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Big Business (1988 film)

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Jim Abrahams

Music director
Lee Holdridge





Initial DVD release
August 13, 2002

United States

Big Business (1988 film) movie poster

Release date
June 10, 1988 (1988-06-10)

Dori Pierson, Marc Reid Rubel

Bette Midler
(Sadie Ratliff),
Bette Midler
(Sadie Shelton),
Lily Tomlin
(Rose Ratliff),
Lily Tomlin
(Rose Shelton),
Fred Ward
(Roone Dimmick),
Edward Herrmann
(Graham Sherbourne)

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Mixed up at birth, two sets of twins finally meet their match.

Big Business is a 1988 American comedy film starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin (each playing two roles). The movie revolves around two sets of identical female twins mismatched at birth, with one of each pair ending in a wealthy urban family (the Sheltons) and the other in a poor rural family (the Ratliffs). It was produced by Touchstone Pictures, with the plot loosely based on The Comedy of Errors (1589–1594) by William Shakespeare.


Big Business (1988 film) movie scenes

The film co-stars Fred Ward, Edward Herrmann, Joe Grifasi, and Seth Green, as well as siblings Michael Gross and Mary Gross. Directed by Jim Abrahams, critical reaction to the film as a whole was generally lukewarm. Midler received an American Comedy Award in the category Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture for her performance, in 1989.

Big Business (1988 film) movie scenes


In 1948, wealthy businessman Hunt Shelton and his heavily pregnant wife get lost in rural West Virginia when Mrs. Shelton goes into labor near the town of Jupiter Hollow. At the local hospital, they are turned away because it is exclusively for employees of Hollowmade, the local furniture maker. Mr. Shelton buys the company on the spot, and Mrs. Shelton is then admitted. The Ratliffs, an impoverished couple, arrive moments later with Mrs. Ratliff also in labor. Both women give birth to twin girls, and the elderly nurse attending the doctor confuses and mixes up the sets of twins. Mr. Ratliff overhears the Sheltons deciding to name their daughters Rose and Sadie, and suggests the same names to his wife.

Big Business (1988 film) Big Business 1988

Forty years later, the Shelton sisters are now co-chairwomen of Moramax in New York City, a conglomerate that is the successor to their father's business interests. Sadie Shelton (Midler) is focused on her career to the detriment of her family, while Rose Shelton (Tomlin) wishes for a simpler life in the country. As part of her business plan, Sadie plans to sell Hollowmade, but must get stockholders' approval to proceed. In Jupiter Hollow, Rose Ratliff (Tomlin) has risen to the position of forewoman at the Hollowmade Factory, and is also very career-driven. Meanwhile, Sadie Ratliff (Midler) has always felt misplaced in rural life and wishes for a more sophisticated life in a big city. Rose discovers Moramax's plans to sell Hollowmade and makes plans to travel to New York City to stop the sale. Wanting to see (and stay in) the city, Sadie agrees to join her sister.

Big Business (1988 film) Big Business

While Sadie Shelton makes plans for the shareholders' meeting, she learns from her employee Graham Sherbourne that "R. Ratliff" plans to come to New York with his sister to stop the sale. Sadie orders Sherbourne to locate "R. Ratliff" to prevent them from appearing at the meeting. A series of mixups at JFK Airport leaves the Shelton sisters stranded while the prospective buyer of Hollowmade, Mr. Fabio Alberici, takes their limousine back to the Plaza Hotel with the Ratliff sisters. The Ratliffs are checked into the Sheltons' suite, and the Sheltons are forced to take the suite next door, leading to a series of near-misses between the four sisters and the men who are pursuing them romantically. In the meantime, Graham and his assistant/boyfriend assume that a visitor from Jupiter Hollow, Rose Ratliff's beau Roone Dimmick, is "R. Ratliff."

Big Business (1988 film) Movie Promo Big Business from 1988 YouTube

All sisters discover their mixup in the lobby bathroom. After Sadie Shelton reveals that she is still planning to sell Hollowmade, the Ratliffs trap Sadie Shelton in the broom closet while Rose Shelton and Sadie Ratliff attend the shareholders' meeting and successfully stop the sale of Hollowmade. Both sets of twins later leave the Plaza hotel with their newfound loves.


