Drop Dead Fred

Drop Dead Fred
Drop Dead Fred

Theatrical Release Poster
Directed by Ate de Jong
Produced by Paul Webster
Written by Elizabeth Livingston(story)
Carlos Davis &
Anthony Fingleton (screenplay)
Starring Rik Mayall
Phoebe Cates
Marsha Mason
Tim Matheson
Carrie Fisher
Daniel Gerroll
Ron Eldard
Music by Randy Edelman
Cinematography Peter Deming
Editing by Marshall Harvey
Studio PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Working Title Films
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release date(s) April 19, 1991 (USA)
Running time 103 min.
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $13,878,334 (USA)

Drop Dead Fred is a 1991 American fantasy dramedy film directed by Ate de Jong, produced by PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and Working Title Films and released and distributed by New Line Cinema. Although touted as a light-hearted children's film, there are notable adult themes and gags, with elements of black comedy, emotional abuse, mental illness, bizarre visual and make up effects, gross out humor, and some profanity.

British comedian Rik Mayall stars as the title character, a happy, anarchic and extremely mischievous imaginary friend of a young girl named Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates) and arch nemesis of her fussy and overbearing mother Polly (Marsha Mason) whom he refers to as the "mega bitch." Drop Dead Fred causes absolute chaos around the home and neighborhood. Nobody can see Fred except Elizabeth. When Elizabeth grows up and has an emotional crisis, Fred returns to "cheer her up" in his own unique way, causing more chaos than ever before. The supporting cast includes Carrie Fisher, Ron Eldard, Tim Matheson, and Bridget Fonda.

Although it performed poorly at the US box office, it became Working Title's first financial hit and was (for a time) the most successful independent film ever released in Australia. It has since achieved cult status[1] and was released on DVD on July 22, 2003 by Artisan Entertainment.[2] (The USA DVD issue is Full Screen (open matte, not pan and scan) and in the UK it is Widescreen.) The DVD has now been discontinued and as of April 4, 2010, Lions Gate has yet to announce any plans to re-release the film onto DVD.



5-year-old Elizabeth "Lizzie" Cronin (Ashley Peldon) is told a bedtime story about a prince and a princess, by her mother, Polly (Marsha Mason). The prince proposes and the princess accepts. Her mother closes the book before finishing the story, and Lizzie asks if they lived happily ever after. Polly says "Of course...because [the princess] was a very good little girl, and if she had been naughty, the prince would have run away". Lizzie's response to her mother is "What a pile of shit!", much to Polly's shock.

Twenty-one years later, Lizzie (Phoebe Cates) is a repressed court reporter who has been damaged long-term by her mother's abuse. She feels weak and unable to defend herself from those who bully and control her, i.e. Polly and her Jaguar salesman husband, Charles (Tim Matheson). Lizzie divorced Charles for having an affair with a beautiful woman called Annabella. It is suggested Charles is controlling of Lizzie because he often talks over, and interrupts, her (albeit in a charming way to manipulate her). On the same day, Lizzie's handbag is stolen, as is her car, and loses her job. As if to round off her disastrous day, Polly appears, and forces Lizzie to return to her childhood home to live with her.

Upstairs in her old bedroom, Lizzie roots through one of the cupboards and finds her old childhood toys, including a taped-up jack-in-the-box that Polly trapped her imaginary friend, Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall), inside as punishment. Lizzie tears away the tape and releases Fred once more. Through a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that, as a child, Lizzie was tormented by the overbearing Polly, who drove away her kind father, Nigel. Fred alone made Lizzie happy by giving her outlets for her frustrations. Although Fred was a crude troublemaker who wreaked havoc and always shifted the blame to Lizzie, the two were always best friends.

At first, Fred is thrilled to see Lizzie again, but disappointed and frustrated that the reason he is back is because she is unhappy. However, he promises to help. Lizzie thinks that she will only be happy again if she is reunited with Charles. Fred does his best to help in the only way he knows how, but unfortunately, his chaotic childhood antics have far from the effect they once had. They only serve to sink Lizzie's best friend, Janie's (Carrie Fisher) houseboat, and embarrass her in front of Mickey Bunce (Ron Eldard), her childhood friend and now a divorced single parent, at lunch. Mickey, however, is not perturbed by Lizzie's strange behavior (which only occurs as Fred manipulates her movements), but, in fact, shows signs of resuming their friendship. Lizzie likes Mickey, but is bent on saving her marriage.

