A Fish Called Wanda
A Fish Called Wanda poster.jpg
US theatrical release poster
Directed byCharles Crichton
Screenplay byJohn Cleese
Story by
  • John Cleese
  • Charles Crichton
Produced byMichael Shamberg
CinematographyAlan Hume
Edited byJohn Jympson
Music byJohn Du Prez
Distributed by
Release dates
  • July 7, 1988 (1988-07-07) (New York City)
  • July 15, 1988 (1988-07-15) (United States)
  • October 14, 1988 (1988-10-14) (United Kingdom)
Running time
108 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States[2]
Budget$7.5 million[3]
Box office$188.6 million

A Fish Called Wanda is a 1988 heist comedy film directed by Charles Crichton and written by Crichton and John Cleese. It stars Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin. The film follows a gang of diamond thieves who double-cross one another to find stolen diamonds hidden by the gang leader. A barrister becomes a central figure as femme fatale Wanda uses him to locate the loot.

A Fish Called Wanda premiered in New York City on July 7, 1988, and in Los Angeles on July 13, 1988, and was released theatrically on July 15, 1988, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to critical and commercial success, grossing over $188 million worldwide, becoming the seventh-highest-grossing film of 1988. The film received three nominations at the 61st Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and, with Kline winning, Best Supporting Actor.[4] A spiritual sequel, Fierce Creatures, was released in 1997. The British Film Institute ranked A Fish Called Wanda the 39th-greatest British film of the 20th century.[5]


London-based gangster George Thomason plans a jewel heist with his right-hand man, Ken Pile, an animal lover with a stutter. They bring in two Americans: con artist Wanda Gershwitz and weapons expert Otto West, an ignorant and mean-spirited anglophobe. Wanda and Otto are lovers, but they hide this from George and Ken, pretending to be siblings, so Wanda can work her charms on them. The heist is successful and the gang escapes with a large sum in diamonds, which they hide in an old safe. Soon afterwards, Wanda and Otto betray George to the police and he is arrested. They return to collect the diamonds, with Wanda planning to double-cross Otto as well, but find that the safe is empty. In Ken's fish tank, Wanda discovers the key to a safe deposit box where George has moved the diamonds and hides it in her locket.

Wanda decides to seduce George's barrister, Archie Leach, in hopes of learning the location of the diamonds. Archie is in a loveless marriage and quickly falls for Wanda. Otto becomes jealous, and his interference causes Wanda and Archie's liaisons to go disastrously wrong. Wanda accidentally leaves her pendant at Archie's house, and his wife, Wendy, mistakes it for a gift for her, assuming that the W on it stands for Wendy. Wanda demands that Archie retrieve the pendant, and after failing to convince Wendy to give it up, he ends up faking a robbery at his own home in order to explain its disappearance. Otto arrives at the house to apologize to Archie for earlier insults and interrupts the robbery, knocking the presumed burglar unconscious before he realises that it is Archie who is robbing his own home. Archie returns the pendant to Wanda at their next romantic meeting, but it is interrupted and he subsequently telephones her to call off their affair. Otto arrives at the house again to apologise. Wendy overhears their subsequent conversation and finds out that Archie is cheating on her.

George asks Ken to kill the Crown's only eyewitness to the robbery, the elderly Eileen Coady, who owns three small dogs. Ken repeatedly tries to kill her, but each time accidentally kills one of the dogs instead, causing him great distress. The last dog's death gives the woman a fatal heart attack, making Ken successful at last. With no witness, George seems poised to be released. He gives instructions to Ken, revealing the location of the diamonds. When Otto learns that Ken knows the location, he tries to force Ken to reveal it by eating Ken's various pet fish, leaving Ken's favourite, named Wanda, until last. Ken reveals that the diamonds are at the Cathcart Towers Hotel near Heathrow Airport, but doesn't know Wanda already took the key until she informs Otto.

