The film debuted in Los Angeles on November 16, 1991. It opened internationally on November 22, 1991, on the same day as An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and Beauty and the Beast and received generally positive reviews. Anjelica Huston was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Morticia Addams; Raúl Juliá as Gomez Addams, Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams, and Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester were also well received. It was commercially successful, making back several times its operating budget, and was followed by a sequel, Addams Family Values, two years later.
Gomez Addams laments the 25-year absence of his brother Fester, who disappeared after the two had a falling-out. Gomez's lawyer Tully Alford owes money to loan shark Abigail Craven, and notices that her son Gordon closely resembles Fester. Tully proposes that Gordon pose as Fester to infiltrate the Addams household and find the hidden vault where they keep their vast riches. Tully and his wife Margaret attend a séance at the Addams home led by Grandmama in which the family tries to contact Fester's spirit. Gordon arrives, posing as Fester, while Abigail poses as psychiatrist Dr. Pinder-Schloss and tells the family that Fester had been lost in the Bermuda Triangle for the past 25 years.
Gomez, overjoyed to have Fester back, takes him to the family vault to view home movies from their childhood. Gordon learns the reason for the brothers' falling-out: Gomez was jealous of Fester's success with women, and wooed the conjoined twins Flora and Fauna Amor away from him out of envy. Gomez starts to suspect that "Fester" is an impostor when he is unable to recall important details about their past. Gordon attempts to return to the vault, but is unable to get past a booby trap. Gomez's wife Morticia reminds "Fester" of the importance of family amongst the Addamses and of their vengeance against those who cross them. Fearing that the family is getting wise to their con, Abigail (under the guise of Dr. Pinder-Schloss) convinces Gomez that his suspicions are due to displacement.
Gordon grows closer to the Addams family, particularly the children Wednesday and Pugsley, whom he helps to prepare a swordplay sequence for a school play. The Addamses throw a large party with their extended family and friends to celebrate Fester's return, during which Abigail plans to break into the vault. Wednesday overhears Abigail and Gordon discussing their scheme, and escapes them by hiding in the family cemetery. Tully learns that Fester, as the eldest brother, is the executor of the Addams estate and therefore technically owns the entire property. With the help of the Addamses' neighbor Judge George Womack, who Gomez has repeatedly angered by hitting golf balls at his house, Tully procures a restraining order against the family, banning them from the estate. Gomez attempts to fight the order in court, but Judge Womack rules against him out of spite.
While Abigail, Gordon, and Tully try repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get past the booby trap blocking access to the vault, the Addams family is forced to move into a motel and find jobs. Morticia tries her hand as a preschool teacher, Wednesday and Pugsley sell toxic lemonade, and Thing—the family's animate disembodied hand—becomes a courier. Gomez, despondent, sinks into depression and lethargy.
Morticia returns to the Addams home to confront Fester and is captured by Abigail and Tully, who torture her in an attempt to learn how to access the vault. Thing observes this and informs Gomez using Morse code, who gathers the family and rushes to Morticia's rescue. Abigail threatens Morticia's life if Gomez does not surrender the family fortune. Fed up with his mother's behavior and constant berating, Gordon turns against Abigail. Using a magical book which projects its contents into reality, he unleashes a hurricane in the house, which strikes his own head with lightning and launches Tully and Abigail out of a window and into open graves dug for them by Wednesday and Pugsley.
Gordon turns out to actually have been Fester all along, having suffered amnesia after being lost in the Bermuda Triangle and turning up in Miami, where Abigail had taken him in. The lightning strike has restored his memory and he is enthusiastically welcomed back into the Addams household. With the family whole again, Morticia informs Gomez that she is pregnant.Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams
Raúl Juliá as Gomez Addams
Christopher Lloyd as Gordon Craven / Uncle Fester Addams
Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams
Jimmy Workman as Pugsley Addams
Judith Malina as Grandmama
Carel Struycken as Lurch
Christopher Hart's hand as Thing
Elizabeth Wilson as Abigail Craven / "Dr. Greta Pinder-Schloss"
Dan Hedaya as Tully Alford
Dana Ivey as Margaret Alford
Paul Benedict as Judge George Womack
John Franklin as Cousin Itt
Mercedes McNab as Girl Scout
Sally Jessy Raphael as Herself
The soundtrack for The Addams Family was released on December 3, 1991 and features most of Marc Shaiman's film score. The complete version of "Mamushka" was cut from the film after a key audience demographic from test screenings complained the song brought the movie to a stand-still. The film also features a video from American rap artist MC Hammer called "Addams Groove".
The Addams Family grossed $113,502,246 in the United States and $191,502,246 worldwide. The film's budget was $30 million.
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives The Addams Family a 60% "fresh" rating based on reviews from 40 critics.
Roger Ebert gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, saying it was mildly entertaining but did not add up to much.
Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader called the film a "collection of one-liners and not much more".
Variety magazine wrote, "Despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings, the eagerly awaited Addams Family figures a major disappointment."
The Addams Family was awarded Best Horror Film of the Year in 1991 by the Horror Hall of Fame. Carel Struycken appeared at the award ceremony to receive the award on behalf of the cast.
Huston was nominated for the 1992 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her performance as Morticia.
Additionally, the pinball machine based on the film is the best-selling and the highest produced pinball machine of all time.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for achievement in costume design.
The film won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Original Song for the song "Addams Groove" by MC Hammer.
A documentary, The Making of The Addams Family, was produced to promote the film in 1991.
In a 2012 interview, Sonnenfeld stated that he originally intended that it be unclear whether Fester really was an imposter or not, but all the other actors rebelled and chose 10-year-old Christina Ricci to speak on their behalf, who "gave this really impassioned plea that Fester shouldn't be an imposter.... so we ended up totally changing that plot point to make the actors happy. And they were right — it was the better way to go."
The film was released first time on Blu-ray in UK on October 2013. In 2006, The Addams Family and Addams Family Values were released together on DVD as a double feature in the US.
A game based on the film was released for various handheld and home computer platforms.
The Addams Family pinball machine was a commercial arcade pinball machine made by Bally/Williams and was released in March 1992. It became the best selling pinball machine of all time, with more than 20,000 units sold.