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Ruthless People (1986)

R | | Comedy, Crime | 27 June 1986 (USA)
A couple, cheated by a vile businessman, kidnap his wife in retaliation, without knowing that their enemy is delighted they did.


Dale Launer
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Danny DeVito ... Sam Stone
Bette Midler ... Barbara Stone
Judge Reinhold ... Ken Kessler
Helen Slater ... Sandy Kessler
Anita Morris ... Carol
Bill Pullman ... Earl
William G. Schilling ... Police Commissioner
Art Evans ... Lt. Bender
Clarence Felder ... Lt. Walters
J.E. Freeman ... Bedroom Killer
Gary Riley ... Heavy Metal Kid
Phyllis Applegate ... Loan Officer
Jeannine Bisignano Jeannine Bisignano ... Hooker in Car
J.P. Bumstead J.P. Bumstead ... Technician
Jon Cutler Jon Cutler ... Stereo Store Customer


Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) is a clothing manufacturer, who married his wife Barbara (Bette Midler), for the money that she was supposed to inherit from her dying father, but her father didn't die for another fifteen years. He is now planning to kill her and he tells his girlfriend Carol Dodsworth (Anita Morris) what he is going to do. He then on his way home to do just that but when he gets there, she's not there. He then receives a call from someone claiming to have kidnapped Barbara and threatening to kill her if he informs the police, which he does hoping that they do. What Stone doesn't know is that the kidnappers, Ken (Judge Reinhold) and Sandy (Helen Slater) Kessler are a couple whose idea for a garment he stole and made fortune off, are not that lethal, as a matter of fact Barbara's more lethal. And what Stone doesn't know is that Carol, has another boyfriend named Earl Mott (Bill Pullman), and they plan to blackmail Sam, by videotaping him disposing of Barbara's body. When Earl ... Written by <rcs0411@yahoo.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


"The Big Screw" See more »


Comedy | Crime


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

27 June 1986 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Por fin me la quité de encima See more »


Box Office


$13,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$5,274,306, 29 June 1986

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


In the scene where Judge Reinhold is talking with a young couple who are looking to buy a stereo a poster of Black Sabbath's Seventh Star can be seen in the background. See more »


When Ken, Sandy and Barbara are sitting at the dining room table discussing possible punishments for Sam Stone's infidelity, Barbara sets a glass of milk in front of Ken. In the next shot, it turns into a mug. See more »


[first lines]
Sam Stone: Carol, did I ever tell you why I married her?
Carol: Yes, Sam, you told me many, many...
Sam Stone: Her father was very, very rich, and very, very sick. The doctors assured me he'd be dead any minute. There wasn't a second to lose! I rushed right out and married the boss's daughter. He was so sick, it was like the Angel of Death was sitting in the room with him, watching the clock. They pulled the plug on him... he wheezed and shook for about an hour... and then... he stabilized. The son-of-a-bitch ...
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits are shown in neon colors and shapes, in split screen, with the other part of the screen depicting various methods of knocking someone off. See more »


Edited into Funny or Die Presents...: Fifty Shades of DeVito (2018) See more »


No Say In It
Written and Performed by The Machinations
See more »

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User Reviews

Aged a Bit But Still Funny
21 April 2016 | by bkrauser-81-311064See all my reviews

What ever happened to the farce? As time has progressed, pure movie comedies seem to be less about goofy, over-the-top characters and contrived situations and more about the characters themselves growing in unexpected ways and mining as much gold out of a singularly enjoyable premise. Think The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) or more recently, The Big Short (2015) to see what I mean. The competing thought in American comedy is that of the vehicle; a movie specifically designed for one actor or actress in mind. It's sad to think that in the last few years (heck arguably within the last two decades) we have not seen a good 'ol fashion farce come out of Hollywood. Honestly I think the only movie that ever came close to the delirious heights of One, Two, Three (1961) over the last decade was Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011).

Ruthless People is a relic; a true, blue unadulterated farce made by the same loons that made Airplane! (1980). Danny DeVito stars as businessman Sam Stone, the repugnant spandex mini-skirt king. In a bid to rid himself of his irritating wife, gain her $15 million fortune and rid himself of her un-house trained poodle, Sam has a surefire plan to murder her without implicating himself. He comes home to do the deed; Barbara (Midler) is nowhere to be found. The phone rings; Sam picks it up and a man on the other line informs him his wife has been kidnapped and they expect a ransom. "If you notify the police, your wife will be killed. If you notify the media, your wife will be killed." Naturally Sam is tickled pink. Thus a dozen or so fateful events and circumstances tie the lives of Sam, Barbara, the kidnappers (Reinhold and Slater), Sam's mistress (Dodsworth), her doltish Don Juan (Pullman) and a particularly nasty serial killer with mommy issues (Freeman).

The screenplay is written by the underrated Dale Launer based on an O. Henry short story. Launer's other credits include other well constructed and executed farces including Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) and My Cousin Vinny (1992). Ruthless People however is his first screenplay thus the story occasionally suffers from a narrative lull as well as some conspicuously dropped exposition. The characters are perilously stock, forged from the collective works of Shakespeare and Moliere and diluted to pander to 80's sensibilities. Yet despite all this, the story is reliably funny, seething with venomous cynicism and stitched together by the fun performances of Danny DeVito and Bette Midler.

The direction however leaves much to be desired. A hit during its time, Ruthless People has aged about as well as Weekend at Bernie's (1989) and Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988). Part of it has to do with directors David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams (known collectively as ZAZ) whom temper their knack for slapstick and anarchistic flights of fancy. Perhaps it's their desire to try something different, or perhaps it's their inability to visually translate something they didn't write themselves, but what results is so-so physical comedy; largely and disappointingly provided by Judge Reinhold's milquetoast face.

Then there's the unmistakably 80's feel of the art direction. I realize the film is supposed to take place in glitzy Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles and I realize a lot of the characters are somehow involved in high fashion but for the love of God my eyes are bleeding! The angular decor, nasty amalgamation of pastels and paisleys mixed with harsh primary colors makes it seem as if a bullet train ran into John Waters's walk-in closet. Those who lived through the eighties and decide to watch this movie 30 years later, please enjoy yourselves then go home and burn the rest of your spandex.

Making a movie like Ruthless People today would be nearly impossible. Developing a screenplay basing its humor on goofy characters and miscommunication would seem out of place in an era of near constant communication. We deal with our own miniature farces everyday to be sure; especially every time we talk past each other on social media. Yet those are not the type of misunderstanding that farce feeds on to create scenes of discomfort, double meanings and giddy hilarity. In other words your Facebook feed has nothing on Ruthless People.

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