Misery (film)

Last updated
Misery (1990 film poster).png
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Rob Reiner
Produced by
Screenplay by William Goldman
Based on Misery
by Stephen King
Music by Marc Shaiman
Cinematography Barry Sonnenfeld
Edited by Robert Leighton
Distributed by Columbia 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]

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.

Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror and psychological fiction that relies on mental, emotional and psychological states to frighten, disturb, or unsettle readers, viewers, or players. The subgenre frequently overlaps with the related subgenre of psychological thriller, and it often uses mystery elements and characters with unstable, unreliable, or disturbed psychological states to enhance the suspense, drama, action, and paranoia of the setting and plot and to provide an overall unpleasant, unsettling, or distressing atmosphere.

Horror film Film genre

A horror film is a film that seeks to elicit fear for entertainment purposes. Initially inspired by literature from authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley, horror has existed as a film genre for more than a century. The macabre and the supernatural are frequent themes. Horror may also overlap with the fantasy, supernatural fiction, and thriller genres.

Rob Reiner American actor and director

Robert Reiner is an American actor and filmmaker. As an actor, Reiner first came to national prominence with the role of Michael Stivic on All in the Family (1971–1979), a role that earned him two Emmy Awards during the 1970s. As a director, Reiner was recognized by the Directors Guild of America (DGA) with nominations for the coming of age drama film Stand by Me (1986), the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally... (1989), and the military courtroom drama A Few Good Men (1992). He also directed the psychological horror-thriller Misery (1990), the romantic comedy fantasy adventure The Princess Bride (1987), and the heavy metal mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984).


The film was released on November 30, 1990 in the United States to critical acclaim. Bates's performance as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes won the Academy Award for Best Actress at the 63rd Academy Awards. [4] Misery is the only film based on a Stephen King novel to win an Oscar. [5] The "hobbling" scene in the film was ranked #12 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments . [6]

Annie Wilkes fictional character in the 1987 novel Misery

Anne Marie Wilkes Dugan, usually known as Annie Wilkes, is the major antagonist in the 1987 novel Misery, by Stephen King. In the 1990 film adaptation of the novel, Annie Wilkes was portrayed by Kathy Bates, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal. The American Film Institute included Annie Wilkes in their "100 Heroes and Villains" list, ranking her as the 17th most iconic villain in film history. A nurse by training, she has become one of the stereotypes of the nurse as a torturer and Angel of mercy.

Academy Award for Best Actress award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Academy Award for Best Actress is an award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It is given in honor of an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance in a leading role while working within the film industry. The award was traditionally presented by the previous year's Best Actor winner.

63rd Academy Awards

The 63rd Academy Awards ceremony, organized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), took place on March 25, 1991, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles beginning at 6:00 p.m. PST / 9:00 p.m. EST. During the ceremony, Academy Awards were presented in 23 categories. The ceremony, which was televised in the United States on ABC, was produced by Gil Cates and directed by Jeff Margolis. Actor Billy Crystal hosted for the second consecutive year. Three weeks earlier in a ceremony held at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California on March 2, the Academy Awards for Technical Achievement were presented by host Geena Davis.


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.

Victorian era Period of British history encompassing Queen Victorias reign

In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian period, and its later half overlaps with the first part of the Belle Époque era of Continental Europe. In terms of moral sensibilities and political reforms, this period began with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodist, and the Evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Britain's relations with the other Great Powers were driven by the colonial antagonism of the Great Game with Russia, climaxing during the Crimean War; a Pax Britannica of international free trade was maintained by the country's naval and industrial supremacy. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked.

Romance novel literary genre

Although the genre is very old, the romance novel or romantic novel discussed in this article is the mass-market version. Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." There are many subgenres of the romance novel, including fantasy, historical romance, paranormal fiction, and science fiction. Romance novels are read primarily by women.

Silver Creek, Colorado Mining ghost town in Colorado, United States

Silver Creek is a mining ghost town in Clear Creek County, Colorado, USA. The town never had a post office of its own, but received its mail via the Lawson post office. The town is only accessible via unimproved road. Most of the mines were located upstream from the town.

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. Using the match Annie gives him, Paul sets the manuscript on fire, and as Annie rushes to save it, he hits her over the head with the typewriter. They struggle and Annie is killed when Paul smashes her in the face with the base of a heavy statue.

