Spy Hard
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRick Friedberg
Screenplay byRick Friedberg
Dick Chudnow
Jason Friedberg
Aaron Seltzer
Story byJason Friedberg
Aaron Seltzer
Produced byRick Friedberg
Doug Draizin
Jeffrey Konvitz
CinematographyJohn R. Leonetti
Edited byEric Sears
Music byBill Conti
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • May 24, 1996 (1996-05-24)
Running time
77 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$18 million[1]
Box office$84 million[2]

Spy Hard is a 1996 American spy parody film starring Leslie Nielsen (who also executive produced) and Nicollette Sheridan, parodying James Bond and other action films. The introduction to the film is sung by comedy artist "Weird Al" Yankovic, and it was the first film to be written by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, who went on to write and direct parody films such as Date Movie, Disaster Movie, and Meet the Spartans. The film's title is a parody of Die Hard. The film was directed by Rick Friedberg who produced with Doug Draizin and Jeffrey Konvitz.

The film was released by Buena Vista Pictures under its Hollywood Pictures banner on May 24, 1996, receiving negative reviews from critics. While many praised Nielsen's acting and its humor, most found the script, story, and its direction disappointing. The film grossed $84 million against a production budget of $18 million.


Secret agent WD-40 Dick Steele has his work cut out for him. Along with the mysterious and lovely Veronique Ukrinsky, Agent 3.14, he must rescue the kidnapped Barbara Dahl and stop the evil genius, a General named Rancor, from seizing control of the entire world.

Rancor was wounded in an earlier encounter and no longer has arms. However, he can "arm" himself by attaching robotic limbs with various weapons attached. Steele is approached by an old friend, agent Steven Bishop, who unsuccessfully tries to recruit him out of retirement. However, when a news report Steele is watching reveals that Bishop has been killed, Steele returns to the agency. Steele given his new assignment by The Director, who also is testing out a variety of elaborate disguises. At headquarters, Steele encounters an old agency nemesis, Norm Coleman, and flirts with the Director's adoring secretary, referred to as Miss Cheevus.

On the job, Steele is assisted by an agent named Kabul, who gives him rides in a never-ending variety of specially designed cars. They seek help from McLuckey, a blond child left home alone, who is very good at fending off intruders. Steele resists the temptations of a dangerous woman he finds waiting for him in bed. But he does work very closely with Agent 3.14, whose father, Professor Ukrinsky, is also being held captive by Rancor.

Everything comes to an explosive conclusion at the General's remote fortress, where Steele rescues both Barbara Dahl and Miss Cheevus and launches a literally disarmed Rancor into outer space, saving mankind.



Title sequence

"Weird Al" Yankovic sings the title song and directed the title sequence. It is a parody of title sequences from the James Bond films designed by Maurice Binder, specifically 1965's Thunderball, complete with multiple coloured backgrounds, silhouetted figures, women dancing with guns, and "wavy" text. Additionally, an urban legend states that during the recording of the theme to Thunderball, Tom Jones held the song's final note long enough to pass out. Yankovic holds it so long that his head explodes. Originally, Yankovic had planned to loop the note to the required length, but in the studio, he discovered he was able to hold the note long enough that no looping was required.[4] The sequence was later included on "Weird Al" Yankovic: The Ultimate Video Collection, although, for legal reasons, all credits and titles had to be taken out, excluding that of the film and of Yankovic himself.


Box office

The film opened at number 3 at the US box office with $10,448,420 behind Mission: Impossible's opening weekend and Twister's third. It eventually grossed $26,960,191 in the United States and Canada.[1] Internationally, it did much better, grossing $57.2 million for a worldwide total of $84 million.[2]


Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 7% based on 41 reviews, and an average rating of 3.6/10. The site's critics consensus states: "Leslie Nielsen's comic gifts are undisputed, but Spy Hard's lazy script and slapdash direction fail to take advantage of them."[5] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 25 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[6] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[7]

James Berardinelli of ReelViews wrote: "Director Rick Friedberg [...] has crafted a dreadfully unfunny comedy that takes Naked Gun-like sketches and rehashes them without a whit of style or energy. ... For movie-after-movie, Leslie Nielsen has milked this same personality, and it's starting to wear very thin. As affable as the actor is, there's just nothing left in this caricature. However, while Spy Hard might have worked better with, say, Roger Moore in the title role (his 007 was a parody towards the end, anyway), Nielsen's performance is only a small part of a massively-flawed production. Hard is the operative word here, because, even at just eighty-one minutes, this movie is unbelievably difficult to sit through."[8]

Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote: "Spy Hard is never funnier than during its opening credit sequence in which "Weird Al" Yankovic bellows his parody of the brassy theme song from Goldfinger, while obese cartoon silhouettes swim across the screen. ... Instead of building sustained comic set pieces, it takes a machine-gun approach to humor. Without looking at where it's aiming, it opens fire and sprays comic bullets in all directions, trusting that a few will hit the bull's-eye. A few do, but many more don't. ... Around the halfway point, Spy Hard begins to run out of ideas and becomes a series of crude, rambunctious parodies of other films. ... When Spy Hard abruptly ends after only 81 minutes, you sense that it has used up every last round of available ammunition. It was simply exhausted and couldn't move another inch."[9]

