Hannah and Her Sisters

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Hannah and Her Sisters
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWoody Allen
Written byWoody Allen
Produced byRobert Greenhut
CinematographyCarlo Di Palma
Edited bySusan E. Morse
Distributed byOrion Pictures
Release date
  • February 7, 1986 (1986-02-07) (United States)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.4 million
Box office$40.1 million[1]

Hannah and Her Sisters is a 1986 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Woody Allen. It tells the intertwined stories of an extended family over two years that begins and ends with a family Thanksgiving dinner. Allen also stars in the film, along with Mia Farrow as Hannah, Michael Caine as her husband, and Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest as her sisters. Alongside them, the film features a large ensemble cast.

Hannah and Her Sisters was, for a long time, Allen's biggest box office success, with a North American gross of US$40 million. The film won Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay (for Allen), Best Supporting Actor (for Caine), and Best Supporting Actress (for Wiest). It is often considered one of Allen's major works, with critics continuing to praise its writing and ensemble cast.


The story is told in three main arcs, with most of it occurring during a 24-month period beginning and ending at Thanksgiving parties, held at The Langham, hosted by Hannah, and her husband, Elliot. Hannah serves as the stalwart hub of the narrative; most of the events of the film connect to her.

Elliot becomes infatuated with one of Hannah's sisters, Lee, and eventually begins an affair with her. Elliot attributes his behavior to his discontent with his wife's self-sufficiency and resentment of her emotional strength. Lee has lived for five years with a reclusive artist, Frederick, who is much older. She finds her relationship with Frederick no longer intellectually or sexually stimulating, in spite of (or maybe because of) Frederick's professed interest in continuing to teach her. She leaves Frederick after admitting to having a dalliance with Elliot. For the remainder of the year between the first and second Thanksgiving gatherings, Elliot and Lee carry on their affair despite Elliot's inability to end his marriage to Hannah. Lee finally ends the affair during the second Thanksgiving, explaining that she is finished waiting for him to commit and that she has started dating someone else.

Hannah's ex-husband Mickey, a television writer, is present mostly in scenes outside of the primary story. Flashbacks reveal that his marriage to Hannah fell apart after they were unable to have children because of his infertility. However, they had twins who are not biologically his, before divorcing. He also went on a disastrous date with Hannah's sister Holly, when they were set up after the divorce. A hypochondriac, he goes to his doctor complaining of hearing loss, and is frightened by the possibility that it might be a brain tumor. When tests prove that he is perfectly healthy, he is initially overjoyed, but then despairs that his life is meaningless. His existential crisis leads to unsatisfying experiments with religious conversion to Catholicism and an interest in Krishna Consciousness. Ultimately, a suicide attempt leads him to find meaning in his life after unexpectedly viewing the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup in a movie theater. The revelation that life should be enjoyed, rather than understood, helps to prepare him for a second date with Holly, which this time blossoms into love.

Holly's story is the film's third main arc. A former cocaine addict, she is an unsuccessful actress who cannot settle on a career. After borrowing money from Hannah, she starts a catering business with April, a friend and fellow actress. Holly and April end up as rivals in auditions for parts in Broadway musicals, as well as for the affections of an architect, David. Holly abandons the catering business after the romance with David fails and decides to try her hand at writing. The career change forces her once again to borrow money from Hannah, a dependency that Holly resents. She writes a script inspired by Hannah and Elliot, which greatly upsets Hannah. It is suggested that much of the script involved personal details of Hannah and Elliot's marriage that had been conveyed to Holly through Lee (having been transmitted first from Elliot). Although this threatens to expose the affair between Elliot and Lee, Elliot soon disavows disclosing any such details. Holly sets aside her script, and instead writes a story inspired by her own life, which Mickey reads and admires greatly, vowing to help her get it produced and leading to their second date.

A minor arc in the film tells part of the story of Norma and Evan. They are the parents of Hannah and her two sisters, and still have acting careers of their own. Their own tumultuous marriage revolves around Norma's alcoholism and alleged affairs, but the long-term bond between them is evident in Evan's flirtatious anecdotes about Norma while playing piano at the Thanksgiving gatherings.

By the time of the film's third Thanksgiving, Lee has married a literature professor she met while taking random classes at Columbia University. Hannah and Elliot have reconciled their marriage. The film's final shot reveals that Holly is married to Mickey and that she is pregnant.