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. Seeing a waitress, he imagines her as Annie. The waitress says she is his "number one fan", to which Paul nervously responds, "That's very sweet of you".


James Caan American actor

James Edmund Caan is an American actor. After early roles in The Glory Guys (1965), for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, El Dorado (1967), and The Rain People (1969), he came to prominence in the 1970s with significant roles in films such as Brian's Song (1971), Cinderella Liberty (1973), The Gambler (1974), Freebie and the Bean (1974), Rollerball (1975), Funny Lady (1975), A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Chapter Two (1979). For his signature role in The Godfather (1972), that of hot-tempered Sonny Corleone, Caan was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the corresponding Golden Globe.

Kathy Bates American film actress and director

Kathleen Doyle Bates is an American actress and director. She is the recipient of numerous accolades, including an Academy Award, three American Comedy Awards, two Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, an Obie Award, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Richard Farnsworth actor

Richard William Farnsworth was an American actor and stuntman. He is best known for his performances in The Grey Fox (1982), for which he received a Golden Globe Award nomination, Anne of Green Gables (1985), Misery (1990), and The Straight Story (1999), for which he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor.


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. [7]

Andrew Scheinman is an American film and television producer, as well as a film director and screenwriter. Before he got his start in entertainment, he worked as a professional tennis player, as well as earning a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1973. He is one of the heads of Castle Rock Entertainment.

Stephen King American author

Stephen Edwin King is an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy novels. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television series, and comic books. King has published 58 novels and six non-fiction books. He has written approximately 200 short stories, most of which have been published in book collections.

<i>Misery</i> (novel) novel by Stephen King

Misery is an American psychological thriller novel written by Stephen King and first published by Viking Press in 1987. The novel's narrative is based on the relationship of its two main characters – the popular writer Paul Sheldon and his psychotic fan Annie Wilkes. When Paul is seriously injured following a car accident, former nurse Annie brings him to her home, where Paul receives treatment and doses of pain medication. Gradually, Paul realizes that he is a prisoner and is forced to indulge his captor's whims.

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. [8]

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. [9] Warren Beatty was interested in the role, wanting to turn him into a less passive character, [10] 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." [11] According to Reiner, it was Goldman who suggested that Kathy Bates, then unknown, should portray Annie Wilkes. [12]


Kathy Bates' performance received widespread acclaim Kathy Bates by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Kathy Bates' performance received widespread acclaim

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 90% rating, based on 67 reviews and 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." [13]

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". [14]

Roger Ebert liked the film, giving a rating of three stars out of four and stating, "it is a good story, a natural, and it grabs us." [15]

Variety called it "a very obvious and very commercial gothic thriller, a functional adaptation of the Stephen King bestseller." [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)
Genre Soundtrack
Label Dead Line

The film's score was composed by Marc Shaiman.

Awards and nominations

1990 film

YearAward ceremonyCategoryNomineeResult
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 ActressNominated
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 production

YearAward ceremonyCategoryNomineeResult
2016 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play Laurie Metcalf Nominated
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding Set DesignDavid KorinsNominated

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  1. "MISERY (18)". British Board of Film Classification . January 7, 1991. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  2. 1 2 Box Office Information for Misery. The Wrap . Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. Misery at Box Office Mojo
  4. "Awards for Kathy Bates". IMDb . Retrieved 2010-10-31.
  5. "The Best and Worst of Stephen King's Movies – MSN Movies News". Movies.msn.com. 2012-10-20. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-11.
  6. "Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments". listology.com. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
  7. Goldman, William. Which Lie Did I Tell? , p. 37
  8. Goldman p 40
  9. Goldman p 42-44
  10. 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". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2014-01-11.
  11. 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". Articles.latimes.com. Retrieved 2014-01-11.
  12. "YouTube". youtube.com.
  13. Misery at Rotten Tomatoes
  14. "Misery reviews". Metacritic . Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  15. Ebert, Roger (1990-11-30). "Misery :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2009-09-12.
  16. "Misery". Variety . December 31, 1990.
  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!". bloody-disgusting.com. 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". cinemascore.com.
  23. "AFI's 100 Greatest Heroes & Villains". American Film Institute.