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Death Becomes Her is a 1992 American black comedy[2] directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by David Koepp and Martin Donovan, and starring Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, and Goldie Hawn. The film focuses on a pair of rivals (Streep and Hawn), who drink a magic potion that promises eternal youth, but experience unpleasant side effects when they physically die, becoming walking, talking corpses in the process.

Death Becomes Her
Death Becomes Her.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Zemeckis
Produced byRobert Zemeckis
Steve Starkey
Written byMartin Donovan
David Koepp
Music byAlan Silvestri
CinematographyDean Cundey
Edited byArthur Schmidt
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • July 31, 1992 (1992-07-31)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$55 million
Box office$149 million[1]

Death Becomes Her won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. The film received mixed reviews from critics, but was a commercial success, grossing $149 million worldwide. It has developed a strong cult following, particularly among the LGBT community.


In 1978, narcissistic, manipulative actress Madeline Ashton performs in an awful musical version of Sweet Bird of Youth on Broadway. She invites long-time rival Helen Sharp, an aspiring writer, backstage along with Helen's fiancé, plastic surgeon Ernest Menville. Ernest is smitten with Madeline, and breaks off his engagement with Helen to marry her. Seven years later, in 1985, Helen winds up in a psychiatric hospital after fixating upon Madeline. Obese and depressed, Helen feigns rehabilitation and is released, plotting revenge on Madeline.

Another seven years later, in 1992, Madeline lives in Beverly Hills with Ernest, but they are now miserable. Madeline's acting career has faded with age, and Ernest is an alcoholic reduced to working as a reconstructive mortician. Receiving an invitation to a party celebrating Helen's new book, Madeline rushes to a spa where she regularly receives facial treatments. Understanding Madeline's situation, the spa owner gives her the business card of Lisle Von Rhuman, a woman specializing in youth rejuvenation.

Madeline and Ernest attend the party for Helen's novel, Forever Young, and discover that somehow, Helen is now slim, youthful, and beautiful. Dumbfounded and depressed by Helen's appearance, Madeline visits her young lover, but discovers that he is with a woman his age. Dejected, Madeline drives to Lisle's home. Lisle is a mysterious, glamorous, wealthy socialite claiming to be 71, but looks decades younger. She reveals to Madeline the secret of her beauty and youth—an expensive potion that promises eternal life and an everlasting youthful appearance. Madeline purchases and drinks the potion and is rejuvenated, regaining her beauty. As a condition of purchase, Madeline must disappear from public life after 10 years to keep the existence of the potion secret. Lisle also warns Madeline to take good care of her body.

Helen seduces Ernest and convinces him to kill Madeline. When Madeline returns home, Ernest and she argue, during which Madeline falls down the stairs, breaking her neck. Believing Madeline dead, Ernest phones Helen for advice, not seeing Madeline stand and approach him with her head twisted backward. Ernest assumes she has a dislocated neck and drives her to the emergency room. Madeline is told she is technically dead, and faints. She is taken to the morgue due to her body having no pulse and a temperature below 80 °F. After rescuing Madeline, Ernest takes the sign of her "resurrection" as a miracle, returns home with Madeline, and uses his skills as a mortician to repair her body.

Helen demands information about Madeline's situation. Overhearing Helen and Ernest discussing their plot to stage Madeline's death, Madeline shoots Helen with a shotgun. Although the blast creates a hole in her abdomen, Helen survives, revealing that she drank the same potion. Fed up with the pair, Ernest prepares to leave, but Helen and Madeline convince him to do one last repair on their bodies. They realize that they will need constant maintenance and scheme to have Ernest drink the potion to ensure that he will always be available.

After bringing Ernest to Lisle, she offers to give him the potion free of charge in exchange for his surgical skills. Ernest refuses to drink it when he realizes the pitfalls of immortality. He pockets the potion and flees, but becomes trapped on the roof. Helen and Madeline implore Ernest to drink the potion to survive an impending fall. Ernest, realizing that they only want him to drink it because they need him for their own selfish reasons and nothing more, refuses and drops the potion to the ground several stories below, but after falling he lands in Lisle's pool and escapes. After Lisle banishes Madeline and Helen from her group, the pair realize that they must now rely on each other for companionship and maintenance.

37 years later, Madeline and Helen attend Ernest's funeral, where he is eulogized as having lived an adventurous and fulfilling life with a large family and friends. The two women are now parodies of their former selves, with cracked, peeling paint and putty covering most of their grey and rotting flesh. Helen trips and teeters at the top of a staircase. After Madeline hesitates to help her, Helen grabs Madeline and the two tumble down the stairs, breaking to pieces. As their disembodied heads totter down together, Helen sardonically asks Madeline, "Do you remember where you parked the car?"



