The Unlikely Success of ‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’ – Details Explored!

Helen Gomez

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Creating a cult classic is a mysterious feat. These films succeed against the odds. “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” wasn’t a flop, but it felt like one upon release. Today, it’s a gem for video store enthusiasts. It straddles demographics, featuring kids with a dark sense of humor. Its PG-13.

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” found success on home video and cable because it appealed to a broad, undefined audience. It lacked star power, featuring a young Christina Applegate. Its odd plot could deter young viewers. Critics were unimpressed, and box office results were lackluster.

However, a savvy marketing team invested $1 million in video store ads, capitalizing on the film’s darkly humorous premise and enigmatic poster to revive its fortunes.

In this article, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about how ‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’ became an unexpected success right here at Bigflix.

Story Behind ‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” centres around the chaotic Crandell family, typical of ’90s movies. The single mother, Mrs. Crandell, decides to take a vacation to Australia, leaving her five kids in the care of a strict babysitter. This babysitter imposes a strict routine, bans TV, and even makes the youngest child read about aardvarks.

Early on, we see a hilarious scene in the second-oldest sibling’s room, filled with risqué posters, pizza boxes, and bongs. The film starts with a dose of gross-out humour but evolves as it progresses. 

The movie’s title, “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” is a bit misleading since the babysitter meets an early demise. This leaves 17-year-old Swell (played by Applegate) to take care of her siblings. Swell takes on a high-paying job in fashion, juggles a romance, and maintains her double life.

Her younger brother, Kenny, remains oblivious to the family’s situation, continuing his carefree lifestyle. Swell starts acting like a mom, which creates tension with her siblings, who accuse her of nagging.

The title adds a dark humour element, although it contrasts with the movie’s overall tone. Some cast members disliked the title initially. Originally named “The Real World,” it had to be changed due to another project with the same name.

Ironically, the wordy new title likely contributed to the film’s popularity, as it attracted more viewers on cable and in video stores compared to the less memorable original title.

Factors Behind ‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’ Unfavorable Reviews

Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead” fell short of expectations upon release. Producers hoped for a hit like “Say Anything” or “Adventures in Babysitting” based on positive test screenings. The screenwriters even considered a franchise with titles like “Don’t Tell Me We Lost Water.”

However, it debuted in sixth place in 1991, faced harsh criticism, including Gene Siskel’s “Worst Movies of the Year” label, and still holds a low 35% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Its budget of just $10 million, while making it look cheap, adds to its ’90s charm appreciated by audiences today.

The Surprising Comeback of ‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter Is Dead’

The revival of ‘Don’t Tell Mom’ owed much to HBO’s financing, marking their entry into film production. This paved the way for streaming platforms to create original movies, a trend we see today. HBO’s vested interest led to heavy promotion, with frequent airings.

VHS rentals also played a pivotal role, especially in rental stores. The marketing team went all out, spending over a million dollars on attention-grabbing tactics, like a giant cardboard cutout featuring the babysitter’s feet sticking out of the ground. These efforts turned the movie into a home video sensation, offsetting its lackluster performance in theatres.

‘Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead’ may not be a classic, but it’s not a failure either. It has a cult following among ’90s kids who remember it fondly from video store rentals and HBO. The film’s unique mix of dark humor and playful antics found its audience, albeit not as intended.

While it couldn’t match John Hughes’ success, it carved its own niche and stands out among the sea of early-’90s movies. It’s a quirky gem with personality.

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