The Secret of My Success (1987 film)

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The Secret of My Success
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHerbert Ross
Screenplay byJim Cash
Jack Epps Jr.
A.J. Carothers
Story byA.J. Carothers
Produced byHerbert Ross
CinematographyCarlo Di Palma
Edited byPaul Hirsch
Music byDavid Foster
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • April 10, 1987 (1987-04-10)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$12 million[1]
Box office$111 million

The Secret of My Success (sometimes stylized as The Secret of My Succe$s) is a 1987 American comedy film produced and directed by Herbert Ross and starring Michael J. Fox and Helen Slater. The screenplay was written by A.J. Carothers, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. from a story written by Carothers. It was filmed on location in Manhattan.[2]


Brantley Foster is a recent graduate of Kansas State University who moves to New York City, where he has accepted an entry-level job as a financier. Upon arriving, he discovers that the company for which he is supposed to work has been taken over by a rival corporation. As a result, Brantley is laid off before even starting work.

After several interviews for other jobs, he is unsuccessful due to over- or underqualification, or having no experience. Brantley ends up working in the mailroom of the Pemrose Corporation, directed by his "uncle" Howard Prescott, a distant relative he's never met. Pemrose was founded by Howard's father-in-law. Howard achieved the presidency by marrying his boss's daughter, Vera Pemrose.

After inspecting company reports, Brantley realizes that Howard and most of his fellow "suits" (executives) are making pointless or damaging decisions. He notices an empty office in the building due to one of Howard's frequent firings. Using his access to the mailroom and his understanding of the company, he creates and assumes the identity of Carlton Whitfield, a new executive.

While handling two jobs (switching between casual apparel and business suits in the elevator), Brantley sparks romantic interest from Christy Wills, a fellow financial wizard who recently graduated from Harvard. He meets Vera by driving her home in a company limo at his employer's request. She persuades him to stay for a swim and seduces him before he realizes that she is his aunt.

Seeing Howard arrive, Brantley and Vera realize they are related by marriage. She had seduced him out of revenge against her husband for having an affair with a woman at the office. Brantley changes as fast as he can and narrowly escapes the mansion without being spotted by Howard.

Howard, unbeknownst to Brantley, is having an affair with Christy. When Howard asks her to spy on Carlton Whitfield, whom he suspects is a corporate spy for Donald Davenport, she falls in love with "Whitfield", not knowing he is actually Brantley. The Pemrose Corporation is preparing for its impending hostile takeover by the Davenport. If Davenport Corporation absorbs Pemrose in this merger, all workers will get fired. Howard, unaware that Whitfield and Brantley are the same person, suspects "Whitfield" is a spy for corporate raider Davenport. Mostly Howard and his company's to cut every area, that would ruin the company and make Davenport begin his hostile takeover. Brantley already pitched the idea with Christy to the company expand the business to prevent the hostile takeover.

Brantley's double identity is discovered when he, Christy, Vera and Howard end up in the same bedroom after a party at Howard's home that all four are attending. Brantley and Christy end their blossoming relationship. He gets fired from his job as Whitfield, as does Christy for refusing to continue her affair with Howard. Vera is divorcing Howard, since she found out about his affair with Christy and his plan to propose to her.

While both Christy and Brantley are moving out of their offices, they end up in the same elevator and reconcile, conceiving a revenge plan together with Vera. They raise enough cash, bonds, and stocks to take control of the Pemrose Corporation, and to proceed with a hostile takeover bid of Davenport's corporation.

Vera, already hating Howard for his inept business practices which were driving her father's empire into the ground, tells the board about his affair with Christy. Vera promptly replaces him with Brantley, with Jean (Carlton's secretary), Christy and Melrose (Brantley's mailroom colleague) at his side to prevent the takeover and everyone's jobs are safe. While security guards escort Howard and his aide, Art Thomas, from the Pemrose Building, Brantley and Christy start planning their future together, personal as well as professional.



The Secret of My Success (Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by
Various Artists
ReleasedApril 10, 1987 (1987-04-10)
LabelMCA Records
ProducerDavid Foster
Neil Geraldo
Daryl Hall
Tom "T-Bone" Wolk
Arthur Barrow
Singles from The Secret of My Success Soundtrack
  1. "The Secret of My Success"
    Released: March 28, 1987

The soundtrack was released on LP and cassette tape on April 10, 1987.[3][4] Seven of the 10 tracks were produced, and either written or co-written, by David Foster, who also scored the film and has three tracks of his own on the album.

Not all of the songs featured in the film are included on the soundtrack, or, at least not in the same version. The film version of the song "The Secret of My Success" is slightly different, and also features a mini-instrumental version. The film version of "I Burn for You" does not feature vocals, whereas the soundtrack version does. The "Restless Heart" track from the film has a different title ("Something I Gotta Do"), and different lyrics than the soundtrack version.

Popular songs "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina & The Waves and "Oh Yeah" by Yello are heard in the film but do not appear on the soundtrack.