Special effectsEdit

Death Becomes Her was a technologically complex movie to make, and represented a major advancement in the use of computer-generated effects, under the pioneering direction of Industrial Light and Magic.[3][4] For example, it was the first film where computer-generated skin texture was used, in the shot where Madeline resets her neck after her head is smashed with a shovel by Helen.[3] Creating the sequences where Madeline's head is dislocated and facing the wrong way around involved a combination of blue screen technology, an animatronic model created by Amalgamated Dynamics, and prosthetic make-up effects on Meryl Streep to create the look of a twisted neck.[5][6]

The digital advancements pioneered on Death Becomes Her would be incorporated into Industrial Light and Magic's next project, Jurassic Park, released by Universal only a year later. Both films shared cinematographer Dean Cundey and production designer Rick Carter, in addition to ILM.[7]

The production had a fair number of mishaps. For example, in a scene where Helen Sharp and Madeline Ashton are battling with shovels, Meryl Streep accidentally cut Goldie Hawn's face, leaving a faint scar. Streep admitted that she disliked working on a project that focused so heavily on special effects, saying:

Filming locationsEdit

The film was made entirely in Los Angeles and used several locations also frequently used in film and television, including the Greystone Mansion (Ernest's funeral home) and the Ebell of Los Angeles (Helen's book party).[9] The exterior of Madeline and Ernest's mansion is located at 1125 Oak Grove Avenue in San Marino, but the interior was a set built on a soundstage.[10][unreliable source] The ending scene where Helen and Madeline tumble down a set of stairs outside a chapel was filmed at Mount St. Mary's University (Los Angeles) in Brentwood.[11]


The theatrical version of Death Becomes Her omitted or shortened many scenes featured in the rough cut of the movie.[12][unreliable source?] Robert Zemeckis decided this was needed to accelerate the pace of the film and eliminate extraneous jokes. Most dramatically, the original ending was entirely redone after test audiences reacted negatively to it.[13] The ending featured Ernest, after he has fled Lisle's party, meeting a bartender (Tracey Ullman), who helps him fake his death to evade Madeline and Helen. The two women encounter Ernest and the bartender 27 years later, living happily as a retired couple.[14] Zemeckis thought the ending was too happy and opted for the darker ending featured in the final cut.[14] Ullman was one of five actors with speaking roles in the film to be eliminated.[14] Other scenes that were eliminated included one in which Madeline talks to her agent (Jonathan Silverman) and one in which Ernest removes a frozen Madeline from the kitchen freezer he has stored her in.[12] None of the scenes have been released publicly, but sequences can still be viewed in the original theatrical trailer.[15]


The score was composed by American film composer Alan Silvestri, who also composed scores of other films directed by Zemeckis.[16]

Release and receptionEdit

The film opened at number one at the box office with $12,110,355 on the same weekend as and ahead of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Bebe's Kids.[17] It went on to earn over $58.4 million domestically and $90.6 million internationally.[18]

The film's release on DVD was called "appallingly bad",[19] "horrible" and "sloppy"[20] due to the quality of its transfer, which has been said to suffer from excessive grain, blur, and muted colors.[19] Many online DVD forum users speculated that the DVD transfer was taken from the Laserdisc edition of the film and called for a restorative release. The film was initially distributed in an open-matte, fullscreen edition with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in the United States before a widescreen version with its intended ratio (1.85:1) was released and subsequently distributed worldwide. The latter version has also been mistakenly labelled anamorphic.[21] It was later released in North America on Blu-ray from Shout Factory on April 26, 2016.

Critical responseEdit

The film received mixed reviews.[22][23] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 52% based on reviews from 48 critics with the consensus: "Hawn and Streep are as fabulous as Death Becomes Her's innovative special effects; Zemeckis' satire, on the other hand, is as hollow as the world it mocks."[24] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[25]

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both gave the film a 'thumbs down', commenting that while the film had great special effects, it lacked any real substance or character depth.[26]


Award Role Result
Academy Awards Best Visual Effects Won
BAFTA Award Best Visual Effects Won
Golden Globe Award Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Meryl Streep) Nominated
Saturn Award Best Fantasy Film Nominated
Best Director (Robert Zemeckis) Nominated
Best Writing (Martin Donovan, David Koepp) Nominated
Best Actor (Bruce Willis) Nominated
Best Actress (Meryl Streep) Nominated
Best Music (Alan Silvestri) Nominated
Best Make-up (Dick Smith, Kevin Haney) Nominated
Best Supporting Actress (Isabella Rossellini) Won
Best Special Effects Won


