North (1994 film)

North is a 1994 American comedy-drama adventure film directed by Rob Reiner. The story is based on the 1984 novel, North: The Tale of a 9-Year-Old Boy Who Becomes a Free Agent and Travels the World in Search of the Perfect Parents by Alan Zweibel, who wrote the screenplay and has a minor role in the film. The cast includes Elijah Wood in the title role, with Jon Lovitz, Jason Alexander, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Faith Ford, Graham Greene, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Reba McEntire, John Ritter, and Abe Vigoda. Bruce Willis narrates and plays several different roles throughout the film, and a 9-year-old Scarlett Johansson appears briefly in her film debut. The film was shot in Hawaii, Alaska, California, South Dakota, New Jersey, and New York. It was a box office bomb, grossing just $7 million against its $40 million budget,[3] and received largely negative reviews from critics, with some calling it one of the worst films ever made.

Theatrical release poster by John Alvin
Directed byRob Reiner
Produced byRob Reiner
Alan Zweibel
Screenplay byAlan Zweibel
Andrew Scheinman
Based onNorth: The Tale of a 9-Year-Old Boy Who Becomes a Free Agent and Travels the World in Search of the Perfect Parents
by Alan Zweibel
Music byMarc Shaiman
CinematographyAdam Greenberg
Edited byRobert Leighton
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • July 22, 1994 (1994-07-22)
Running time
87 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$40 million[2]
Box office$7.1 million[2]


North is a child prodigy, skilled in academics, sports, and drama, admired by many for his good work and obedient attitude, but unappreciated, he feels, by his own parents. One day, while finding solace in a living room display at a mall, he complains to the Easter Bunny—a man in a pink bunny suit—that his parents, alone among all the adults in his neighborhood, seem unable to see his talents. The Easter Bunny recommends that North simply tell his parents how he feels; but North says if they can't appreciate him, they don't deserve him.

With the help and encouragement of his friend Winchell, who works on the school paper, North devises a plan to "divorce" himself from his parents, and hires ambulance-chasing lawyer Arthur Belt to file the papers. The announcement of his divorce takes North's parents completely by surprise, and renders them comatose. They cannot object when Judge Buckle grants North's petition, and gives him one summer to find new parents; if he cannot, he will have to move to an orphanage.

North's first stop is Texas, where his parental candidates attempt to fatten him up, to be more like their first son, Buck, who died in a stampede. They then stage a musical number (set to the Bonanza theme) about the other horrible plans they have for him. Gabby, a sharpshooting cowboy, presents North with a souvenir from his act—a silver dollar with a bullet hole shot through its center—and advises him to move on.

His next stop is Hawaii, where Governor and Mrs. Ho, who cannot have children of their own, are eager to adopt him. North is overjoyed; but the governor unveils a new state campaign to encourage mainlanders to move to Hawaii. North learns, to his horror, that billboards featuring him in a mortifying pose will soon be on view throughout the U.S. On the beach, he meets a tourist with a metal detector who explains that parents should not rely on children for their own personal gain.

In Alaska, he settles into an Inuit village, where his prospective parents send their elderly grandfather out to sea on an ice floe so that he may die with dignity. As the long, dark winter begins to envelop Alaska, North realizes that his summer is almost up. Meanwhile, his real parents, still comatose, are put on display in a museum. North's quest has stimulated children around the world to leave their parents, and to hire Belt and Winchell, who are both now rich and powerful.

North's next family is Amish, but he is quickly discouraged by the size of their family (and the lack of electricity and other conveniences). His experiences in Zaire, China, and Paris are equally fruitless. At last, back in America, he finds the Nelsons, who are an ideal All-American family that give North the attention and appreciation he craves; but he still is not happy. "The Nelsons are good folks,” says a sleigh driver. “They're just not your folks."

In despair, North finds himself in New York City, where Winchell and Belt, fearing the demise of their lucrative business, plot to assassinate him. On the run, North receives a videotape from his newly revived parents begging him to forgive them and return home. Standup comedian Joey Fingers encourages him to do so: "A bird in the hand is always greener than the grass under the other guy's bushes." At the airport, his path is blocked by a mob of kids who have followed his example, and are angry that he is giving up and going home, so North is forced to ship himself home in a FedEx box. He reaches his house just in time to beat the orphanage deadline; but as he runs toward his parents, an assassin takes aim. As he squeezes the trigger, North awakens in the mall, now empty. The Easter Bunny takes him home, where he is greeted warmly by his parents, who have been worried while he has been gone. It has all been a dream—but in his pocket, North discovers Gabby's silver dollar with the hole through the middle. North says he has always had it, "for good luck". North goes inside as his parents agree to bring him dinner in bed.



On review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, North received a rating of 14% based on 35 reviews, with an average rating of 3.18/10. The site's critics' consensus reads, "Laden with schmaltz and largely bereft of evident narrative purpose, North represents an early major disappointment from previously sure-handed director Rob Reiner."[4] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B-" on scale of A to F.[5]

North has been called one of the worst films ever made. Kenneth Turan stated in his review "The problem overall is not so much that the humor, especially in the parent-tryout situations, is forced, but that it simply is not there at all. So little is going on in this mildest of fantasies that it is hard to even guess what kinds of emotional effects were aimed at in the first place."[6] Turan also asked "How could director Rob Reiner, whose touch for what pleases a mass audience is usually unfailing, have strayed this far?"[6] Leonard Klady of Variety described the film as a "noble misfire" and "that unique breed of misconceived entertainment that only a filmmaker of talent is capable of making."[7] Joe Brown of The Washington Post called the film "a gentle, harmless and rather pedestrian fantasy."[8] Janet Maslin of The New York Times was somewhat more positive, writing that the film "doesn't always work, but much of it is clever in amusingly unpredictable ways."[9]

North was a multiple nominee at the 15th Golden Raspberry Awards in six categories including Worst Picture and Worst Director for Rob Reiner.

