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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

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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


Barbara Stone has just been kidnapped by K-Mart, and what she doesn't know won't hurt her. See more »


Comedy | Crime


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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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:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


According to Rating the Movies, "Dale Launer's screenplay contains clever commentary on the culture of Los Angeles' nouveaux riche". Interestingly, the script of Bette Midler other 1986 movie, Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), did the same. See more »


When Barbra tries to escape, she throws a coffee mug at Ken, hitting his nose. You can see the plexiglass in front of Ken reflecting light on his shirt. Also, slowing down the frames, before the mug hits Ken, you can clearly see the cut mark already painted on his nose before the mug hits him. 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 ...
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Crazy Credits

Near the end of the credits is the line "I Love Wrong Numbers", referring to a scene earlier in the movie where Sam Stone gets a wrong number on the phone and does a vulgar prank to it. See more »


Referenced in Lethal Weapon (1987) See more »


Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)
Performed by Paul Young
Written by Marvin Gaye, Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield
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User Reviews

My only regret, Carol, is that the plan isn't more violent.
27 September 2004 | by film-criticSee all my reviews

Did I like Ruthless People? That is a tough question and just like every good story, there are two sides. On the positive side, I miss this type of comedy in cinema today. I miss the physical humor, the goofiness, and the instant creativity that could be seen behind the camera. In today's movie world, this is normally cluttered with 'fart' jokes and sexual innuendo. I miss the comedies of the 80s; there was some innocence to them. Perhaps it was that warm fuzzy feeling that they always left you with (no matter if you were rooting for the bad guy or the good guy) or maybe it was the actors of that era. The youth of today do not have actors like Danny DeVito (who can now be found most of the time producing films), Bette Midler, Bill Pullman (pre-Independence Day), and especially the infamous Judge Reinhold. What would my generation be like without the shenanigans of Judge? His humor was so perfect that if I were going to make a movie today, he would be cast no matter what. I would also like to add that Danny DeVito was superb in this film. His ability to play the ruthless, soulless, anti-hero was amazing. He had me grinning from ear to ear whenever he was on screen.

Another great aspect was the stories. They were simple, yet imaginative. They were stupid, yet somewhat funny. They were incoherent, yet always ended on a happy note. Look at the story behind Ruthless People and look at the stories in today's modern cinema … see any similarities? I surely do not. There was something just plain 80s about the standoff scene with Reinhold, DeVito, and Pullman that could not be done the same today. There would be CGI or unmasking, or anything that would detract from the main focus of this film … the actors. Films of this era were focused on the actors, that is what sold the movie and made it popular. Today, I wish we could say the same. Now it is all about the CGI and the explosions. It is very rare that you find a very actor centered comedy and for this I will forever be sad.

As I stated above, there are two sides to every story. While I did enjoy the actors in this film and the imagination, there was something that tugged me the wrong way and that was story overloading. There was too much happening in this film. I totally disliked the side story with the Bedroom killer. I honestly felt as if this could have (and should have) been left out of this film. In a 93 minute film, there was just too much happening. I didn't feel as if everything had a conclusion. There were parts still floating up in the air when the final credits rolled. Carol and Pullman's scenes were important in moving the story, but I didn't feel they ever finalized anything. The problem that you run into when you try to push this much into 93 minutes is under developing some possible funny parts. I could have used some pre-story on the Kesslers and even some more information on the random killer. The quickness of this film also lead to a quick ending for DeVito when I was finally starting to see the brilliance behind his character.

I say this, but perhaps this is what the 80s comedy was all about. An undeveloped story coupled with amazing comedic actors make for a decent film. Possibly, but it still doesn't make Ruthless People rank up there with the likes of Ghostbusters and Quick Change.

Overall, this was a decent film. I first thought that it wasn't the greatest, but the ending knocked it up a notch. The DVD quality really wasn't the best, but I guess we are more concerned about the extra 50 minutes on LoTR instead of refurbishing some of our classics.

Grade: *** out of *****

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