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The Big Chill (film)

The Big Chill
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Produced by Michael Shamberg
Written by Lawrence Kasdan
Barbara Benedek
Music by Meg Kasdan
Cinematography John Bailey
Edited by Carol Littleton
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
September 28, 1983 (1983-09-28)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $56,399,659

The Big Chill is a 1983 American comedy-drama film directed by Lawrence Kasdan, starring (in alphabetical order) Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams. It is about a group of baby boomer college friends who reunite after 15 years when one of their circle, Alex, commits suicide. Kevin Costner was cast as Alex, but all scenes showing his face were cut.

The Big Chill was filmed entirely on location in Beaufort, South Carolina and was shot at the same antebellum house used as a location for The Great Santini. The soundtrack features soul, R&B and pop-rock musicians from the 1960s and 70s, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Rolling Stones and Three Dog Night.

The Big Chill influenced the TV series thirtysomething.[1] Earlier, however, the movie was directly adapted to television in CBS' short-lived 1985 comedy-drama Hometown.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Reception 4
    • Critical response 4.1
    • Accolades 4.2
    • In popular culture 4.3
  • Soundtrack 5
    • Original Motion Picture Soundtrack 5.1
    • More Songs from The Original Soundtrack 5.2
    • Deluxe Edition 5.3
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Harold Cooper (Kevin Kline) is bathing his young son when his wife, Sarah (Glenn Close), receives a phone call at their Richmond home telling her that their friend, Alex, has committed suicide by slashing his wrists in the bathtub of their vacation house in South Carolina, where he had been staying.

At the funeral, Harold and Sarah are reunited with college friends from the University of Michigan. They include Sam (Tom Berenger), a famous television actor now living in Los Angeles; Meg (Mary Kay Place), a chain smoking former public defender who is now a real estate attorney in Atlanta and wants a child; Michael (Jeff Goldblum), a sex-obsessed People magazine journalist; Nick (William Hurt), a Vietnam War veteran and former radio host who suffers from impotence; Karen (JoBeth Williams), a housewife from suburban Detroit who's unhappy in her marriage to her advertising executive husband, Richard (Don Galloway). Also present is Chloe (Meg Tilly), Alex's much younger girlfriend.

After the burial, everyone goes from the cemetery to Harold and Sarah's vacation house, where they are invited to stay for the weekend. During the first night there, a bat flies into the attic while Meg and Nick are getting reacquainted. Sam later finds Nick watching television and they briefly talk about Karen. The two then go into the kitchen and find Richard making a sandwich, and the three make small talk which turns into a discussion about responsibility and adulthood. At the end of the discussion, Richard states "Nobody said it was going to be fun. At least, nobody said it to me."

The next morning Harold and Nick go jogging; Harold tells Nick that his running shoe company is about to be bought out by a large corporation, and that he's about to become rich. Harold confides in Nick that Sarah and Alex had an affair five years earlier. Nick comforts Harold by saying, "She didn't marry Alex."

Richard returns home to look after his kids, but Karen decides to stay in South Carolina for the weekend. Nick, Harold, Michael and Chloe go for a drive while Sam and Karen go shopping. Meg reveals to Sarah that she wants to have a child, and that she is going to ask Sam to be the father, knowing now that Nick can't. Out in the countryside, Harold listens to Michael's plans to buy a nightclub. Chloe takes Nick to the abandoned house that she and Alex were going to renovate; she tells him that he reminds her of Alex, to which Nick replies, "I ain't him."

During dinner Sarah starts tearing up over Alex as the group talks about him. Harold puts "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by The Temptations on the stereo and everyone dances while cleaning up the dishes. While the others sit around and smoke marijuana, Meg asks Sam to father her baby, but he declines.

The next morning Nick, Sam, and Harold go jogging, and the subject of Alex's suicide comes up again. Harold's surprise arrives: sneakers for everyone to wear during the upcoming Michigan football game. The group, minus Nick, watches the game on TV while Sarah tells Karen about her brief affair with Alex and how it affected their friendship negatively.

During the game, Michael offers to father Meg's child, alluding to the fact that they had sex in college, during the March on Washington. At halftime, Chloe, Sam, Harold, and Michael go outside to play touch football. Nick returns, with a police car following him. The officer says that Nick ran a red light and was belligerent, but says that he will drop the charges if Sam would hop into Nick's Porsche as his TV character, J. T. Lancer, always does. Sam is unsuccessful and hurts himself, but the officer drops the charges anyway and apologizes to Harold.

