A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda

US theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced by Michael Shamberg
Screenplay by John Cleese
Story by
  • John Cleese
  • Charles Crichton
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography Alan Hume
Edited by John Jympson
Distributed by
Release dates
  • July 15, 1988 (1988-07-15) (United States/Canada)
  • October 14, 1988 (1988-10-14) (United Kingdom)
Running time
108 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Language English
Box office $62.5 million[2]

A Fish Called Wanda is a 1988 British-American heist comedy film directed by Charles Crichton (his final film) and co-written with John Cleese. It stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin as a gang of diamond thieves who double-cross one another to find stolen diamonds hidden by the gang leader. His barrister, played by Cleese, becomes a central figure as femme fatale Wanda (Curtis) uses him to locate the loot.

The film was released to very positive reviews from critics and audiences, was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, winning Best Supporting Actor for Kline. Cleese and Palin won BAFTA Awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for their performances.[3] A spiritual sequel, Fierce Creatures, was released in 1997.


London gangster George Thomason and his right-hand man, Ken Pile, an animal lover with a stutter, plan a jewel heist. They bring in two Americans: con artist Wanda Gershwitz and weapons expert Otto West, a mean-spirited anglophobe. Wanda and Otto are lovers, but they hide this from George and Ken, pretending to be siblings, so Wanda can work her charms on them. The heist is successful, and the gang escapes with a large sum in diamonds. They hide them in a safe in an old workshop. Soon after, Wanda and Otto betray George to the police and he is arrested. They return to collect the diamonds, with Wanda planning to double-cross Otto, as well, but find that George has moved them. In Ken's fish tank, Wanda discovers the key to the safe deposit box containing the diamonds and hides it in her pendant.

Wanda decides to seduce George's barrister, Archie Leach, so he can persuade George to plead guilty and give up the location of the diamonds. Archie is in a loveless marriage and quickly falls for Wanda; Otto is jealous, and his interference causes Wanda and Archie's liaisons to go disastrously wrong. Wanda accidentally leaves her pendant at Archie's house, which Archie's wife, Wendy, mistakes for a gift for her. At Wanda's insistence, Archie recovers the pendant by staging a burglary. Eventually, Archie, feeling guilty, ends the affair.

George asks Ken to kill Mrs Coady, the Crown's only eyewitness. Though Ken accidentally kills her three dogs, causing him great distress, he is successful when their death gives her a fatal heart attack. Wanda and Otto want George to remain in jail, but with no witness, he now seems set to get off. At his trial, defence witness Wanda unexpectedly gives evidence against him. When Archie, stunned, flubs his cross-examination and inadvertently calls her "darling", Wendy realises that Archie has had an affair and decides to divorce him. Otto tries to force Ken to reveal the location of the diamonds by eating his pet fish, leaving Ken's favourite, named Wanda, until last. Ken reveals that the diamonds are at a hotel near Heathrow Airport.

With his career and marriage over, Archie resolves to cut his losses, steal the loot himself, and flee to South America. Promised less jail time, George tells Archie that Ken knows where the diamonds are. Archie sees Wanda fleeing the courthouse, pulls her into his car, and races to Ken's flat. As Archie runs into the building, Otto steals Archie's car, taking Wanda with him. Ken and Archie give chase. Otto and Wanda recover the diamonds, but Wanda double-crosses him and leaves him unconscious in a broom cupboard. Recovering, Otto shoots his way out of the cupboard and is confronted by Archie. Otto is about to kill him, but Archie stalls him by taunting Otto about American failures such as the Vietnam War. Ken arrives driving a steamroller, seeking vengeance for the fish; Otto, who has stepped in wet concrete and cannot move, is run over but survives. Archie and Wanda board the plane to start a new life in South America. Otto, clinging to the window outside, curses them until he is blown off during takeoff.



