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Whatever Happened To Problem Child's Michael Oliver?

Released in the summer of 1990 after a troubled production, "Problem Child" defied the odds to become Universal's most profitable film of the year. Despite a mauling from the critics (to this day it holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), this crass comedy about a couple who adopt a difficult kid made $53.4 million domestically, a sizable sum at the time. Two sequels would follow, 1991's "Problem Child 2" and 1995's "Problem Child 3: Junior in Love."

They didn't contain many laughs, but a lot of good would come from the "Problem Child" films. The late John Ritter fell in love with his future wife Amy Yasbeck while working on the first movie, director Dennis Dugan told The Hollywood Reporter. It launched the careers of screenwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, who later wrote "Ed Wood" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt" together. It was also a launching pad for Dugan, who went on to work regularly with Adam Sandler. He helmed the likes of "Happy Gilmore," "Big Daddy," and the "Grown Ups" films.

But what about the actor who played Junior, the troublesome tyke the film is named after? Michael Oliver went quiet after "Problem Child 2" (he didn't return for the third installment), but he has resurfaced in recent years. What is his life like today? And what does he look like now that he's all grown up? Read on to find out.

Junior is based on a real child

Believe it or not, "Problem Child" is based on a true story. In 1988, the Los Angeles Times published a piece about a couple who were suing an adoption agency because the child they brought home turned out to have some severe behavioral issues. The story (which was headlined "An Adopted Boy – and Terror Begins") attracted the attention of several screenwriters, including Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander. Speaking to Gilbert Gottfried (who plays Igor Peabody, the adoption agent in "Problem Child") on his podcast, the pair revealed that everyone was pitching it as a horror movie. They were the only ones to look at the story and see the potential humor in it.

Karaszewski and Alexander were freshman roommates and first started writing together during their time at USC. "Problem Child" was only the second screenplay they penned together, and they were excited about it. "We thought we wrote a pretty good script, but then it got rewritten and dumbed down," Alexander said on The Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis. "We started feeling kind of sorry for ourselves." They became associated with the film, as did the young star of the picture, Michael Oliver.

Macaulay Culkin wanted Michael Oliver's role

"Problem Child" gave big breaks to Gilbert Gottfried and future "Seinfeld" star Michael Richards, who appears as Junior's serial killer pen pal. It was also a big break for Michael Oliver, a complete unknown at the time. He wasn't completely without experience, however. "'Problem Child' was obviously the big break, but prior to that I was acting," he told 22 Vision. "I did a 30 second spot for Chevron, that's what led to 'Problem Child.'" The commercial was so impressive that it got him the nod over another up-and-coming child star by the name of Macaulay Culkin.

Culkin (who would become a big name with "Home Alone," released the same year as "Problem Child") was up for the role of Junior, but he didn't fit the bill. "No disrespect to Macaulay, but he just didn't connect with the material," casting director Valerie McCaffrey said. "I had turned on the television, and a commercial came on. I ended up calling my office and I said, 'Find out who that boy is!' When we met him, instantaneously we knew that he was going to be hired for this role."

The director created a fun environment for Oliver

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter on the film's 25th anniversary, "Problem Child" director Dennis Dugan revealed that he wanted the job so badly that he jumped on a table and told Universal execs: "You're looking at me like I'm f****** nuts, and this is what we want. We want this kind of chaos." He was informed three hours later that he got the job. Dugan also successfully lobbied to get John Ritter into the film. They had worked together before and were friends, but the studio initially didn't want a TV actor. They were after "somebody more famous," Dugan said. The director gave Ritter the script anyway, and the studio would soon come around.

Dugan would never be a critical darling, and much of his work, including the "Problem Child" films, would be trashed in reviews. Still, the first "Problem Child" film made money and would prove to be a strong launching pad for a successful Hollywood career. One thing he definitely did right on the "Problem Child" films was creating an environment where child actors could feel comfortable and have fun. Michael Oliver told 22 Vision that he had a blast with his young castmates. "I remember hanging out with the kids that were on set, Colby [Kline] was a lot of fun to hang out with," he said.

