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

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. However, the film was commercially unsuccessful, grossing $33.5 million in the United States on a $36 million budget.[2]


Young genius Matilda Wormwood is neglected and mistreated by her car dealer father Harry, her mother Zinnia and her brother, Michael. She is smart and independent, and finds solace in the fictional worlds of books at the public library. When Matilda's parents refuse to enroll her into school, she puts bleach in her father's hair tonic and glues his hat to his head. Harry catches Matilda reading Moby-Dick, rips it up, and forces her to watch game shows on television. Matilda becomes increasingly enraged until the television explodes.

Harry sells a car to Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School, in exchange for admitting Matilda as a student. Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, notices the ease with which Matilda answers multiplication questions with large numbers and requests Matilda be moved to a higher class, but Trunchbull refuses. Honey later visits the Wormwoods at home but they are not interested either. Trunchbull has the whole school watch her forcing pupil Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an entire enormous chocolate cake. Matilda leads the students in cheering Bruce to success, and Trunchbull gives them all five hours detention. The next day, Ms. Trunchball rolls up to the school while the car is acting up, in a rage Ms. Trunchbull locks Matilda in "The Chokey" for believing her father wanted to make a fool out of her by selling her a faulty car. She is later rescued by Miss Honey.

Lavender puts a newt she captured from the stream in Trunchbull's water jug. Trunchbull accuses Matilda, who, in anger at the injustice, telekinetically tips the glass over, splashing the newt onto Trunchbull. Honey invites Matilda to tea and reveals a secret: her mother died when she was two, and her father Magnus invited his wife's stepsister, Trunchbull, to live with them and look after her, but Trunchbull abused her. Magnus died, apparently by suicide, when Honey was five and left everything to Trunchbull who Honey suspects killed him. Matilda and Honey sneak into Trunchbull's house to retrieve some of Honey's belongings. They narrowly escape when Trunchbull unexpectedly returns due to the faulty car that dies on her way to gym.

Matilda discovers her father is under surveillance by the FBI over his illegal car dealings, but her parents refuse to believe her. Matilda practices her telekinetic powers and learns to control them. She thwarts the FBI agents after they break into the garage to buy Harry time to come to his senses. She returns to Trunchbull's house and attempts to scare her out of it, nearly succeeding. However, Trunchbull becomes aware of 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 telekinetically writes a message on the blackboard, posing as the vengeful ghost of Magnus accusing Trunchbull of murdering him. Trunchbull attacks the students in a rage, but Matilda protects them and they force Trunchbull out of the school, who retreats in her car and disappears from their lives forever. Honey moves back into her father's house, with Matilda regularly visiting her.

The FBI uncovers enough evidence to prosecute Harry for his dealings, prompting him, Zinnia, and Michael to flee to Guam. Matilda refuses to go, saying she would rather be adopted by Honey. After brief reservations about giving up their only daughter, her parents sign the adoption papers and Matilda and Honey finally get the family they've always wanted. Honey becomes principal of Crunchem Hall which becomes so popular that it gets expanded for the students. Matilda never has to use her telekinetic powers for defense again, but occasionally uses them for small tasks such as retrieving books from shelves. The film ends with Honey reading Moby Dick to Matilda in bed.


  • 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 & Trevor Gallagher as Newborn Matilda Wormwood
    • Kayla & Kelsey Fredericks as 9-month-old Matilda Wormwood
    • Amanda & Caitlin Fein as Toddler Matilda Wormwood
    • Sara Magdalin as 4-year-old Matilda Wormwood
  • Embeth Davidtz as Miss Jennifer Honey; the kind and devoted teacher at Crunchem Hall who inspires Matilda to believe in the power of what is inside.
    • Amanda & Kristin Summers as 2-year-old Miss Jennifer Honey
    • Phoebe Pearl as 5-year-old Miss Jennifer Honey
    • Mark Watson as Magnus Honey, Jennifer Honey's father.
  • Pam Ferris as Miss Agatha Trunchbull; Jennifer Honey's abusive aunt and the cruel and selfish principal at Crunchem Hall; she is a former Olympian athlete, and uses her strengths - shotput, hammer throw, and javelin - to hurt the children at the school. She also likes putting them in the Chokey, a small closet with many nails sticking in it and broken glass shards.
  • Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood; Zinnia's husband, Matilda and Michael's father, and a grumpy, hateful and abusive crooked car salesman.
    • DeVito also narrated the film.
  • Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood; Harry's wife, Matilda and Michael's mother, and a vain and cheery bingo-obsessed parent.
  • Paul Reubens & 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, throws food at, and calls her "dip-face".
    • Nicholas Cox as 6-year-old Michael Wormwood
  • Kiami Davael as Lavender; Matilda's best friend and fellow classmate.
  • Jacqueline Steiger as Amanda Thripp; Matilda's timid classmate who has pigtails which Miss Trunchbull hates.
  • Kira Spencer Hesser as Hortensia; an older schoolmate who warns Matilda about the Trunchbull.
  • Jean Speegle Howard as Mrs. Phelps; the librarian who gives books to Matilda and is fascinated by and encourages her love of reading.
  • 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 rubbers 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 seven or eight 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 four 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 edit of the movie so that she was able to see Wilson’s performance in the movie.[9][failed verification]


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

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. Another DVD rendition with more special features was released in 2005. 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]


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] Writing for Empire, Caroline Westbrook gave the film a rating of three stars and praised DeVito's clever direction.[16]

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.[17]

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". Vol. 45, no. 17. People. Archived from the original on April 25, 2016. 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. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (January 2000). "Matilda". Empire. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 2, 1996). "Matilda". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  18. ^ a b Danny DeVito "Always Wanted" to Make Matilda 2, Shares Sequel Idea

External linksEdit