AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Big Chill
Director: Lawrence Kasdan (Dir)
Release Date:   30 Sep 1983
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Toronto, Canada: 9 Sep 1983; Los Angeles opening: 28 Sep 1983; New York opening: 29 Sep 1983
Production Date:   8 Nov 1982--early Feb 1983
Duration (in mins):   105
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Tom Berenger (Sam [Weber])  
    Glenn Close (Sarah [Cooper])  
    Jeff Goldblum (Michael)  
    William Hurt (Nick)  
    Kevin Kline (Harold [Cooper])  
    Mary Kay Place (Meg)  
    Meg Tilly (Chloé)  
    JoBeth Williams (Karen [Bowens])  
  Co-starring: Don Galloway (Richard [Bowens])  
    James Gillis (Minister)  
    Ken Place (Peter the cop)  
    Jon Kasdan (Harold and Sarah's son)  
    Ira Stiltner (Running Dog driver)  
    Jacob Kasdan (Autograph seeker)  
    Muriel Moore (Alex's mother)  
    Meg Kasdan (Airline hostess)  
    Patricia Gaul (Annie)  

Summary: In Richmond, Virginia, athletic shoe company owner Harold Cooper bathes his young son as his wife, Sarah, receives a telephone call, informing her of the suicide of the couple’s closest friend, Alex. He was living in their antebellum vacation home in Beaufort, South Carolina, with his young, offbeat girl friend, Chloé. Her plans to renovate a country cabin with Alex were cut short when he slashed his wrists in the Coopers' bathtub. The news of Alex’s death spreads among his group of seven companions from the University of Michigan, and they reunite for his funeral. Along with Harold and Sarah, the friends include Meg, an edgy, childless career woman with plans to use one of her male friends as a sperm donor; Michael, an uppity writer who compromised his talent to work as an investigative journalist for People magazine; Sam Weber, an actor cast in the title role of a tawdry but successful television series called J. T. Lancer; Nick, a derisive Vietnam War veteran who left his job as a radio show therapist to become a drug dealer; and Karen Bowens, a suburban housewife who was always the object of Sam Weber’s affection, even though she dated Nick in college. After the ceremony, the Coopers host their friends for the weekend. The group rekindle past grievances, reflect upon their transformations into adulthood, and reveal secrets about their pasts. Sam, the actor, is recently divorced and still has his heart set on Karen. When he blames Michael for exploiting his failing marriage in People, Michael apologizes and vows to leave the magazine. He announces his plan to open a nightclub, and Sam feigns interest in being an investor. The evening after the funeral, the friends gather in their pajamas and reminisce while Nick snorts cocaine in his makeshift attic bedroom. When Meg creeps upstairs and propositions him for sex, Nick explains that the Vietnam War left him impotent. Later, Nick and Sam discuss their conflicting affections for Karen and are surprised to find her husband, Richard, in the kitchen. He explains he is a secret insomniac who is deeply unsatisfied with his work, but is willing to prioritize responsibility over happiness. Richard wonders why Alex was unable to tolerate the realities of adult life. The next morning, Harold convinces Nick to go jogging with him and violates federal law to reveal an insider trading secret that only Alex knew: Harold’s shoe company will soon be purchased by a conglomerate, making its shareholders incredibly wealthy. Harold explains that Alex used the opportunity to buy a cabin, and encourages Nick to invest, so he can profit from the merger and get out of the drug trade. Meanwhile, Karen’s husband, Richard, returns home to care for their children and Karen couples with Sam to go food shopping. As the day progresses, Chloé overhears Nick filming a satirical video documentary about his failed radio show. While Harold drives Michael, Nick, and Chloé to Alex’s cabin, Meg and Sarah prepare dinner. Meg announces that she is ovulating, and has decided to recruit Sam as a sperm donor since Nick is no longer a viable candidate. However, Sam later denies her request. That night, the friends prepare a feast and laugh over the opening sequence of Sam’s television show, J. T. Lancer. At dinner, Sarah cries about