Part of the film's structure and background is borrowed from Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (1982). In both films, a large theatrical family gather for three successive years' celebrations (Thanksgiving in Allen's film, Christmas in Bergman's). The first of each gathering is in a time of contentment, the second in a time of trouble, and the third showing what happens after the resolution of the troubles. The sudden appearance of Mickey's reflection behind Holly's in the closing scene also parallels the apparition behind Alexander of the Bishop's ghost. Additional parallels can be found with Luchino Visconti's 1960 film Rocco and His Brothers, which, besides the connection to its name, also uses the structural device of dividing sections of the film for the different siblings' plot arcs.[2]


(in order of appearance)

Uncredited (in order of appearance)
Tony Roberts Norman, Mickey's former partner in writing sitcoms
Sam Waterston David, the architect who points out to April and Holly his favorite buildings
Soon-Yi Previn Thanksgiving guest


The film was originally about a man who fell in love with his wife's sister. Woody Allen then re-read the novel Anna Karenina "and I thought, it's interesting how this guy gets the various stories going, cutting from one story to another. I loved the idea of experimenting with that."[3]

He was particularly intrigued by the character of Nicholas Levin "who can't seem to find any meaning to life, he's terribly afraid of dying. It struck home very deeply. I thought it would be interesting to do one story about the relationship between three sisters and one story about someone else and his obsession with mortality."[3]

Allen admits the role of Hannah was based on Farrow being "a romanticized perception of Mia. She's very stable, she has eight children now, and she's able to run her career and have good relationships with her sister and her mother. I'm very impressed with those qualities, and I thought if she had two unstable sisters, it would be interesting."[3]

Allen says he was also inspired by the title. "I thought I'd like to make a film called Hannah and Her Sisters", he said, saying this prompted him to give Hannah two sisters.[3] He was interested in making something about the relationship between sisters which he felt was more complex than that between brothers. "Maybe that comes from childhood; my mother had seven sisters and their children were female so all I knew were aunts and female cousins."[3]

Shooting began in October of 1984 in New York City, with Mia Farrow's real-life apartment being used.

Mia Farrow later wrote that Allen had been intrigued about the subject of sisters for a long time. His earlier co-stars Janet Margolin and Diane Keaton both had two sisters each, and Farrow had three. She says Allen gave her an early copy of Hannah and Her Sisters saying she could play whatever sister she wanted, but that "he felt I should be Hannah, the more complex and enigmatic of the sisters ... whose stillness and internal strength he likened to the quality Al Pacino projected in The Godfather".[4]

Farrow wrote, "It was the first time I criticized one of his scripts. To me, the characters seemed self-indulgent and dissolute in predictable ways. The script was wordy but it said nothing." She claims "Woody didn't disagree and tried to switch over to" an alternative idea, "but preproduction was already in progress, and we had to proceed".[5]

She later elaborated:

It was my mother's stunned, chill reaction to the script that enabled me to see how he had taken many of the personal circumstances and themes of our lives, and, it seemed, had distorted them into cartoonish characterizations. At the same time he was my partner. I loved him. I could trust him with my life. And he was a writer: this is what writers do. All grist for the mill. Relatives have always grumbled. He had taken the ordinary stuff of our lives and lifted it into art. We were honored and outraged.[6]

Farrow admitted "a small sick feeling ... deep inside me" which "I shared with nobody was my fear that Hannah and Her Sisters had openly and clearly spelled out his feelings for my sister. But this was fiction, I told myself ... So I put those thoughts out of my mind."[6]


Box office[edit]

Hannah and Her Sisters opened on February 7, 1986, in 54 theaters, where it grossed $1,265,826 ($23,441 per screen) in its opening weekend, the first time an Allen film had debuted in theaters in cities other than New York City.[7] When it expanded to 761 theaters on March 14, it garnered a respectable $2,707,966 ($3,809 per screen). It went on to gross $40,084,041 in the United States (including a re-release the following year), and remains one of the highest-grossing Woody Allen films.[8] Adjusted for inflation it falls behind Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979), and possibly also one or two of his early comedies.[9] Midnight in Paris (2011) surpassed its box office as well.

The film was screened out of competition at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 8.40/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Smart, tender, and funny in equal measure, Hannah and Her Sisters is one of Woody Allen's finest films."[11] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 90 out of 100, based on 12 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[12] The film received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. Allen received two Academy Award nominations, winning one for Best Screenplay, Original and he earned a nomination for Best Director. His work on the film was also recognized with two BAFTA Awards.

Critics Siskel and Ebert each rated the film among the top three of the 1986 film year; Roger Ebert's 1986 review of the film called it "the best movie [Woody Allen] has ever made".[13][14] Three years later when the two critics discussed their lists of the 10 best films of the 1980s, Ebert, who had included no comedies on his list, stated that had he been required to include one, it would have been Hannah And Her Sisters.