In an interview with Archive of American Television, Reiner defended the film, saying:

I loved doing it, and some of the best jokes I ever had in a movie, are in that movie. I made this little fable, and people got mad at me, because, you know, I had done When Harry Met Sally..., and Misery, and A Few Good Men, and everybody said 'Oh, it should be a more important kind of movie.' I said, 'Why? Why can't you just make a little slice of a fable or something?'[10]

Siskel & Ebert's reviewsEdit

"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

Roger Ebert's review of North.[11]

Film critic Roger Ebert seemed especially baffled by North, noting that Wood and especially Reiner had both previously made much better films. He suggested that the film was so poorly written that even the best child actor would look bad in it, and viewed it as "some sort of lapse" on Reiner's part. Ebert awarded North a rare zero-star rating.[12]

Comedian Richard Belzer, who appeared in North, goaded Reiner into reading aloud some of the review at Reiner's roast; Reiner jokingly insisted that "if you read between the lines, [the review] isn't really that bad." An abridged version of the remark quoted above became the title of a 2000 book by Ebert, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, a compilation of reviews of films most disliked by Ebert.[13]

Writer Alan Zweibel described the review as "[E]mbarrassing. And hurtful", and stated it was repeatedly quoted to him, his wife, and his son (who had inspired the book North). In an encounter with Ebert years later, Zweibel jokingly said "And I just have to tell you, Roger, that that sweater you're wearing? I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate that sweater."[14] He also keeps a clipping of it in his wallet, which he reads at public events.[15]

Ebert and his co-host on Siskel and Ebert, Gene Siskel, both pronounced it the worst film of 1994, an opinion they each came to independently.[16] In their original review, Ebert called it "one of the most thoroughly hateful movies in recent years. A movie that makes me cringe even when I'm sitting here thinking about it."[17] He later added, "I hated this movie as much as any movie we have ever reviewed in the 19 years we've been doing this show. I hated it because of the premise, which seems shockingly cold-hearted, and because this premise is being suggested to kids as children's entertainment and because everybody in the movie was vulgar and stupid, and because the jokes weren't funny and because most of the characters were obnoxious and because of the phony attempt to add a little pseudo-hip philosophy with a Bruce Willis character."[17] Siskel added "I think you gotta hold Rob Reiner's feet to the fire here. I mean, he's the guy in charge, he's saying this is entertainment, it's deplorable. There isn't a gag that works. You couldn't write worse jokes if I told you to write worse jokes. The ethnic stereotyping is appalling, it's embarrassing, you feel unclean as you're sitting there. It's junk. First class junk!" and finished his statement with "Any subject could be done well, this is just trash, Roger."[17] Ebert's future co-host on Ebert and Roeper, Richard Roeper, would later go on to list North as one of the 40 worst movies he's ever seen, stating, "Of all the films on this list, North may be the most difficult to watch from start to finish. I've tried twice and failed. Do yourself a favor and don't even bother. Life is too short."[18]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Award Category Subject Result
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Actor Bruce Willis Nominated
Worst Supporting Actor Dan Aykroyd Nominated
Worst Supporting Actress Kathy Bates Nominated
Worst Screenplay Andrew Scheinman Nominated
Alan Zweibel Nominated
Worst Picture Nominated
Rob Reiner Nominated
Worst Director Nominated
Stinkers Bad Movie Awards Worst Picture Won
Worst Actor Bruce Willis Won
Saturn Awards Best Performance by a Younger Actor Elijah Wood Nominated
Young Artist Awards Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film Nominated


  1. ^ "NORTH (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. May 5, 1994. Retrieved June 14, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "North (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 15, 2011.
  3. ^ Gabbi Shaw (February 27, 2017). "The biggest box office flop from the year you were born". Insider. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  4. ^ "North (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  5. ^ "Cinemascore". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Turan, Kenneth (July 22, 1994). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'North': In Search of Its Inner Child : Rob Reiner's fable focuses on a fourth-grader who seems to have an enviable life, but decides he needs new parents. His search for alternative scenarios takes him from Alaska to Zaire". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  7. ^ Klady, Leonard (July 18–24, 1994). "Film Reviews: North". Variety. p. 38-39.
  8. ^ Brown, Joe (July 22, 1994). "'North's' Poor Direction". The Washington Post. 41.
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 22, 1994). "Rob Reiner Directs A Contemporary Fable". The New York Times. C3.
  10. ^ "Rob Reiner". Archive of American Television. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 22, 1994). "North movie review & film summary (1994)". Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 11, 2005). "Ebert's Most Hated - Roger Ebert's Journal - Roger Ebert". Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  13. ^ I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie,; accessed August 23, 2015.
  14. ^ Zweibel, Alan (April 9, 2013). "Roger and Me". The New Yorker.
  15. ^ Zweibel on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, November 14, 2008
  16. ^ "Worst of 1994". Siskel And Ebert Movie Reviews. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  17. ^ a b c "The Client, Lassie, It Could Happen to You, North, Barcelona, 1994". Siskel And Ebert Movie Reviews. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  18. ^ Richard Roeper, 10 Sure Signs a Movie Character is Doomed and Other Surprising Movie Lists, New York: Hyperion Books, 2003, pp. 66-67.

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Stinker Award for Worst Picture
1994 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards
Succeeded by