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On Golden Pond (1981)

PG | | Drama | 12 February 1982 (USA)
1:47 | Trailer

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Norman is a curmudgeon with an estranged relationship with his daughter Chelsea. At Golden Pond, he and his wife nevertheless agree to care for Billy, the son of Chelsea's new boyfriend, and a most unexpected relationship blooms.


Mark Rydell


Ernest Thompson (screenplay), Ernest Thompson (based on his play)
4,740 ( 1,134)
Won 3 Oscars. Another 11 wins & 23 nominations. See more awards »





Complete credited cast:
Katharine Hepburn ... Ethel Thayer
Henry Fonda ... Norman Thayer Jr.
Jane Fonda ... Chelsea Thayer Wayne
Doug McKeon ... Billy Ray
Dabney Coleman ... Bill Ray
William Lanteau William Lanteau ... Charlie Martin
Christopher Rydell ... Sumner Todd (as Chris Rydell)


The loons are back again on Golden Pond and so are Norman Thayer, a retired professor, and Ethel who have had a summer cottage there since early in their marriage. This summer their daughter Chelsea -- whom they haven't seen for years -- feels she must be there for Norman's birthday. She and her fiance are on their way to Europe the next day but will be back in a couple of weeks to pick up the fiance's son. When she returns Chelsea is married and her stepson has the relationship with her father that she always wanted. Will father and daughter be able to communicate at last? Written by Dale O'Connor <daleoc@interaccess.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


when life is at its finest...when love is at its fullest... See more »




PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

12 February 1982 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Am goldenen See See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$89,213, 6 December 1981, Limited Release

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Henry Fonda holds the record for the longest gap between acting Academy Award nominations. Fonda's first Oscar nomination was for The Grapes of Wrath (1940) while his second was for this film, 41 years later. He received one other Oscar nomination in the period between his two acting nominations, which was for Best Picture producer of 12 Angry Men (1957). Fonda won only his Best Actor Oscar in 1982 for his final theatrical film performance in this film. Fonda, the previous year in 1981, had won an Honorary Oscar for: "The consummate actor, in recognition of his brilliant accomplishments and enduring contribution to the art of motion pictures." See more »


Alternating calm/choppy lake-water in closeup/wide-angle shots as Norman and Billy enter Purgatory Cove. See more »


Bill Ray: [as he heads out to the lake to go skinny-dipping with Ethel and Chelsea] Are there any bears around here?
Norman: Oh, sure. Black bears and grizzlies. One of 'em came along here last month and ate an old lesbian.
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Alternate Versions

When premiered on TV, an extra credit dedicated to Henry Fonda was added to the final credits. See more »


Referenced in Sunny Side Up (1994) See more »


Happy Birthday to You
(1893) (uncredited)
Written by Mildred J. Hill and Patty S. Hill
Sung by all for Norman's birthday
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User Reviews

Reflective twilight year musings on aging & relationships
24 March 2006 | by roghacheSee all my reviews

This is an extremely well crafted film, although I believe a little overrated from a sense of nostalgia for its beloved talented and now aging stars, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. Of course the cinematography is magnificent, with lovely country scenery and beautiful lakeside vistas, all well incorporated into the emotional aspects of the picture.

The movie brings the viewer into what is probably the last of many summers spent at their Golden Pond cottage by retired professor, Norman Thayer, an ornery old codger, and his cheerful, loving wife, Ethel. Their semi estranged 40 something daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), comes to visit, in honor of her father's 80th birthday, bringing her new fiancé, Bill. The younger couple leave Bill's young teenage son, Billy, with Chelsea's parents while they jaunt off to Europe for a couple of weeks on holiday.

It's a film that is character driven, and all about relationships. For me, the most moving is that between husband and wife. Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn give brilliant Oscar winning performances as the aging Thayer couple, Norman and Ethel. Their relationship, the love, support, and comfortable banter, is so amazing on screen it is impossible to believe they aren't actually married in real life. Norman has become quite frail and has troubling health concerns, both physical (heart palpitations) and mental (some memory loss). Mind you, this film is all a bit depressing with Norman's anxieties about his mortality (no comforting faith mentioned here, unfortunately) and of course his aging. Ethel is jovially comforting, especially when he gets a little lost in the woods while they are out picking strawberries together. This scene is beautifully done by both spouses. He's a sympathetic but crotchety character to say the least, yet she always manages to deal with him affectionately.

Also, the relationship between Norman and the fiancé's young son... Although Billy has earlier been rather miffed at being stuck with these old folks for the summer, Norman develops quite a touching grandfatherly relationship with him, as the two go fishing together and so forth.

The only relationship that doesn't come off well here is the strained father / daughter one between Norman and Chelsea that presumably is meant to reflect the real life tensions between Henry and Jane Fonda. Frankly, Chelsea seems more like a self absorbed teenager or 20 something, trying to find herself. By age 40, she should have done so and become a genuine support to these elderly parents of hers. I really like Jane Fonda in some of her roles, but this particular character hasn't much depth and is little asset to the movie. Hopefully, at least making On Golden Pond together helped to mend any real life fences between the two Fondas.

In any case, the film examines skillfully the aging process from the very personal perspective of a loving couple going through it, and as such is a movie not to be missed.

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