Karen later tells Sam that she loves him, wants to leave Richard and live with Sam and her two sons. When they kiss, Sam pulls away and tells Karen not to leave Richard, as she will regret it in the long run. He confesses that it was "boredom" that caused his own marriage to fail, and he doesn't want her to make the same mistake. Karen feels misled and angrily storms into the house.

Harold is on the phone with his daughter, Molly, and lets Meg talk to her. Observing their interaction on the phone, Sarah decides to let Harold impregnate Meg, but does not tell him yet.

The group once again discusses Alex. Nick says, "Alex died for most of us a long time ago," but Sam disagrees and leaves. Karen follows him and the two have sex outside. Sarah tells Harold about Meg's situation while Chloe and Nick go to bed together, even though he warns her of his condition. Meg and Harold then have sex – she says "I feel like I got a great break on a used car" – while Michael and Sarah joke around and interview each other with a video camera.

In the morning while Karen is packing her clothes, she subtly tells Sam that she has decided to stay with Richard. At the breakfast table Harold reveals that Nick and Chloe will be staying in the guest house for a while so they can renovate the old abandoned house. Sam and Nick then make up from their argument the night before. Nick gives Michael an old copy of an article he wrote about Alex back in college. At the end of the movie, Michael states, tongue in cheek, "Sarah, Harold. We took a secret vote. We're not leaving. We're never leaving." They all laugh and "Joy to the World" plays as the credits roll.



Fans have long clamored to see Costner's footage for several sequences showing Alex's life prior to his suicide, but in documentaries and interviews since, Kasdan has never shown anything more than still photographs from the location shoot. He has also refused to do any sort of "director's cut," saying that the version of the film as it has stood since 1983 is his director's cut and will not be augmented.


Critical response

Richard Corliss of Time described The Big Chill as a "funny and ferociously smart movie," stating:

Vincent Canby of The New York Times argued that the film is a "very accomplished, serious comedy" and an "unusually good choice to open this year's festival [The New York Film Festival] in that it represents the best of mainstream American film making."[3]

Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars out of four, and stated, "The Big Chill is a splendid technical exercise. It has all the right moves. It knows all the right words. Its characters have all the right clothes, expressions, fears, lusts and ambitions. But there's no payoff and it doesn't lead anywhere. I thought at first that was a weakness of the movie. There also is the possibility that it's the movie's message."[4]

The DVD of the film received a 68% rating from Rotten Tomatoes (23 fresh and 11 rotten reviews).[5]


The Big Chill won two major awards:

It was nominated for three Oscars:

Other nominations include:

In 2004 "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" finished #94 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs poll.

In popular culture

The film was parodied by T. Coraghessan Boyle in his short story The Little Chill. The story begins, "Hal had known Rob and Irene, Jill, Harvey, Tottle, and Pesky since elementary school, and they were all 40 going on 60."[6]

In High Fidelity, Dick and Barry are talking about the Rolling Stones' song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" when Dick immediately disqualifies it for inclusion in their Top 10 Songs About Death because of its use in the film.


Ten of the songs from the film were released on the soundtrack album, with four additional songs made available on the CD. The remainder of the film's songs (aside from the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want") were released in 1984 on a second soundtrack album.

In 1998, both albums were re-mastered, the first without the four additional CD tracks, which had also appeared on More Songs and were left there. In 2004, Hip-O Records released a Deluxe edition, containing not only sixteen of the eighteen songs from the film ("Quicksilver Girl," by The Steve Miller Band, was unavailable), but three additional film instrumentals. A second "music of a generation" disc of nineteen additional tracks was included as well, some of which had appeared both on the original soundtrack and the More Songs release.