After Fred causes Lizzie to "have absurd conversations with thin air", as well as being arrested for repeatedly hit a violinist at a local shopping mall with her handbag, Polly takes her daughter to a psychiatrist (Alycia Lutz), who prescribes drugs which rid people of imaginary friends. Fred is warned by his fellow imaginary friends about these. Charles reappears in Lizzie's life and the two appear to be reconciling and Fred's energetic nature gives way to lethargy while Lizzie is on this prescription. However, he is not completely vanquished.

One evening, Fred overhears a conversation Charles is having on the phone, and begs Lizzie to take a peek inside the room to hear it for herself. Lizzie does so, and learns that Charles is still cheating on her. Heartbroken, Lizzie turns back to Fred who tells her to leave him. Lizzie does not think that she can, as she has been beaten down all her life, and is afraid to be alone. Fred opens his arms towards her, and tells her to come with him.

Lizzie collapses onto Fred, triggering a fantasy sequence. In a mock-up of Lizzie's childhood home, she meets imaginary versions of Charles and Polly, while Fred encourages her to stand up to them. After screaming the "magic words" at Polly ("I'm not afraid of you!"), Polly vanishes in flames, allowing Lizzie access to her childhood bedroom, where she finds herself, as a little girl, taped to her bed. Lizzie tears the tape, releasing her young self, symbolically freeing herself from what she fears. Fred is pleased by Lizzie's development, and they both know that she is happy again with her new-found strength and confidence. Fred explains that, now that Lizzie is happy, he cannot come back with her to the real world, with him stating "You've got you now, you don't need me. Not anymore". He kisses her goodbye and disappears.

Lizzie awakes in the real world and leaves Charles for good. Then she collects her belongings from Polly's house, including Fred's jack-in-the-box. Lizzie tells her mother that she knows what is best for herself, and that Polly has to stop hurting and blaming her. As Lizzie goes to walk out on Polly, Polly tells her that she will be lonely without her. Lizzie, being no stranger to loneliness, hugs her mother and tells her to find a friend, before leaving.

Lizzie goes to Mickey, who appears to express his interest in them being more than just friends. At that moment, Mickey's daughter, Natalie, runs up to them, covered in chocolate. The nanny claims the "young lady" has made a terrible mess in the kitchen and that she expects her to believe a pretend friend was responsible, though Natalie explains it was not she who made the mess, and that her friend is not pretend. Lizzie realizes that Fred has still not completely left her: He is now Natalie's imaginary friend, who needs him in the way that Lizzie needed him as a little girl.


Phoebe Cates and Rik Mayall in Drop Dead Fred


The film was released to cinemas on April 19, 1991, and fared adequately (for an independent film), grossing $3,625,648 on its opening weekend, and $13,878,334 over its entire theatrical run.

It was savaged by critics: Leonard Maltin stated that "Phoebe Cates' appealing performance can't salvage this putrid mess ... recommended only for people who think nose-picking is funny."

The film has since found a cult audience of fans.[1]

Psychological interpretation

Although the film was usually cited as a comedy, some critics also took note of its psychological aspects. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Margaret Lyons asked, "...is it supposed to be hilarious, or a really, really depressing story about the long-term effects of emotional abuse?"[3] Writing for Mystical Movie Guide, Carl J. Schroeder wrote, "The imaginary friend is cavortingly rude for a reason; he served to push the girlchild to do mischief for attention and as a cry for help. Now grown up, the woman has forgotten and is about to lose her soul, so events call for some kind of literal return of her demon to force the exposure of her pain. This psychic crisis is poignantly realistic... The creature who is visible only to the woman is like a poltergeist energy of her repressed self, a problematic ego container into which her powers of assertion and creativity were poured and stored. The movie's resolution is startlingly beautiful..."[4]


In 2011, a remake of the film starring Russell Brand went into production.[5]


  1. ^ a b Brand to star in Drop Dead remake, BBC, April 29, 2009
  2. ^ Drop Dead Fred at Amazon.com
  3. ^ 'Drop Dead Fred' remake: Let's not flick boogers at it just yet, Entertainment Weekly, April 28, 2009
  4. ^ Review of Drop Dead Fred, Mystical Movie Guide
  5. ^ Katy Perry & Russell Brand Celebrate Their One Year Anniversary, starpulse.com, October 24, 2011

External links

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