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Misery (film)

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Title: Misery (film)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Rob Reiner, William Goldman, 1990 in film, Richard Farnsworth, James Caan
Collection: 1990 Films, 1990S Thriller Films, American Films, American Thriller Films, Bipolar Disorder in Fiction, Borderline Personality Disorder in Fiction, Castle Rock Entertainment Films, Columbia Pictures Films, English-Language Films, Films About Abduction, Films About Psychopaths, Films About Writers, Films Based on American Horror Novels, Films Based on Works by Stephen King, Films Directed by Rob Reiner, Films Featuring a Best Actress Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Drama Actress Golden Globe Winning Performance, Films Set in Colorado, Psychological Thriller Films, Screenplays by William Goldman
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Misery (film)

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 dates
  • November 30, 1990 (1990-11-30)
Running time
107 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million[2]
Box office $61.3 million

Misery is a 1990 American psychological thriller film based on Stephen King's 1987 novel of the same name and 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. Directed by Rob Reiner, the film received critical acclaim for Bates's performance as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes, and Bates won the 1990 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role,[3] making Misery, as of 2015, the only Stephen King adaptation to be an Oscar winning film.[4] The film was ranked #12 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[5]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Accolades 4
  • Reception 5
  • Music 6
  • Play 7
  • Remake 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Famed novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is the author of a successful series of Regency romance novels featuring a character named Misery Chastain. Wanting to focus on more serious stories, he writes a manuscript for the final Misery novel. While traveling from Silver Creek, Colorado to his home in New York City, he is caught in a blizzard and his car goes off the road, rendering him unconscious. Paul is rescued by a nurse named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who brings him to her remote home. When Paul regains consciousness he finds himself bedridden, with both his legs broken as well as a dislocated shoulder. Annie claims she is his "number one fan" and talks a lot about him and his novels. As a reward for saving him, Paul gives Annie his new manuscript which she saved from the wreckage. While feeding him, she is angered and spills soup on him but regains control and apologizes. She buys a copy of Paul's most recently published book, Misery's Child, giving glowing praise to Paul as she progresses through the book. However, when Annie discovers that Misery dies at the end of the book she flies into a rage, almost smashing a table on Paul's head. She reveals that she lied about calling his agent and the authorities; nobody knows where he is. Annie leaves and Paul tries to escape from his room, but she has locked the door.

The next morning, Annie forces Paul to burn his latest manuscript. When he is well enough to get out of bed, she insists he write a new novel entitled Misery's Return, in which he brings the character back to life. Paul complies, believing Annie might kill him otherwise. He also tells her he will use Annie's name in the book in appreciation of her nursing him back to health. However, having found a way of escaping his room, he sneaks out when Annie is away and begins stockpiling his painkillers. He tries poisoning Annie during a candlelit dinner, but fails when she accidentally spills her drugged wine. During another venture out of his room, Paul finds a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about Annie's past. He discovers that she was suspected and tried for the deaths of several infants, but the trial crumbled due to lack of evidence. Paul also learns that Annie quoted lines he had written in 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 feet with a sledgehammer to prevent him from trying to escape again.[6]

The local sheriff, Buster (Richard Farnsworth), is investigating Paul's disappearance. When a shopkeeper informs the sheriff he has sold Annie considerable quantities of typing paper, Buster surmises Paul must be at the Wilkes farm. Buster pays Annie a visit, who permits the sheriff to inspect the residence. When Buster finds Paul drugged and hidden in the basement, Annie fatally shoots Buster and 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". While she gets his chair, Paul conceals a can of lighter fluid in his pocket.

When the book is done, he reminds Annie it is his practice to have a single cigarette and a glass of champagne after finishing a novel. When Annie gives these things to Paul, he tells her that this time, he will need a second glass, for her. As Annie gets a second glass, Paul soaks the manuscript in the lighter fluid. When Annie returns with the glass he sets the manuscript on fire. Paul and Annie fight and Annie is killed.

