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Film / Adventures in Babysitting

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Albert Collins: Some guys are out to get 'em, and the girl's probably dead. She ain't got a nickel.
Kids: And we should be in bed!
Collins: And you outta luck.

It was just a simple babysitting job, Gone Horribly Wrong.

Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) finds herself with nothing to do after her boyfriend breaks off their scheduled date, so she agrees to spend the night babysitting the Andersons' children Sara (Maia Brewton) and Brad (Keith Coogan).

Then her friend Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller) calls in a panic, having tried to run away from home with just enough money to cover cab fare to the bus station and the cost of a payphone call, and she asks Chris to pick her up in the city. Chris can't leave her charges behind unsupervised, so she takes them and Brad's friend Daryl Coopersmith (Anthony Rapp) along with her. She gets a flat on the highway en route, then realizes she forgot her purse. Things just get crazier from there.

Chris Columbus' directing debut, and the first starring role for Shue, this 1987 comedy was also the first PG-13 film released by Disney (albeit under the Touchstone Pictures label, to avoid the association with strictly family content).

The Disney Channel produced a Lighter and Softer remake in 2016. Sabrina Carpenter leads a (much) younger cast as the film's babysitter. Tropes specific to that production go here.

This Film Provides Examples Of:

  • '80s Hair: Quite common, as the film was made in 1987...
  • Agony of the Feet: A gang member stabs Brad in the foot.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: The doctors at the University of Chicago Hospital apparently will perform non-emergency medical procedures on a minor without parental consent, insurance information, or even getting the minor's name.
    • Justified with Daryl's (a panicking, uneducated 14-year old) suggestions as to what Brad could get after being stabbed in the foot by a gang member: tetanus (theoretically possible from a stab wound, but highly unlikely from a switchblade), lockjaw (the same disease), rabies (only acquired from bites from infected animals), and scabies (caused by a burrowing mite).
  • Asshole Victim: The guy having an affair with John Pruitt's wife gets his ass kicked by John, gets his car stolen, and gets taken in by the police. All the while demanding to get his car back.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: A MacGuffin being a Playboy, where Chris is the spitting image of the centerfold, some borderline offensive jokes and a Wild Teen Party would be enough, but a couple quick exchanges of the F word were enough to get that PG-13. Though they did have to cut out another scene to keep the rating (see below).
  • Badass Longcoat: Chris rocks one throughout the whole movie.
  • Blackmail: A benign version of this enables Brad, Sara, and Daryl to tag along with Chris on her trip to collect Brenda from the bus station. Her initial plan is to leave Brad and Sara at home on their own, but when they answer her question of how their parents would even know she had been gone with a conspiratorial grin, she reluctantly takes them along. As they are getting into Chris' mother's car, Daryl appears from the bushes next to the Andersons' house exclaiming "Road trip?", leading Sara to innocently reveal that they are going into the city; he smirks and says the Andersons must really trust Chris to let her take their children into the city without adult supervision, and makes it clear that their secret will not be safe unless he can go with them.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Brenda. Oh, Brenda. Once her glasses are stolen, the world becomes an indistinct blur - and through the haze of severe myopia, a sewer rat looks so much like a kitten...
  • Book Ends: "Then He Kissed Me" plays on the soundtrack at the beginning and end.
  • Bowdlerize: The Disney Channel broadcast (also available on Disney+) changes "Thor's a homo" to "Thor's a weirdo" and the Precision F-Strike moments to "fool".
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Sara has her moments.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Sara is heartbroken when Mr. Dawson (who looks exactly like Thor, her hero) turns out to be a Jerkass and won't let them have the car because they're $5 short. Good thing he turns out be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold instead.
    • This is Chris's reaction when she discovers that her boyfriend is a total sleaze.
  • Buses Are for Freaks: Brenda is stranded in a bus station in a bad part of town, populated by homeless people, drug addicts and other weirdos.
  • Butt-Monkey: Brenda. While in the bus station, she attracts unwanted attention from a man with a gun and a gleam in his eye, has her glasses stolen by a homeless woman (who apparently has a similar prescription to her), mistakes a huge sewer rat for a lost kitten (to the intense amusement of the exterminators charged with killing the rodent), fails utterly to persuade a hot dog vendor to accept a cheque as payment once she runs out of cash, and incurs the wrath of the homeless man who "lives" in the phone booth she used to call Chris.
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: Sara seems to believe Thor is real; of course, she is a child.
