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Matilda is a 1996 American fantasy comedy film directed by Danny DeVito, who also produced with Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, and Lucy Dahl. It was written by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, based on Roald Dahl's novel of the same name. Mara Wilson stars as the title character. DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, and Pam Ferris also star. The film is about a young genius named Matilda Wormwood, who develops psychokinetic abilities and uses them to deal with her disreputable family, and Agatha Trunchbull, the oppressive principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byDanny DeVito
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onMatilda
by Roald Dahl
Music byDavid Newman
CinematographyStefan Czapsky
Edited by
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • August 2, 1996 (1996-08-02)
Running time
98 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$36 million[2]
Box office$33 million[3]

The film was released in the United States on August 2, 1996.



Matilda Wormwood is a genius, but her parents, Harry and Zinnia, and her brother Michael ignore and mistreat her. Since infancy, Matilda has displayed incredible learning ability and develops a strong sense of independence due to her often being left alone at home every weekday when her father is at work, her mother is playing bingo, and Michael is at school. To pass the time, Matilda learns the route to the public library to read books and finds solace in the fantasy worlds the books provide.

At age six-and-a-half, Matilda begins to lose patience with her parents, expressing a desire to go to school, which her parents refuse blatantly and tease her. In retaliation for her father constantly berating her, she resolves to punish him each time, first by adding hydrogen peroxide to his hair tonic to turn his hair an unnatural blonde, and then gluing his hat to his head after discovering his cheating car business. Coincidentally, unlucky things begin to happen around Harry when Matilda gets angry with him. For instance, when reading a borrowed library copy of Moby-Dick (which Harry finds offensive because of the title), which Harry rips up and makes her watch television instead, her increasing anger causes the television set to suddenly explode.

Harry finally relents to letting Matilda go to school after selling a car to Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical principal of a rundown elementary school, Crunchem Hall. There, Matilda befriends several children and discovers Miss Trunchbull's violent nature and overly harsh punishments of the students who have gone unsanctioned by the authorities. Thankfully, Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, is a kind woman who adores her class and takes an immediate liking to Matilda's gentle and humble nature despite her incredible genius. She requests to Miss Trunchbull that Matilda be moved up to a higher class, but Miss Trunchbull refuses.

That night, Miss Honey pays the Wormwoods a visit to tell them about Matilda's genius-level understanding of her schoolwork and suggests that she be put in the higher-level classes. The Wormwoods, however, dismiss Miss Honey and sneer at the idea of their daughter being smart enough for college. Meanwhile, Matilda discovers that her family is under surveillance by FBI agents Bob and Bill due to her father's illegal dealings, but her parents refuse to believe her, as the agents have already fooled Zinnia into thinking they are speedboat salesmen and Harry assumes that Zinnia is cheating on him with the two men.

Matilda soon discovers Trunchbull's weekly "checkups" to belittle the students. As a prank, Lavender, one of Matilda's friends, places a newt in Miss Trunchbull's water jug to frighten her. Upon discovery of the newt, Miss Trunchbull accuses Matilda, whose anger at the injustice leads her to telekinetically tip the glass over, splashing both water and the newt onto Miss Trunchbull. Afterward, Miss Honey invites Matilda to her house for tea. On the way, they pass by Miss Trunchbull's house, and Miss Honey reveals a secret of hers: when she was two, her mother died, so her father, Magnus, a doctor, invited his stepsister-in-law, Miss Trunchbull, to live with them and look after her. However, Miss Trunchbull regularly abused her while her father was at work. When Miss Honey was five, Magnus died of an alleged suicide and left everything to Miss Trunchbull. Eventually, she moved into a small cottage where she planted hundreds of wildflowers. She and Matilda sneak into Miss Trunchbull's house while she is out to obtain some of Miss Honey's belongings, but Miss Trunchbull's unexpected return leads to a cat-and-mouse chase, with them only barely escaping without revealing themselves.

When Matilda's telekinetic powers manifest again during an argument with her father, she trains herself to use them at her own will, from making objects fly around the house, to thwarting the FBI agents who threaten to put Matilda in a federal orphanage if she doesn't turn her father in for his shady business deals. She returns to Miss Trunchbull's house and uses her telekinesis to wreak havoc in an attempt to scare her away. She almost flees, but Miss Trunchbull finds Matilda's hair ribbon and realizes her presence. The following day, Matilda reveals her powers to Miss Honey, and Miss Trunchbull visits Miss Honey's class again to get Matilda to admit her guilt. Matilda magically writes a message on the blackboard, posing as the ghost of Magnus, accusing Miss Trunchbull of murdering him and demanding she return his daughter's property and leave, warning that failure will result in her death. Miss Trunchbull goes berserk and attacks the students, but Matilda keeps them out of harm's way with her powers, and together they force her out of the school permanently. Miss Honey subsequently moves back into her father's house and Matilda is a frequent visitor.

The FBI finally uncovers enough evidence to prosecute Harry and the Wormwoods prepare to flee to Guam. They stop by Miss Honey's house to pick up Matilda, but she refuses to go with them and suggests Miss Honey adopt her. At that moment, a remorseful Zinnia laments over not understanding her daughter and regrets that she didn't treat her better and does the one truly loving thing she can do as a parent: sign the adoption papers Matilda had kept ever since she was a child, and convinces Harry to sign them as well. They escape and Matilda lives a happy life with Miss Honey, who becomes the new principal of Crunchem Hall.


