Little Nikita

Little Nikita

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Benjamin
Produced by Harry Gittes
Art Levinson
Written by Bo Goldman
John Hill
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Cinematography László Kovács
Edited by Jacqueline Cambas
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
March 18, 1988
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $15 million
Box office $1.7 million (North America)[1]
For other uses of "Nikita", see Nikita.

Little Nikita is a 1988 American cult drama film directed by Richard Benjamin and starring River Phoenix and Sidney Poitier. The film marks the first collaboration between Phoenix and Poitier (the second being Sneakers in 1992).


Jeffrey Nicolas Grant (River Phoenix), a brash hyperactive high school student lives in a San Diego suburb with his parents, who own a successful garden center. Keen to fly, he has applied for entry to the Air Force Academy.

During a routine background check on Jeff, FBI agent Roy Parmenter (Poitier) finds contradictory information on his parents, making him suspect that all is not as it should be. Further investigations reveal that they may be 'sleeper' agents for the Soviet Union with a teenaged son.

Unable to arrest them as they have not done anything illegal, Roy continues his investigation, moves into the house across the street from the Grant family, and worms his way into their confidence.

He eventually confronts Jeff with his suspicions and seeks Jeff's cooperation to learn more about his parents. Initially unbelieving, Jeff is soon forced to accept the facts and discovers that even his name is fictitious and that his real name is Nikita.

Roy confides to Jeff that twenty years earlier, his partner was killed by a Soviet agent, known only as 'Scuba' (Richard Lynch), and that he is still at large. It transpires that 'Scuba' is now a rogue agent, killing KGB agents one by one, including "sleepers". Meanwhile, a Soviet spy-catcher, Konstantin Karpov (Richard Bradford), has been sent from the Soviet embassy in Mexico City to 'reel in' Scuba.

Jeff is captured and held as a hostage at gunpoint by Karpov, as he and 'Scuba' make their way to the Mexican border on the San Diego Trolley. Roy has also confronted them and is holding Karpov at gunpoint. At the border, the situation resolves itself; Karpov and 'Scuba' cross into Mexico, and the Grant family remain in the United States.



The movie received mixed reviews and holds a "Rotten" score of 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. Walter Goodman said that Benjamin's directing strategy in the film "seems to have been to paper over the holes in the plot with routine moves from spy shows past, in hopes of making the improbable passable."[2] Roger Ebert awarded the film one and a half stars, suspecting that Poitier and the makers of the film had no idea of how to use a computer, and that "it turns all of the characters into chess pieces, whose relationships depend on the plot, not on human chemistry. Since the plot is absurdly illogical, you're not left with much."[3]

Box office

It grossed $866,398 on its opening weekend. It went on to make $1.7 million in North America.[4]


  1. Klady, Leonard (1989-01-08). "Box Office Champs, Chumps : The hero of the bottom line was the 46-year-old 'Bambi' - Page 2 - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  2. Goodman, Walter (1988-03-18). "Movie Review - Little Nikita - Review/Film; Poitier in 'Little Nikita' -". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  3. "Little Nikita :: :: Reviews". 1988-03-18. Retrieved 2012-06-26.
  4. Klady, Leonard (1989-01-08). "Box Office Champs, Chumps : The hero of the bottom line was the 46-year-old 'Bambi' - Page 2 - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2012-06-26.
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