Death Becomes Her is a 1992 American satirical black comedy fantasy film directed by Robert Zemeckis and scripted by David Koepp and Martin Donovan.

The film focuses on a childish pair of rivals who drink a magic potion that promises eternal youth.

Plot[edit | edit source]

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

In 1978, narcissistic, manipulative Madeline Ashton performs in a musical on Broadway. Madeline invites long-time rival Helen Sharp, an aspiring writer, backstage along with her fiancé, plastic surgeon Ernest Menville. Ernest is smitten with Madeline, soon breaking off his engagement with Helen to marry her.

Seven years later, Helen is in a psychiatric hospital after fixating upon Madeline. Obese and depressed, Helen feigns rehabilitation and is released, plotting revenge on Madeline. After an additional seven years, Madeline lives well in Beverly Hills with Ernest, but they are miserable together. Madeline's career has faded and Ernest is an alcoholic reduced to working as a reconstructive mortician.

Receiving an invitation to a party celebrating Helen's new book, Madeline rushes to a spa where she regularly receives extensive facial treatments. Understanding Madeline's situation, the spa owner gives her the business card of Lisle von Rhoman, a woman who specializes in youth rejuvenation. Madeline dismisses the spa owner's advice.

Madeline and Ernest attend the party for Helen's novel Forever Young and discover Helen is thin and youthful. Dumbfounded and depressed by Helen's appearance, Madeline goes to see her young lover but discovers he is with a woman his own age. Dejected, Madeline drives to Lisle's home.

Lisle is a mysterious, wealthy socialite who claims to be 71, but appears much younger, and reveals to Madeline the secret of her beauty: a potion that promises eternal life and an ever-lasting youthful appearance. Madeline purchases and drinks the potion and is rejuvenated.

As a condition of purchase, Madeline must disappear from public life after ten years to keep the existence of the potion secret. Lisle warns Madeline to take good care of her body. Helen has seduced Ernest and convinced him to kill Madeline.

When Madeline returns home, she and Ernest argue, during which Madeline falls down the stairs and breaks her neck. Believing Madeline dead, Ernest phones Helen for advice, not seeing Madeline stand and approach him with her head twisted backwards. Ernest assumes she has a dislocated neck and drives her to the emergency room. Madeline is told she is technically dead and faints. She is taken to the morgue due to her body having no pulse and a temperature below 80°F.

After rescuing Madeline, Ernest takes the sign of her "resurrection" as a miracle, returns home with Madeline and uses his skills to repair her body.

Helen arrives home, demanding information about Madeline's situation. Overhearing Helen and Ernest discussing their plot to stage Madeline's death, Madeline shoots Helen with a double-barreled shotgun.

Although the blast causes a gaping hole in her stomach, Helen survives, revealing that she drank the same potion. Fed up with the pair, Ernest prepares to leave but Helen and Madeline convince him to do one last repair on their bodies. They realize their bodies will need constant maintenance and scheme to have Ernest drink the potion to ensure he will always be available.

After bringing Ernest to Lisle, she offers to give him the potion free of charge. Ernest refuses; he would rather live a normal life than spend an eternity with Madeline and Helen. He pockets the potion and flees, but becomes trapped on the roof.

Helen and Madeline implore Ernest to drink the potion to survive an impending fall. Ernest refuses, but after falling he lands in Lisle's pool and escapes. After Lisle banishes Madeline and Helen from her group, the pair realize they must rely on each other for companionship and maintenance.

Thirty-seven years later, Madeline and Helen attend Ernest's funeral, where he is eulogized as having lived an adventurous and fulfilling life.The two bicker as they leave Ernest's funeral.

They are parodies of their former selves, with cracked, peeling paint and putty covering most of their grey and rotting flesh. Helen trips, leaving her teetering at the top of a staircase. After she hesitates to help her companion, Helen grabs Madeline and the two tumble down the stairs, breaking to pieces.

As their disembodied heads roll and totter together, Helen sardonically asks Madeline, "Do you remember where you parked the car?"

Cast[edit | edit source]

  • Meryl Streep as Madeline Ashton
  • Bruce Willis as Dr. Ernest Menville
  • Goldie Hawn as Helen Sharp
  • Isabella Rossellini as Lisle von Rhoman
  • Ian Ogilvy as Chagall
  • Adam Storke as Dakota Williams
  • Nancy Fish as Rose
  • Alaina Reed Hall as Psychologist
  • Michelle Johnson as Anna Jones
  • Mary Ellen Trainor as Vivian Adams
  • William Frankfather as Mr. Roy Franklin
  • John Ingle as Eulogist
  • Debra Jo Rupp as Patient
  • Fabio as Lisle's bodyguard
  • Sydney Pollack as Emergency Department Doctor (uncredited)

Reception[edit | edit source]

The film received mixed reviews. It currently holds a 43% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both gave the film a "thumbs down," commenting that while the film had great special effects, it lacked any real substance or character depth.

Despite the lackluster reception, it won the Academy Award for "Best Visual Effects" and Meryl Streep was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance.

The film opened at #1 at the box office with $12,110,355 on the same weekend as and ahead of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Bébé's Kids. It went on to earn over $149 million worldwide.

Accolades[edit | edit source]

Award Role Result
Academy Award Best Visual Effects Won
BAFTA Award Best Visual Effects Won
Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical (Meryl Streep) Nominated
Saturn Award Best Actor (Bruce Willis) Nominated
Best Actress (Meryl Streep) Nominated
Best Supporting Actress (Isabella Rossellini) Won
Best Visual Effects Won

Theatrical Trailer[edit | edit source]


Death Becomes Her (1992) Trailer

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