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Death Becomes Her: 8 Thoughts I Had While Rewatching The '90s Dark Comedy

Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Death Becomes Her, unlike its leading characters, has aged (almost) beautifully. The film is a tale of two frenemies who overcome their differences and realize that they need each other. Okay, really it’s about two women willing to literally die to stay young. Death Becomes Her is one of Robert Zemeckis’s best movies. It stars Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis in some of their most fun roles. 

I’ve seen Death Becomes Her many times throughout the course of my life, but it’s been quite a while, perhaps even a decade or so, since I’ve rewatched it. Now I’ve done that, and I have so many thoughts. 

Warning: Death Becomes Her spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.

Bruce Willis and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Death Becomes Her Needed More Oscar Wins

Death Becomes Her won the 1993 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It completely deserved this win. If Cats had such a difficult time with visual effects in 2018 and 2019, can you imagine how hard it must have been in 1991 and 1992 trying to do things such as put a huge hole in a person or create a head that wouldn’t stay up? Pure talent. 

Death Becomes Her didn’t just have great visual effects, it had an amazing set design, costumes, and makeup. The wig department alone should have won two Oscars. I know the Academy Awards takes itself very seriously, but comedies deserve more love at this award show. Death Becomes Her, and many other films, prove this. 

Unforgiven may have won the Best Picture Oscar that year, but Death Becomes Her won the Best Picture in my own personal imaginary awards. 

Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Madeline Ashton Walked Backwards So Miranda Priestly Could Glide In Heels

Give me funny Meryl. Give me dramatic Meryl. Give me singing Meryl. Give me mean as hell Meryl. Give me all the Meryls, because I will watch them. In 1992, Meryl Streep wasn’t exactly known for playing villainous characters. Some of Meryl Streep’s best movies at the time involved her picking between children and having long court battles.

She wasn’t exactly known for bad girl roles. She had played villain characters before Death Becomes Her, but you wouldn’t immediately associate Streep with these characters. Madeline let audiences know that Streep could play evil and be fabulous. She is now one of Streep’s many well-known iconic villains. A list that includes Miranda from The Devil Wears Prada and The Witch in Into the Woods. 

In Death Becomes Her, Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis also play against the roles most associated with them. By 1992, Willis was a well-known action star in the Die Hard movies. His portrayal of the cowardly pushover, Ernest, may not seem like a natural fit, but he plays him so well. Hawn is also most known as this funny comedian with a very distinct look, but Death Becomes Her really changes up that look with her auburn hair and sleek dresses.

Bruce Willis in Death Becomes Her

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Ernest Has One Of The Best Movie Redemption Arcs

Ernest is not a catch. First, he leaves his girlfriend, sorry...fiancée, for another woman the minute she starts to flirt. Then he stays in a miserable marriage for fourteen years. Next, he cheats on and murders his wife. He is the worst. 

Yet, by the end of the movie, you’re completely rooting for him. He’s also more of a supporting character through most of the movie, but then becomes the reluctant hero. Death Becomes Her casts a magic spell on me because I always end up rooting for Ernest in the end.

It’s really a conspiracy, because he’s terrible and really doesn’t deserve the happy ending that he gets in the end.

Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Madeline And Helen Are The OG Beverly Hills Real Housewives 

Madeline and Helen are basically the blueprint for all reality TV rivalries, especially on a show such as The Real Housewives. They have a long history of trying to destroy each other. It stems from something small and they’re always either throwing shade or plotting to destroy or kill the other. 

Can you imagine Madeline and Helen on a Real Housewives reunion with Andy Cohen? The antics would be delicious. They would also probably be two of the most successful Real Housewives stars. The products they would sell would make their companies billions. 

The entire film offers commentary on the whole Beverly Hills lifestyle, especially the obsession with staying young — from cosmetic surgery to Botox and tummy tucks. The film gives a funny look at this, but it’s very sad to know that even today (30 years later), people go to extremes to continue to look young and beautiful. 

Meryl Streep and Bruce Willis in Death Becomes Her

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The Second Half Of Death Becomes Her Is Iconic

Rewatching Death Becomes Her made me realize that I didn’t remember the first half of the movie at all. However, once Ernest has a chance to save Madeline but pushes her down the stairs instead, I could basically quote the movie from then until the finale.

Maybe this is a personal problem, but the first half of the film didn’t leave a lasting impression. The second half has always felt like the entire movie in my head. Before this rewatch, if you asked me to describe the film from start to finish, I would have thought it started with Madeline getting the anti-aging potion, and not everything that came before it.

I think the first half and the second half kind of feel like different films. The first is a bit soapy but still funny, and the second falls into the horror comedy movie realm.

I believe that the reason the first half comes off that way is so that people are completely shocked when the second half plays out. If this was my first viewing, Madeline reanimating would have shaken me to my core.

The second half of Death Becomes Her is pure entertainment. 

Bruce Willis in Death Becomes Her

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

If You Told Me The Potion Cult Was Real, I'd Believe It

Everyone is worried about the Hollywood elite and the Illuminati, but it’s a wonder that no one worries about the Death Becomes Her potion cult being real.

The film showed many famous stars, such as Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe, at that cult party. The film also hinted that Greta Garbo was in it.

We just accept that Paul Rudd looks young, but if he retires in a few years…someone should start searching for pins on him.

Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep's heads in Death Becomes Her

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Would This Movie Get Made Today? 

I don’t think anything in Death Becomes Her is so offensive that it would cause a major uproar, except, I believe (and hope), Goldie Hawn’s fat suit and the portrayal of Helen as fat would change.

Everything else seems to be fairly tame. I wonder if Death Becomes Her would get made today because it’s so unique and different. Hollywood has become so comfortable with adaptations of popular books, remakes, prequels, and sequels that very few unique stories get greenlit by major film studios. 

Robert Zemeckis, even back then, had a pretty good resume. Now his resume is even more impressive. Screenwriters Martin Donovan and David Koepp didn’t have that many screenplays made before Death Becomes Her, but now Koepp has written screenplays for major blockbuster films such as Spider-Man, Jurassic Park, and Mission: Impossible.

Even with their incredible resumes, I still think if they pitched Death Becomes Her today, they would struggle to find a studio wanting to make it. I hope in the next 30 years, studios become a little braver and we see more potential cult classics, like Death Becomes Her, made, even if that means them only being available on streaming services.

Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Additional Thoughts

Death Becomes Her had my mind racing in a million different directions. Like Ernest, I struggled to commit to just a few thoughts:

  • Lisle (Isabella Rossellini) gave me snake-in-the-Garden-of-Eden vibes.
  • So much religious imagery.
  • Bruce Willis’s screams in this movie may be my favorite film screams.
  • I want the entire wardrobe from this movie so much.
  • Robert Zemeckis and Tim Burton need to make a film together.
  • This movie has Rocky Horror Show elements.
  • According to math, Ernest is still alive today. He has several more years before his death.
  • I like that the film is really a tale about achieving life goals after 50.
  • When Hollywood eventually does a remake, I have casting suggestions.

Death Becomes Her is currently available to stream on Starz or to rent or buy on Amazon. (opens in new tab)

Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.