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

The Big Chill
Soundtrack album from the film The Big Chill by Various Artists
Released September, 1983
Recorded 1963-1971
Genre R&B/Soul
Length 43:38
Label Motown Records
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic link
Side One
  1. Marvin Gaye (1968): "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (extended version) (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong) – 5:03
  2. The Temptations (1965): "My Girl" (Smokey Robinson, Ronald White) – 2:55
  3. The Young Rascals (1966): "Good Lovin'" (Rudy Clark, Arthur Resnick) – 2:28
  4. The Miracles (1965): "The Tracks of My Tears" (Robinson, Warren Moore, Marvin Tarplin) – 2:53
  5. Three Dog Night (1970): "Joy to the World" (Hoyt Axton) – 3:24
Side Two
  1. The Temptations (1966): "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (Whitfield, Edward Holland, Jr.) – 2:31
  2. Aretha Franklin (1968): "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Jerry Wexler) – 2:41
  3. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (1967): "I Second That Emotion" (Robinson, Al Cleveland) – 2:46
  4. Procol Harum (1967): "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (Keith Reid, Gary Brooker, Matthew Fisher) – 4:03
  5. The Exciters (1963): "Tell Him" (Bert Berns) – 2:29
Extra CD tracks
  1. The Four Tops (1965): "It's the Same Old Song" (E. Holland, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland) – 2:45
  2. Martha and The Vandellas (1964): "Dancing in the Street" (Marvin Gaye, William "Mickey" Stevenson) – 2:38
  3. Marvin Gaye (1971): "What's Going On" (Gaye, Cleveland, Renaldo "Obie" Benson) – 3:52
  4. The Marvelettes (1964): "Too Many Fish in the Sea" (Whitfield, E. Holland) – 2:26
Year Chart Position
1983 Billboard Black Albums 40
1983 The Billboard 200 17
Organization Level Date
RIAA – USA Gold December 12, 1983
RIAA – USA Platinum March 29, 1984
RIAA – USA Double Platinum September 27, 1985
RIAA – USA 4x Platinum July 20, 1998
RIAA – USA 6x Platinum October 15, 1998

More Songs from The Original Soundtrack

Side One
  1. Creedence Clearwater Revival – "Bad Moon Rising"
  2. The Beach Boys – "Wouldn't It Be Nice"
  3. Four Tops – "It's the Same Old Song"
  4. Percy Sledge – "When a Man Loves a Woman"
  5. Martha and the Vandellas – "Dancing in the Street"
  6. Marvin Gaye – "What's Going On"
Side Two
  1. The Young Rascals – "In the Midnight Hour"
  2. Steve Miller Band – "Quicksilver Girl"
  3. The Spencer Davis Group – "Gimme Some Lovin'"
  4. The Marvelettes – "Too Many Fish in the Sea"
  5. The Band – "The Weight"

Deluxe Edition

Disc 1
  1. Marvin Gaye – "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (Extended version)
  2. The Temptations – "My Girl"
  3. The Young Rascals – "Good Lovin'"
  4. The Miracles – "The Tracks of My Tears"
  5. Three Dog Night – "Joy to the World"
  6. The Temptations – "Ain't Too Proud to Beg"
  7. Aretha Franklin – "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman"
  8. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – "I Second That Emotion"
  9. Procol Harum – "A Whiter Shade of Pale"
  10. The Exciters – "Tell Him"
  11. Creedence Clearwater Revival – "Bad Moon Rising"
  12. Percy Sledge – "When a Man Loves a Woman"
  13. The Young Rascals – "In the Midnight Hour"
  14. The Spencer Davis Group – "Gimme Some Lovin'"
  15. The Band – "The Weight"
  16. The Beach Boys – "Wouldn't It Be Nice"
  17. Bert Kaempfert – "Strangers in the Night"
  18. The Rolling Stones – "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (Church version)
  19. "J. T. Lancer Theme"
Disc 2
  1. Four Tops – "It's the Same Old Song"
  2. Martha & The Vandellas – "Dancing in the Street"
  3. Marvin Gaye – "What's Going On"
  4. The Marvelettes – "Too Many Fish in the Sea"
  5. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing"
  6. Jimmy Ruffin – "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted"
  7. Jr. Walker & The All Stars – "Shotgun"
  8. Doobie Brothers – "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)"
  9. The Supremes – "Ask Any Girl"
  10. Lesley Gore – "You Don't Own Me"
  11. Spanky & Our Gang – "Like to Get to Know You"
  12. The Mamas and The Papas – "Monday, Monday"
  13. Moody Blues – "Nights in White Satin (The Night)"
  14. Joe Cocker – "Feeling Alright"
  15. Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders – "Game of Love"
  16. James Brown – "I Got You (I Feel Good)"
  17. Blues Magoos – "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet"
  18. The Zombies – "Time of the Season"
  19. Howard Tate – "Get It While You Can"

See also


  1. ^ Emmanuel, Susan. "THIRTYSOMETHING".  
  2. ^ Corliss, Richard (1983-09-12). "Cinema: You Get What You Need".  
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (1983-09-30). "The Big Chill". Retrieved 2008-05-08. 
  5. ^ "The Big Chill (1983)".  
  6. ^ Boyle, T. Coraghessan (1989) The Little Chill, in If the River Was Whiskey. New York: Viking.

External links

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