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Misery is a 1990 American psychological horror film directed by Rob Reiner based on Stephen King's 1987 novel of the same name, starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth, and Frances Sternhagen about a psychotic fan who holds an author captive and forces him to write her stories.

Misery (1990 film poster).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRob Reiner
Produced by
Screenplay byWilliam Goldman
Based onMisery
by Stephen King
Music byMarc Shaiman
CinematographyBarry Sonnenfeld
Edited byRobert Leighton
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • November 30, 1990 (1990-11-30)
Running time
107 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million[2]
Box office$61.3 million[3]

The film was released on November 30, 1990 in the United States to positive reviews. Bates won the Academy Award for Best Actress at the 63rd Academy Awards. Misery is the only film based on a Stephen King novel to win an Oscar.[4] The "hobbling" scene in the film was ranked #12 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[5]



Famed novelist Paul Sheldon is the author of a successful series of Victorian romance novels featuring a character named Misery Chastain. Wanting to focus on more serious stories, he writes a manuscript for a new novel that he hopes will launch his post-Misery career. While traveling from Silver Creek, Colorado to his home in New York City, Paul is caught in a blizzard and his car goes off the road, rendering him unconscious. A nurse named Annie Wilkes finds Paul and brings him to her remote home.

Paul regains consciousness and finds himself bedridden with broken legs and a dislocated shoulder. Annie claims to be his "number one fan" and talks a lot about him and his novels. Out of gratitude, Paul lets Annie read his new manuscript. While feeding him, she is angered by the profanity in his new work and spills soup on him, but apologizes. Soon after, Annie reads the latest Misery novel, discovers that Misery dies at the end of the book, and flies into a rage. She reveals to Paul that nobody knows where he is and locks him in his room.

The next morning, Annie forces Paul to burn his new manuscript. When he is well enough to get out of bed, she insists he write a new novel titled Misery's Return, in which he brings the character back to life. Paul complies, believing Annie might kill him. One day, when Annie is away, Paul begins stockpiling his painkillers. He tries poisoning Annie during dinner but fails. Paul later finds a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about Annie's past. He discovers that she was tried for the deaths of several infants, but the trial collapsed due to lack of evidence. Annie had quoted lines from his Misery novels during her trial. Annie later drugs Paul and straps him to the bed. When he wakes, she tells him that she knows he has been out of his room and breaks his ankles with a sledgehammer to prevent him from escaping again.

The local sheriff, Buster, is investigating Paul's disappearance. When a shopkeeper informs the sheriff he has sold Annie considerable quantities of typing paper, Buster pays Annie a visit. When he finds Paul drugged in the basement, Annie shoots Buster with a shotgun, killing him; she tells Paul that they must die together. He agrees, on the condition that he must finish the novel in order to "give Misery back to the world". He conceals a can of lighter fluid in his pocket.

When the manuscript is done, Paul asks for a single cigarette and a glass of champagne, as is his usual ritual when completing a book, to which Annie complies, when she leaves, he sets the manuscript on fire in front of her. As Annie rushes to save it, Paul strikes her with the typewriter and they engage in a violent struggle, with Paul stuffing her mouth full of the burned novel in retaliation. Annie gets up and steps forward to attack Paul, who trips her and she hits her head on the typewriter. Believing her dead, Paul crawls out of the room, but Annie suddenly springs back to life and attacks him once again. Paul grabs the base of a heavy statue and viciously bashes her in the face, finally killing her.

Eighteen months later, Paul, now walking with a cane, meets his agent, Marcia, in a restaurant in New York City. The two discuss his first post-Misery novel, and Marcia tells him about the positive early buzz. Paul replies that he does not care and that he wrote the novel for himself. Marcia asks if he would consider a non-fiction book about his captivity, but Paul declines as he is obviously suffering some kind of psychological trauma from his experiences, and often suffers nightmares and hallucinations of Annie coming to get him for revenge. Just as he says that Paul sees Annie and reacts with horror. However, that was only a hallucination, and in actuality it was a waitress, who tells Paul she is a big fan of his. Paul meekly replies "That is very sweet of you."



Producer Andrew Scheinman read Stephen King's novel Misery on an airplane, and later recommended it to his director partner at Castle Rock Entertainment, Rob Reiner. Reiner eventually invited writer William Goldman to write the film's screenplay.[6]

In the original novel, Annie Wilkes severs one of Paul Sheldon's feet with an axe. Goldman loved the scene and argued for it to be included, but Reiner insisted that it be changed so that she only breaks his ankles. Goldman subsequently wrote that this was the correct decision as amputation would have been too severe.[7]