With Otto's knowledge and Wanda's key, the two want George to remain in prison. At his trial, Wanda, as a defense witness, unexpectedly gives evidence against him. Archie is stunned by her statements and flubs his questioning, inadvertently calling her "darling". Wendy, watching from the public gallery, declares their marriage over.

With his career and marriage ruined, Archie resolves to cut his losses, steal the loot himself and flee to South America. Promising less prison time, Archie asks George about the diamonds and learns of Otto and Wanda's complicity and that Ken knows their location. Archie sees Wanda fleeing the court and they race to Ken's flat together. As they arrive, Otto steals Archie's car, taking Wanda with him. While Ken stutters uncontrollably, Archie painstakingly gets him to reveal the location of the safety deposit box. Ken is never able to fully say the name of the location, but he ultimately writes the location out for a frustrated Archie. They then set out for Heathrow on Ken's moped.

Otto and Wanda recover the diamonds, but Wanda double-crosses Otto and leaves him unconscious in a broom cupboard at Heathrow. She reluctantly boards her flight to Rio de Janeiro without Archie. Otto recovers, steals a boarding pass, and makes his way to the tarmac, where he is confronted by Archie. Otto is about to kill Archie, but Archie stalls him by taunting Otto about America's defeat in Vietnam. Ken arrives, driving a steamroller, seeking vengeance for his fish. Otto finds he has stepped in wet concrete and cannot move; he is run over, but survives. Archie and Wanda board the plane while Otto, clinging to the window outside, curses them until he is blown off during takeoff.



Cleese and Crichton had attempted to make a film together in 1969.[6] Although the project never entered development, they promised each other that they would eventually collaborate on a film.[7] In June 1983, the two began writing the script for Wanda, and, for the next two and half years, they met three times a month to work on the script.[7] According to Crichton, "We had a week of rehearsals and then a gap of two weeks in which to incorporate any new ideas which had been thrown up and to polish the script."[8] According to Michael Palin, the original title was "A Goldfish Called Wanda."[9]

Cleese told an interviewer that he called his character Archie Leach, the late actor Cary Grant's real name, because "I feel this film is as near as I'll ever get to being Cary Grant."[10] While in character as Archie Leach, Cleese recited a longer passage from Mikhail Lermontov's poem Молитва ("Prayer").

Cleese, admitting in press interviews that he had no knowledge of how to direct a film, served as co-director, since the studio executives at MGM were worried about Crichton's age—he was 78 years old at the time.[6][7][11] On the set, Crichton wore a T-shirt presented to him by Cleese and inscribed "Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill".[11]

Filming began in England on July 13, 1987, and wrapped on September 21, 1987, after 70 days.[7]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 96% approval rating, based on 67 reviews, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Smartly written, smoothly directed, and solidly cast, A Fish Called Wanda offers a classic example of a brainy comedy with widespread appeal."[12] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 80 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[13] According to CriticsTop10, "A Fish Called Wanda" appeared on over 60 critics' top ten lists, making it the fifth most acclaimed film of 1988.[14] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[15]

After six weeks of wide release in the United States, it reached number one at the box office.[16] It eventually grossed $62.5 million in the United States and Canada.[16] It was the highest-grossing British film of all time with a gross of £12 million.[17][18] Outside of the US (including the UK), it grossed $126.1 million,[19] for a worldwide total of $188.6 million. It was the number one rental video in the US in 1989.[20]

Kline won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.[21][22] Cleese and Crichton received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.[21] Crichton was also nominated for Best Director,[21] Cleese won a BAFTA for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Curtis received nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Golden Globes[23][24] and BAFTA awards.[25] Michael Palin won a BAFTA for Best Actor in a Supporting Role[26] and Maria Aitken received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.[27]

In 2016, Empire magazine ranked A Fish Called Wanda 35th on their list of the 100 best British films, with their entry calling it "a must-own for any British comedy fan", adding, "it made possible Richard Curtis's later Brit-com oeuvre by establishing that British eccentricism can sell, revived the world's interest in Ealing comedies, and allowed a character with Cary Grant's real name – Cleese's bumbling lawyer Archie Leach – to live again on the big screen."[28]


