The Danny Devito Hilarious Dark Comedy Totally Unknown To The New Generation

By Shanna Mathews-Mendez | Published

Fans of Danny Devito might have missed Ruthless People, his dark comedy from the 80s. Even Gen Xers who grew up in the 80s are unlikely to have caught this gem, so it is entirely possible that young adults today have never even heard of it. This reality is a sad one as Ruthless People is not just a great film; it’s a must-see.

Not The First Film That Comed To Mind

danny devito penguin

If you grew up as the star that is now Danny Devito was rising, Ruthless People, released in 1986, might have escaped your notice. You probably saw him in Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile, alongside Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Maybe you caught him in Twins with Arnold Schwarzenegger or in Batman Returns as the best Penguin ever. But Ruthless People, despite excellent ratings and critical acclaim, still missed the radar for many people. 

Danny Devito As A Cheating Millionaire

The story is one of those twisting, turning, blundering idiot heists that keeps you guessing and slapping your forehead at the same time. Danny Devito plays one of the quintessential ruthless people. He’s Sam Stone, a billionaire who’s cheating on his wife, Barbara, played by the marvelous Bette Midler at the height of her career. Sam is plotting to kill his wife so he can enjoy a relationship with his mistress, Carol, when he comes home to find her missing. 

Barbara has been kidnapped by Ken and Sandy Kessler, a working class husband and wife, played by Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater, seeking revenge on Sam. It turns out Sam has built his fortune using the life savings of Ken and Sandy and Sandy’s fashion designs. Yep, Danny Devito is the heart (or lack thereof) of Ruthless People

A Hilarious Con

Of course, Sam has no intention of paying the ransom Ken and Sandy are demanding, instead hoping they’ll just kill Barbara. Meanwhile, Ken and Sandy struggle to control Barbara, who is quite the handful. Instead, Sandy befriends the sad, overweight woman in her basement, and Barbara starts exercising to fitness videos on the television, falling in love with Sandy’s designs along the way. 

While all of this is happening, Sam’s mistress has another lover, Earl, played by an up-and-coming Bill Pullman, whom she convinces to blackmail Sam so the two can run off together with the billionaire’s riches. The police chief gets involved, finding himself caught in his own blackmail scheme, and hilarity ensues. 

Danny Devito’s Recent Roles

Today’s generation may have heard of Danny Devito’s films, but they likely haven’t heard of Ruthless People. He has become such a brilliant actor, one who can play virtually any part, that those small films get missed. Younger generations have watched him in Jumanji: The Next Level as Grandpa Eddie, and possibly caught his excellent turn as Bruce Davis in Disney’s Haunted Mansion (2023), and hopefully enjoyed his voice acting in the animated film Smallfoot

And don’t even get us started on Bette Midler. Most young people today only know her as Winnie Sanderson from Hocus Pocus! It’s a tragedy. 

How To Watch Ruthless People

So, while Danny Devito and Bette Midler in Ruthless People cannot be streamed for free on any applications, it is worth renting from Amazon Prime or Apple TV for around $4 just to get a sense of the arc of the careers of these two spectacular actors.