Dennis the Menace
Dennis the menace.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNick Castle
Written byJohn Hughes
Based onCharacters
by Hank Ketcham
Produced by
  • John Hughes
  • Richard Vane
CinematographyThomas E. Ackerman
Edited byAlan Heim
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • June 25, 1993 (1993-06-25)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$35 million
Box office$117.2 million

Dennis the Menace (released in the United Kingdom initially as Dennis[1] to avoid confusion with a then identically named character) is a 1993 American family comedy film based on the Hank Ketcham comic strip of the same name. It was directed by Nick Castle and written and coproduced by John Hughes, and distributed by Warner Bros. under their Family Entertainment label. It concerns the misadventures of a mischievous child (Mason Gamble) who wreaks havoc on his next door neighbor, George Wilson (Walter Matthau), usually hangs out with his friends, Joey McDonald (Kellen Hathaway) and Margaret Wade (Amy Sakasitz), and is followed everywhere by his dog, Ruff. It also features a cameo appearance by Jeannie Russell who was a cast member on the original television show.

Released on June 25, 1993, the film was a commercial success, grossing $117.2 million on a $35 million budget despite receiving negative reviews from critics. A direct-to-video sequel called Dennis the Menace Strikes Again was later released in 1998 without the cast from this film. A second direct-to-video sequel called A Dennis the Menace Christmas was released in 2007 with a different cast from both this film and the second one.


Five-year-old Dennis Mitchell is a constant source of mischief, especially to his retired next door neighbor George Wilson. George pretends to be asleep to avoid Dennis, who mistakes this for illness and shoots an aspirin into George’s mouth with a slingshot. Dennis' parents, Henry and Alice, try to discipline him as they get ready for work, and leave him with his friend, Joey McDonald, at the home of their classmate Margaret Wade, whom they dislike. As the three children fix up an abandoned treehouse in the woods, itinerant criminal Switchblade Sam arrives in town.

Vacuuming up spilt paint in the garage, Dennis inadvertently shoots a glob of it onto George’s barbecue grill; tasting it, he suspects Dennis. The Mitchells leave Dennis with a teenage babysitter named Polly, who invites her boyfriend, Mickey, over. Sneaking outside, Dennis pranks them by ringing the doorbell and hiding until Mickey tapes a thumbtack to it. George investigates the vacuum in the Mitchells' garage and accidentally shoots himself in the gonads with a golf ball. Hoping to confront the Mitchells, he pricks his thumb on the tack; mistaking him for the prankster, Polly and Mickey douse him with water and flour. Switchblade Sam commits a string of robberies throughout town, and is noticed by Chief Bennett.

Bringing the sleeping George an apology card, Dennis plays with his dentures, loses the two front teeth, and replaces them with Chiclets just before he has his picture taken for the local newspaper. Henry and Alice both leave on business trips, but are unable to find anyone willing to babysit Dennis. George's wife, Martha, agrees to let him stay with them, happy to treat him as the child they never had. George is infuriated by slipping in Dennis' spilt bath water, and discovering Dennis has replaced his nasal spray with mouthwash and the latter with toilet cleanser. Dennis lets his dog, Ruff, inside the Wilsons’ house, leading George to mistake him for Martha in the dark living room. In the attic, Dennis' carelessness causes George to slip on mothballs and nearly crushes him with a canoe which contains the garden lanterns he's looking for.

George has been chosen to host his garden club's "Summer Floraganza", having spent almost forty years growing a rare orchid that will finally bloom that night. During the party, Dennis presses the garage door button, and it opens and upends the entire dessert table, and is angrily sent inside. While the Wilsons and their guests await the flower’s nocturnal display, Switchblade Sam robs the house, stealing George’s antique coin collection. Dennis alerts George, distracting everyone from the flower's brief blooming, and it dies afterward. Furious and unaware that he has been robbed, George chastises Dennis, who flees to the woods in sadness and is caught by Switchblade Sam. Henry and Alice arrive home to learn he has disappeared, prompting a town-wide search, and even a guilt-ridden George sets out to find him after realizing that he was telling the truth about the robbery.

Switchblade Sam prepares to leave town with Dennis as an unsuspecting hostage. Showing him the proper way to tie him up, Dennis handcuffs him, loses the key, unintentionally bludgeons him, and sets him on fire. Just as Dennis discovers George’s stolen coins and realizes Switchblade Sam is a thief, Switchblade Sam attempts to stab him but is snared in a rope caught by a passing train. The next morning, Dennis returns home with the captured Switchblade Sam and George's recovered coins, to the relief of George and the entire neighborhood. Switchblade Sam is arrested, and Dennis naïvely returns his knife and he attempts to stab him with it, but Chief Bennett closes the police car door on his hand, causing him to drop the knife down a storm drain and wince in pain before being driven away.

Dennis and George make amends, and Alice mentions that she can bring Dennis to work with her as her office now has a day care center. George insists he would be happy to watch Dennis himself, just as Dennis accidentally flings a flaming marshmallow onto his forehead. During the closing credits, Dennis gets his mother's condescending coworker, Andrea, caught in the office copy machine.