Vincent Canby, of The New York Times, gave the film a highly favorable review, going as far as to say that it "sets new standards for Mr. Allen as well as for all American movie makers".[15][16]

A poll of 100 film critics named Hannah and Her Sisters the best film of the year, after it appeared on 71 individual top ten lists.[17]

In 2005, the Writers Guild of America, West named Allen's script the 95th best film screenplay ever written.[18]

In October 2013, the film was voted by readers of The Guardian as the fourth best film directed by Woody Allen.[19]

In 2014, Calum Marsh of Slant Magazine named Hannah and Her Sisters as Allen's greatest film, praising its ensemble cast and Allen's "dense, heady script" for its "balancing act of conflicting desires and feelings".[20] It was also listed as Allen's finest work in a joint article by The Daily Telegraph film critics Robbie Collin and Tim Robey, who compared its structure with the works of Anton Chekhov and lauded it as "perhaps the most perfectly assured braiding of comedy and drama in mainstream American film. It feels like the miraculous sweet spot between all of its filmmaker's many modes and tones – biting without being cruel, profound without seeming sanctimonious, warmly humane without collapsing into goo."[21] It was ranked third among Allen's films in a 2016 poll of Time Out contributors, with editor Joshua Rothkopf singling out the character of Holly as "the kind of desperate, flailing Manhattanite that future director-writers would spin entire careers out of".[22]


Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress for their portrayals of Elliot and Holly, respectively. Hannah and Her Sisters was the last film to win in both supporting acting categories until The Fighter in 2011. The film was also nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Film Editing.

Allen received the 1986 award for Best Director from the U.S. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Dianne Wiest won Best Supporting Actress, and the film was nominated for Best Film.[23]

In France, the film was nominated for a César Award for Best Foreign Film.

Academy Awards

Year Category Recipients and nominees Result
1987 Best Picture Robert Greenhut Nominated
Best Director Woody Allen Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Won
Best Supporting Actor Michael Caine Won
Best Supporting Actress Dianne Wiest Won
Best Art Direction Stuart Wurtzel, Carol Joffe Nominated
Best Film Editing Susan E. Morse Nominated

BAFTA Awards

Year Category Recipients and nominees Result
1987 BAFTA Award for Best Film Robert Greenhut, Woody Allen Nominated
Best Director Woody Allen Won
Best Original Screenplay Won
Best Actor Nominated
Best Actor Michael Caine Nominated
Best Actress Mia Farrow Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Barbara Hershey Nominated
Best Film Editing Susan E. Morse Nominated

Golden Globes Award

Year Category Nominees Result
1987 Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical Robert Greenhut Won
Best Director Woody Allen Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
Supporting Actor Michael Caine Nominated
Supporting Actress Dianne Wiest Nominated

Directors Guild Award

Year Category Recipients Result
1987 Directing – Feature Film Woody Allen Nominated

Writers Guild Award

Year Category Recipients Result
1987 Best Original Screenplay Woody Allen Won

New York Film Critics Circle

Year Category Nominees Result
1987 Best Film Woody Allen Won
Best Director Won
Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Dianne Wiest Won

National Society of Film Critics

Year Category Recipients and nominees Result
1987 Best Film Woody Allen Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Barbara Hershey Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Dianne Wiest Won


In 1986, Mad magazine satirized the film as "Henna and Her Sickos" which was written by Debbee Ovitz with art by Mort Drucker.

In 2016, Olivia Wilde directed a live table reading of Hannah and Her Sisters at The New York Times' small and packed-out Times Center theatre.[24] The cast included, Wilde as Hannah, Rose Byrne as Lee, Uma Thurman as Holly, Michael Sheen as Elliott, Bobby Cannavale as Mickey, and Salman Rushdie as Frederick with Maya Rudolph, Jason Sudeikis and Justin Long filling out the supporting parts.[25] Questlove served as the musical director who cued the musical selections ranging from jazz renditions of the Great American Songbook to Bach.[25]


Note: not all of these selections appear on the soundtrack issued by MCA Records.

