Matilda (1996 film)

Matilda is a 1996 American fantasy comedy film co-produced and directed by Danny DeVito, from a screenplay written by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord. Based on Roald Dahl's popular 1988 novel of the same name, the film stars Mara Wilson as the title character with DeVito (who also served a dual role as the narrator), Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz and Pam Ferris in supporting roles. The film centers on 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. Produced by DeVito's Jersey Films, the film was released theatrically in the United States on August 2, 1996 by Sony Pictures Releasing through TriStar Pictures label. The film received positive reviews, praising DeVito's direction, and the film's faithfulness to the spirit of the source material. The film grossed $33.5 million in the United States on a $36 million budget.[2]

Theatrical release poster
Directed byDanny DeVito
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onMatilda
by Roald Dahl
Narrated byDanny DeVito
Music byDavid Newman
CinematographyStefan Czapsky
Edited by
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • August 2, 1996 (1996-08-02) (United States)
Running time
98 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$36 million[2]
Box office$33.5 million[2]


Young genius Matilda Wormwood is regularly neglected and mistreated by her parents, Harry and Zinnia, and her older brother, Michael. She is smart, independent and frequently goes to the public library where she finds solace in the fictional worlds found in the books. When Matilda's parents refuse to enroll her into school, she retaliates against them over the course of a day, first by adding hydrogen peroxide bleaching agent to her father's hair tonic and then by gluing his hat to his head. During dinner that night, Harry catches Matilda reading Moby-Dick and rips it up and forces her to watch television instead. Matilda becomes increasingly enraged until the television suddenly explodes.

One of Harry's car dealership customers is Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School. Harry sells her a car in exchange for her admitting Matilda as a pupil. At school, Matilda makes friends but discovers that Trunchbull harshly punishes students as appropriate, while Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, warms to Matilda due to her intelligence; Honey requests Matilda be moved up to a higher class, but Trunchbull refuses. Honey then informs the Wormwoods about Matilda's genius-level intellect, but they ignore her. One day, Trunchbull has the school meet for an assembly where she forces student Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an enormous chocolate cake in one sitting. She then makes the students stay 5 hours late for cheering Bruce on (which was led by Matilda). Matilda then discovers that her father is under surveillance by two undercover FBI agents because of his illegal dealings. Her parents refuse to believe her as they assume that the agents are speedboat salesmen as Zinnia flirts with them.

As a prank, Lavender, one of Matilda's friends, puts a newt in Trunchbull's water jug to scare her. Trunchbull accuses Matilda, whose anger at the injustice leads her to telekinetically tip the glass over, splashing the newt onto Trunchbull. However, Matilda is then unable to display her powers to Honey during a test run. Honey remarks that one's self-confidence often leads them to prove it to others, only to have them mess up. Honey invites Matilda over to her house for tea and reveals a dark secret: her mother died when she was two, and her father Magnus, a doctor, invited his wife's stepsister (sister in the novel), Trunchbull, to live with them and look after her, but Trunchbull abused her. When Honey was five, Magnus died of an alleged suicide and left everything to Trunchbull; who Matilda and Honey suspect actually killed him. When Matilda and Honey sneak inside Trunchbull's house to obtain some of Honey's belongings, Trunchbull suddenly returns, prompting the duo to narrowly escape capture.

Matilda trains her telekinetic power by making objects fly around the house and thwarting the FBI agents in order to buy Harry time to come to his senses. Having practiced her ability, she returns to Trunchbull's house and attempts to scare her away with telekinesis, but Trunchbull discovers Matilda's presence upon finding her hair ribbon. The next day, Matilda reveals her powers to Honey but Trunchbull visits the class to make Matilda confess. Matilda magically writes a message on the blackboard, posing as the vengeful soul of Magnus, who accuses Trunchbull of murdering him. Trunchbull attacks the students, but Matilda rescues them and she and the other students permanently force her out of the school, and Honey moves back into her true home.

Sometime later, the Wormwoods show up at Honey's house to pick up Matilda and flee to Guam as a permanent vacation while planning to beat the "speedboat salesmen" to the airport after Harry becomes wanted by the FBI, due to his illegal dealings. Matilda refuses to go with them and says she would rather be adopted by Honey. Zinnia and Harry both sign Matilda's adoption papers, with Zinnia feeling remorseful for never understanding her daughter. Matilda lives happily with Honey, who then becomes the new principal of Crunchem Hall.