Cleese and Crichton had previously attempted to make a film together in 1969.[4] Although the project never entered development, Cleese and Crichton promised each other that they would eventually collaborate on a film.[5] In June 1983, Cleese and Crichton began writing the script for Wanda, and for the next two and half years, they met three times a month to work on the script.[5] According to Crichton, "We had a week of rehearsals and then a gap of two weeks in which to incorporate any new ideas which had been thrown up and to polish the script."[6]

Cleese, admitting in press interviews that he had no knowledge of how to direct a film, served as co-director, since the studio executives at MGM were worried about Crichton's age—he was 78 years old at the time.[4][5][7] On the set, Crichton wore a t-shirt presented to him by Cleese and inscribed "Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill".[7]

The film was shot in London during the summer of 1987.[5]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 93% approval rating, based on 59 reviews, with an average rating of 8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Smartly written, smoothly directed, and solidly cast, A Fish Called Wanda offers a classic example of a brainy comedy with widespread appeal."[8] On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 80 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[9]

Kline won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.[10][11] Cleese and Crichton received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.[10] Crichton was also nominated for Best Director,[10] Cleese won a BAFTA for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Curtis received nominations for Leading Actress at the Golden Globes[12][13] and BAFTA awards.[14] Michael Palin won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Role[15] and Maria Aitken received a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress[16]


Award Category Name Outcome
Academy Awards Best Director Charles Crichton Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Kevin Kline Won
Original Screenplay John Cleese and Charles Crichton Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role John Cleese Won
Kevin Kline Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Jamie Lee Curtis Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Michael Palin Won
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Maria Aitken Nominated
Best Original Screenplay John Cleese Nominated
Best Film Editing John Jympson Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Jamie Lee Curtis Nominated
Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy John Cleese Nominated

The film is number 27 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".[17] It is also included in the Reader's Digest "100 Funniest Films" list.[18]

Also in 2000, the American Film Institute placed the film on its 100 Years...100 Laughs list, where it was ranked number 21.[19] Then in 2003, AFI nominated Otto West as a villain from this film for AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains.[20]

Sequels and adaptations

The principal cast reunited in 1997 for Fierce Creatures (dubbed an "equal" rather than a sequel or prequel, by Kline), playing different roles. Fierce Creatures was not as well received by critics or audiences as A Fish Called Wanda was.[21]

The novelization of Fierce Creatures, written by Iain Johnstone, who co-wrote the film, begins with a letter from Archie to his brother Rollo (John Cleese's character in the film). According to the letter:

In 2008, it was reported that John Cleese and his daughter, Cynthia (who played his screen daughter, Portia), had started to work on a stage musical version of the film.[22]


  1. "A FISH Called Wanda (15)". British Board of Film Classification. June 15, 1988. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  2. "A Fish Called Wanda (1988)". Box Office Mojo.
  3. McCall, Douglas. "Monty Python: A Chronology, 1969-2012, 2d ed." Google Books. 21 July 2014.
  4. 1 2 Oliver, Myrna (16 September 1999). "Charles Crichton; British Director of Movie Comedies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Harmetz, Aljean (26 March 1989). "'Fish Called Wanda' a Crichton keeper". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  6. Vallance, Tom (15 September 1999). "Obituary: Charles Crichton". The Independent. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  7. 1 2 Bergan, Ronald (14 September 1999). "Charles Crichton". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  8. A Fish Called Wanda at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. A Fish Called Wanda at Metacritic
  10. 1 2 3 "The 61st Academy Awards (1989) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org.
  11. "Nominees & Winners for the 61st Academy Awards". Oscars.org. August 24, 2012.
  12. "Fish Called Wanda, A". Goldenglobes.org.
  13. "The 46th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1989)". Goldenglobes.org. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010.
  14. "Jamie Lee Curtis". Goldenglobes.org.
  15. "Awards Database (1988)". Bafta.org.
  16. "1989 Film Actress in a Supporting Role | BAFTA Awards". awards.bafta.org. Retrieved 2016-08-12.
  17. "Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies List is Laughable". Projectbravo.com. June 2, 2006.
  18. Stefan Kanfer. "The Top 100+ Funniest Movies of All Time". Reader's Digest. Retrieved December 16, 2010.
  19. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  20. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  21. "Fierce Creatures." Rotten Tomatoes. 21 July 2014.
  22. Eden, Richard (June 14, 2008). "Memories of Jamie Lee Curtis make John Cleese sing again". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved April 23, 2010.

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