Ordinary People

Ordinary People is a 1980 American drama film directed by Robert Redford in his feature directorial debut. The film stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, and Timothy Hutton.

Ordinary People
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Redford
Produced byRonald L. Schwary
Screenplay byAlvin Sargent
Based onOrdinary People
by Judith Guest
StarringDonald Sutherland
Mary Tyler Moore
Judd Hirsch
Timothy Hutton
Music byMarvin Hamlisch
CinematographyJohn Bailey
Edited byJeff Kanew
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 19, 1980 (1980-09-19)
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.2 million[1]
Box office$90 million

The story concerns the disintegration of an upper-middle class family in Lake Forest, Illinois, following the accidental death of one of their two sons and the attempted suicide of the other. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent was based upon the 1976 novel Ordinary People by Judith Guest.

The film received six Academy Awards nominations, winning four: Best Picture, Best Director for Redford, Adapted Screenplay for Sargent, and Supporting Actor for Hutton, becoming the first film since West Side Story (1961) and the third film in Oscar history that was the director's debut to win both Best Picture and Best Director.[2] In addition, it won five Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director (Redford), Best Actress in a Drama (Moore), Best Supporting Actor (Hutton), and Best Screenplay (Sargent).


The Jarretts are an upper-middle-class family in suburban Chicago trying to return to normal life after the accidental death of their older teenage son, Buck, and the attempted suicide of their younger and surviving son, Conrad. Conrad, who has recently returned home from a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, feels alienated from his friends and family and begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger. Berger learns that Conrad was involved in the sailing accident that took the life of Buck, whom everyone idolized. Conrad now deals with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt.

Conrad's father, Calvin, tries to connect with his surviving son and understand his wife. Conrad's mother, Beth, denies her loss, hoping to maintain her composure and restore her family to what it once was. She appears to have loved her older son more, and because of the suicide attempt, has grown cold toward Conrad. She is determined to maintain the appearance of perfection and normalcy. Conrad works with Dr. Berger and learns to try to deal with, rather than control, his emotions. He starts dating a fellow student, Jeannine, who helps him to begin to regain a sense of optimism. Conrad, however, still struggles to communicate and re-establish a normal relationship with his parents and schoolmates, including Stillman, with whom he gets into a fistfight. He cannot seem to allow anyone, especially Beth, to get close. Beth makes several guarded attempts to appeal to Conrad for some semblance of normality, but she ends up being cold towards him.

Mother and son often argue while Calvin tries to referee, generally taking Conrad's side for fear of pushing him over the edge again. Things come to a climax near Christmas when Conrad becomes furious at Beth for not wanting to take a photo with him, swearing at her in front of his grandparents. Afterwards, Beth discovers Conrad has been lying about his after-school whereabouts. This leads to a heated argument between Conrad and Beth in which Conrad points out that Beth never visited him in the hospital, saying that she "would have come if Buck was in the hospital." Beth replies, "Buck never would have been in the hospital!" Beth and Calvin take a trip to see Beth's brother in Houston, where Calvin confronts Beth, calling her out on her attitude.

Conrad suffers a setback when he learns that Karen, a friend of his from the psychiatric hospital, has committed suicide. A cathartic breakthrough session with Dr. Berger allows Conrad to stop blaming himself for Buck's death and accept his mother's frailties. Calvin, however, emotionally confronts Beth one last time. He questions their love and asks whether she is capable of truly loving anyone. Stunned, Beth leaves for a while and goes back to Houston. Calvin and Conrad are left to come to terms with their new family situation.



Ordinary People garnered four Oscars for 1980, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. The picture, Robert Redford's debut at directing, won him the Academy Award for Best Director. Alvin Sargent won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Timothy Hutton won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in his first film role (he had previously appeared on television).

The film marked Mary Tyler Moore's career breakout from the personality of her other two famous roles as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moore's complex performance as the mother to Hutton's character was well-received and obtained a nomination for Best Actress. Donald Sutherland's performance as the father was also well received, and he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. He was not nominated for an Academy Award along with his co-stars, however, which Entertainment Weekly has described as one of the worst acting snubs in the history of the Academy Awards.[3]

Judd Hirsch's portrayal of Dr. Berger was a departure from his work on the sitcom Taxi, and drew praise from many in the psychiatric community as one of the rare times their profession is shown in a positive light in film.[4] Hirsch was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, losing out to co-star Hutton. Additionally, Ordinary People launched the career of Elizabeth McGovern who played Hutton's character's love interest, and who received special permission to film while attending Juilliard.

Ordinary People received critical acclaim. Roger Ebert gave it a full four stars and praised how the film's setting "is seen with an understated matter-of-factness. There are no cheap shots against suburban lifestyles or affluence or mannerisms: The problems of the people in this movie aren't caused by their milieu, but grow out of themselves. [...] That's what sets the film apart from the sophisticated suburban soap opera it could easily have become."[5] He later named it the fifth best film of the year 1980; while colleague Gene Siskel ranked it the second best film of 1980.[6] Vincent Canby writing for The New York Times called it "a moving, intelligent and funny film about disasters that are commonplace to everyone except the people who experience them."[7] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 89%, based on 53 reviews, with an average rating of 7.93/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though shot through with bitterness and sorrow, Robert Redford's directorial debut is absorbing and well-acted."[8]

The film was a box-office success, grossing $54 million in the United States and Canada[9] and approximately $36 million overseas[10] for a worldwide gross of $90 million.

The film's prominent usage of Pachelbel's Canon, which had been relatively obscure for centuries, helped to usher the piece into mainstream popular culture.[11]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Picture Ronald L. Schwary Won
Best Director Robert Redford Won
Best Actress Mary Tyler Moore Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Judd Hirsch Nominated
Timothy Hutton Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Alvin Sargent Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Mary Tyler Moore Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Timothy Hutton Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Robert Redford Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Ordinary People Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Donald Sutherland Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Mary Tyler Moore Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Judd Hirsch Nominated
Timothy Hutton Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Robert Redford Won
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Alvin Sargent Won
New Star of the Year – Actor Timothy Hutton Won
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Ordinary People Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Won
Best Director Robert Redford Won
Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director Robert Redford Nominated
National Board of Review Awards Best Film Ordinary People Won
Top Ten Films Won
Best Director Robert Redford Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actress Mary Tyler Moore Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Ordinary People Won
Best Director Robert Redford Nominated
Best Actress Mary Tyler Moore Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium Alvin Sargent Won

See alsoEdit


  2. ^ "Academy Awards: Best Director Facts and Trivia". AMC filmsite. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  3. ^ "25 Biggest Oscar Snubs Ever: Donald Sutherland, Ordinary People". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
  4. ^ Martin, Linda B. (25 January 1981). "The Psychiatrist in Today's Movies: He's Everywhere and He's in Deep Trouble". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 September 2006.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 January 1980). "Ordinary People review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
  6. ^ "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists (1969-1998)". innermind.com. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (19 September 1980). "Redford's Ordinary People". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  8. ^ "Ordinary People (1980)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  9. ^ Ordinary People at Box Office Mojo
  10. ^ Watkins, Roger (April 29, 1981). "CIC Sights a $235-Mil Global Windfall". Variety. p. 3.
  11. ^ Fink, Robert (2010). "Prisoners of Pachelbel: An Essay in Post-Canonic Musicology". Hamburg Jahrbuch.

External linksEdit