 1991. Triumph Releasing (a division of Columbia Pictures) would distribute.[6]

By August 1991 the film had been shown Zambia, Norway and Colombia but not North America. "I hope it does come out because there's no point in keeping it hidden," said Timothy Dalton. "It's probably the best work (Brooke's) ever done."[16]

"I like the film," said Miller. I'm very pleased."[10]


Box OfficeEdit

When the film was released in the United States in 1992, it bombed at the box office, making $30,000 in its first week.[17] Negative reviews were blamed, and the film was pulled from theaters shortly after its theatrical distribution.[18]

Critical responseEdit

The film received scathing reviews.

Owen Gleiberman, of Entertainment Weekly, graded the film with an F, stating that Brenda "... comes off as a giggly (if spectacularly elongated) high school princess" and that Brenda Starr "is so flaccid and cheap-looking, so ineptly pieced together, that it verges on the avant-garde. I suspect they won't even like it in France."[19]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film an equally negative review, writing, "There's been so much negative insider buzz about Brooke's 'Brenda' that you might be harboring a hope that the damned thing turned out all right. Get over it. 'Brenda' is not as bad as the also-rans that Hollywood traditionally dumps on us before Labor Day... it's a heap worse."[20]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times commented, "This would-be comic romp is badly dated in several conspicuous ways. Its cold war villains are embarrassingly outré (even allowing for the film's 1940's look, in keeping with the peak popularity of Brenda Starr as a comic strip heroine)... most dated of all is Brenda herself, the "girl reporter" who worries chiefly about not running her stockings or breaking her high heels, and who in one scene actually uses a black patent leather handbag as a secret weapon."[21]

Pamela Bruce of The Austin Chronicle was highly critical of the film: "After gathering dust for five years, some studio executive decided that there just isn't enough dreck in the world and decided to unleash Brenda Starr upon us poor, unsuspecting mortals."[22]

Entertainment Weekly placed the film on its "21 Worst Comic-Book Movies Ever" list.[23]

Home videoEdit

The film was released on both VHS[24] and DVD[25] formats.

The DVD version is available for purchase in two variations; one for all regions and another for region 2. The film is presented in Full Frame, 1.33:1 format, with English Dolby Digital Stereo sound.[26]


  1. ^ "'Brenda Starr' Looks Like Bad News at the Box Office". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
  2. ^ Maslin, Janet. "Brenda Starr". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-28.
  3. ^ 'Brenda Starr' movie review, Entertainment Weekly
  4. ^ Rempel, William C.; Rabin, Jeffrey L. (1991-09-01). "Movie Deal Portrays BCCI as a 'Personal Piggy Bank' : Scandal: Involvement in 'Brenda Starr' film sheds light on firm's relationships with the rich and royal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
  5. ^ Tempo: Tower Ticker Gold, Aaron. Chicago Tribune 30 Mar 1981: a6.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Brooke's `best work' in `Brenda Starr' still shelved by legal hassles". Las Vegas Review - Journal. 15 August 1991. p. 3F.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Movie Deal Portrays BCCI as a `Personal Piggy Bank' Scandal: Involvement in `Brenda Starr' film sheds light on firm's relationships with the rich and royal". Los Angeles Times. 1 September 1991. p. 1.
  8. ^ a b c "Bank scandal may keep Brooke on shelf". Las Vegas Review - Journal. 1 September 1991. p. 3a.
  9. ^ INSIDE NEW YORK: [CITY Edition] Michael Fleming, Ben Kubasik and Susan Mulcahy. Edited. Newsday,c 23 June 1986: 6.
  10. ^ a b Long-delayed `Brenda Starr' finally opens to tiny audiences John Horn. AP. Las Vegas Review - Journal19 Apr 1992: 2F.
  11. ^ DELAND MAN FLIES HIGH FOR MOVIE: Orlando Sentinel 7 Aug 1986: 7.
  12. ^ Harris, Will (October 17, 2012). "Brooke Shields on The Middle, Jim Henson, and bar-crawling with Tom Green". AV Club.
  13. ^ SHIELDS' MOTHER RAPS 'BRENDA STARR' Chicago Tribune 17 Dec 1987: 16.
  14. ^ Parretti's Pathe To Buy New World For $138 Million By Richard Turner. Wall Street Journal 27 Feb 1989: 1.
  15. ^ MOVIES Brenda Starr' finally reaches the big screen after years of many troubles Weatherford, Mike. Las Vegas Review - Journal; 15 Apr 1992: 1.aa.
  16. ^ A 'Starr' reporter couldn't figure out this movie's mess: [4* Edition] Horn, John. The Vancouver Sun]13 Aug 1991: C4.
  17. ^ Fox, David J. (1992-04-21). "Weekend Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
  18. ^ [1][dead link]
  19. ^ Owen Gleiberman (1992-05-01). "Movie Review: Brenda Starr". Entertainment Weekly.
  20. ^ Peter Travers (April 15, 1992). "Rolling Stone Movies | Movie Reviews". Retrieved 2019-09-08.
  21. ^ Maslin, Janet (1992-04-19). "Review/Film; Shields As Intrepid Reporter". The New York Times.
  22. ^ Bruce, Pamela. "Film Listings: Brenda Starr". The Austin Chronicle. Archived from the original on June 13, 2006. Retrieved December 15, 2009.
  23. ^ EW Staff (April 29, 2009). "21 Worst Comic-Book Movies". Entertainment Weekly.
  24. ^ "Brenda Starr [1989] [VHS]: Brooke Shields, Timothy Dalton, Tony Peck, Diana Scarwid, Charles Durning, Jeffrey Tambor, Eddie Albert, June Gable, Kathleen Wilhoite, Robert Ellis Miller: Video". Retrieved 2012-06-28.
  25. ^ "Brenda Starr [DVD]: Brooke Shields, Timothy Dalton, Tony Peck, Diana Scarwid, Nestor Serrano, Jeffrey Tambor, June Gable, Charles Durning, Kathleen Wilhoite, John Short, Eddie Albert, Mark von Holstein, Robert Ellis Miller, Alana H. Lambros, John D. Backe, Michael Tadross, Dale Messick, James D. Buchanan, Jenny Wolkind, Noreen Stone: Film & TV". Retrieved 2012-06-28.
  26. ^ "Brenda Starr (PG)". BigPond Movies. Archived from the original on May 31, 2009. Retrieved December 15, 2009.

External linksEdit