  • Sola, perduta abbandonata – Segment from the opera "Manon Lescaut" by Giacomo Puccini – Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Torino – Conductor Angelo Campori
  • You Made Me Love You – by Thomas Joseph McCarthy and James V. Monaco – Performed by Harry James
  • I've Heard That Song Before – by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne – Performed by Harry James
  • Bewitched – by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart – Performed by Lloyd Nolan and Maureen O'Sullivan
  • Just You, Just Me – by Raymond Klages and Jesse Greer – Performed by Dick Hyman
  • Where Or When – by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
  • Concerto For Two Violins and Orchestra – by Johann Sebastian Bach – The Sofia Soloists Chamber Orchestra – Conducted by Vasil Kazandzhiev
  • Back to the Apple – by Frank Foster and Count Basie – Performed by Count Basie and His Orchestra
  • The Trot – by Benny Carter – Performed by Count Basie and His Orchestra
  • I Remember You – by Johnny Mercer & Victor Schertzinger – Performed by Dave Brubeck
  • Madama Butterfly – by Giacomo Puccini – Performed by Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell'Opera di Roma – Conducted by John Barbirolli
  • Concerto For Harpsichord In F minor – by Johann Sebastian Bach – Performed by Gustav Leonhardt
  • You Are Too Beautiful – by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers – Performed by Derek Smith
  • If I Had You – by Jimmy Campbell, Reginald Connelly, and Ted Shapiro – Performed by Roy Eldridge
  • I'm in Love Again – by Cole Porter – Performed by Bobby Short
  • I'm Old Fashioned – by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer – Sung by Dianne Wiest – Piano: Bernie Leighton
  • The Way You Look Tonight – by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields – Sung by Carrie Fisher – Piano: Bernie Leighton
  • It Could Happen to You – by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen – Performed by Dick Hyman
  • Polkadots and Moonbeams – by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen – Performed by Dick Hyman
  • Avalon – Written by Vincent Rose, Al Jolson, and Buddy G. DeSylva – Performed by Dick Hyman
  • Isn't It Romantic – by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart – Performed by Derek Smith
  • Slip Into the Crowd – by Michael Bramon – Performed by Michael Bramon and The 39 Steps
  • Freedonia's Going to War – from Duck Soup (1933) – Music by Harry Ruby – Performed by Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, and Harpo Marx with chorus[26]


  1. ^ "Hannah and Her Sisters". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved February 8, 2023.
  2. ^ Schneider, Dan (2012). "Rocco And His Brothers". The Spinning Image. Archived from the original on April 13, 2014. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e James, Caryn (January 19, 1986). "Auteur! Auteur!". The New York Times. p. SM18. ISSN 0362-4331.
  4. ^ Farrow 1997, p. 225
  5. ^ Farrow 1997, pp. 225–226
  6. ^ a b Farrow 1997, p. 226
  7. ^ Greenberg, James (February 11, 1986). "'Down and Out' Up and Over Last Week's Nat'l B.O. Tally". Daily Variety. p. 6. ISSN 0011-5509.
  8. ^ "Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on June 22, 2018. Retrieved September 18, 2012.
  9. ^ "Woody Allen". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
  10. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Hannah and Her Sisters". Cannes Film Festival. Archived from the original on October 2, 2012. Retrieved July 18, 2009.
  11. ^ "Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on May 5, 2021. Retrieved March 19, 2022.
  12. ^ "Hannah and Her Sisters Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on October 28, 2020. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Hannah and Her Sisters". RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on August 2, 2015. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
  14. ^ Siskel, Gene (February 28, 1986). "Gentle messages performed as jokes dominate 'Hannah and Her Sisters'". Evening Independent. Vol. 79, no. 102. p. 14-D. OCLC 2720408. Archived from the original on November 4, 2021. Retrieved May 29, 2020 – via Google News Archive.
  15. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 7, 1986). "Film: From Woody Allen, 'Hannah And Her Sisters'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 19, 2011. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  16. ^ Barclay, Dolores (February 12, 1986). "A look at "Hannah and Her Sisters"". The Lewiston Journal. Vol. 124. p. 21. Archived from the original on November 4, 2021. Retrieved May 29, 2020 – via Google News Archive.
  17. ^ McGilligan, Pat; Rowl, Mark (January 18, 1987). "The Best and The Bummers". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on August 18, 2020. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  18. ^ "101 Greatest Screenplays". Writers Guild of America West. Archived from the original on June 15, 2006. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  19. ^ "The 10 best Woody Allen films". The Guardian. October 4, 2013. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  20. ^ Marsh, Calum (July 21, 2014). "The 10 Best Woody Allen Movies". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on November 20, 2016. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  21. ^ Collin, Robbie; Robey, Tim (October 12, 2016). "All 47 Woody Allen movies – ranked from worst to best". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on January 18, 2021. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  22. ^ "The best Woody Allen movies of all time". Time Out. March 24, 2016. Archived from the original on May 29, 2017. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  23. ^ "1986 Award Winners". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 2016. Archived from the original on December 7, 2016. Retrieved October 31, 2016.
  24. ^ Owen, Paul (May 14, 2016). "Hannah and Her Sisters Live Read review – Olivia Wilde leads confident staging". The Guardian. Archived from the original on May 31, 2020. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  25. ^ a b "Critic's Notebook: An All-Star Cast Performs Woody Allen's 'Hannah and Her Sisters' at a NYC Edition of Live Read". The Hollywood Reporter. May 15, 2016. Archived from the original on August 2, 2020. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  26. ^ "Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) - IMDb". IMDb. Archived from the original on November 4, 2021. Retrieved July 7, 2020.


External links[edit]