Cruel Intentions is a 1999 American drama film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, and Selma Blair. The film is an adaptation of Les Liaisons dangereuses, written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos in 1782, but set among wealthy teenagers attending high school in modern New York City.
The film started as an independent film with a small budget, and was later picked up by Columbia Pictures. It was released on March 5, 1999 to mixed critical reviews, but was a box office success, earning $75 million worldwide. It was followed by two direct-to-video films: a prequel, Cruel Intentions 2, and a sequel, Cruel Intentions 3.
In an upscale New York City mansion, wealthy and popular Kathryn Merteuil (Gellar) is discussing her prep school with Mrs. Caldwell (Christine Baranski) and Caldwell's daughter Cecile (Selma Blair). Kathryn promises Mrs. Caldwell that she will take the sheltered and naive Cecile under her wing. Sebastian (Philippe) enters and Mrs. Caldwell reacts to him coldly and leaves with Cecile. Kathryn reveals that her real intention is to use Cecile to take revenge on Court, her ex-lover, who had dumped her for Cecile. Kathryn asks her step-brother Sebastian to seduce Cecile; he refuses as he is planning to seduce virgin Annette Hargrove (Witherspoon), the daughter of their school's headmaster. Annette is a 'paradigm of chastity and virtue' who recently wrote a published essay about saving herself for marriage and has been temporarily staying with Sebastian's aunt. The two make a wager: If Kathryn wins, she gets Sebastian's vintage car; if Sebastian wins, Kathryn will have sex with him. It is mentioned that Sebastian keeps a journal detailing his conquests.
Sebastian's seduction of Annette fails, as she had already been told of his reputation. He vents to his friend Blaine (Joshua Jackson), who suggests that the informant might be Annette's ex-boyfriend and closeted jock Greg (Eric Mabius). Blaine reveals to Sebastian that Greg tried to make a pass at him and uses that to seduce him. Sebastian confronts Greg with photographic evidence of his homosexuality, he denies warning Annette. Greg agrees to find out who did, and Sebastian also orders him to laud Sebastian as misunderstood. Later, Greg gushes about Sebastian to Annette and discovers that the culprit is Cecile's mother, Mrs. Caldwell. Wanting revenge on the Caldwells, Sebastian tells Kathryn he will now seduce Cecile.
Cecile's music teacher, Ronald Clifford (Sean Patrick Thomas) is in love with her. Cecile confesses this to Kathryn. Kathryn tells Cecile's mother about Ronald and Cecile's romance and Mrs. Caldwell intervenes in her daughter's relationship. Sebastian, in turn, calls Cecile to his house, ostensibly to give her a letter from Ronald. Sebastian blackmails Cecile and performs oral sex on her. The next day, Cecile confides in Kathryn, who advises her to learn from Sebastian so that she can make Ronald happy in bed.
Sebastian falls in love with Annette, who returns his feelings but still resists him. Sebastian calls her a hypocrite because she claims to be waiting for her one true love, but when her one true love chooses to love her back, she resists. She relents, but Sebastian refuses her, confused about his feelings colliding with his stolid sexuality. Annette flees to her friend's parents' estate. Sebastian tracks her down, professes his love, and makes love to her. As he has won the bet, Kathryn offers herself to Sebastian the next day, but he refuses; he now wants Annette only. Kathryn taunts him and threatens to ruin Annette's reputation, so Sebastian pretends indifference to Annette and coldly breaks up with her.
After Sebastian tells Kathryn that he has broken up with Annette and arranged for Cecile and Ronald to be together, Kathryn reveals that she has known all along that he was truly in love with Annette and manipulated him into giving her up. Sebastian angrily dismisses Kathryn saying he no longer wants her and she then rejects him. Sebastian leaves, and Kathryn calls Ronald to (falsely) inform him that Sebastian hit her. Sebastian confronts Annette, but she refuses his apologies; he sends her his journal, in which he has detailed all of Kathryn's manipulative schemes, their bet, and written his true feelings for Annette all along. When Sebastian starts heading home, Ronald confronts him on the street and a fight ensues. Annette runs out and tries to stop it and is thrown into the way of traffic. Sebastian pushes her to safety and is hit by a cab. Before he dies, Sebastian and Annette profess their love for each other. Watching this, Ronald discovers that Kathryn lied to him about Sebastian with intent on using him to kill her step-brother and walks away.
At Sebastian's funeral, Cecile distributes copies of Sebastian's journal, made into a book by Annette, titled "Cruel Intentions". Kathryn is humiliated and rejected by her former friends, and she is defamed for the drugs hidden in her cross necklace. Annette drives away in Sebastian's Jaguar with his journal at her side as fond memories of Sebastian play through her head.
- Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn Merteuil
- Ryan Phillippe as Sebastian Valmont
- Reese Witherspoon as Annette Hargrove
- Selma Blair as Cecile Caldwell
- Louise Fletcher as Helen Rosemond
- Swoosie Kurtz as Dr. Regina Greenbaum
- Sean Patrick Thomas as Ronald Clifford
- Christine Baranski as Bunny Caldwell
- Joshua Jackson as Blaine Tuttle
- Eric Mabius as Greg McConnell
- Tara Reid as Marci Greenbaum
- Charlie O'Connell as Court Reynolds
- Herta Ware as Mrs. Sugarman
Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 49% based on reviews from 78 critics, or an average score of 5.3/10, with the site's consensus stating; "Even in a slick package and an attractive cast, the movie succumbs to bad acting and a bad script." Metacritic gave the film an average score of 56% based on reviews from 24 critics. However, the film has gained somewhat of a cult following and is considered to be one of the first films to confront teenage sexuality and sexual manipulation. Charles Taylor of Salon.com described the film as "The dirtiest-minded American movie in recent memory - and an honestly corrupt entertaining picture is never anything to sneeze at." Stephen Holden The New York Times stated, "You have the queasy sense that the whole thing is just an elaborate stunt, and in this case an exploitative one." Despite this, Roger Ebertâ"a noted film critic for The Chicago Sun Timesâ"praised the film and gave the film three out of four stars. He stated that it was "smart and merciless in the tradition of the original story".
Cruel Intentions was a commercial success. The film grossed $13,020,565 in its opening weekend, ranking #2 behind Analyze This; released in 2,312 theaters, the movie raked in $75,902,208 worldwide.
The film received the following awards and nominations:
The Cruel Intentions soundtrack is a compilation soundtrack released on March 9, 1999 by Arista/Virgin Records. It reached number 60 on the Billboard chart.
The lead track for the film was "Bitter Sweet Symphony" by rock band The Verve.
- Cruel Intentions at the Internet Movie Database
- Cruel Intentions at AllMovie
- Cruel Intentions at Rotten Tomatoes
- Cruel Intentions at Metacritic
- Cruel Intentions at Box Office Mojo