Mason Gamble won the role of Dennis Mitchell after beating out a reported 20,000 other children who had auditioned for it.[2]

The film premiered on June 25, 1993. It was known simply as Dennis in the United Kingdom in order to avoid confusion with an unrelated British comic strip, also called "Dennis the Menace", which also debuted in 1951.[3]


The film's music was composed by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith, who was John Hughes' first and only choice to write the score for it. The short-lived Big Screen Records label released an album of Goldsmith's score alongside the film in July 1993; La-La Land Records issued the complete score in April 2014 as part of their Expanded Archival Collection on Warner Bros. titles.

Additionally, three old-time pop hits were featured in the film: "Don't Hang Up" by The Orlons, "Whatcha Know Joe" by Jo Stafford (from the 1963 album, Getting Sentimental over Tommy Dorsey) and "A String of Pearls" by Glenn Miller.

Home media

On November 16, 1993, Warner Home Video released the film on VHS and LaserDisc. It was released on DVD January 28, 2003, and was re-released on a double feature DVD with Dennis the Menace Strikes Again on August 30, 2005.


The film was a success at the box office. Against a $35 million budget, it grossed $51.3 million domestically and a further $66 million overseas to a total of $117.3 million worldwide,[4][5] despite generally mixed reviews from film critics. In Germany, it grossed more than $5 million from 800,000 admissions in its first 10 days and was number one at the box office for three weeks.[6] On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 27%, based on 26 reviews with an average rating of 3.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Walter Matthau does a nice job as Mr. Wilson, but Dennis the Menace follows the Home Alone formula far too closely."[7]

Vincent Canby, in what would become one of his final reviews for The New York Times, remarked that "this 'Dennis the Menace' isn't a comic strip, but then it's not really a movie, certainly not one in the same giddy league with the two 'Home Alone' movies," adding that "Mr. Hughes and Mr. Castle try hard to recreate a kind of timeless, idealized comic strip atmosphere, but except for the performances of Lea Thompson and Robert Stanton, who play Henry and Alice, nobody in the movie seems in touch with the nature of the comedy" and that the film "simply looks bland, unrooted in any reality." Of the other performances, Canby stated that Gamble was "a handsome boy, but [that] he displays none of the spontaneity that initially made [Macaulay] Culkin so refreshing".[8]

A mixed review came from Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times, who praised Matthau's performance enormously, yet called the film "pretty tepid tomfoolery but [...] not assaultive in the way that most kids’ films are nowadays":

The “Dennis” comic strip, early ‘60s TV show and currently syndicated animated series all opt for an Everytown U.S.A. blandness—pipsqueak rebellion in a ‘50s time warp. The movie, directed by Nick Castle from Hughes’ script, is still caught up in that warp (with a few concessions, like the fact that both Henry and Alice now work). This means that Dennis doesn’t get into any high-tech shenanigans. No computers, no video games, no laser guns. The film pretty much sticks to the old-fashioned basics [and] since this Dennis is only 5 years old, perhaps the decision was made to keep things slapstick-simple. Or could it be that the filmmakers regard Dennis as a “classic"—like, say, Huck Finn or Penrod?

This sort of misplaced reverence probably won’t do much for young audiences accustomed to a little more zap and bounce in their heroes. Parents might be grateful, though. The shenanigans in "Dennis the Menace" are mostly so mildly conceived and executed that kids aren’t likely to try them out on their families when they get home from the theater. Mom and Dad won’t have to lock up the frying pans.

If Hughes was expecting this film to create another pipsqueak franchise for him, he may have miscalculated. "Dennis the Menace" seems more like a rest period in between Culkin-ized tantrums. It’s not much—just one goofy little foul-up after another—but its lack of crassness is rather sweet.[9]

Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "There's a lot to like in Dennis the Menace. But Switchblade Sam prevents me from recommending it."[10] Mason Gamble received a Razzie Award nomination for Worst New Star but also won "Best Youth Actor Leading Role in a Motion Picture: Comedy" at the 15th Youth in Film Awards.

Video game

The film also spawned a platforming video game for the Amiga, Super NES, and Game Boy platforms. It included stages based on Mr. Wilsons' house, the great outdoors, and a boiler room among others.


  1. ^ "Dennis the Menace (1993) Photos". IMDb. Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  2. ^ TV Guide September 17–23, 1994. pg. 23.
  3. ^ "DENNIS | British Board of Film Classification". Archived from the original on 2019-07-09.
  4. ^ "Weekend Box Office : 'Park' Paces Summer Moviegoing". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  5. ^ "July Fourth Weekend Sets Off Box-Office Boom : Movies: 'The Firm,' with $31.5 million for the weekend, leads the way. Total movie receipts for the four-day holiday are an estimated $120 million". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  6. ^ "Global Menace". Screen International. July 30, 1993. p. 28.
  7. ^ "Dennis the Menace (1993)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  8. ^ "Review/Film; Dennis, Mr. Wilson, Slow Burns And Cats". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  9. ^ "MOVIE REVIEW : No Menace, but No Macaulay Either : In the Era of 'Home Alone,' 'Dennis' Is Agreeably Low-Key". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 25, 1993). "Dennis the Menace". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 9, 2018.