During the initial run of the film, a Danish audiologist named Ole Bentzen died while laughing during a screening, which led newspapers to report that he had died from laughter.[29][30][31] The official cause of death was heart fibrillation, which may have been caused by an increased heart rate due to extended laughter.[32] Cleese considered using the event for publicity, but ultimately decided it was in too bad taste.[30]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[33] Best Director Charles Crichton Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Kevin Kline Won
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen John Cleese and Charles Crichton Nominated
American Comedy Awards Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) John Cleese Nominated
Kevin Kline Nominated
Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) Jamie Lee Curtis Nominated
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Top Box Office Films John Du Prez Won
British Academy Film Awards[34] Best Film Michael Shamberg and Charles Crichton Nominated
Best Direction Charles Crichton Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role John Cleese Won
Kevin Kline Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Jamie Lee Curtis Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Michael Palin Won
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Maria Aitken Nominated
Best Original Screenplay John Cleese Nominated
Best Editing John Jympson Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Screenplay John Cleese Won
Directors Guild of America Awards[35] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Charles Crichton Nominated
Edgar Allan Poe Awards Best Motion Picture Screenplay John Cleese Nominated
Evening Standard British Film Awards Best Film Charles Crichton Won
Peter Sellers Award for Comedy Won
Golden Globe Awards[36] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy John Cleese Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Jamie Lee Curtis Nominated
Goldene Kamera Golden Screen Won
Nastro d'Argento European Silver Ribbon John Cleese Won
Writers Guild of America Awards[37] Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen John Cleese and Charles Crichton Nominated

The film is number 27 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".[38] It is also included in the Reader's Digest "100 Funniest Films" list.[39]

In 1999, it was voted 39th on the BFI Top 100 British films list compiled by the British Film Institute

Also in 2000, the American Film Institute placed the film on its 100 Years...100 Laughs list, where it was ranked number 21.[40] Then in 2003, AFI nominated Otto West as a villain from this film for AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains.[41]

James Berardinelli of ReelViews awarded the film four out of four stars in his review;[42] it is also number 10 on his "Top 100" list.[43]

Sequels and adaptations

The principal cast reunited in 1997 for Fierce Creatures (dubbed an "equal" rather than a sequel or prequel, by Kline), playing different roles. Fierce Creatures was not as well received by critics or audiences as A Fish Called Wanda.[44]

The novelization of Fierce Creatures, written by Iain Johnstone, who co-wrote the film, begins with a letter from Archie (John Cleese's character in the first film) to his brother Rollo. According to the letter:

A loose Indian adaptation, Padmashree Laloo Prasad Yadav, was released in 2005.[45]

In 2008, it was reported that John Cleese and his daughter, Cynthia (who played his screen daughter, Portia), had started to work on a stage musical version of the film.[46]