  • Mara Wilson as Matilda Wormwood, a young, savvy, well-mannered, intelligent 6-year-old girl whose powers can make anything possible.
    • Alissa / Amanda Graham / James Gallagher as Newborn Matilda
    • Kayla and Kelsey Fredericks as 9-month-old Matilda
    • Amanda Fein as 2-year-old Matilda
    • Sara Magdalin as 4-year-old Matilda
  • Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood, a grumpy, hateful and abusive crooked car salesman, Matilda and Michael's father and Zinnia's "wonderful" husband.
    • DeVito also narrated the film.
  • Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood, Harry's wife, Matilda and Michael's mother, and a cheery, Bingo-obsessed parent.
  • Embeth Davidtz as Miss Jennifer Honey, the kind and devoted teacher at Crunchem Hall who inspires Matilda to believe in the power of what's inside.
    • Amanda and Kristyn Summers as 2-year-old Miss Jennifer Honey
    • Phoebe Pearl as 5-year-old Miss Jennifer Honey
  • Pam Ferris as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the cruel and selfish principal at Crunchem Hall and Jennifer Honey's abusive aunt; she was a former Olympian athlete, and used her strengths, Shotput, Hammer throw, & javelin to hurt the children at the school. She also liked putting them in the Chokey, a small closet with lots of nails sticking in it and broken glass shards.
  • Paul Reubens and Tracey Walter as Bob and Bill, two FBI agents posing as speedboat salesmen who are investigating Harry due to his illegal car business.
  • Brian Levinson as Michael Wormwood, Harry and Zinnia's bratty son and Matilda's older brother who bullies her and calls her "dip-face".
    • Nicholas Cox as 6-year-old Michael
  • Kiami Davael as Lavender, Matilda's best friend and fellow classmate.
  • Jacqueline Steiger as Amanda Thripp, Matilda's classmate who has pigtails which Miss Trunchbull tells her to chop off.
  • Kira Spencer Hesser as Hortensia, an older schoolmate who tells Matilda a story of the Trunchbull.
  • Jean Speegle Howard as Mrs. Phelps, the librarian who gives books to Matilda.
  • Marion Dugan as Cookie, the elderly school cook who makes chocolate cake and is loyal to Miss Trunchbull.
  • Jimmy Karz as Bruce Bogtrotter, Matilda's gluttonous classmate who gets abused by Miss Trunchbull for eating her chocolate cake.
  • Jon Lovitz as Mickey (uncredited), the game show host of "The Million Dollar Sticky".


Miriam Margolyes confirmed that she auditioned for the role of Agatha Trunchbull during a filmed interview with Jo Brand for the UK television special Roald Dahl's Revolting Rule Book which was hosted by Richard E. Grant and aired on September 22, 2007. This documentary commemorated Dahl's 90th birthday and also celebrated his impact as a children's author in popular culture.[3] Margolyes went on to play Aunt Sponge (another Dahl villainess) in James and the Giant Peach which was also released in 1996.

Pam Ferris (Miss Trunchbull) incurred several injuries during the 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] while the library she visits is the Pasadena Public Library on East Walnut Street in Pasadena.[7]

Mara Wilson's mother, Suzie Wilson, was diagnosed with breast cancer during filming and died 4 months before the film’s release.[8] The film was dedicated to her memory. Danny DeVito revealed that prior to her death, he had shown her the final recording of the movie so that she was able to see Wilson’s performance in the movie.[9]


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' "Little Bitty Pretty One", played when Matilda is learning to control her telekinetic powers. The film's original score was composed by David Newman, a frequent collaborator of DeVito.


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 17, 1996 from Columbia TriStar Home Video.[10] In 1997, it was released on a bare-bones dual sided DVD containing fullscreen and widescreen. In August 2013, Wilson and most of her costars from the film had a reunion to celebrate its 17th anniversary and it being released on Blu-ray.[11] The reunion was featured in the Blu-ray release.[12]


Critical responseEdit

As of September 2020, on Rotten Tomatoes, Matilda had an approval rating of 90% based on 21 reviews with an average rating of 7.48/10. The website's critical consensus read, "Danny DeVito-directed version of Matilda is odd, charming, and while the movie diverges from Roald Dahl, it nonetheless captures the book's spirit."[13] On Metacritic, as of September 2020, the film had a score of 72 out of 100 based on reviews from 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[14] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B+ on scale of A to F.[15]

Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times praised the film's oddity, gave it three stars out of four and wrote: "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."[16] Writing for Empire, Caroline Westbrook gave the film a rating of three stars and praised DeVito's clever direction.[17]

Box officeEdit

Matilda grossed $33.5 million in the United States against a production budget of $36 million.[2]

Potential sequelEdit

In November 2019, DeVito said that he "always wanted to" develop a sequel to Matilda,[18] adding that a potential sequel could star Matilda's own child, due to Wilson having grown up after the film's release.[18]


  1. ^ "MATILDA (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. August 14, 1996. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d Matilda at Box Office Mojo Accessed September 29, 2020.
  3. ^ "Roald Dahl's Revolting Rule Book (TV Movie 2007)". IMDb.
  4. ^ a b Lazarus, Susanna (26 September 2016). "9 fascinating facts from behind the scenes of Matilda". Radio Times. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
  5. ^ Andrew Lasane (2014-10-22). "The Real-World Locations of Iconic Movie Homes". Complex magazine. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
  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. ^ Cerio, Gregory (April 29, 1996). "Lessons in Courage". 45 (17). People. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  9. ^ "Mara Wilson - Matilda Star: 'Danny Devito and Perlman Helped Me When Mum Lost Cancer Battle'". Contact WENN. June 4, 2013. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  11. ^ Leonara Epstein (December 2, 2013). "Watch "Matilda" Cast Members Reenact Scenes As Grown-Ups". Buzzfeed. Retrieved November 1, 2018.
  12. ^ "Mara Wilson On 'Matilda' Reunion: It Was 'Just Heartwarming'". The Huffington Post. December 2, 2013. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  13. ^ "Matilda". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  14. ^ "Matilda Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  15. ^ "MATILDA (1996) B+". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 2, 1996). "Matilda". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  17. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (January 2000). "Matilda". Empire. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  18. ^ a b Danny DeVito "Always Wanted" to Make Matilda 2, Shares Sequel Idea

External linksEdit