Death Becomes Her has acquired a significant cult following, especially in the LGBT community.[27] An article in Vanity Fair titled "The Gloriously Queer Afterlife of 'Death Becomes Her'" called the film a "gay cult classic" and "a touchstone of the queer community".[28] The movie is screened in bars during Pride Month, while the characters of Madeline and Helen are favorites of drag performers. In this vein, the movie inspired a Death Becomes Her-themed runway show on season 7 of RuPaul's Drag Race.[27] The winner of season 5, Jinkx Monsoon, has cited it with inspiring him to become a drag queen, and to that end he has participated in Death Becomes Her-themed photoshoots,[29] and in 2018 played Madeline in a drag stage show parody called "Drag Becomes Her".[30]

Tom Campbell, an executive producer of RuPaul's Drag Race, reflected on the appeal of the movie to gay audiences:

In December 2017, Kristin Chenoweth was announced to be starring in a Broadway musical adaptation of Death Becomes Her.[31]


  1. ^ "Death Becomes Her at Box Office Mojo". Retrieved October 4, 2010.
  2. ^ "AFI|Catalog".
  3. ^ a b "Death Becomes Her (Universal Pictures)". Retrieved 2017-12-19.
  4. ^ Judd Blaise (1992-08-21). "Special Effects, Acting Bring 'Death' to Life". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  5. ^ Death Becomes Her (1992) Vintage Bonus Clip: Meryl's Mom & Special Effects (HD). Youtube. 2016-06-23. Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  6. ^ Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. (2015-07-25). DEATH BECOMES HER Recreating Meryl BTS Special Edition. Youtube. Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  7. ^ Drew Taylor (2013-06-11). "5 Versions of 'Jurassic Park' You Never Saw". Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  8. ^ "Depth Becomes Her". Entertainment Weekly. 2000-03-24. Retrieved 2007-01-25.
  9. ^ "The Ebell of Los Angeles - Filming". Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  10. ^ "Madeline and Ernest's Mansion from 'Death Becomes Her'". 2017-10-13. Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  11. ^ "Movies Filmed at Mount Saint Mary's University - Chalon Campus". Retrieved 2017-12-20.
  12. ^ a b "Death Becomes Her". Retrieved 2018-03-12.
  13. ^ Jon O'Brien (2017-07-31). "Death Become Her 25th Anniversary: 12 things you may not know about the classic comedy". Retrieved 2018-03-12.
  14. ^ a b c David J. Fox (1992-08-09). "A look inside Hollywood and the movies.: THE VANISHING: 'Death Becomes Her' and the Lost Ullman Ending". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
  15. ^ Death Becomes Her (1992) Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis - Official Trailer (HD). 2016-04-11. Retrieved 2018-03-12.
  16. ^ "10 of the Most Underrated Horror Scores!". Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  17. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (1994-05-10). "Weekend Box Office `Honors' Tops in a Lackluster Bunch". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
  18. ^ "Death Becomes Her (1992) - Box Office Mojo".
  19. ^ a b "Death Becomes Her". Michael Demtschyna. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  20. ^ "BBC - Films - review - Death Becomes Her DVD". BBC. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  21. ^ "A stroll down the DVD memory lane: Guido Henkel". Guido Henkel. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  22. ^ McCarthy, Todd (1992-07-26). "Death Becomes Her". Variety. Retrieved 2010-10-03.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ "Death Becomes Her". Entertainment Weekly. 1992-08-14. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
  24. ^ "Death Becomes Her (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  25. ^ "CinemaScore".
  26. ^ "Death Becomes Her review".[dead link]
  27. ^ a b Julia Pugachevsky (2013-06-21). ""Death Becomes Her" Is Ruling Our Lives: NewNowNext Style". Retrieved 2018-06-10.
  28. ^ a b Kristy Puchko (2017-08-03). "The Glorious Queer Afterlife of 'Death Becomes Her'". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2018-06-10.
  29. ^ Christopher Rudolph (2013-05-17). "Jinkx Monsoon and Ivy Winters Star in Ricky Middlesworth's 'Death Becomes Her' (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2018-06-10.
  30. ^ Ashley Lee (2018-04-19). "Jinkx Monsoon Talks Spoofing Meryl Streep in 'Drag Becomes Her'". Retrieved 2018-06-10.
  31. ^ Curtis M. Wong (2017-12-13). "'Death Becomes Her' is About to Become a Broadway Musical". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2018-06-10.

External linksEdit