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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)
Won 3 Oscars. Another 11 wins & 23 nominations. See more awards »



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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






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:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Charges were set at the front of the Thayers' boat so that it blew up prior to hitting the big rock in Purgatory Cove. The vintage wooden U22-Sportsman Chris-Craft boat proved so durable that it bounced off the rocks without any damage during the early takes of the scene. See more »


Pieces of mail change between shots; in particular, there is no printed advertising flyer in the first shots, and there is never a padded envelope containing Norman's meds included in the sheaf of envelopes that the postman delivers; after pulling out the letter from Chelsea and handing it to Ethel, he says himself that there is nothing else besides "bills and junk mail". See more »


Bill Ray: You're having a good time, aren't you?
Norman: Huh?
Bill Ray: Chelsea told me all about how you like to have a good old time with people's heads. She does too, sometimes. Sometimes I can get into it and sometimes not. I think you should know, I'm pretty good at recognizing crap when I hear it. You know, it's not imperative that you and I become friends. I thought it would be nice. I'm sure you're a very fascinating person, and I thought it would be fascinating getting to know you. That's obviously not an easy ...
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Featured in Katharine Hepburn: All About Me (1993) 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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