Problem Child

Problem Child Information

Problem Child is a 1990 American comedy film. It stars John Ritter, Amy Yasbeck, Gilbert Gottfried, Jack Warden, Michael Richards and Michael Oliver. The film was directed by Dennis Dugan. The film was the first of many produced by Robert Simonds.


The film opens with a woman leaving a bassinet on the porch of a fancy home; the baby, named Junior, promptly urinates on the woman who picks him up. From there, he is repeatedly discarded at various homes throughout many years by guardians who have grown tired of his destructive behavior"?which includes demolishing a mobile home with a bulldozer in retaliation for his favorite toys being stepped on"?until he is eventually deposited at a Catholic orphanage, where he continues to wreak havoc on the strict nuns.

Ben Healy (John Ritter) is a pleasant but brow-beaten husband working for his father Big Ben (Jack Warden), a tyrannical sporting goods dealer who is running for Mayor. Recently, he has discovered that his father intends to sell his store and the land to a Japanese company rather than leave it to him; when he asks why, Big Ben reveals that it is because his son "stubbornly refuses to follow [his] example" by adopting an honest work ethic instead of a ruthless drive to usurp. He would love to have a son, but his selfish, gold-digging wife Flo (Amy Yasbeck) has been unable to conceive. Ben approaches less-than-scrupulous adoption agent Igor Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried) with his dilemma, and Igor presents them with a cute 7-year-old boy, Junior (Michael Oliver).

However, Junior is hardly a model child; apparently mean-spirited and incorrigible, he leaves a path of serious destruction in his wake, and is even pen pals with Martin Beck (Michael Richards), a notorious serial killer called the Bow Tie Killer. Junior throws the family cat at Big Ben, who then ends up falling down the stairs, and the house catches on fire. Junior messes up a camping trip with the neighbors by urinating in the fire, and manipulating a practical joke played on the kids by their father, Roy. He makes Ben believe a bear is attacking the campground when it is really Roy in a bear suit. Ben hits Roy with a frying pan. Junior then goes on to terrorize his neighbor's birthday party, after Lucy, the snobby birthday girl, bans him from the magic show. Junior however wants revenge and sneaks a lawn sprinkler in her room, cuts off another girl's ponytails with scissors, puts a frog in the punch bowl, replaces Pinata candy with pickles including the juice, throws her presents in the pool and places fire crackers in her birthday cake making it blow up.

Ben seeing Junior is upset gives him his most precious possession, a dried prune that belonged to his grandfather (he thought it resembled Roosevelt), telling him it signifies a bond between two people. Finally, he displays his effective but unethical method for winning in Little League where he strikes rival players in the crotch with a baseball bat. Ben is having serious doubts about Junior, and decides to take him back to the orphanage. However, upon hearing he was returned thirty times, he decides to keep and love him, something no one has ever done. However, Junior becomes upset that his parents were going to send him back and despite Ben stating that he will not, drives Flo's car into her father-in-law's store, and Ben's bank account is wiped out to pay for the damage. He is on the verge of cracking until Beck (believing than Junior is the criminal J.R.)arrives at the house, posing as Junior's uncle, and decides to kidnap his faithful correspondent, along with Flo for ransom.

While Ben first sees this as good riddance to his browbeating wife and the trouble making Junior, he soon notices signs that Junior is not the monster he appeared. In his drawer is the prune carefully wrapped up and through a series of pictures he drew, he depicts Flo and Big Ben as deformed monsters with hostile surroundings, but depicted Ben as a happy person in a pleasant background, revealing that he really did value him as a father figure all along. Ben, realizing that Junior's behavior was simply a response to how he himself had been treated, and that it has simply been bad luck that he has had to deal with too many cruel and selfish people at such a young age, undertakes a rescue mission to get him back from Beck.

He then confronts his father (who is preparing to make a TV appearance for his mayoral campaign) to loan him the ransom money. When he callously refuses, Ben activates the camera that puts Big Ben unknowingly on live TV, where he ends up revealing his true nature on the news, even mooning the camera. Afterward, Ben steals his neighbor Roy's car and "Super Dad" hat and goes to rescue Junior.

Ben catches up with Beck and Junior at the circus. Junior is rescued after escaping from Beck through a trapeze act and calls Ben Dad for the first time. Beck drives away, but the Healys are now on his trail. After a collision, Flo (who was stuffed in a suitcase), is thrown into the air and lands in the back of a farm truck loaded with pigs. Beck is arrested, but while being led away, he grabs an officers side arm and fires at Junior, but Ben shields Junior and takes the shot. Thinking Ben is dead, Junior apologizes for all the bad things he did and tells him he will never be naughty again and he loves him. Ben wakes up and tells Junior he loves him, too, and realizes the bullet ricocheted off his good-luck prune he was holding in his pocket. Junior asks Ben if he really believed that he was going to stop misbehaving, but Ben tells Junior he wants him to be himself. Junior then removes his bow tie and throws it over the bridge perhaps as a sign that he has changed his ways not to be like Martin, but be himself. Junior is then carried home by his new father.