The part of Paul Sheldon was originally offered to William Hurt (twice), then Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, and Robert Redford, but they all turned it down.[8] Warren Beatty was interested in the role, wanting to turn him into a less passive character,[9] but eventually had to drop out as post-production of Dick Tracy extended. Eventually someone suggested James Caan, who agreed to play the part. Caan commented that he was attracted by how Sheldon was a role unlike any other of his, and that "being a totally reactionary character is really much tougher."[10] According to Reiner, it was Goldman who suggested that Kathy Bates, then unknown, should portray Annie Wilkes.[11]


Kathy Bates' performance received widespread acclaim

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 90% rating, based on 67 reviews, with an average rating of 7.55/10; the consensus reads, "Elevated by standout performances from James Caan and Kathy Bates, this taut and frightening film is one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date."[12] At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating to reviews, the film has a score of 75 based on 23 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[13]

Roger Ebert enjoyed the film, giving a rating of three stars out of four and stating, "it is a good story, a natural, and it grabs us."[14]

Variety called it "a very obvious and very commercial gothic thriller, a functional adaptation of the Stephen King bestseller."[15]

Derek Malcolm of The Guardian gave it a positive review, writing it "plays enough tricks on us so that we don’t ever treat anything quite seriously and Goldman’s script has enough good lines and situations to keep one interested in exactly what is coming next." and praised the cast, especially Bates, writing that her "demented devotee in Misery is inspired casting." [16]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised Kathy Bates' performance, calling it "a genuinely funny performance as the mad Annie, as gaudily written in Mr. Goldman's screenplay as it is in Mr. King's novel."[17]

The genre magazine Bloody Disgusting ranked Misery fourth place in its list of "10 Claustrophobic Horror Films".[18]

King himself has stated that Misery is one of his top ten favorite film adaptations, in his collection Stephen King Goes to the Movies.[19] In his memoir called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King references the movie adaptation of the book, saying:

In the early 1980s, my wife and I went to London on a combined business/pleasure trip. I fell asleep on the plane and had a dream about a popular writer (it may or may not have been me, but it sure to God wasn't James Caan)...[20]

Misery grossed $10,076,834 on its opening weekend, finishing second at the box office behind Home Alone.[21] It eventually finished with $61 million domestically.[2]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[22]

Annie Wilkes was ranked #17 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains list.[23]


Film score by
Marc Shaiman
ReleasedJuly 1, 1999 (1999-07-01)
LabelDead Line

The film's score was composed by Marc Shaiman.

Awards and nominationsEdit

1990 filmEdit

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1990 New York Critics Circle Award Best Actress Kathy Bates 3rd place
1991 Academy Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Won
Golden Globe Award Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Award Best Actress Won
Most Promising Actress Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award Best Actress Won
USC Scripter Award William Goldman (screenwriter) & Stephen King (author) Nominated
1992 Saturn Award Best Horror Film Nominated
Best Actor James Caan Nominated
Best Actress Kathy Bates Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Frances Sternhagen Nominated
Best Writing William Goldman Nominated

2015 Broadway productionEdit

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
2016 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Laurie Metcalf Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Set Design David Korins Nominated


  1. ^ "MISERY (18)". British Board of Film Classification. January 7, 1991. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for Misery. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. ^ Misery at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ "The Best and Worst of Stephen King's Movies – MSN Movies News". 2012-10-20. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-11. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ "Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments". Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  6. ^ Goldman, William. Which Lie Did I Tell?, p. 37
  7. ^ Goldman p 40
  8. ^ Goldman p 42-44
  9. ^ Goldstein, Patrick (1990-04-29). "Rob Reiner Takes On 'Misery' : The director follows his hit comedy 'When Harry Met Sally . . . ' with a chiller, his second film taken from a Stephen King novel – Page 2 – Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2014-01-11.
  10. ^ Finke, Nikki (1990-11-29). "James Caan Enjoying His 'Misery' : Hollywood's Reputed Bad Boy Resurfaces in the Rob Reiner-Directed Psychological Thriller – Page 2 – Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2014-01-11.
  11. ^ "YouTube".
  12. ^ Misery at Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ "Misery reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (1990-11-30). "Misery :: :: Reviews". Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  15. ^ "Misery". Variety. December 31, 1990.
  16. ^ Malcolm, Derek (May 9, 1991). "Stephen King's Misery on the big screen – archive, 1991". Text " Film " ignored (help); Text " The Guardian " ignored (help)
  17. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 30, 1990). "A Writer Who Really Suffers". The New York Times: C1.
  18. ^ "A Look at the Top 10 Claustrophobic Horror Movies!". Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  19. ^ Stephen King, Stephen King Goes To The Movies, page 579 (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009). ISBN 978-0-340-98030-9
  20. ^ Stephen King, On Writing, page 165 (Simon & Schuster, 2000). ISBN 978-1-4391-5681-0
  21. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 30 – December 2, 1990". Box Office Mojo. 1990-12-02. Retrieved 2014-01-11.
  22. ^ "CinemaScore".
  23. ^ "AFI's 100 Greatest Heroes & Villains". American Film Institute.

External linksEdit