  • Mara Wilson as Matilda Wormwood
    • Alissa and Amanda Graham, Trevor and James Gallagher as Matilda – newborn
    • Kayla and Kelsey Fredericks as Matilda – 9 months old
    • Amanda and Caitlin Fein as Matilda – 2 years old
    • Sara Magdalin as Matilda – 4 years old
  • Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood and the Narrator
  • Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood
  • Embeth Davidtz as Miss Jennifer Honey
    • Amanda and Kristyn Summers as Miss Honey – 2 years
    • Phoebe Pearl as Miss Honey – 5 years
  • Pam Ferris as Agatha Trunchbull
  • Brian Levinson as Michael Wormwood
    • Nicholas Cox as Michael – 6 years
  • Paul Reubens as FBI Agent Bob
  • Tracey Walter as FBI Agent Bill
  • Kiami Davael as Lavender
  • Jacqueline Steiger as Amanda Thripp
  • Kira Spencer Hesser as Hortensia
  • Jean Speegle Howard as Mrs. Phelps
  • Marion Dugan as Cookie
  • Jimmy Karz as Bruce Bogtrotter


Pam Ferris (Miss Trunchbull) incurred several injuries while making the film. The climactic scene where she is whacked by blackboard erasers required her to keep her eyes open, causing chalk dust to get caught in her eyes and necessitating several trips to the hospital to get her eyes washed out.[4] The scene where Trunchbull whirls Amanda Thripp (Jacqueline Steiger) by her pigtails required a harness to support the little girl, the wires of which were threaded through the pigtails and then looped around Ferris's fingertips to give her grip. As she swung her around the centrifugal force grew too great and tore the top part of Ferris' finger, requiring 7 or 8 stitches.[4]

The Crank House, in Altadena, stood in for Miss Trunchbull's house.[5] The exterior of Matilda's house is located on Youngwood Drive in Whittier,[6] and the library she visits is the Pasadena Public Library on East Walnut Street in Pasadena.[7]


Two songs are featured in the film. One of them, "Send Me on My Way" by Rusted Root, is played twice: when four-year-old Matilda is left alone at her house, making pancakes, and at the end of the film, set to a montage of Matilda and Miss Honey playing at Miss Trunchbull's former house. The other song is Thurston Harris's "Little Bitty Pretty One", played when Matilda is learning to control her telekinetic powers. The film's original score was composed by David Newman.



On Rotten Tomatoes, Matilda holds an approval rating of 90% based on 21 reviews with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Danny DeVito-directed version of Matilda is odd, charming, and while the movie diverges from Roald Dahl, it nonetheless captures the book's spirit."[8]

Roger Ebert praised the film's oddity, giving it 3 out of 4 stars, writing: "Trunchbull is the kind of villainess children can enjoy, because she is too ridiculous to be taken seriously and yet really is mean and evil, like the witch in Snow White. And since most children have at one time or another felt that their parents are not nice enough to them, they may also enjoy the portrait of Matilda's parents."[9]

Writing for Empire Caroline Westbrook gave the film a rating of three stars and cited the films clever direction.[10]

Actress Daisy Ridley has cited Matilda as her favorite film.[11]

Box officeEdit

Despite receiving positive reviews, the film only earned $33 million in against its $36 million budget in the United States.[2][3]

Home mediaEdit

The film was released on VHS in Pan and Scan and LaserDisc in Widescreen on December 10, 1996 from Columbia TriStar Home Video.[12] In 1997, it was released on a dual sided DVD containing fullscreen and widescreen versions of the film. In 2005, the fullscreen version was re-released as a special edition DVD.

In 2013, Wilson and her costars from the film had a reunion to celebrate its 17th anniversary and it being released on Blu-ray.[13] The reunion scene was featured in the Blu-ray release.[14]

Awards and nominationsEdit



  • Satellite Awards
    • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (Danny DeVito)
  • Young Artist Award
    • Best Performance in a Feature Film — Leading Young Actress (Mara Wilson)
    • Best Performance in a Feature Film — Supporting Young Actress (Kira Spencer Hesser)


  1. ^ "MATILDA (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. August 14, 1996. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Matilda at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b "Matilda (1996)".
  4. ^ a b Lazarus, Susanna (September 26, 2016). "9 fascinating facts from behind the scenes of Matilda". Radio Times. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  5. ^ Andrew Lasane (October 22, 2014). "The Real-World Locations of Iconic Movie Homes". Complex magazine. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  6. ^ "Whittier's film highlights include 'Back to the Future"". Whittier Daily News. July 8, 2013. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  7. ^ Russo, Stacy Shotsberger (2008). The Library as Place in California. McFarland & Company. p. 108. ISBN 9780786431946.
  8. ^ "Matilda". Rotten Tomatoes. August 2, 1996. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 2, 1996). "Matilda". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  10. ^ Westbrook, Caroline. "Matilda". Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  11. ^ "Daisy Ridley Talking About Matilda (With a Bonus John!)". YouTube. February 5, 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  13. ^ Leonara Epstein (December 2, 2013). "Watch "Matilda" Cast Members Reenact Scenes As Grown-Ups". Buzzfeed. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  14. ^ "Mara Wilson On 'Matilda' Reunion: It Was 'Just Heartwarming'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 4, 2015.

External linksEdit