Michael Oliver became good friends with Ivyann Schwan

After the commercial success of the first "Problem Child" film, a sequel was rushed into production and released the following summer. This time, Junior had a female brat companion who became his partner in crime: Trixie, played by Ivyann Schwan. Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski upped the ante with the gross-out humor, writing a notorious sequence where a bunch of kids puke their guts out on an amusement park ride. But by this stage, both writers were kind of fed up with how the movies were panning out.

"We basically worked on 'Problem Child 1,' 'Problem Child 2,' [and] it wasn't necessarily a happy situation," Karaszewski said on The Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis. "They made lots of money and they were really successful. But the problem is that they weren't really the kind of movies that we wanted to make." Like the first film, "Problem Child 2" has a terrible score on Rotten Tomatoes (just 8%), but there's one good thing that did come out of it: Michael Oliver and Ivyann Schwan became super close. "Her and I have been absolute best friends ever since," Oliver told 22 Vision.

Universal sued Michael Oliver over money demands

When Michael Oliver signed up for "Problem Child 2," a talent fee of $80,000 was agreed upon. Then, right before the shoot commenced, Oliver's mother wanted her son to be paid $500,000, and threatened to pull him out of the movie if he didn't get a pay increase. Universal agreed to the sum and gave him half up front, because without Oliver there'd be no movie and they would be out of pocket by around $4 million. That wasn't the end of it, however — Universal would later sue Oliver.

The case went to trial and Oliver's mother was called "a professional stage mother" and an "extortionist" in court (via Variety). "She used her son as a weapon by refusing to let him perform in 'Problem Child 2' unless Universal Pictures agreed to raise his compensation," Universal attorney Shinaan Krakowsky said. Oliver, then 11 years old, testified briefly during the trial. The jury ultimately decided in the studio's favor and Oliver's family had to give $170,000 back to Universal, per the Los Angeles Times.

Life after Problem Child is good for Michael Oliver

He seemed to vanish after "Problem Child 2," but this wasn't the last time Michael Oliver worked in Hollywood. He popped up on the sitcom "Drexell's Class" in 1991, and he also appeared on "Platypus Man," another TV comedy. He would later play minor, uncredited roles in the likes of "Forrest Gump" and "Eraser." He portrayed a Russian teen in the latter movie, which hit cineplexes in 1996. He hasn't appeared in anything since then, but he's totally okay with that.

Oliver is in his 40s now, and he's a happy man. "After having been thrust into the spotlight as a child, I appreciate some peace and quiet," he said at a reunion event (via People). "I am grateful and always will be for the experiences. I'm actually quite happy with my life the way it is today. I have a decent job. I work hard. I have a beautiful girlfriend. We have three cats and a hamster. It's a nice, quiet existence. I like it."

Michael Oliver still misses John Ritter

While nobody would ever call any of the "Problem Child" films great works of art, they've become beloved in a so-bad-they're-good kind of way. Cafe Mom included the first movie on its list of "perfect family night films" in 2019, while Reel Rundown praised its "heartwarming message" in 2022. Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski eventually learned to enjoy being the creators of the series; director Dennis Dugan certainly doesn't look back in anger; and it's doubtful John Ritter and Amy Yasbeck regretted making the film considering they fell in love and wound up happily married.

Unlike a lot of child stars who ended up broke and in a bad place, Michael Oliver is living a normal, happy life away from the industry — but he still embraces his past as the face of the "Problem Child" franchise. When he reunited with his former castmates to pay tribute to John Ritter, he took part in a then-and-now photoshoot and caught up with some people he hadn't seen in years. "It's so awesome to be able to reconnect, [they're] just great people to work with," he told 22 Vision. "I really wish that I had more time to spend with John before what happened. It's heartbreaking. I miss the hell out of him."