Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore) is a spoiled alcoholic from New York City who likes to be driven in his chauffeured Rolls-Royce through Central Park. Arthur is heir to a portion of his family's vast fortune, which he is told will be his only if he marries the upper class Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenberry), the daughter of a business acquaintance of his father. He does not love Susan, but his family feels she will make him finally grow up. During a shopping trip in Manhattan, accompanied by his valet Hobson (John Gielgud), Arthur witnesses a young woman, Linda Morolla (Liza Minnelli), shoplifting a necktie. He intercedes with the store security guard (Irving Metzman) on her behalf, and later asks her for a date. Despite his attraction to her, Arthur remains pressured by his family to marry Susan.
While visiting his grandmother Martha (Geraldine Fitzgerald), Arthur shares his feelings for Linda, but is warned again that he will be disowned if he does not marry Susan. Hobson, who has been more like a father to him than Arthur's real father, realizes that Arthur is beginning to grow up and secretly encourages Linda to attend Arthur's engagement party. Hobson confides in Linda that he senses Arthur loves her. Linda crashes the party, held at the estate of Arthur's father, and she and Arthur eventually spend time alone together - which was noticed by both families. Hobson is later hospitalized and Arthur rushes to his side, vowing to care for the person who has long cared for him. After several weeks, Hobson dies and then Arthur, who has been sober the entire time, goes on a drinking binge. On his wedding day, he visits the diner where Linda works at and then proposes to her. At the church, he jilts Susan, resulting in her abusive father, Burt Johnson (Stephen Elliott), attempting to stab Arthur with a cheese knife, though he is prevented by Martha.
A wounded and groggy Arthur announces in the church that there will be no wedding then passes out soon after. Later Linda attends to his wounds and they discuss living a life of poverty. A horrified Martha tells Arthur that he can have his fortune because no Bach has ever been working class. Arthur declines, but at the last minute, talks privately to Martha. When he returns to Linda's side, he tells her that he declined again – Martha's dinner invitation, he means - but he did accept $750 million. Arthur's pleased chauffeur Bitterman (Ted Ross) drives the couple through Central Park.
Gordon originally wrote the titular character with an American actor in mind to portray. Prior to the casting of Moore, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Richard Dreyfuss and James Caan were all considered for the role. In addition, Alec Guinness and David Niven were considered for the role of Hobson. According to Splitsider, John Belushi was also considered for Arthur. Initially Gordon wanted Moore to perform the role with an American accent, but this proved contentious as Moore had trouble performing with one and eventually convinced Gordon to let him use his natural English accent.
Although the project was initially in the works at Paramount, they eventually dropped the project with Orion Pictures taking over. Promoting the film proved to be a challenge, reportedly six ad campaigns were discarded before a final one was decided upon.
Pop singer Christopher Cross was initially asked to score the film, but writer/director Steven Gordon did not feel comfortable with his lack of experience in composing for film and the job was given to Burt Bacharach. Cross was asked to compose a song for the film which he did, "Arthur's Theme", which he wrote with Bacharach along with Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen.
The film received critical acclaim upon its release and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1981. It currently holds a 90% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
Arthur was followed by a sequel in 1988, Arthur 2: On the Rocks. Lead players Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, and John Gielgud, reprised their roles, as well as many supporting players such as Geraldine Fitzgerald, Barney Martin, and Ted Ross. The film was enough of a failure for star Dudley Moore to disown it.
It was first reported in 2008 that Arthur was to be remade by Warner Bros., with British actor/comedian Russell Brand in the lead role. Brand confirmed this during his March 10, 2009 appearance on The Howard Stern Show.
On April 22, 2010 it was announced that Helen Mirren would star opposite Brand, taking on John Gielgud's part. On June 11, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Jennifer Garner and Nick Nolte had also joined the cast. Garner plays the heiress while Nolte is her ruthless father. Greta Gerwig stars as a charismatic tour guide with whom Arthur falls in love. Jason Winer directed the remake and Peter Baynham penned the script. Filming began in July 2010. It was released in the US on April 8, 2011.
The remake was a critical and financial failure.
This film had three Indian remakes. One was the 1984 Bollywood Hindi language film Sharaabi starring Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role, the second was the 1985 Kannada language film Nee Thanda Kanike, and the third was another 2004 Bollywood Hindi Tumsa Nahin Dekha.Wins
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – John Gielgud
Best Original Song – Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen for "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" which was performed by Cross
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Dudley Moore
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen – Steve Gordon
Best Film - Musical or Comedy
Best Actor - Musical or Comedy – Dudley Moore
Best Supporting Actor in a Supporting Role – John Gielgud
Best Original Song – Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen for "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)"
Best Actress – Musical or Comedy- Liza Minnelli
The film is #10 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies," and #53 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Laughs.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #53
2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated
2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
"Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" – #79
In the video game You Don't Know Jack for PlayStation, there is a question in the category "Four-Letter Word For What You Don't Know" reading the following
One of the incorrect answers was "Bach, Champagne Courier".