A History of Bette Midler’s “Big Business”

Laughing Place
Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Big Business”
by Bill Gowsell
Nov 22, 2020

Bette Midler & Lily Tomlin in Big Business
Bette midler lily tomlin in big business

Everyone loves a twin mix up comedy, and in 1988, Touchstone Pictures delivered on this very reliable plotline with a double dose of twins inBig Business. Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin bring the laughs in this classic comedy of mistaken identity.

The Plot

Sadie and Rose Shelton (Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin) are both working at their family company Moramax. Sadie is the CEO and ruthless in gaining profit for their company. Rose is less business savvy and is out of touch with the needs of the company. When Moramax is looking to offload the furniture company their father acquired at the time of their birth in Juniper Hollow, neither think much of the company or the consequences of their actions. Sadie plans to sell the company off at the forthcoming Moramax shareholders meeting.

Sadie and Rose Ratliff (Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin) are sisters from Juniper Hollow. Rose is looking to save the local furniture company, while Sadie just wants to get out of rural life. Planning to crash the Moramax shareholders meeting in New York City, Rose convinces Sadie to join her on the journey.

When the Ratliff’s arrive in New York a combination of mistaken identity, and a lack of knowledge about the circumstances of their birth causes the two sets of twins to have varied experiences in the city. From the Plaza Hotel manager, Rose Ratliff’s boyfriend Roone (Fred Ward), and Rose Shelton’s boyfriend Dr. Jay Marshall (Michael Gross) no one can tell which Sadie and Rose is which. Even Moramax executive Graham Sherbourne (Edward Hermann) has trouble telling the women apart.

A stop at the bathroom before entering the shareholders meeting brings the two groups of sisters together. They deduce how they were probably switched at birth by a bumbling old nurse at the Juniper Hollow hospital where the four women were born.  

Despite Sadie Shelton’s objections, the furniture company is saved, and the film ends with a mix match of the characters finding their own happiness.

Cinematic Compliments

Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin are excellent at playing dual personalities. Their two different Sadie and Rose characters are unique and only share the same names and nothing else. Midler and Tomlin’s talent shines throughout the film with their two very different characters. Both Midler and Tomlin are heartwarming and silly in their portrayals of the urban rich and the country bumkins.

Lily Tomlin matches Midler at every turn in her hilarious portrayal of the dreamy Rose Shelton and the hard-nosed Rose Ratliff. Tomlin’s gift to the screen is that she convinces the audience her Rose Shelton is out of place in her world, while then playing a hard-driving determined Rose Ratliff who plans to take on Moramax and win.

Big Business is a genuinely funny movie and for all the little moments of humor, I laughed out loud when Midler’s Sadie Ratliff was introduced singing a song while milking a cow at a county fair. The look on the cow’s face still has me giggling as I write this. I love the fact that Midler and Tomlin played strong-willed and capable women who aren’t afraid to go it alone and don’t need the help of any man.

Bette Midler & Lily Tomlin in Big Business
<span class=has inline color has vivid red color>bette midler lily tomlin in big business<span>

Cinematic Complaints

Big Business is predictable and filled with typical plot points that are recycled from every twin film. If you are not a fan of twin comedy movies, then Big Business isn’t for you.

Fun Film Facts

  • Seth Green plays Bette Midler’s son Jason in the film.
  • The film is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.
  • Big Business was written with Barbara Streisand and Goldie Hawn in mind to play the lead roles.
  • The Sadie and Rose characters are named after one of the screenwriter’s mother and twin sister.
  • Big Business not only shares a twin plot line with fellow 1988 film Big, but both movies also shot scenes at the famed FAO Schwartz store.
  • Fred Ward and Michael Gross would also co-star in Tremors.
  • This was one of three films that Bette Midler was a part of in 1988 for the Walt Disney Company. She co-starred in Beaches and did voice work for Oliver & Company.
  • Michael Gross’ sister Mary also has a role in the film as Judy.

I laughed throughout Big Business. It’s a funny movie with a talented cast that takes a pretty standard story and makes it fresh and enjoyable, even thirty-eight years after the film was released.

Big Business is currently available on Disney+.

Production Credits:

Directed by Jim Abrahams

Produced by Touchstone Pictures


  • Bette Midler as Sadie Shelton/Sadie Ratliff
  • Lily Tomlin as Rose Shelton/Rose Ratliff
  • Fred Ward as Roone Dimmick
  • Michael Gross as Dr. Jay Marshall
  • Edward Herrmann as Graham Sherbourne

Release Date: June 10, 1988

Budget: $20 million

Box Office Gross:

Domestic $40,150,487

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