The film ends with Flo in the truck looking out from the suitcase, only to be met by the rump of a pig as it defecates, and then the credits roll with the movie's theme song.


  • John Ritter as Ben Healy, he is a caring person and wants to have a kid. He adopts Junior and bonds with him. He is hated by his wife, neighbors and father.
  • Michael Oliver as Junior, the main protagonist and the mischievous prankster in the titular film. He was returned to the orphanage 30 times as he always causes trouble wherever he goes. Junior is often surrounded by selfish people which gives him the need to punish them with his pranks, thus making himself hated by those around him. He has a devious but inventive mind and is also good with electricity and machinery. Junior desires to have a family and he eventually meets Ben, who he develops a bond with as Ben is the only one who is ever nice to him.
  • Jack Warden as Big Ben Healy, the rich, but selfish father of Ben. He hates Junior, having called him the devil upon their first meeting. He runs for Mayor of Cold River but lost the election due to insulting the citizens on TV (the result of Ben purposely turning the camera on when Big Ben refuses to help him rescue Junior.)
  • Gilbert Gottfried as Igor Peabody, works with the orphanage and thinks that Junior at first is an angel but turns out he is wrong and cons Ben and Flo into taking Junior. Later he reveals that Junior was returned 30 times to the orphanage.
  • Amy Yasbeck as Flo Healy, she is the wife of Ben and hates Junior. The only reason she wanted to adopt was so she could get invited to neighbors' parties and dinners. She is quite selfish and unfaithful to Ben as she makes love to Martin in the kitchen.
  • Michael Richards as Martin "The Bow Tie Killer" Beck, the escaped convict and wears a bow tie and says he is just misunderstood. He has cravings for a clown-themed snack called 'Smiley Pies', even though he (like Junior) hates clowns. Serves and reveals as the antagonist in the film.
  • Peter Jurasik as Roy, Ben and Flo's neighbor. He thinks that he is a Super Dad due to his wife's pregnancy. He scared the kids with a bear costume and was mistaken for a real bear by Ben and is hit with a frying pan.
  • Dennis Dugan as Father in the store (cameo)
  • Colby Kline as Lucy, the neighbor's selfish, mean and spoiled 6 year old. She begrudgingly invites Junior to her birthday party at her mother's insistence. She tells Junior he isn't allowed to watch the magic show at her birthday party for touching her presents, but Junior get his revenge by ruining her party down by the river.


Although the film was rated PG, it is still heavily censored when shown on television due to the numerous remarks made about adoption, which critics saw as insensitive.

Problem Child was not screened for critics prior to its release. It received overwhelmingly negative reviews upon its release and currently holds a 4.8 out of 10 on Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

Hal Hinson, writing for the Washington Post, noted "Dugan has a brisk, imaginative comic style; he sets up his gags well, so that there's still some surprise in the punch lines when they come. Essentially, the problem here is the same as the problem in Gremlins 2. It's basically about tearing stuff up, and after a while you grow tired of seeing variations on the same joke of a cute kid committing horrible atrocities."

On the film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, it received a critics' rating of 7%, and an audience rating of 43%.


  1. Problem Child 2 (1991) brought back the original cast in their original roles and picked up where the first film ended. Amy Yasbeck, however, was given a new role with a new dynamic totally opposite her original character.
  2. Problem Child 3: Junior in Love (1995), the final film, Gottfried and Warden reprised their respective roles as Mr. Peabody and Big Ben Healy. Eric Edwards also reprised his role as Murph (he also played Bertha, Murph's sister) However the roles of Junior and Ben Healy were recast. Annie, Trixie, and LaWanda Dumore do not appear in this film, nor are they mentioned.

Animated TV series

Main article: Problem Child (TV series)
There was an animated TV series that aired in 1993. Gottfried was the only original cast member to be featured as a voice-over actor, making him the only cast member involved in all 3 movies as well as the cartoon (Jack Warden was in all 3 films, but not the TV series).

Box office

The movie debuted at No.3.

Home media

The movie was more successful on home video.

Special DVD release

Problem Child and Problem Child 2 were released together on DVD in the US on March 2, 2004, as a package entitled Problem Child Tantrum Pack. These films were presented in open-matte full screen only. However, no home video release thus far features the deleted footage shown on cable TV airings of the film.

Problem Child was re-released on the Family Comedy Pack Quadruple Feature DVD (with other comedy films like Kindergarten Cop, Kicking & Screaming, and Major Payne) in anamorphic widescreen (being the film's first widescreen Region 1 DVD release) on August 5, 2008.

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Problem_Child_%28film%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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