  • Catchphrase: "Ya think?"
  • Caught in the Bad Part of Town: This is what happens to Chris and the kids. Her car suffers a flat tire, stranding them on the South Side of Chicago. In getting out, the encounter a variety of locals, both helpful and hindering. Meanwhile, Brenda suffers a similar experience stuck in the downtown bus station.
  • Chekhov's Gag:
    • After Brad brushes off Daryl and Chris asks who was at the door, he tells her, "Stray dog." When Daryl shows up as Chris and the Anderson kids are getting into the car, Chris asks who he is, and Sara quips, "Stray dog."
    • Daryl loses the Playboy he presumably stole from his dad; when he finds a copy of the same issue at the chop shop, he steals it, unaware it has incriminating information about the gangsters' plans scrawled on the pages.
    • "Nobody leaves this place without singin' the Blues." First said to the four suburban kids when they enter the club, then again to the gangsters when they arrive.
    • Also... actually, it would probably be quicker to list the gags that aren't Chekhov's Gags.
  • Child Care and Babysitting Stories: The movie opens with Chris getting stood up by her boyfriend. Bored, she volunteers to babysit the Anderson kids. What should've been a quiet night, turns into a series of ridiculous escapades with the kids instead.
  • The City Narrows: The bus station, where Brenda saw three people shoot up, a bald Chinese lady with no pants, a homeless man who lives in the telephone booth she's trying to use, and a guy who keeps showing her his gun.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: If Brenda hadn’t impulsively decided to run away from home with very little money, Chris wouldn’t have had to go downtown to get her.
  • Country Mouse: Just suburban, but otherwise the same. Chris, Brad, Sara, Daryl, and especially Brenda have led a very sheltered life in the suburbs, and are utterly out of their depths in a city of dirt, drugs, guns, petty theft, grand theft, gang violence, and just enough kind souls to get them out again in one piece.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: After Chris is given the Playboy centerfold she's supposedly in to autograph, Sara is initially startled, and then Brad covers her eyes.
  • Covers Always Lie:
    • They don't scale a skyscraper, as the poster shows, but Sara finds herself stuck outside of one in the climax.
    • Also, Chris doesn't wear the skirt (or shoes) seen in the poster, either.
    • The international version of the poster removes Maia Brewton completely and replaces her with George Newbern (who is also scaling the building, for some reason) to focus on the romantic element of the story...which is only a small part of the movie.
  • Double Entendre: The hot dog vendor at the bus station is the source of several thanks to his insistence on referring to hot dogs as "wieners", making it sound as though he is referring to male genitals. When Brenda tries to pay for her hotdog with a cheque, he refuses as he only takes cash, explaining, "You slip me the cash, and I'll slip you the wiener," and when she confesses she has no cash, he snaps, "Well, I don't have a wiener!"
  • Easter Egg: According to an interview with actor Keith Coogan, Elisabeth Shue is actually in the frat party scene as two simultaneous people—both as Chris and as a random girl wearing a black cap and sunglasses. This was so that she could dance as an extra while other angles were being filmed.
  • Elevator Snare: A girl is being chased by two car thieves because she has information that they need for their next job, she ducks into the elevator, and the door closes on the thieves, forcing them to wait for the elevator to come back down, later the babysitter and her friends take the elevator and retrieve the girl.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Although they are both criminals and work for the Big Bad, both Joe and Graydon make it clear through their body language and overall demeanor that while they're okay with trying to get the magazine back, they aren't going to hurt any kids in order to do it. Joe seems entirely on the kids' side the entire time, even though Bleak intimidates him into giving up their location. However, he later protects the kids from Bleak by punching him out. As for Graydon, as soon as he sees that Sara has climbed out the skyscraper window and is clinging precariously by her fingertips, he's clearly horrified at how much danger she is in and wastes no time trying to save her, even climbing out the window himself.
  • Evil Overlooker: On the Japanese poster.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire movie takes place over a matter of hours, from the late afternoon to a little after 1 AM.
  • Fainting: Chris faints at the hospital when she thinks Brad has died.
  • False Reassurance: When "Handsome" John Pruitt tells the kids how he got a Hook Hand, he claims he kept his real hand and stores it in the glovebox. He later opens the glovebox to get something after hearing his wife was having an affair. Daryl asks if it's the hand.
    Brad: (shocked) No.
    Daryl: (relieved) Oh, good!
    Brad: It's a gun.
    Daryl: Oh, God!
  • Glasses Curiosity: As noted above under both the Blind Without 'Em and Butt-Monkey entries, an instance of this happens when a homeless woman makes off with Brenda's glasses.
