Kramer vs. Kramer

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Kramer vs. Kramer
Oscar posters 79.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Benton
Produced byRichard Fischoff
Stanley R. Jaffe
Screenplay byRobert Benton
Based onKramer Versus Kramer
by Avery Corman
StarringDustin Hoffman
Meryl Streep
Jane Alexander
Justin Henry
Music byPaul Gemignani
Herb Harris
John Kander
Erma E. Levin
Roy B. Yokelson
Antonio Vivaldi
CinematographyNéstor Almendros
Edited byGerald B. Greenberg
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 19, 1979 (1979-12-19)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[1]
Box office$173 million

Kramer vs. Kramer is a 1979 American legal drama film written and directed by Robert Benton, based on Avery Corman's 1977 novel of the same name. The film stars Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander, and Justin Henry. It tells the story of a couple's divorce, its impact on their young son, and the subsequent evolution of their relationship and views on parenting.

The film explores the psychology and fallout of divorce and touches upon prevailing or emerging social issues such as gender roles, women's rights, fathers' rights, work–life balance, and single parents.

Kramer vs. Kramer was theatrically released on December 19, 1979, by Columbia Pictures. It was a major critical and commercial success, grossing over $173 million on an $8 million budget, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1979 in the United States and Canada and receiving a leading nine nominations at the 52nd Academy Awards, winning five (more than any other film nominated that year); Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (for Streep), and Best Adapted Screenplay.


Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is a workaholic advertising executive who has just been assigned a new and very important account. Ted arrives home and shares the good news with his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) only to find that she is leaving him. She leaves Ted to raise their son Billy (Justin Henry) by himself, after suffering a nervous breakdown. Ted and Billy initially resent one another as Ted no longer has time to carry his increased workload, and Billy misses his mother's love and attention. After months of unrest, Ted and Billy learn to cope, only after Billy tests his father into having ice cream instead of dinner, and gets punished for it, and gradually bond as father and son, after Ted apologizes and explains what has happened to his mother.

Ted befriends his neighbor Margaret (Jane Alexander), who had initially counseled Joanna to leave Ted if she was that unhappy. Margaret is a fellow single parent, and she and Ted become kindred spirits. One day, as the two sit in the park watching their children play, Billy accidentally falls off the jungle gym, severely cutting his face. Ted sprints several blocks through oncoming traffic carrying Billy to the hospital, where he comforts his son during treatment.

Fifteen months after she walked out, Joanna returns to New York from California to claim Billy, and a custody battle ensues. During the custody hearing, both Ted and Joanna are unprepared for the brutal character assassinations that their lawyers unleash on the other. Margaret is forced to testify that she had advised an unhappy Joanna to leave Ted, though she also attempts to tell Joanna on the stand that her husband has profoundly changed. Eventually, the damaging facts that Ted was fired because of his conflicting parental responsibilities which forced him to take a lower-paying job come out in court, as do the details of Billy's accident.[2] His original salary was noted as "$33,000 a year", whereas he was forced to admit that his new salary was only "$28,200", after Joanna has told the court that her "present salary" as a sportswear designer is "$31,000 a year".[2]

The court awards custody to Joanna, a decision mostly based on the tender years doctrine. Devastated with the decision, Ted discusses appealing the case, but his lawyer warns that an appeal would be too expensive and Billy himself would have to take the stand in the resulting trial. Ted cannot bear the thought of submitting his child to such an ordeal, and decides not to contest custody.

On the morning that Billy is to move in with Joanna, Ted and Billy make breakfast together, mirroring the meal that Ted tried to cook the first morning after Joanna left. They share a tender hug, knowing that this is their last daily breakfast together. Joanna calls on the intercom, asking Ted to come down to the lobby alone. When he arrives she tells Ted how much she loves and wants Billy, but she knows that his true home is with Ted, and therefore will not take custody of him. She asks Ted if she can go up and see Billy, and Ted says that would be fine. As they are about to enter the elevator together, Ted tells Joanna that he will stay downstairs to allow Joanna to see Billy in private. After she enters the elevator, Joanna wipes tears from her face and asks her former husband "How do I look?" As the elevator doors start to close on Joanna, Ted answers, "Terrific." As soon as the doors are closed, the screen fades to black.



Kate Jackson was originally offered the role played by Meryl Streep but was forced to turn it down. At the time, Jackson was appearing in the TV series Charlie's Angels, and producer Aaron Spelling told her that they were unable to rearrange the shooting schedule to give her time off to do the film.[3] The part was then offered to various other actresses including Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda and Ali MacGraw, all of whom turned it down.

