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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Misery (1990)


What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: What happens when fandom goes too far? or "You'll never know the fear of losing someone like you if you're someone like me."


Plot Summary: After a car crash, novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is pulled from the wreckage by former nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be his biggest fan, and brought to her remote cabin to recover. However, her fandom turns dark when she discovers Sheldon is killing off her favorite character from his novels. As Sheldon figures out how to escape, Annie's fantasies lead her toward more violence, threatening Sheldon's life. Will Sheldon find a way out?


Cast:

  • Rob Reiner, Director

  • William Goldman, Screenplay

  • James Caan as Paul Sheldon

  • Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes

  • Richard Farnsworth as Sheriff Buster

  • Frances Sternhagen as Deputy Virginia

  • Lauren Bacall as Marcia Sindell

  • Graham Jarvis as Libby

  • Jerry Potter as Pete

*Recognition:

  • Misery opened on November 30, 1990.

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

  • The film currently holds a score of 90% on RT, a 75 score on Metacritic, and a 3.9 out of 5 on Letterboxd.

  • At the 1991 Oscars, Kathy Bates won Best Actress over Anjelica Huston for The Grifters, Julia Roberts for Pretty Woman, Meryl Streep for Postcards from the Edge, and Joanne Woodward for Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.

  • In 2003, Annie Wilkes was ranked #17 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains list.

  • The "hobbling" scene in the film, in which Annie breaks Paul's ankles with a sledgehammer, was ranked #12 on Bravo's 2004 program The 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

  • In 2009, Chris Eggertsen of Bloody Disgusting ranked Misery fourth place in his list of "10 Claustrophobic Horror Films".

Did You Know:

  • Stephen King was initially reluctant to sell the film rights to "Misery" because he was skeptical that a Hollywood studio would make a movie faithful to his vision. However, King was impressed with one adaptation of his works, Stand by Me (1986), and agreed to sell "Misery" under the provision that Rob Reiner would either produce or direct the film.

  • Rob Reiner was questioned before heading into production if this was really the right project for him, as his background was mostly comedy up to this point. He stated, "It's important for me to find my way into the film... and as you will see, the movie's really about a man who is trapped by his own success and is desperately trying to break out and establish himself in a different way. I felt very much those feelings when I finished All in the Family."

  • Rob Reiner studied Alfred Hitchcock movies to figure out how to shoot a thriller, watching every Hitchcock film. Reiner had Hitchcock on the brain so much that James Caan overheard Reiner chastising himself one day on set, asking himself, "Who do you think you are, Alfred Hitchcock?"

  • According to William Goldman's book "Four Screenplays," the role of Paul Sheldon was offered to Warren Beatty, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, William Hurt (twice), Kevin Kline, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, Denzel Washington, and Bruce Willis, all of whom declined. Willis, however, would later play the role years later on Broadway.

  • James Caan had to stay in bed for fifteen weeks of shooting. Caan said he thought that Rob Reiner was playing a "sadistic" joke on him, knowing the actor would not enjoy not moving around for so long. Caan was not used to playing a reactionary character, and found it much tougher to play.

  • James Caan once showed up to the set hungover, and all of the scenes he shot that day were unusable. Rob Reiner told Caan he had to do the scenes again because there was "a problem at the lab." When Caan learned it had nothing to do with labs, he offered to cover the money he lost for the studio.

  • Annie Wilkes is Stephen King's favorite written character, because she was always surprising to write, with unexpected depth and sympathy.

  • Stephen King was quite impressed with Kathy Bates' performance in this film, so much so that he later wrote two more roles for her. The title role in his novel "Dolores Claiborne" was written with Bates in mind, and Bates later starred in the film adaption of Dolores Claiborne (1995). King also wrote the script for the TV mini-series The Stand (1994). His original novel featured a (male) character named Ray Flowers; upon hearing that Bates wanted to be involved in the miniseries, King re-wrote the part as a woman (Rae Flowers) just so Bates could play the part (uncredited).