The soundtrack peaked at No. 131 on the Billboard 200.[5]

The theme from the picture "The Secret of My Success", performed by Night Ranger, was one of the songs that competed for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song in 1988. The winner was "(I've Had) The Time of My Life", the theme from Dirty Dancing, performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.[6]

Track listing
  1. "The Secret of My Success" (performed by Night Ranger)
  2. "Sometimes the Good Guys Finish First" (performed by Pat Benatar)
  3. "I Burn for You" (performed by Danny Peck and Nancy Shanks)
  4. "Riskin' a Romance" (performed by Bananarama)
  5. "Gazebo" (performed by David Foster)
  6. "The Price of Love" (performed by Roger Daltrey)
  7. "Water Fountain" (performed by David Foster)
  8. "Don't Ask the Reason Why" (performed by Restless Heart)
  9. "3 Themes" (performed by David Foster)
  10. "Heaven and the Heartaches" (performed by Taxxi)


Critical response[edit]

The film received a mixed response from critics. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "The Secret of My Success seems trapped in some kind of time warp, as if the screenplay had been in a drawer since the 1950s and nobody bothered to update it." He concluded "Fox provides a fairly desperate center for the film. It could not have been much fun for him to follow the movie's arbitrary shifts of mood, from sitcom to slapstick, from sex farce to boardroom brawls."[7]

However, Vincent Canby, writing in The New York Times, felt it was "close to inspired when the ambitious Brantley finds himself leading two lives", although he noted that "Hanging over The Secret of My Success is the long shadow of Frank Loesser's classic musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."[8]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 48% of 42 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 5.3/10. The website's consensus reads: "A miscast Michael J. Fox gives The Secret of My Success all the madcap energy he can muster, but it isn't enough to overcome confused direction and a recycled plot."[9] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 36 out of 100, based on 16 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable" reviews.[10] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[11]

Box office[edit]

The film opened on April 10, 1987, and debuted at number one at the box office, taking $7.8 million in its opening weekend.[12] It stayed at No. 1 for 5 weeks, and was in the top ten films for 2 months. It grossed $66,995,000 in the US,[13] becoming the 7th highest-grossing film in the United States for the year 1987, and outgrossing such films as RoboCop, Predator, Lethal Weapon and Dirty Dancing. The film went on to gross an additional $44,001,000 worldwide, giving it a total of $111 million.[14] Additionally, the film made US$29,856,000 through video rentals.[15]


In 2020, a musical based on the film was mid-run for its world premiere and pre-Broadway tryout at the Paramount Theatre in March 2020 with Sydney Morton (Christy Lockhart) and Billy Harrigan Tighe (Brantley Foster/Carlton Whitfield) as leads and Greenberg directing when production was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.[16][17][18] It had been scheduled to run from February 21 – March 29, and the final performance was March 12, as Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker shut down all performance venues starting March 13.[17][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Secret of My Success".
  2. ^ "The Secret of My Success Film Locations - []".
  3. ^ "The Secret Of My Success" – via Amazon.
  4. ^ "The Secret of My Success: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack credits". October 17, 1990 [1987]. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  5. ^ The Secret of My Success: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack Billboard 200 at AllMusic. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  6. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1988 Golden Globes". HOLLYWOOD FOREIGN PRESS ASSOCIATION. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (April 10, 1987). "The Secret of My Success". Retrieved April 3, 2024.
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (2007). "The Secret of My Success". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 21, 2007. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
  9. ^ "The Secret of My Success". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  10. ^ "The Secret of My Succe$s". Metacritic. Retrieved April 3, 2024.
  11. ^ "Cinemascore :: Movie Title Search". December 20, 2018. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018. Retrieved July 27, 2020.
  12. ^ "Secret of My Success' No. 1 at the Box Office Spot". The New York Times. April 15, 1987. Retrieved November 9, 2010.
  13. ^ "The Secret of My Success box office figures". Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
  14. ^ "The Secret of My Success". Box Office Mojo., Inc. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
  15. ^ "The Secret of My Success box office data". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved July 5, 2011.
  16. ^ Jones, Chris (February 23, 2020). "Review: The Paramount's fine 'Secret of My Success' must drag along a clunky story from the '80s". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on December 4, 2020. Retrieved June 20, 2021.
  17. ^ a b "The Secret of My Success | February 12 – March 29, 2020". Paramount Theatre. February 4, 2019. Archived from the original on February 11, 2021. Retrieved June 20, 2021.
  18. ^ Gans, Andrew (February 5, 2019). "The Secret of My Success Musical Will Make World Premiere in 2020 at Aurora's Paramount Theatre". Playbill. Archived from the original on October 22, 2020. Retrieved June 20, 2021.
  19. ^ Peikert, Mark (February 24, 2020). "What Did Critics Think of New Musical The Secret of My Success?". Playbill. Archived from the original on June 3, 2020. Retrieved June 20, 2021.

External links[edit]