Mick LaSalle of San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "It's done in the style of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker Naked Gun series, but although the style is there, the jokes aren't. Spy Hard relies on silly slapstick, takeoffs of recent films and the shock effect of celebrity cameos. But all that exertion doesn't add up to more than a handful of laughs. ... The story is too weak to work even as a clothesline for gags. Spy Hard eschews a coherent story and instead just strings together movie takeoffs. ... Nielsen, with his expert deadpan and sense of comic timing, creates the illusion of humor – for about 15 minutes. Thanks to him, what could have been an unbearable experience becomes merely empty. Still, he can't work miracles, and nothing short of a miracle could have made Spy Hard worth seeing."[10]

Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun gave the film a negative review, writing that the film is "more of a parody of a parody than a parody" and in particular criticizing director Rick Friedberg, asking, "[w]as this poor guy ever funny?"[11]

Marcia Gay Harden wasn't a fan of the film itself as well:

Ugh. I hated doing that movie. [Laughs.] It was, I thought, going to be an opportunity to have a lot of fun, but it was just chaos and, uh, not so much fun. And not so funny. I mean, Leslie [Nielsen] was great, but it was really his show, and it was just… very chaotic. Behind schedule, over budget. People mention her to me, but I've never really seen the movie. All I know is that she was supposed to be sexy, and I don't know if she even was.

Allegations of studio interference

In the decades since its initial release, director Rick Friedberg has spoken at length about his unhappy experience on the film, alleging rampant interference on the part of Disney that led to an "eviscerated" [13] final product.

A major point of contention during production was Spy Hard's target audience. While Disney insisted that Spy Hard appeal to as wide a demographic as possible (with a particular emphasis on children), Friedberg maintained that their core demographic was males in their early to late teens. Friedberg was forced to cut or rewrite entire set-pieces if Disney deemed them "too sophisticated" for young audiences.[14] Recalling his exchanges with Disney executives, Friedberg said, "The primary thing they did which is the most painful was that they cut all of the good dialogue and all the story. I said 'No matter how funny this is, no matter what it parodies, it has to have a storyline'. They said 'Nobody gives a shit about the story - all they care about is jokes.'" [15]

Late in production, with the film one day behind schedule, Friedberg claims Disney removed him as director and hired a replacement to conduct reshoots. Now unofficially working in a consultant capacity, Friedberg was sent the dailies from the reshoots, which he said were "all terrible".[14] Final editing on Spy Hard occurred without Friedberg's involvement. Following advice from Naked Gun co-screenwriter Jim Abrahams, Disney was determined to bring Spy Hard in at a lean 84-minute running time.[15] Friedberg says Disney refused to budge from this number and made extensive cuts to his 96-minute original version, resulting in continuity errors and a lack of narrative comprehension. The running time for Spy Hard's eventual theatrical release, before closing credits, was 77 minutes.

Interviewed on a 2022 podcast, when asked to name his favourite moment or scene from the film, Friedberg admitted, "I don't think there is a single one. I can't watch it. Its too painful for me when I see what was altered or what was cut."[15][verification needed]


  1. ^ a b "Spy Hard". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Top 100 worldwide b.o. champs". Variety. January 20, 1997. p. 14.
  3. ^ Spy Hard (1996) | Full Cast
  4. ^ Yankovic, Weird Al. "Ask Al". "Weird Al" Yankovic. Archived from the original on December 21, 2016. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  5. ^ "Spy Hard". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Archived from the original on March 19, 2024. Retrieved December 11, 2021.
  6. ^ "Spy Hard". Metacritic. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved October 31, 2020.
  7. ^ "SPY HARD (1996) C+". CinemaScore.com. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  8. ^ Berardinelli, James (1996). "Review: Spy Hard". reelviews.net. Archived from the original on November 10, 2023. Retrieved October 13, 2011.
  9. ^ Holden, Stephen (May 24, 1996). "FILM REVIEW;That's Agent 007? No, It Must Be 000". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2011.
  10. ^ LaSalle, Mick (June 23, 2011). "'Spy' Hard Up For Jokes / Nielsen vehicle has no wheels". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on September 26, 2020. Retrieved October 31, 2020.
  11. ^ Hunter, Stephen (May 24, 1996). "'Spy Hard' is no 'Airplane' Review: Spy-thriller spoof has Leslie Nielsen, but it lacks the rapid-fire gags we have come to expect". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  12. ^ Harris, Will (October 11, 2012). "Marcia Gay Harden on her favorite character and working with Clint Eastwood". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on October 30, 2016. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  13. ^ Trembath, Ron. "Rick Friedberg [Interview]". Trainwreck'd Society. WordPress. Retrieved April 20, 2024.
  14. ^ a b Friedberg, Rick (September 19, 2014). Hollywood War Stories: How to Survive in the Trenches. Rick Friedberg. ISBN 9781500991616. Retrieved April 20, 2024.
  15. ^ a b c Friedberg, Rick. "SpyMaster Interview #28: Rick Friedberg". YouTube. SpyHards Podcast. Retrieved April 20, 2024.