Alex, and regrets that the group compromised their liberal ideals. Later, Nick notices Michael flirting with Chloé and prevents further interaction between the two by sedating his friend with a Quaalude pill. As Michael sleeps, Nick tells Chloé that he left the radio show because he didn’t believe his own advice, and the girl reveals she was a regular listener as a child. She called him at the station one night and his blunt advice helped her feel better. The following morning, Harold surprises each of his friends with their own pair of sneakers. Later that day, the companions watch their alma mater’s football game, but Nick drives back to Alex’s cabin. During the game, Michael offers to impregnate Meg but she declines his offer, effectively ending her list of potential mates. Elsewhere, on the front porch, Sarah tells Karen about her brief affair with Alex five years earlier, and admits she loved him throughout her marriage to Harold. During halftime, Nick is escorted back to the Cooper home by a policeman, who suspects he is a drug dealer. However, the officer recognizes Sam from J. T. Lancer and agrees to let Nick go if Sam can demonstrate his character’s signature stunt, jumping into a car through an open window. When Sam fails and injures himself, Harold makes good with the policeman and the officer drives away. Nick insults Harold for being a conformist, but Harold defends his choice to be an upright citizen and reproaches Nick for his failure to come of age. After dinner that night, the friends contemplate Alex’s suicide and cannot make sense of his decision. Nick alienates his companions by arguing that they could not have saved Alex, and that they are over-sentimentalizing their friendships. He claims that life was easier when they were young, and that the “real world” of adulthood is much more complex, and difficult to endure. When Sam storms outside in anger, Karen follows and they make love. Meanwhile, Sarah absolves herself of guilt over her liaison with Alex by asking her husband, Harold, to impregnate Meg. Chloé invites Nick to the basement apartment she shared with Alex, and cries as she goes through her dead lover’s clothes. Back in the living room, the two uncoupled outliers, Michael and Sarah, enjoy each other’s company and Michael announces he is scrapping his nightclub plan to write a novel about the friends’ weekend. When the group reunites the next morning for breakfast, they prepare to return to their ordinary lives. Karen decides to continue her marriage with Richard, and Sam will resume his role as a television action hero in Hollywood, California. Sarah and Harold experience newfound passion for each other, and Meg is beaming with the hope of being pregnant. Nick, who spent the night going through Alex’s papers, wields a college newspaper article Michael wrote. The column explains that Alex became the college celebrity when he turned down the coveted “Rutledge Fellowship” to live a life of non-conformity. Nick decides to remain at the Coopers' home with Chloé, working on the cabin and picking up where Alex left off.  

Production Company: Carson Productions Group, Ltd.  
Production Text: Columbia Pictures presents
A Carson Productions Group, Ltd., production of
A Lawrence Kasdan film
From Columbia-Delphi productions
Brand Name:

Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures  
  Delphi Productions  
Director: Lawrence Kasdan (Dir)
  Barrie M. Osborne (Unit prod mgr)
  Michael Grillo (1st asst dir)
  Stephen Dunn (2d asst dir)
  Dan Heffner (2d asst dir)
Producer: Michael Shamberg (Prod)
  Barrie Osborne (Assoc prod)
  Marcia Nasatir (Exec prod)
  Lawrence Kasdan (Exec prod)
Writer: Lawrence Kasdan (Wrt)
  Barbara Benedek (Wrt)
Photography: John Bailey (Dir of photog)
  Lou Barlia (Cam op)
  Jack Brown (Cam asst)
  Robert Brown (Cam asst)
  Michael Ginsburg (Still photog)
  Ron McLeish (Gaffer)
  Michael Blymyer (Best boy)
  Al LaVerde (Key grip)
  Ty Suehiro (2d grip)
  George Schrader (Dolly grip)
Art Direction: Ida Random (Prod des)
Film Editor: Carol Littleton (Ed)
  Mia Goldman (Asst ed)
  Bruce Cannon (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: George Gaines (Set dec)
  Rick Young (Prop master)
  Michael Casey (Asst prop master)
  Donald Ablett (Prod painter)