Streep was initially cast as Phyllis (the role eventually given to JoBeth Williams), but she was able to force her way into auditioning for Joanna in front of Hoffman, Benton, and Jaffe. She found the character in the novel and script unsympathetic ("an ogre, a princess, an ass", as she called her) and insisted on approaching Joanna from a more sympathetic point of view.[4] Hoffman believed that the recent loss of her fiancé, John Cazale, only months earlier, gave Streep an emotional edge and "still-fresh pain" to draw on for the performance.[4] Streep was only contracted to work 12 days on the film.[5]

Gail Strickland was first cast as Ted's neighbor Margaret, but departed after a week of filming (according to Columbia Pictures due to "artistic differences") and was replaced by Jane Alexander.[6] The truth was that Strickland was so intimidated by Hoffman while filming their scenes together that she developed a stammer which made her lines difficult to follow.[4] Strickland herself disputes this account, saying that she couldn't quickly memorize the improvised lines that Hoffman gave her, which agitated him and led to her firing two days later.[4]

Cinematographer Néstor Almendros, a collaborator on numerous François Truffaut films, had been hired with the expectation that Truffaut would direct. Truffaut seriously considered it, but was too busy with his own projects and suggested screenwriter Robert Benton direct.


Hoffman has been widely reported in different media to have harassed Streep during the making of the movie, and the two had a contentious working relationship as a result.[4][7] In a 1979 Time magazine interview, Streep claimed that Hoffman groped her breast on their first meeting.[8] When Streep advocated for herself, wanting to portray Joanna as more sympathetic and vulnerable than she was written, she received pushback from him.[4] Attributing the behaviour to his commitment to being a method actor,[9] he would also hurl insults and obscenities at Streep, taunting her with the name of her recently deceased fiancé, John Cazale, claiming this was designed to draw a better performance out of her.[10] He famously threw a wine glass against the wall without telling her (although he did inform the cameraman beforehand), which shattered and sent glass shards into her hair. Her response was: "Next time you do that, I'd appreciate you letting me know."[4]

In 2018, Streep told The New York Times that Hoffman had slapped her hard without warning while filming a scene: "This was my first movie, and it was my first take in my first movie, and he just slapped me. And you see it in the movie. It was overstepping."[11]


The film received positive reviews from critics. It holds an 88% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 52 reviews, with an average score of 8.09/10. The consensus reads: "The divorce subject isn't as shocking, but the film is still a thoughtful, well-acted drama that resists the urge to take sides or give easy answers."[12]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars, giving praise to Benton's screenplay: "His characters aren't just talking to each other, they're revealing things about themselves and can sometimes be seen in the act of learning about their own motives. That's what makes Kramer vs. Kramer such a touching film: We get the feeling at times that personalities are changing and decisions are being made even as we watch them."[13] Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it a "fine, witty, moving, most intelligent adaptation of Avery Corman's best-selling novel," with Streep giving "one of the major performances of the year" and Hoffman "splendid in one of the two or three best roles of his career."[14] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four stars out of four and wrote, "'Kramer vs. Kramer' never loses its low-key, realistic touch. You will sit at the end of the film wondering why we don't see more pictures like this. After all, its story is not all that unusual." He thought that Hoffman gave "one of his most memorable performances" and "should win the Academy Award next April."[15] Variety wrote, "Stories on screen about men leaving women, and women leaving men have been abundant as of late, but hardly any has grappled with the issue in such a forthright and honest fashion as 'Kramer' ... While a nasty court battle ensues, the human focus is never abandoned, and it's to the credit of not only Benton and Jaffe, but especially Hoffman and Streep, that both leading characters emerge as credible and sympathetic."[16] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times declared it "as nearly perfect a film as can be" and "a motion picture with an emotional wallop second to none this year."[17] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called the film "a triumph of partisan pathos, a celebration of father-son bonding that astutely succeeds where tearjerkers like 'The Champ' so mawkishly failed."[18] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic wrote "All the people go through expected difficulties the way that runners take the hurdles in a track event: no surprise in it, it's just a question of how they do it. But the actors make it more."[19]

Shortly after the film's release, The New York Times and Time magazine published separate articles in which members of the bar and bench criticized the court battle scenes as "legally out of date." According to the legal experts interviewed for the articles, a modern judge would have made use of psychological reports and also considered the wishes of the child; another criticism was that the option of joint custody was never explored.[20][21]

In 2003, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[22]

The film grossed $5,559,722 in its opening week from 534 theatres.[23] It went on to gross $106.3 million in the United States and Canada.[24] In its first 13 weeks overseas, it had grossed over $67 million.[25]

Cultural impact[edit]

Kramer vs. Kramer reflected a cultural shift which occurred during the 1970s, when ideas about motherhood and fatherhood were changing. The film was widely praised for the way in which it gave equal weight and importance to both Joanna and Ted's points of view.[13]

