Open main menu

Matilda is a 1996 American family comedy fantasy film co-produced and directed by Danny DeVito, and written by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord. Based on Roald Dahl's novel of the same name, the film stars Mara Wilson as the title character, DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz and Pam Ferris. The film is about a young genius girl named Matilda Wormwood, who develops psychokinetic abilities and uses them to deal with her disreputable family and Agatha Trunchbull, the ruthless, oppressive and tyrannical 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]

Produced by DeVito's Jersey Films and released theatrically in the United States on August 2, 1996 by TriStar Pictures, the film received predominantly positive reviews from critics but was a box office bomb, grossing only $33 million worldwide on a $36 million budget.[2]



Young genius Matilda Wormwood is regularly ignored and mistreated by her abusive parents, Harry and Zinnia, and her older brother, Michael. Since infancy, Matilda has displayed incredible learning ability and developed a strong sense of independence due to her often being left alone at home while 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 local 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 while expressing a desire to go to school. Her parents refuse and tease her for the request. In retaliation for her father constantly berating her, she resolves to punish him each time; first by adding hydrogen peroxide to his hair tonic in order to turn his hair into an unhealthy platinum blonde; and then gluing his hat to his head after discovering his cheating car business. Unlucky things begin to happen around Harry when Matilda gets angry with him. While Matilda reads a borrowed library copy of Moby-Dick (which Harry finds offensive because of the title), Harry rips up the book and forces Matilda to watch television instead. Matilda's increasing anger causes the television set to suddenly explode.

The next day, one of Harry's customers is Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the ruthless, tyrannical and oppressive principal of a rundown elementary school named Crunchem Hall. Harry decides to sell her a car on a "great deal" in exchange for enrolling Matilda at Crunchem Hall. Matilda befriends several children and learns Trunchbull's violent and abusive nature and how she punishes the students by assaulting them in various ways. Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, is a kind woman and takes a liking to Matilda's gentle nature. She requests Matilda be moved up to a higher class, but Trunchbull refuses.

Miss Honey visits the Wormwoods to inform them about Matilda's genius-level intellect. She suggests Matilda be put in higher-level classes despite her age, but the Wormwoods dismiss Miss Honey and her idea that their daughter is smart. Meanwhile, Matilda discovers that her family is under surveillance by FBI agents Bob and Bill due to her father's illegal business, but her parents refuse to believe her as the agents have already fooled Zinnia into thinking they are speedboat salesmen and Harry thinks that Zinnia is cheating on him with them.

Matilda soon discovers Trunchbull's weekly "checkups" to belittle the students. As a prank, one of Matilda's new friends, puts a newt in Trunchbull's water jug to frighten her. Upon discovery of the newt, Trunchbull accuses Matilda, whose anger at the injustice leads her to telekinetically tip the glass over, splashing both water and the newt onto Trunchbull. After school, Miss Honey invites Matilda over to her house for tea. On the way, they pass by Trunchbull's house where Miss Honey reveals a secret: when she was two, her mother died, so her father, Magnus, a doctor, invited his stepsister-in-law, Trunchbull, to live with them and look after her. However, 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 Trunchbull. Miss Honey and Matilda sneak into Trunchbull's house while she is out to retrieve some of Miss Honey's childhood belongings, but Trunchbull's unexpected return leads to a cat-and-mouse chase, but the duo manage to narrowly escape without revealing themselves.

Matilda's telekinetic powers manifest again when she asks her father to shout at her in an attempt to make them work. She trains herself to use them at will by making objects fly around the house to thwart the FBI agents who threaten to put Matilda in a federal orphanage. Matilda returns to Trunchbull's house and uses her telekinesis in an attempt to scare her away. Trunchbull almost flees, but finds Matilda's hair ribbon and discovers her presence. The next day, Matilda reveals her powers to Miss Honey, and Trunchbull visits Miss Honey's class in an attempt to get Matilda to confess. Matilda poses as the ghost of Magnus by magically writing a message on the blackboard, accusing Trunchbull of murdering him, demanding she return his daughter's property and leave, and warns that failure will result in her death. After an intense battle between Trunchbull and the students, they force her out of the school by bombarding her with their lunches and other things. She flees the town and Miss Honey moves back into her true home.

The FBI finally uncovers enough evidence to prosecute Harry, leading the Wormwoods to flee to Guam. They stop by Miss Honey's home to fetch Matilda, who refuses to go with them and requests that Miss Honey adopt her. A remorseful Zinnia laments not understanding her daughter and regrets not treating her better. She does the only loving action she could do as a parent: she signs Matilda's adoption papers and convinces Harry to sign them as well. Once Harry, Zinnia, and Michael leave, 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 Newborn Matilda
    • Kayla and Kelsey Fredericks as 9-months-old Matilda
    • Amanda and Caitlin Fein as 2-year-old Matilda
    • Sara Magdalin as 4-year-old Matilda
  • Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood and the Narrator
  • Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood
  • Embeth Davidtz as Miss Jennifer Honey
    • Amanda and Kristyn Summers as 2-year-old Miss Honey
    • Phoebe Pearl as 5-year-old Miss Honey
  • Pam Ferris as Agatha Trunchbull
  • Brian Levinson as Michael Wormwood
    • Nicholas Cox as 6-year-old Michael
  • 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 during production on 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.


The film was released on August 2, 1996.

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.[8] 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.[9] The reunion scene was featured in the Blu-ray release.[10]


Critical responseEdit

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."[11]

Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times praised the film's oddity, giving it 3 out of 4 stars and 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."[12] Writing for Empire, Caroline Westbrook gave the film a rating of three stars and praised DeVito's clever direction.[13]

Actress Daisy Ridley has cited Matilda as her favorite film.[14]

Box officeEdit

Despite receiving positive reviews, Matilda was a box office bomb, having only earned $33 million in the United States and almost recouping its $36 million budget.[2][3]

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 c 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.
  9. ^ Leonara Epstein (December 2, 2013). "Watch "Matilda" Cast Members Reenact Scenes As Grown-Ups". Buzzfeed. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  10. ^ "Mara Wilson On 'Matilda' Reunion: It Was 'Just Heartwarming'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  11. ^ "Matilda". Rotten Tomatoes. August 2, 1996. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 2, 1996). "Matilda". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  13. ^ Westbrook, Caroline. "Matilda". Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  14. ^ "Daisy Ridley Talking About Matilda (With a Bonus John!)". YouTube. February 5, 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2018.

External linksEdit