  Tim Donelan (Set dresser)
  Gary Kudroff (Set dresser)
  Mike Higelmire (Set dresser)
  Michael Muscarella (Const coord)
Costumes: April Ferry (Cost supv)
  Mort Schwartz (Costumer)
  Michele Neely (Costumer)
Music: Meg Kasdan (Mus consultant)
Sound: Donald O. Mitchell (Re-rec mixer)
  Rick Kline (Re-rec mixer)
  Kevin O'Connell (Re-rec mixer)
  Gene S. Cantamessa (Prod sd mixer)
  Raul Bruce (Boom man)
  Patrick Drummond (Sd ed)
  Robert Grieve (Sd ed)
  Dennis Drummond (Sd ed)
  Michael Tomack (Sd ed)
Special Effects: Larry Cavanaugh (Spec eff supv)
  Wayne Fitzgerald (Titles by)
  Modern Film Effects (Titles by, Wayne Fitzgerald)
Make Up: Michael Germain (Makeup artist)
  Mickey Scott (Makeup artist)
  Lyndell Quiyou (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Wally Nicita (Casting)
  Pamela Alch (Scr supv)
  Norman B. Schwartz (Post prod dial)
  Elise Rohden (Prod coord)
  Mark Indig (South Carolina loc mgr)
  Stratton Leopold (Atlanta loc mgr)
  John Reade (Transportation coord)
  Larry Kaplan (Unit pub)
  Smith & Siegal (Pub consultants)
  Gerald Scaife (Prod asst)
  Scott Musgrave (Prod asst)
  Jenny Collins (Prod asst)
  Nan R. Eisley (Asst to Mr. Kasdan)
  Emily T. Warwick (Asst to Mr. Shamberg)
  Sandra Dawes (Extra casting)
  Michael Hill (Prod accountant)
  Deborah Lucchesi (Casting coord)
  Delta Airlines (Travel services provided by)
MPAA Rating: R
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: Theme from “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” written by John Williams; Theme from “J. T. Lancer,” written by David Kurtz; “Strangers In The Night,” written by Charles Singleton, Eddie Snyder and Bert Kaempfert; “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, performed by The Rolling Stones, courtesy of ABKCO Records, Inc., published by ABKCO Music, Inc.; “A Natural Woman,” written by Gerry Goffin, Carole King and Jerry Wexler, performed by Aretha Franklin; “Good Lovin’,” written by Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick, performed by The Rascals; “In The Midnight Hour,” written by Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper, performed by The Rascals, “When A Man Loves A Woman,” written by Calvin H. Lewis and Andrew Wright, performed by Percy Sledge, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corporation; “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” written by Tony Ascher and Brian Wilson, performed by The Beach Boys; “Quicksilver Girl,” written by Steve Miller, performed by The Steve Miller Band; “The Weight,” written by Jaime Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band, courtesy of Capitol Records; “Bad Moon Rising,” written by John C. Fogerty, performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival, courtesy of Fantasy Records; “Gimme Some Lovin’,” written by Steve Winwood, Muff Winwood and Spencer Davis, performed by Spencer Davis; “Tell Him,” written by Bert Russell, performed by The Exciters, courtesy of Liberty Records; “Joy To The World,” written by Hoyt Axton, performed by Three Dog Night, courtesy of MCA Records, Inc.; “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” written by Eddie Holland and Norman Whitfield, performed by The Temptations; “My Girl,” written by William Robinson, Jr., and Ronald White, performed by The Temptations; “I Second That Emotion,” written by William Robinson, Jr., and Alfred Cleveland, performed by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles; “Tracks Of My Tears,” written by Warren Moore, William Robinson, Jr., and Marvin Tarplin, performed by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles; “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, performed by Marvin Gaye, courtesy of Motown Records and Jobete Music; “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” written by Keith Reid and Gary Brooker, performed by Procol Harum, courtesy of Muscadet Records.
Composer: Tony Asher
  Hoyt Axton
  Gary Brooker
  Rudy Clark
  Alfred Cleveland
  Steve Cropper
  Spencer Davis
  John C. Fogerty
  Gerry Goffin
  Eddie Holland
  Mick Jagger
  Bert Kaempfert
  Carole King
  David Kurtz
  Calvin H. Lewis
  Steve Miller
  Warren Moore
  Wilson Pickett
  Keith Reid
  Arthur Resnick
  Keith Richards
  William Robinson Jr.