  • In 1991, Kathy Bates became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a horror or thriller film. The first performer to win an Oscar for a horror film was Fredric March for his performance as the title character in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). The only other winners for acting in a horror film were Ruth Gordon for her performance as Mia Farrow's new neighbor with a hidden agenda in Rosemary's Baby (1968) (Best Actress in a Supporting Role), Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster for Best Actor and Best Actress in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Natalie Portman for Best Actress in Black Swan (2010).

  • "Misery" was almost turned into a Broadway play, with Julia Roberts as Annie Wilkes. King vetoed the idea, because Annie is (in his words) "a brawny woman who can sling a guy around, not a pixie." However, in 2015, a Broadway adaptation was ultimately produced to critical and commercial success, starring Bruce Willis as Paul Sheldon, and Laurie Metcalf as Annie Wilkes.

  • The movie downplays one of the key themes in the book: Paul's addictions and substance abuse and how that plays into his captivity. The book gives us a lot of backstory about his history of substance abuse; and how he'd recently gotten himself back on track. Being held in captivity; coupled with her feeding him novril pills all the time, (novril is a fictional form of codeine; an opiate); has caused Paul to relapse; and he has swung into full on addiction to the Novril/codeine. (These scenes of the drug addicted writer banging away compulsively at the typewriter as a kind of panacea bring up memories not just of The Shining and its substance abusing writer; but also of King himself; who was the real deal and the inspiration for all of this). King himself has said that Annie is a symbol of Paul's own addictions; come to life; holding him captive; trying to kill him.

Best Performance: Kathy Bates (Annie)

Best Secondary Performance: James Caan (Paul)/William Goldman (Screenplay)

Most Charismatic Award: James Caan (Paul)/Rob Reiner (Director)

Best Scene:

  • Opening Credits/Car Accident

  • The Profanity...

  • Dirty Birdy

  • Paul Ventures Out

  • The Paper Smudges

  • Dinner w/ Paul Sheldon

  • The Scrapbook

  • The Hobbling

  • Buster and the Basement

  • Final Struggle

  • Epilogue

Favorite Scene: Final Struggle/Dirty Birdy

Most Indelible Moment: The Hobbling


In Memorium:

  • Marva Hicks, 66, American singer and actress (Mad About You, One Life to Live, Star Trek: Voyager).

  • Henry Silva, 95, American actor (Ocean's 11-1960, The Manchurian Candidate-1962, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai)

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Paul Sheldon: You want it? You want it? Eat it! Eat it till ya choke, you sick, twisted fuck!


Annie Wilkes: God came to me last night and told me your purpose for being here. I am going to help you write a new book.

Paul Sheldon: You think I can just whip one out?

Annie Wilkes: Oh, but I don't think Paul, I know.


Annie Wilkes: I'm your number one fan. There's nothing to worry about. You're going to be just fine. I will take good care of you. I'm your number one fan.


Annie Wilkes: I thought you were good Paul... but you're not good. You're just another lying ol' dirty birdy. And I don't think I ought to be around you for awhile. [turning to Sheldon] And don't even think about anybody coming for you. Not the doctors, not your agent, not your family. 'Cause I never called them. Nobody knows you're here. And you better hope nothing happens to me. Because if I die... you die.


Annie Wilkes: Now the time has come. I put two bullets in my gun. One for me, and one for you. Oh darling, it will be so beautiful.


Annie Wilkes: What's the ceiling that Dago painted?

Paul Sheldon: The Sistine Chapel?

Annie Wilkes: YEEEAAAHHH! That and "Misery's Child", those are the only two divine things in this world!


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 5.25

Impact/Significance: 8

Novelty: 7.75

Classic-ness: 9.5

Rewatchability: 5.5

Audience Score: 8.9 (88% Google, 90% RT)

Total: 44.9


Remaining Questions:

  • Why did Paul think he could drive a Mustang in a snowstorm?

  • How long is Paul captive?

  • Did Annie spill the wine on purpose?

  • Was Paul lifting the typewriter to build his strength, or was he using it as practice knowing he was going to kill Annie with it?

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