Open main menu

Wikipedia β

Matilda is a 1996 American children's fantasy-comedy film directed, produced and narrated by Danny DeVito, who also starred in the lead role. The film is based on Roald Dahl's 1988 novel of the same name. The film co-stars Mara Wilson, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, and Pam Ferris. The film is about a young genius named Matilda, who uses telekinesis to deal with her parents, who do not value education, and Agatha Trunchbull, the oppressive principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School. The film was released in the United States on August 2, 1996.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Danny DeVito
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Matilda
by Roald Dahl
Narrated by Danny DeVito
Music by David Newman
Cinematography Stefan Czapsky
Edited by
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date
  • August 2, 1996 (1996-08-02)
Running time
98 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $36 million[2]
Box office $62.1 million[3]



Matilda Wormwood is a genius, but her parents, Harry and Zinnia, and her older 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, selling overpriced faulty cars; 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.

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 mock 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 unhealthy platinum blonde, and then super-gluing his hat to his head after learning about his corrupt 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 rips up and makes her watch television instead, her increasing anger causes the television set to suddenly explode, which terrifies Zinnia and leaves Harry bewildered.

Harry finally relents to letting Matilda go to school after meeting a client named Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical principal of a rundown elementary school, Crunchem Hall; he sells Trunchbull a faulty car. There, Matilda befriends several children and learns how Trunchbull severely punishes the students for ridiculous reasons by assaulting them in various ways. Thankfully, Matilda's teacher, 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 Trunchbull that Matilda be moved up to a higher class, but Trunchbull refuses. That night, Miss Honey pays the Wormwoods a visit to encourage them to spend more time with Matilda, but they snub her. 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 Zinnia thinks they are speedboat salesmen.

Matilda soon learns about Trunchbull's weekly "checkups" to belittle the students. As a prank, Lavender, Matilda's best friend, places 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 water and the newt on Trunchbull. After school, Miss Honey invites Matilda to her house for tea. On the way, they pass Trunchbull's house, and Miss Honey reveals a secret of hers: When she was two, her mother died, so her father, Magnus, invited his stepsister-in-law, Trunchbull, to live with them and look after her. However, Trunchbull regularly abused her. When Miss Honey was five, her father died of an alleged suicide. Eventually, she fled the mansion to escape Trunchbull and purchased a small cottage for herself to live in. She and Matilda sneak into Trunchbull's house while she is out to obtain some of Miss Honey's belongings, but Trunchbull's unexpected return leads to a cat-and-mouse chase, with them only barely escaping without revealing themselves. Afterwards, Matilda deduces that Trunchbull actually murdered Magnus to obtain his wealth and estate.

When Matilda's telekinetic powers manifest again during an argument with her father, she trains herself to use them at her own will. Soon after, she returns to Trunchbull's house and uses her telekinesis to wreak havoc in an attempt to scare her away. She almost flees, but Trunchbull finds Matilda's hair ribbon and realizes her presence. The next day, 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 Trunchbull of murdering him. Trunchbull goes berserk and attacks the students, but Matilda keeps them out of harm's way with her powers. The students then throw their lunches and other things at Trunchbull, which other students notice; they celebrate by attacking Trunchbull and her car as she flees in terror, and is presumably later arrested for her crimes against Matilda and her friends. Miss Honey subsequently moves back into her true home.

The FBI finally uncovers enough evidence to prosecute and imprison 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. In that moment, a remorseful Zinnia laments over not understanding her daughter and regrets that she didn't treat her better. She and Harry subsequently sign the adoption papers that Matilda had kept for a long time. 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 / 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 Miss 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
  • Jean Speegle Howard as Miss Phelps
  • Jacqueline Steiger as Amanda Thripp
  • Kira Spencer Hesser as Hortensia
  • Jimmy Karz as Bruce Bogtrotter
  • Marion Dugan as Cookie
  • Emily Eby as Maggie
  • Jon Lovitz as Mickey, host of The Million Dollar Sticky (uncredited)


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]

Box officeEdit

In the United States, it earned $33 million in contrast to its $36 million budget.[2] It fared better during its worldwide release and ended up earning back 172.5% its original budget as well as on home video and television.[3]

Home mediaEdit

The film was released on VHS on December 10, 1996 from Columbia TriStar Home Video. In 1997, it was released on DVD. In 2005, it was 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.[10] The reunion scene was featured in the Blu-ray release.[11]

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 (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. ^ "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. ^ "Matilda reunion: Former child star Mara Wilson catches up with Danny DeVito and Embeth Davidtz". MailOnline. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Mara Wilson On 'Matilda' Reunion: It Was 'Just Heartwarming'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 4, 2015. 

External linksEdit