  Bert Russell
  Charles Singleton
  Eddie Snyder
  Barrett Strong
  Marvin Tarplin
  Jerry Wexler
  Ronald White
  Norman Whitfield
  John Williams
  Brian Wilson
  Muff Winwood
  Steve Winwood
  Andrew Wright
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. 28/10/1983 dd/mm/yyyy PA190287

PCA NO: 27057
Physical Properties: Sd:
  Prints: Prints by Metrocolor®
  Lenses: Panaflex® Cameras and Lenses by Panavision®

Genre: Comedy-drama
Subjects (Major): Friendship
  Generation gap
  South Carolina
Subjects (Minor): Actors and actresses
  Drug addiction
  Drug dealers
  Radio performers
  Shoe stores
  Stock market
  Television actors and actresses
  Track and field athletics
  Vietnam War veterans

Note: End credits state: “Filmed entirely on location in Beaufort, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia,” and, “The producers wish to thank: The South Carolina Film Office, the Georgia Film Office, and the people of Beaufort, South Carolina for their help in the making of this film.”
       Music credits misspell Keith Richards’s last name as “Richard.” Similarly, songwriter Tony Asher’s name is misspelled “Ascher.”
       On 12 May 1982, DV announced that The Ladd Company had contracted Lawrence Kasdan direct The Big Chill, which he co-wrote with Barbara Benedek. At the time, Kasdan was best known for screenwriting blockbuster films such as The Empire Strikes Back (1980, see entry) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, see entry), and for making his directorial debut with Body Heat (1981, see entry). The picture was released to critical acclaim and box-office success by The Ladd Company.
       According to a 12 Oct 1983 Newsday article, Kasdan and Benedek began writing The Big Chill in Sep 1980, five months after the release of director John Sayles’s Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980, see entry), which also portrays a reunion with an ensemble cast. Although Kasdan was widely criticized for being derivative of Sayles, he told Newsday that Return of the Secaucus 7 merely motivated him to write a story that he conceived many years earlier. One month after starting to write The Big Chill, Kasdan began production on Body Heat, and consequently wrote the role of “Nick” for Body Heat’s star, William Hurt. The other characters were not created with specific actors in mind. An Oct 1983 edition of Esquire magazine noted that Hurt gave Kasdan a commitment to perform in The Big Chill.
       The film was semi-autobiographical. Like his characters, Kasdan was a political activist at the University of Michigan before graduating in 1970. According to Kasdan, the idealism of his youth was starkly contrasted in the following decade, when his peers expressed apathy and cynicism toward the “moral principals” they honed in college. Interacting with such detractors provoked the writer-director to sense “a physical chill that would pass through my body. I started calling it ‘the big chill.’”
       Kasdan told Newsday that his early experiences in Hollywood created a similar “chill” of disillusionment, particularly his relationship with The Ladd Company. After Kasdan delivered The Big Chill, the studio rejected the property, and filmmaker was left with a script that no major studio would finance. In the summer of 1982, producer Richard Fischoff, a Paramount Pictures executive at the time, pushed the studio to make the film, but Paramount executives were not convinced that the adult-themed story could be marketable to a mass audience.
       In turn, Fischoff brought the project to Marcia Nasatir, who read the script in Jul 1982. As noted in a 16 Dec 2013 HR article, Nasatir became the first female vice president of production at United Artists (UA) when she was hired by Mike Medavoy in the mid-1970s. In 1978, Medavoy and four colleagues left the studio to form Orion Pictures, leaving Nasatir behind. She ultimately joined the men at Orion, but was refused an equal partnership and vacated her position to become the president of entertainer Johnny Carson’s newly established company, Carson Productions Group, Ltd. There, she launched The Big Chill as the studio’s first production. On 20 Sep 1982, DV and HR announced Kasdan’s deal with Carson Productions, and listed Columbia Pictures as the film’s distributor. Eight months later, however, a 20 May 1983 DV column announced that Nasatir was leaving Carson Productions to become a senior vice president at Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. Esquire noted the irony that her replacement, Richard Fischoff, was left to oversee the release of the film he was unable to make at his former studio, Paramount.
