Danny DeVito's 90s classic, Matilda, is streaming at #5 on Netflix.
If you’re looking for something to watch this weekend that features the kid from Mrs. Doubtfire blowing up TVs with her brain, look no further. The 1996 Danny DeVito classic Matilda is currently streaming on Netflix, and according to FlixPatrol, it’s currently the #5 most-watched movie on the streaming service. Not bad for an almost 30-year-old kids’ movie!
These days Danny DeVito is mostly known for playing lovable madman Frank on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but what most people don’t know is the actor is also an accomplished director. DeVito not only starred in Matilda but also directed the film, a feat that only he and Clint Eastwood seem to be able to pull off with any regularity. Danny also pulled double duty on 80s comedy staple Throw Momma from the Train and 2002’s black comedy Death to Smoochy.
Danny DeVito also has something in common with another (in)famous director, Rob Zombie. The two dutiful husbands like to put their wives in everything they make. For Danny DeVito, that means casting his real-life wife, Rhea Perlman, as his movie wife in Matilda.
Matilda also stars Mara Wilson as the titular child. Wilson was a popular child actor in the ’90s starring in Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street, and Matilda in a three-year span. As an adult, Wilson is mostly retired from acting and considers herself more of a writer now.
Based on a book by Roald Dahl, Matilda tells the story of Matilda Wormwood, a neglected child whose clueless parents (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) ignore their child’s genius and even punish her for reading. Things aren’t much better at school, where a horrifying headmistress known as the Trunchbull swings kids around by their hair and locks them in the “chokey” if they disobey her. Under duress, Matilda develops psychokinetic powers and becomes a less murderous version of Carrie.
The screenplay for Matilda, written by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord was the subject of a heated bidding war in the early ’90s. Universal Pictures was lucky enough to win the screenplay only to butt heads with director Danny DeVito over the budget. Universal dropped the picture, and TriStar Pictures picked it up.
Sadly that was just the beginning of the Matilda drama. Danny DeVito’s problems pail in comparison to Pam Ferris, the actress who played Trunchbull. Ferris was almost blinded by chalk during the production and had the top of her fingers ripped off during a scene where she swung a little girl around by her pigtails.
Mara Wilson suffered the worst tragedy during the filming of Matilda. During the production, Mara’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and died four months before the film was released. Luckily, Danny DeVito was able to show Suzie Wilson a finished edit of the movie before she passed. The film was dedicated to her memory.
Despite Danny DeVito’s best efforts, Matilda only grossed $33.5 million at the box office–a few million shy of its $36 million budget. Meanwhile, the movie was praised by critics and still holds 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert, possibly the most prestigious film critic at the time, gave the film 3 out of 4 stars.
Thankfully audiences caught up with the critics when Matilda was released on home video. The Danny DeVito film performed much better on VHS (and to a lesser extent LaserDisc) before blowing up even more in the time of DVD. The movie’s Blu-ray release featured a reunion of the cast and crew in honor of Matilda‘s 17th anniversary.
In the years since the movie’s release, Matilda has become a part of pop culture. Netflix released a musical version, Matilda the Musical, in 2022 starring Emma Thompson, and Danny DeVito would love to make a sequel. The director has suggested that a possible Matilda 2 could star a grown-up Matilda, played again by Mara Wilson, as she deals with having a child of her own.
Unfortunately, there are currently no plans to put Danny DeVito’s idea for a Matilda sequel into production. Between the director’s obligation to Always Sunny and Wilson’s reluctance to get back in front of a camera, Matilda 2 may never see the light of day. Luckily there’s always the original Matilda to revisit on Netflix!