Right on top of that, Rose! Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2021, but it remains a classic entry in the “accidentally killing an old lady” genre.
In the movie, Christina Applegate plays Sue Ellen “Swell” Crandell, a 17-year-old girl who thinks she’s about to enjoy a wild summer of freedom while her mother (Concetta Tomei) is away in Europe with her boyfriend. Her mom has other ideas, though, and hires a live-in babysitter named Mrs. Sturak (Eda Reiss Merin) to care for Swell and her three siblings.
So much for Swell’s plans, especially after Mrs. Sturak has a heart attack on the job after seeing a bunch of risqué posters in one of the teens’ bedrooms. The Crandells then realize they have no money to pay for food or bills, so Swell lies her way into a job as an executive assistant at General Apparel West, a fashion design company.
Her ruse goes over so well that she eventually gets to design her own clothes, but naturally, Mrs. Crandell comes home early and catches her in the act of pretending to be an adult. The film ends with Swell deciding to go to college even though she’s already had a “career” as a designer — and with Mrs. Sturak in a grave with a headstone reading, “Nice old lady inside, died of natural causes.”
Though the movie has since become a cult favorite, it was not well-received at the time of its release. “Blame the smash of Home Alone for the new herd of kids-on-the-loose movies,” Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone in 1991. “Let’s hope none are dumber than this one.” He concluded his review by calling Don’t Tell Mom “the film equivalent of processed cheese.”
Applegate, however, has a rosier view of the movie. “People come up to me and say, ‘Of all the things you’ve done, Don’t Tell Mom is my favorite,’” she told BuzzFeed News in 2015. “Its popularity is the most shocking to me of anything I’ve done.”
She chalked up the movie’s success to the fact that viewers could see themselves in Sue Ellen, even as she made a ton of mistakes. “She was relatable to a lot of teenagers who feel like the burden of the world is on them,” the actress said. “They’re so dramatic about everything and I think in her success, there’s hope. When I’ve seen it now as an adult, that’s what I see: It’s a feel-good movie. Everyone gets a second chance, everyone gets the chance to turn themselves around and all kids want to feel that way.”
Keep scrolling to find out what the Don’t Tell Mom cast has been up to since the movie’s debut:
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