       As stated in a 22 Sep 1982 DV column, Glenn Close and Tom Berenger were the first actors officially cast in the picture, followed soon after by Jeff Goldblum, JoBeth Williams, and William Hurt, who agreed to star in the film before it was optioned. An 8 Oct 1982 DV news item added Meg Tilly, Mary Kay Place, Don Galloway, and Kevin Costner to the cast. Costner performed the role of “Alex,” the friend who committed suicide, but his “flashback” scenes, shot at the beginning of production in Atlanta, GA, were cut from the final film. However, Costner does appear in opening credits as Alex’s corpse, according to a 13 Sep 1998 NYT article. The 12 Oct 1983 Newsday noted that Kevin Kline was considered for the roles of “Sam” and “Michael” before he was cast as “Harold.”
       Studio production notes in AMPAS library files stated that the actors developed their roles in Oct 1982, one month before principal photography began on 8 Nov 1982 in Atlanta. Jeff Goldblum told Newsday that rehearsals took place at a condominium complex, where the actors lived, shared meals, and played late-night games such as charades and “Trivial Pursuit.” By the time shooting began, the actors had already established a “cooperative spirit.” The primary location of the film was “Tidalholm,” an 1853 Italianate estate in Beaufort, SC. On 7 Feb 1983, DV announced that filming had ended. Various contemporary sources, including Newsday and a 13 Jul 1983 LAHExam news item cited a budget between $7.75 and $8 million.
       The Big Chill made its world premiere on 9 Sep 1983 at the Toronto Festival of Festivals in Canada, where it won the People’s Choice Award. Soon afterward, the picture debuted in the U.S. at the opening night gala of the 21st New York Film Festival. A 31 Aug 1983 DV article stated that The Big Chill was scheduled to screen simultaneously at two Los Angeles, CA, venues on 20 Sep 1983. The Directors Guild Theater premiere included captions for the hearing impaired while AMPAS’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater projected a traditional print, without captions. The screenings reportedly marked the first time a feature film was premiered with captions. Both events were fundraisers for Tripod, Inc., a non-profit organization that assisted hearing-impaired children.
       Contemporary sources noted various opening dates, such as the 28 Sep 1983 LAT and the 23 Sep NYT reviews, which listed 28 Sep 1983 and 29 Sep 1983, respectively. However, Newsday stated that the film was released nationally on 30 Sep 1983 in 700 theaters. It grossed $9.2 million in its first two weeks, and $53 million during its first run, according to a 13-15 Nov 1998 HR article. The picture was reissued on 6 Nov 1998, and a DVD and LaserDisc version of the film was in preparation for Tri-Star Home Video release in early 1999. In 2013, The Big Chill celebrated its 30th anniversary at the Toronto Film Festival, where it made its world premiere. A 25 Jul 2013 Var announcement noted that many of the stars were scheduled to appear, as well as Lawrence Kasdan and producer Michael Shamberg.
       The film marked the feature film debuts of actor-filmmakers Jon Kasdan and Jacob Kasdan, sons of Lawrence Kasdan. Their mother, Meg Kasdan, performed the role of “Airline hostess.” She is also credited onscreen as a music consultant.
       The Big Chill was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Actress in a Supporting Role (Glenn Close), Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen), and Best Picture.
       AFI’s “100 Greatest American Movie Music” list ranked The Temptations’ version of “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” in The Big Chill as number ninety-four.  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   12 May 1982.   
Daily Variety   20 Sep 1982.   
Daily Variety   22 Sep 1982.   
Daily Variety   8 Oct 1982.   
Daily Variety   8 Nov 1982.   
Daily Variety   7 Feb 1983.   
Daily Variety   20 May 1983.   
Daily Variety   31 Aug 1983.   
Esquire   Oct 1983.   
Hollywood Reporter   20 Sep 1982.   
Hollywood Reporter   9 Sep 1983   p. 3, 25.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Dec 2013.   
Hollywood Reporter   13-15 Nov 1998   p. 15.
LAHExam   13 Jul 1983.   
Los Angeles Times   28 Sep 1983   Section VI, p. 1.
New York Times   23 Sep 1983   p. 14.
New York Times   13 Sep 1998.   
Newsday   12 Oct 1983   Section II, pp. 4-5.
Variety   7 Sep 1983   p. 16.
Variety   25 Jul 2013.   

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2015 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.