'Problem Child' Turns 25: 10 Facts You Probably Didn't Know

Where is Michael Oliver today? We round up trivia about the anti-family flick from 1990

Photo: Everett Collection

Problem Child, which first hit theaters 25 years ago this week, was a gift to good little boys and girls who got to live variously through the film’s devious protagonist, Junior (Michael Oliver). He sets fires. He ruins birthday parties. He literally beats the opposing Little League team into submission. He does about as much bad stuff as you can in a PG-rated movie.

But here’s the thing about Junior: He’s actually not the demon child everyone else makes him out to be. And by forging a real bond with his adoptive father, Ben (John Ritter), Junior actually gets a happy ending at the end of the movie, in spite of all the havoc wreaked.

That’s probably what made the movie – which originally arrived in theaters on July 27, 1990 – a hit and spun it off into a mini-franchise.

In honor of the film’s 25th anniversary, we’ve collected a few interesting bits about the film that fans may not know.

1. Problem Child and Problem Child 2 were Michael Oliver’s only major roles – and he’s okay with that.

Appearing in a 2012 reunion of the film’s cast to benefit the John Ritter Foundation, Oliver, who’s now 33, said he enjoys his post-Problem Child life away from Hollywood.

“After having been thrust into the spotlight as a child, I appreciate some peace and quiet. I am grateful and always will be for the experiences,” he said. “I’m actually quite happy with my life the way it is today. I have a decent job. I work hard. I have a beautiful girlfriend. We have three cats and a hamster. It’s a nice, quiet existence. I like it.”

2. Macaulay Culkin auditioned for the lead role.

According to this 2012 Snakkle interview with Valerie McCaffrey, the film’s casting director, among the many child actors who auditioned was the future Home Alone star. Ultimately, McCaffrey spotted Oliver in a commercial and knew she’d finally found her Junior.

3. It was inspired by real events.

No, really. Speaking with costar Gilbert Gottfried on his podcast in 2014, writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski said the idea for the script originated with a 1988 L.A. Times article about an Orange County, California, couple who adopted a boy whom they later claimed was a dangerous sociopath “so disturbed that animals instinctively feared him.” But instead of writing it as a thriller or horror movie, Alexander and Karaszewski turned it into a comedy intended to poke fun at ’80s family movies such as Uncle Buck, Parenthood and Baby Boom.

4. It features a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards.

By the time Problem Child hit theaters, Seinfeld had just started airing its first season and hadn’t yet found an audience. So probably not too many fans recognized Richards as Kramer. In the film, Richards plays the Bow Tie Killer, a murderer whom Junior chooses for a pen pal.

5. It’s the film that brought John Ritter and Amy Yasbeck together.

The pair first met at a table read for the film. Yasbeck may have been playing Ben’s horrible, gold-digging wife in the first movie, but the two eventually fell in love and married in 1999.

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6. And yes, Amy Yasbeck came back for the sequel.

At the end of the first movie, Flo meets a bad end in the back of a truck hauling pigs. When the idea to make a second movie came about, producers wanted Amy Yasbeck back, so they simply had her play a new character – a brunette woman who’s as sweet as Flo was awful and who is both a love interest for Ritter’s character and the mother to Junior’s rival, Trixie (Ivyann Schwan).

Grown-up viewers could probably tell, but for people who saw this movie in their younger days – this writer, for example – the revelation that the same actress played both characters came as a surprise.

7. The writers wrote the sequel script in response to complaints about the original movie being in poor taste.

In an interview, Scott Alexander described his reaction to the criticism as “You want bad taste? We’ll give you bad taste.” Hence the infamous “fountain of barf” sequence in the film’s carnival scene. The first cut of the film received an R rating. Edits got it down to a PG-13 rating, and Universal inserted a Woody Woodpecker cartoon before the film to assure parents that yes, this was a kids’ movie.

8. The sequel also sparked a legal skirmish.

According to a 1993 Variety report, Oliver initially signed on for the sequel agreeing to be paid $80,000. Shortly before filming began, Oliver’s mother requested he be paid $250,000 and threatened to remove him from the role if he didn’t get the raise. A trial ensued, and Oliver eventually had to take the stand, where he recalled various gifts he’d been given by Universal Pictures after the success of the first film. “If I do remember correctly, I got a bicycle, a skateboard and a telescope,” he was quoted as testifying.

In the end, however, a jury ruled that Universal had been coerced into paying the extra money, and Oliver’s family was ordered to return $170,000 to the studio.

9. There was a Problem Child 3, but it didn’t feature most of the original cast.

Junior and Ben returned in this 1995 TV movie, but the roles were played by Justin Chapman and William Katt. Oddly, Gilbert Gottfried and Jack Warden did reprise their roles from the previous films – as the slimy adoption agent and as Ben’s overbearing dad, respectively.

10. There was also a cartoon spin-off.

Only 26 episodes were made, but the short-lived series featured Gottfried once again reprising his role from the films. All other characters were voiced by new actors.

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