Ruthless People (1986) - Rotten Tomatoes

Ruthless People1986

Ruthless People (1986)



Critic Consensus: It's sometimes crude and tasteless, but Ruthless People wrings acid-soaked laughs out of its dark premise and gleefully misanthropic characters.

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Movie Info

The last film to be co-directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, Ruthless People stars Bette Midler (capitalizing on her comeback performance in Down and Out in Beverly Hills) as Barbara, a spoiled rich woman who is kidnapped by the kindly Ken and Sandy Kessler (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater). Barbara's forceful husband Sam (Danny DeVito) has ripped off the Kesslers and they decide to hold Barbara for ransom. Sam, who hates his wife, refuses to pay. Eventually Barbara befriends the Kesslers and together they figure out how to exact revenge upon the obnoxious Sam. Bill Pullman makes his film debut here as a very dim, would-be criminal.

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Danny DeVito
as Sam Stone
Bette Midler
as Barbara Stone
Anita Morris
as Carol Dodsworth
Judge Reinhold
as Ken Kessler
Helen Slater
as Sandy Kessler
Bill Pullman
as Earl Mott
William G. Schilling
as Police Commissioner
Art Evans
as Lt. Bender
Clarence Felder
as Lt. Walters
J.E. Freeman
as Bedroom Killer
Gary Riley
as Heavy Metal Kid
Phyllis Applegate
as Loan Officer
Jeannine Bisignano
as Hooker in Car
J.P. Bumstead
as Technician
Jon Cutler
as Stereo Store Customer
Susan Marie Snyder
as Stereo Store Customer
Jim Doughan
as Cop at Sam's House
Christopher Keene
as Cop at Jail
Arnold Turner
as Cop with Killer Picture
Bob Tzudiker
as Sam's Attorney
Louise Yaffe
as Social Worker
Janet Rotblatt
as Secretary to Chief of Police
Frank Sivero
as The Mugger
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Critic Reviews for Ruthless People

All Critics (43) | Top Critics (14)

One tires of the movie's relentlessly shrill tone and its excessively raunchy jokes.

April 20, 2021 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

Screenwriter Dale Launer makes the film earn every laugh with well-crafted cleverly set-up situations. This sophisticated handling of the comedy is definitely Ruthless People's strongest asset.

April 20, 2021 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Bette Midler's mastery of lovably obnoxious mannerisms has never had such deliciously wicked exposure, Danny De Vito brings his trademark sleazoid to full seriocomic flower, and Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater approach perfection...

April 20, 2021 | Rating: 7/10 | Full Review…

Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker are the same guys who who gave us "Airplane!" six years ago and "Ruthless People" is a lot funnier and meaner.

April 20, 2021 | Rating: 7/10 | Full Review…

There are both belly laughs and chuckles along the way, and comedy that shows the skill of writer, directors and actors, all put together for optimum results.

April 20, 2021 | Full Review…

The characters here aren't just bad; most of them are truly vile -- human slime. And the film makers chew them up (especially two nefarious bonbons played by Danny DeVito and Bette Midler) with the toothsome glee of jolly cannibals.

July 31, 2013 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Ruthless People


Without all the madness of Airplane, The Naked Gun or Top Secret, the trio: Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker made a terrific intelligent comedy, with the misunderstandings between the characters, the complex plot, a funny cast (with the best of Danny DeVito) make Ruthless People one of the greatest comedy film of the 80's and of the Touchstone Pictures. Fresh.

Lucas Martins
Lucas Martins

Super Reviewer


Ruthless People is a fun, entertaining comedy film that has good gags going for it. I enjoyed the film, but it did lack in some areas, and it could have been a bit better. However this is a good little comedy that was directed by the guys who made Airplane! However this isn't their best work. Bette Midler is very good here, and she makes the film worth seeing. I, on the other hand, never did enjoy Devitto's work, but I like him here, and he is pretty funny in his part. The film manages to be good enough to be a worthwhile comedy to watch, and if you're looking for a pleasant time waster, then give this one a shot. Although not the greatest comedy, there are enough effective elements to make this one a memorable flick to watch. I even if at times the film's material lacks, the cast do affine job to elevate this film into very humorous moments that works throughout. Everything you'd expect from the directors is present and there's enough zany humor to make this one worth seeing despite its flaws. I liked the film, and it's smartly constructed and it manages to rely more on its great cast, which are just funny on-screen to really make it standout above its flaws. Enjoy this crazy ride. Middler is great here, and she is one of the film's biggest strengths with a well written script that has more good things going for it than bad, directors, Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker craft a fine little comedy that is sure to please comedy lovers.

Alex roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer


While not as entirely crazy and hilarious as their Naked Gun films, this comedy by the Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker team still shows some trademarks of the same kind of humor: wonderfully ditsy main characters, fights with kitchen utensils and plenty of mix-ups. While Frank Drebin's adventures are more like a 90 minute collection of gags, the plot here is actually quite smart and make use of all of its characters and the chaos that entails. Bette Midler is particularly funny and outshine her two kidnappers easily. The clever solution to the entire confusion is also quite clever. Soundtrack and look of the film make it a perfect example of the 80s comedy that may not have aged well but still have that particular charm and the jokes still work years later.

Jens S.
Jens S.

Super Reviewer

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