  • Good Samaritan: "Handsome" John Pruitt; while he has A Simple Plan to tow Chris' car to his garage and even pay to replace the tire does go awry, he makes partial amends for it later, even with the police after him.
  • He Didn't Make It: Subversion: Brad, thanks to Mistaken Identity.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Joe Gipp punches Bleak unconscious when he shows up at the film's climax with child murder in his eyes.
  • He Knows Too Much: That Playboy issue had a bunch of notes the gangsters scribbled much, in fact, that it would send them to jail.
  • Honking Arriving Car: At the beginning of the film, as Chris is getting ready for an evening date with her boyfriend while dancing to The Crystals song "And Then He Kissed Me," he pulls into her driveway and honks his horn, and Chris instantly knows, "He's here."
  • Hook Hand: "Handsome" John Pruitt has a pincer type because he lost his right hand when a truck fell off a jack and crushed it. But he's a nice guy, usually. Oddly, the Japanese poster puts the hook hand on Graydon instead of Pruitt.
  • I Can Explain: Yup, Chris's boyfriend was NOT doing what he claimed he was. He was with another girl. Although, he doesn't even try to explain. He just doesn't care. Chris dumps him, and ends up with a different guy by the end.
  • Identical Stranger: "Shaylene", the (fictitious) Playboy centerfold that looks like Chris; after a few glimpses, we get a good view of Shaylene on a billboard advertising the issue she appears in when the kids leave the restaurant later on in the movie.
  • Idiot Ball: Oh so many:
    • Brenda, instead of talking to her parents (either of them), gets the plot underway by taking a cab to the bus station. Only to realize that she only had enough money for the cab fare.
    • Daryl, sure it's a great idea to steal something (in this case a Playboy with valuable information written inside) from a bunch of car thieving mobsters.
    • Joe Gipp, obviously it's far too dangerous to leave three minors out on the streets of Chicago. They will surely be much safer at a mobsters' hideout.
    • The entire movie is somewhat of an Idiot Ball. The moment Chris got the call from Brenda, she should have immediately tried to contact her parents, Brenda's parents, Sara's parents, and/or the police—and throughout the film she passes up numerous opportunities to do any of those things. However, it's a plausible depiction of the behavior of teenagers, who are often more scared of getting in trouble with the grownups than they are of actually dying.
      • Special mention must go to the moment when they have the car, all fixed, and are set to go home and end their hellish ordeal...and then they spot Mike's car outside the restaurant, and Chris just has to go in and confront him. Not fume the rest of the way home, have a good cry after putting the kids to bed, cheer up when she remembers that she has already met a much nicer guy at the college who's really into her, and triumphantly break up with Mike in the morning...nope, she needs to get in his face RIGHT NOW!
  • If You Taunt Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Double subversion.
    Brad: [grabs Mike by the collar] I’d love to hit you. I’d love to pound your face.
    Mike: Yeah, go ahead.
    Brad: [lets Mike go] But I won’t. You’re so slimy, I won’t sink to your level.
    Daryl: I will. [kicks Mike in the ass]
  • Impairment Shot: After Brenda's glasses are stolen, we get a very out of focus POV shot as she stumbles toward a vending machine - and notices a small animal next to it which she thinks is a kitten. As we only see the animal through her eyes until a pair of exterminators arrive, we don't learn until she does that the animal is actually a giant sewer rat.
  • Jerkass: See above descriptions of Mike.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Sara.
  • Loony Fan: Sara is a big...nay, huge Fangirl of Thor.
  • Mama Bear: Chris, especially on the train, dealing with the gang members.
    Gang leader: Don't fuck with the Lords Of Hell! (After he throws his switchblade down into Brad's foot.)
    Chris (yanks the knife out of Brad's foot and points it at the leader): DON'T FUCK with the BABYSITTER!!!
  • Market-Based Title: This was released in Britain as A Night on the Town.
  • Mistaken for Dog: When Brenda has lost her glasses and is stuck in the bus station, she sees what she thinks is a kitten, picks it up... and it turns out to be a jumbo-sized sewer rat.
  • Monochrome Casting: Obviously intentional in the case of the jazz bar.
  • Not Even Bothering with an Excuse: Chris finds her boyfriend with another girl in a restaurant (the same one he was supposed to take her, no less), and the guy... doesn't really care enough to even try to lie about why they're together. Chris leaves in a huff.
  • Offscreen Inertia: Although it can be presumed the police eventually brought him back in and arrested him along with his boss, at the end of the movie, Graydon, the gangster who climbed out on the side of the Smurfit-Stone building to get Sara and the Playboy, is shown still out there, clinging to the glass in terror...
  • One Crazy Night: In what should be an hour-long trip to the city and back to pick up her runaway friend, Chris and the kids she's babysitting get a flat tire, witness an attempted murder in a domestic dispute, get picked up by car thieves, get into a gang fight and meet Thor. Possibly the trope codifier.
  • Potty Emergency: Sara suffers a potty emergency that causes Chris and the kids to crash a frat house party in order to use the bathroom.