  • Bette Midler — Sadie Shelton/Sadie Ratliff
  • Lily Tomlin — Rose Ratliff/Rose Shelton
  • Fred Ward — Roone Dimmick
  • Michael Gross — Dr. Jay Marshall
  • Edward Herrmann — Graham Sherbourne
  • Barry Primus — Michael
  • Michele Placido — Fabio Alberici
  • Seth Green — Jason
  • Daniel Gerroll — Chuck
  • John Hancock — Harlan
  • Deborah Rush — Binky Shelton
  • Nicolas Coster — Hunt Shelton
  • J. C. Quinn — Garth Ratliff
  • Joe Grifasi — Desk Clerk
  • John Vickery — Hotel Manager
  • Mary Gross — Judy
  • Carmen Argenziano - Board Member
  • Chick Hearn — as Himself
  • Don Pierson - Screenwriter
  • Marc Reid Rubel - Screenwriter
  • Production

    The movie was originally written for Barbra Streisand (Midler's role) and Goldie Hawn (Tomlin's role). The plot is a coincidental and playful combination of three previously recognizable stories: Aesop's The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors.

    Big Business (1988 film) Big Business The Reunion YouTube

    The production company could not get the rights to film at the actual Plaza Hotel in New York City, so it had the hotel recreated on sound stages. To recoup construction costs, Disney built a sitcom called The Nutt House around it. It was an expensive flop. Jim Abrahams said he staged one of the boardroom scenes based on an experience he had when a large agency used many employees to get him to sign with them.


    Critical reaction to the film as a whole was generally lukewarm. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 34% of critics gave the film a positive rating, based on 14 reviews, with an average score of 4.9/10. Sheila Benson from The Los Angeles Times called Big Business a "bright whirligig of a movie" and added: "As you watch its buoyant hilarity, the intricacies flow smoothly as honey off a spoon [...] Like a sensational party the night before, "Big Business" may not bear the closest scrutiny in the cold light of day, but it gives an irresistible glow at the time. And when it gets on a roll, it's a movie with more wit to its lines and a more pungent array of them than much of the mishmash that has passed as Bette Midler's Greatest Movie Hits." Philadelphia Daily News writer Ben Yagoda felt that the film was "big fun. Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler are a double dose of hilarity. Call out the National Guard — Big Business is a laugh riot".

    In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby remarked that Big Business, "though it never quite delivers the boffo payoff, is a most cheerful, very breezy summer farce, played to the hilt by two splendidly comic performers [...] Sometimes [the film's writers] do have trouble in characterizing the two sets of twins, allowing them to blend in such a way that the comic edge finally becomes blurred. Yet the film moves at such a clip, and with such uncommon zest, that it's good fun even when the invention wears thin." Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film two out of four stars. He declared the film "an endless and dreary series of scenes in which the various twins just barely miss running into each other in the Plaza Hotel," and found that it felt "unfinished" and missed a payoff. Variety called the film "a shrill, unattractive comedy." The staff felt that Midler's "loud brashness generally dominated [Tomlin's] sly skittishness".

    Box office

    In the United States, Big Business debuted within the top three on the box office chart and became a modest success, eventually grossing $40,150,487 during its domestic run.

    Home Media

    The film was released to VHS and laserdisc in 1990 by Touchstone Home Video, with a DVD release in 2002. In 2011, Big Business was among a selection of titles from Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures to be licensed to Mill Creek Entertainment, and a DVD and Blu-ray disc were released of the film. The DVD is available on its own, as a double-feature with Straight Talk, and as a triple-feature with Straight Talk and V.I. Warshawski.

    Music from the Motion Picture album

    Track listing

    1. Steve Winwood — "Higher Love" (Steve Winwood, Will Jennings)
    2. “Little Ole Lady” (Richard Wilbur, Marc Shaiman)
    3. Benny Goodman — "Sing, Sing, Sing" (Louis Prima)
    4. “Pennies from Heaven" (Johnny Burke, Arthur Johnston)
    5. George Benson — “On Broadway" (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil)
    6. The Trinidad Serenaders Steel Band — "Music Box Dancer" (Frank Mills)
    7. “Reilly Theme” (E. Shostakovich)
    8. "I'm in the Mood for Love" (Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields)


    Big Business (1988 film) Wikipedia
    Big Business (1988 film) IMDbBig Business (1988 film) Rotten TomatoesBig Business (1988 film) Roger EbertBig Business (1988 film)

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