Eighteen months later, Paul, now walking with a cane, meets his publishing agent Marcia (Lauren Bacall) in a restaurant in New York City. The two discuss his first non-Misery novel. Marcia tells him about the positive early buzz which Paul does not care about, saying he wrote the novel for himself. Marcia asks if he would consider a non-fiction book about his captivity, but Paul declines. While at the restaurant, he imagines the waitress as Annie. The waitress says she is his "number one fan", to which Paul uncomfortably responds "That's very sweet of you".



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 famed writer William Goldman to write the film's screenplay[7] Given that Reiner was a director with a career of comedies, once he read the novel he identified with the theme of "a guy who needed a new challenge, who needs to push himself and grow". King had refused to sell the novel's adaptation rights because of how other works of his were mishandled in film translations, but eventually let Reiner do Misery after his 1986 adaptation of Stand by Me.

Reiner worked closely with Goldman on the screenplay, with the director explaining that "We got rid of the most gory and horrific parts. I wanted to concentrate on the idea of this chess match between the artist and his fan."

In the original novel, Annie Wilkes lops off 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]


63rd Academy Awards
48th Golden Globe Awards
American Film Institute Lists


Misery received mostly positive reviews; on the critic website Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently holds an 89% rating; 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."[14]

Roger Ebert liked the film, stating, "It is a good story, a natural, and it grabs us."[15]

The genre magazine Bloody Disgusting ranked Misery fourth place in its list of "10 Claustrophobic Horror Films".[16]

King himself has stated that Misery is one of his top ten favorite film adaptations, in his collection "Stephen King Goes to the Movies".[17]

Misery grossed $10,076,834 on its opening weekend, finishing at second at the box office behind Home Alone.[18] It eventually finished with $61 million domestically.[2]


Film score by Marc Shaiman
Released July 1, 1999 (1999-07-01)
Genre Soundtrack
Label Dead Line

The film's score was composed by Marc Shaiman.


William Goldman also adapted the book for the theatre. His play version premiered in 2012 at Bucks County Playhouse.[19] [20][21]


The film was remade in India as a Malayalam and Tamil film titled Julie Ganapathi.[22]


  1. ^ (18)"MISERY".  
  2. ^ a b .MiseryBox Office Information for The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  3. ^ "Awards for Kathy Bates".  
  4. ^ "The Best and Worst of Stephen King's Movies – MSN Movies News". 2012-10-20. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  5. ^ "Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments". Retrieved 9 August 2015. 
  6. ^ Barone, Matt & Rodriguez, Ross Scarano & Aquino, Tara (May 5, 2013). "The 50 Most Hard-to-Watch Scenes in Movie History - #13. Hobbling, Movie: Misery (1990)". 
  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". 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". Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2002. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  13. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2005. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  14. ^ Misery at Rotten Tomatoes
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (1990-11-30). "Misery :: :: Reviews". Retrieved 2009-09-12. 
  16. ^ "A Look at the Top 10 Claustrophobic Horror Movies!". Retrieved 9 August 2015. 
  17. ^ Stephen King, Stephen King Goes To The Movies, page 579 (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009). ISBN 978-0-340-98030-9
  18. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 30 – December 2, 1990". Box Office Mojo. 1990-12-02. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  19. ^ 26 November 2012Broadway World"Exclusive InDepth InterView: William Goldman & Will Frears Discuss MISERY Onstage – Is Broadway Next?" accessed 2 June 2013
  20. ^ 20 Sep 2012Playbill"William Goldman Adapts Stephen King's Misery for the Stage; Bucks County Playhouse Will Premiere Thriller" By Kenneth Jones accessed 2 June 2013
  21. ^ Ted Otten, "Bucks County Playhouse presents stage version of Stephen King's 'Misery'", November 23, 2012 accessed 2 June 2013
  22. ^ " - This website is for sale! - thenisai Resources and Information.". Retrieved 9 August 2015. 

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