  • Precision F-Strike: Two in two successive lines, resulting in the movie's PG-13 rating. See above.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: The suburban white kids wow the cynical inner-city black audience with their improvised blues song. Though maybe they're just getting props for working under duress (what, exactly, happens to those who refuse to comply with the order to sing the blues?), and/or for how freakin' hilarious their lyrics' (accurate) tale of the night's escalating catastrophes turned out to be.
  • Pretty in Mink: A teenage runaway in a white fur jacket, Mrs. Anderson has a black mink coat, and Chris uses a full-length coat with a huge collar to sneak into the office party the Andersons are attending.
  • Random Events Plot: Chris' friend Brenda runs away, has to have Chris pick her up, the car gets a flat, they get picked up by a truck driver with a Hook Hand, who is pretty nice until he finds out his wife is cheating on him, they end up getting in a car while it's getting stolen... It just goes on and on. See A Simple Plan below.
  • Real-Person Cameo: Blues musician Albert Collins As Himself.
  • Running Gag: The Playboy centerfold.
  • The Shameless: Daryl lampshades his status as shameless by asking a group of college frat boys if they know the Playboy defenition for "unabashed" when he crashes their frat party. Mind you, he's only in high school. At one point he mentions that Chris's boyfriend (who stood her up, hence why she's babysitting in the first place) kicked his ass the year before for touching his car, which Daryl denies doing. Then he asks if they want to see the footprint. He also seems interested in the services offered by a prostitute. He's still an actually likeable character, as when they find that Chris's boyfriend had cheated on her, he wasn't above getting a little karmic retribution.
  • Shout-Out:
    "All right, it's quittin' time at Tara!"
  • A Simple Plan: All Chris is trying to do is drive herself and the kids into the city, pick Brenda up, and drive back.
  • Sparing Them the Dirty Work: Downplayed, non-lethal example. After a harrowing night with her babysitting job, Chris finds her boyfriend, who had bowed out on their date because he'd claimed to be sick, at a restaurant with another girl. Brad, who is in love with Chris, tells the guy that he should beat him to a pulp, but that he won't, because the boyfriend is so slimy, Brad won't sink to his level. Daryl, who already has a beef with the guy for beating him up a year before for allegedly touching his car (which Daryl denied doing), says he has no problem with it, and kicks the guy in the rear, sending him into a dessert tray.
  • The Stinger: See Offscreen Inertia above.
  • Terrifying Pet Store Rat: That "jumbo-sized sewer rat" Brenda found? It's a clearly-domesticated white rat, but she's terrified nonetheless.
  • Terrifying Rescuer: Chris's car gets a flat, leaving her stranded on the side of the expressway. She is understandably frightened when a huge truck pulls up behind her and a hulking figure with a Hook Hand gets out. But this turns out to be tow-truck driver "Handsome" John Pruitt, who offers her a free tow to Dawson's Garage.
  • They Really Do Love Each Other: When Sarah goes missing Brad and even Daryl are genuinely concerned about her, and are visibly relieved when she is saved from the window.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer pretty much walked the viewer through the film's main events, including the climax at the Smurfit-Stone building, then actually showed the parents returning home and Chris sitting on the couch, safe and sound. "Any problems?" they ask, to which she casually responds, "No, not really.". Kinda destroys the tension.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Brenda's running away from home and Chris having to go get her kick off the plot.
  • Urban Legend: Chris is telling one to the kids while heading to the bus station. About the guy with the hook. Guess what the helpful tow truck driver who rescues them a few minutes later is sporting.
  • Vanity License Plate: Mike's license plate reads, "SO COOL."
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: The movie is largely a comedy with most of the criminals still treated with humor...except for the Big Bad, Bleak, who is played completely straight as a menacing crime boss.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Brenda says her father's new wife is this, although the credibility is questionable. Either way, the tumultuous relationship with her stepmom is why Brenda tries running away from home.
  • Worst Aid: CHRIS PULLED THE KNIFE OUT OF BRAD'S FOOT! Okay, it was a toe, the wound only required a single stitch, and she pulled the knife out not in an effort at first aid but in order to defend him and herself from a gang. But the scare where the ER doc confused them for asking about a different patient and told him "their friend" was dead, when Brad was actually just fine, may have been a bit karmic.
  • Wrong Guy First: Mike, Chris' boyfriend at the start of the film, lies his way out of their anniversary date so that he can go out with a girl with a reputation for sexual promiscuity.
  • Younger Than They Look:
    • The prostitute. Or so she claims.
    • When he first meets her, Dan assumes Chris is a student at the University of Chicago.

Alternative Title(s): Adventures In Babysitting 1987