Paul Sheldon used to write for a living. Now, he's writing to stay alive....
Directed By
Rob Reiner
Produced By

Rob Reiner

Andrew Scheinman

Jeffrey Stott

Steve Nicolaides
Screenplay By
William Goldman
Based on
Misery by Stephen King
Edited By
Robert Leighton
Barry Sonnerfield
Music By
Marc Shalman

Castle Rock Entertainment

Nelson Entertainment
Distributed By
Columbia Pictures
Release Date
November 30, 1990
107 minutes
$20 million

Misery is a 1990 American psychological thriller film based on Stephen King's 1987 novel and starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth, and Frances Sternhagen. 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, making Misery the only Stephen King adaptation to be an Oscar winning film. The film was ranked #12 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

Plot[edit | edit source]

Famed novelist Paul Sheldon 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 a new unrelated 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, 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 latest 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 makes Paul 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 ankles.

The local sheriff, Buster, 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 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".

Cast[edit | edit source]

  • James Caan as Paul Sheldon
  • Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes
  • Richard Farnsworth as Buster
  • Frances Sternhagen as Virginia
  • Lauren Bacall as Marcia Sindell
  • Graham Jarvis as Libby
  • Jerry Potter as Pete
  • Rob Reiner as Helicopter pilot
  • J.T. Walsh (uncredited) as State Trooper Sherman Douglas

Production[edit | edit source]

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 Given that Reiner was a director with a career of comedies, once he read the novel he identified with the theme of a "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 to that she only breaks his ankles. Goldman subsequently wrote this was the correct decision as amputation would have been too severe.

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. Warren Beatty was interested in the role, wanting to turn him into a less passive character, 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.

Accolades[edit | edit source]

  • 63rd Academy AwardsAcademy Award for Best Actress - Kathy Bates
  • Golden Globe Awards 1990Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama - Kathy Bates
  • American Film Institute ListsAFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills—(Nominated)
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains—Annie Wilkes—#17 Villain
  • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes—"I am your number one fan." - (Nominated)

Critical reception[edit | edit source]

The film received a reputation as one of the most iconic and most memorable horror movies of all time and has received critical acclaim. on the critic website Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently holds an 88% 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."

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

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

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

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