See also


  1. ^ a b "A Fish Called Wanda (15)". British Board of Film Classification. June 15, 1988. Archived from the original on November 3, 2016. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  2. ^ "A Fish Called Wanda". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Archived from the original on January 18, 2012.
  3. ^ "'A Fish Called Wanda' turns 30: an oral history of a comedy classic". SBS. April 2, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  4. ^ McCall, Douglas (July 21, 2014). Monty Python: A Chronology, 1969-2012 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-78647-811-8 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ "British Film Institute – Top 100 British Films". Cinemarealm.com. 1999. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  6. ^ a b Oliver, Myrna (September 16, 1999). "Charles Crichton; British Director of Movie Comedies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d Harmetz, Aljean (March 26, 1989). "'Fish Called Wanda' a Crichton keeper". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved December 29, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ Vallance, Tom (September 15, 1999). "Obituary: Charles Crichton". The Independent. Archived from the original on November 24, 2015. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  9. ^ Palin, Michael (2009). Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-1988. St. Martin's Press. p. 412. ISBN 978-0-312-68202-6.
  10. ^ Alexander, Michael (August 15, 1988). "His Love Life May Be Fawlty, but John Cleese Is Reeling in Cash and Kudos with a Fish Called Wanda". People. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  11. ^ a b Bergan, Ronald (September 14, 1999). "Charles Crichton". The Guardian. Retrieved December 29, 2015.
  12. ^ A Fish Called Wanda at Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ A Fish Called Wanda at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  14. ^ "Best Movies of 1988". CriticsTop10.com.
  15. ^ "Movie Title Search". Cinemascore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved July 27, 2020.
  16. ^ a b "A Fish Called Wanda (1988)". Box Office Mojo.
  17. ^ "UK Box Office's Weekend Record-Breaker". Screen International. August 16, 1996. p. 23.
  18. ^ "Top Films of All Time at the UK Box Office" (PDF). British Film Institute. June 2017. p. 9. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 20, 2017. Retrieved April 8, 2020.
  19. ^ "UIP's $25M-Plus Club". Variety. September 11, 1995. p. 92.
  20. ^ "Vid biz often outsmarts b.o.". Variety. December 27, 1989. p. 1.
  21. ^ a b c "The 61st Academy Awards (1989) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org.
  22. ^ "Nominees & Winners for the 61st Academy Awards". Oscars.org. August 24, 2012. Archived from the original on March 8, 2012.
  23. ^ "Fish Called Wanda, A". Goldenglobes.org. Archived from the original on April 14, 2013.
  24. ^ "The 46th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1989)". Goldenglobes.org. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010.
  25. ^ "Jamie Lee Curtis". Goldenglobes.org. Archived from the original on April 14, 2013.
  26. ^ "Awards Database (1988)". Bafta.org.
  27. ^ "1989 Film Actress in a Supporting Role". BAFTA.org. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  28. ^ "The 100 best British films". Empire. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
  29. ^ Goad, Jim (March 17, 2015). "10 People Who Literally Died From Laughter". Thoughtcatalog.com.
  30. ^ a b King, Darryn (July 12, 2018). ""Just a Concoction of Nonsense": The Oral History of A Fish Called Wanda". Vanity Fair.
  31. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (July 24, 2018). "John Cleese Says Trump Reminds Him Of A Pro Wrestler". YouTube.
  32. ^ Bjørnkjær, Kristen (April 10, 2013). "Manden, der døde af grin" [The man who died from laughter]. Dagbladet Information (in Danish). Videnskaben anerkender ikke, at man kan dø af grin, men i praksis dør man nogle gange under et latteranfald. Pulsen kan ryge drastisk i vejret. Den officielle dødsårsag for Ole Bentzen var hjerteflimmer.
  33. ^ "The 61st Academy Awards (1989) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org. Archived from the original on May 2, 2019. Retrieved July 31, 2011.
  34. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1989". BAFTA. 1989. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  35. ^ "41st DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 10, 2021.
  36. ^ "A Fish Called Wanda – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 10, 2021.
  37. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  38. ^ "Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies List is Laughable". Projectbravo.com. June 2, 2006.
  39. ^ Kanfer, Stefan. "The Top 100+ Funniest Movies of All Time". Reader's Digest. Archived from the original on October 7, 2010. Retrieved December 16, 2010.
  40. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 24, 2016. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  41. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). American Film Institute. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 4, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  42. ^ Berardinelli, James. "A Fish Called Wanda". ReelViews. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
  43. ^ "Berardinelli's All-Time Top 100". ReelViews. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
  44. ^ "Fierce Creatures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  45. ^ Wright, Neelam Sidhar (2015). Bollywood and Postmodernism. Edinburgh University Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-74869-635-2.
  46. ^ Eden, Richard (June 14, 2008). "Memories of Jamie Lee Curtis make John Cleese sing again". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on June 17, 2008. Retrieved April 23, 2010.