“Weekend at Bernie's” Came Out on This Day in 1989: Was It a Perfect Summer Movie?

The slapstick comedy made $30 million at the box office and earned praise for star Terry Kiser's work

<p>Moviestore/Shutterstock</p> A scene from 1989


A scene from 1989's 'Weekend at Bernie's'

Weekend at Bernie's premiered on July 5, 1989, and though the premise was perhaps questionable — two finance guys named Richard and Larry carry their boss Bernie's corpse around as to not be considered suspects in his murder — it actually brought the laughs.

PEOPLE's review read in part, "In case anyone thought this was a Bergman film about a portentous Swiss Independence Day holiday with its title mistranslated, be forewarned: The main character is a corpse for most of the movie, and he gets most of the laughs. Fact is, Terry Kiser, who plays the corpse, does a great job of going limp or stiff as the occasion demands and manages to subtly change the frozen expression on his face from scene to scene."

At the time, Kiser had "been around movie stiffs before," PEOPLE wrote, as he'd worked on Friday the 13th, Part VII, in addition to an endless list of movies and TV shows from the 1960s on, notably Carol Burnett's Carol & Company.

Now 84 and most recently seen in 2023's Mutilator 2, Kiser could've won an Oscar "for best acting in slow-motion," PEOPLE joked in its Weekend at Bernie's review.

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<p>Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty</p> Terry Kiser in 1993

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty

Terry Kiser in 1993

Speaking to PEOPLE about the part in 1993, Kiser said he chose to play the titular Bernie Lomax as "funny dead instead of dead dead, which isn't funny at all."

For underwater scenes, he was lowered 35 feet deep without diving gear or breathing apparatus — the better to get close-ups — and took turns breathing from an air line with a fully equipped scuba diver nearby.

"We were very careful, believe me," he said. "If you play dead often enough, you've got a great will to live."

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Speaking to EW years after the film dropped, costar Jonathan Silverman recalled a particularly delicate take.

"There's a scene where I'm wheeling Bernie in a little red wagon, and his head is supposed to bounce up against the wood deck," Silverman, who played Richard Parker alongside Andrew McCarthy's Larry Wilson, explained. "Terry had cracked a rib in the first weeks of shooting, so I'm doing it gingerly. It's starting to rain, and we're losing sun, and [director] Ted Kotcheff is up on top of this crane with a bullhorn screaming at me, 'Who cares about Terry's broken rib?!' "

Audiences "found it endearing," Silverman added of the film, which made more than $30 million at the box office. "Terry Kiser did something so clever: He died with a smirk on his face, which let the audience love him."

<p>Moviestore/Shutterstock</p> A scene from 1989's 'Weekend at Bernie's'


A scene from 1989's 'Weekend at Bernie's'

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Unfortunately the 1993 sequel Weekend at Bernie's II didn't fare so well: EW gave it an F- and PEOPLE panned it, as well. And a New York City screening featured an unfortunate moment of its own.

According to EW, a Bernie doll that was touring the country to promote the movie was "stripped of its $400 designer sunglasses and painter's cap," the magazine reported. "Though it may sound like a publicity stunt, TriStar reported the theft to the NYPD and is still grousing over the loss. 'We're going to have to spring for another pair of Oliver Peoples,' said a studio spokesman. 'Though next time we're going to Krazy Glue them on.' "

Weekend at Bernie's is available to rent on Fandango at Home, Apple TV and Prime Video.

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