The film made use of the first movement of Antonio Vivaldi's Mandolin Concerto in C Major, making the piece more familiar among classical music listeners.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Picture Stanley R. Jaffe Won
Best Director Robert Benton Won
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actor Justin Henry Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Jane Alexander Nominated
Meryl Streep Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Robert Benton Won
Best Cinematography Néstor Almendros Nominated
Best Film Editing Gerald B. Greenberg Nominated
Blue Ribbon Awards Best Foreign Language Film Robert Benton Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Stanley R. Jaffe Nominated
Best Direction Robert Benton Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Dustin Hoffman Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Screenplay Robert Benton Nominated
Best Editing Gerald B. Greenberg Nominated
César Awards Best Foreign Film Robert Benton Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Best Foreign Actor Dustin Hoffman Won[a]
Special David Justin Henry Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Robert Benton Won
Fotogramas de Plata Best Foreign Performer Dustin Hoffman Nominated
Meryl Streep (Also for Manhattan) Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Kramer vs. Kramer Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Justin Henry Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Jane Alexander Nominated
Meryl Streep Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Robert Benton Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Won
New Star of the Year – Actor Justin Henry Nominated
Hochi Film Awards Best International Picture Robert Benton Won
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Kramer vs. Kramer Won
Jupiter Awards Best International Actor Dustin Hoffman Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Robert Benton Won
Best Director Won
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep Won
Kinema Junpo Awards Best Foreign Film Robert Benton Won
Korean Association of Film Critics Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Won
Best Director Won
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep (also for Manhattan and The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films Kramer vs. Kramer Won
Best Supporting Actress Meryl Streep (also for Manhattan and The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Film Robert Benton Nominated
Best Director Won
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actress Jane Alexander Nominated
Meryl Streep (also for Manhattan and The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Robert Benton Won
Best Director Nominated
Best Actor Dustin Hoffman Won
Best Supporting Actress Jane Alexander Nominated
Meryl Streep (also for The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
Online Film & Television Association Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Kramer vs. Kramer Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium Robert Benton Won
Young Artist Awards Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film Justin Henry Won
American Film Institute Lists


In 1990, the film was remade in Turkish as Oğulcan, directed and acted by Cüneyt Arkın and in Hindi as Akele Hum Akele Tum in 1995, starring Aamir Khan and Manisha Koirala, in Urdu as Zindagi Kitni Haseen Hay in 2016 starring Sajal Ali and Feroze Khan.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Oscarblogger: Kramer vs. Kramer Archived 2014-08-15 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved April 1, 2013
  2. ^ a b "Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) Movie Script". Springfield! Springfield!.
  3. ^ Spelling, Aaron; Graham, Jefferson (1996). A Prime-Time Life: An Autobiography. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-312-14268-1.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Michael Schulman (2016-03-29). "How Meryl Streep Battled Dustin Hoffman, Retooled Her Role, and Won Her First Oscar". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on 2017-12-19. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  5. ^ "Oscar sidelights". Daily Variety. April 15, 1980. p. 4.
  6. ^ "Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
  7. ^ Hunter Harris (2018-01-03). "Meryl Streep Calls Out Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer slap: 'It was overstepping'". Vulture. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  8. ^ Ruth Graham (2017-11-02). "Meryl Streep once said Dustin Hoffman groped her breast the first time they met". Slate. Archived from the original on 2017-11-10. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  9. ^ Michael Simkins (2016-03-31). "Method acting can go too far - just ask Dustin Hoffman". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2019-12-03. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  10. ^ Olivia Blair (2016-03-30). "Dustin Hoffman 'slapped and taunted Meryl Streep with the name of her dead boyfriend during filming', book claims". The Independent.
  11. ^ Cara Buckley (2018-01-03). "Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks on the #MeToo Moment and 'The Post'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2018-01-03. Retrieved 2018-01-03.
  12. ^ Kramer vs. Kramer at Rotten Tomatoes
  13. ^ a b Roger Ebert (December 1, 1979). "Kramer vs. Kramer". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on May 9, 2013. Retrieved April 29, 2010.
  14. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 19, 1979). "Screen: Kramer vs. Kramer". Archived 2020-06-05 at the Wayback Machine The New York Times. C23.
  15. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 19, 1979). "An American family on trial in the '70s". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 1-2.
  16. ^ "Film Reviews: Kramer Vs. Kramer". Variety. November 28, 1979. 16.
  17. ^ Champlin, Charles (December 16, 1979). "Kramer vs. Kramer: Living Anguished Realities". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 1.
  18. ^ Arnold, Gary (December 19, 1979). "'Kramer vs. Kramer': The Family Divided". The Washington Post. C1.
  19. ^ Kauffmann, Stanley (December 22, 1979). "Here Be Actors: A review of 'Kramer vs. Kramer'". The New Republic. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved June 4, 2020.
  20. ^ Dullea, Georgia (December 21, 1979). "Child Custody: Jurists Weigh Film vs. Life". The New York Times. B6.
  21. ^ "Custody: Kramer vs. Reality". Time. February 4, 1980. p. 77.
  22. ^ "Movies". The New York Times. 2003-04-29. Archived from the original on 2008-06-12. Retrieved 2020-09-27.
  23. ^ Pollock, Dale (January 2, 1980). "Christmas Pix Are Perking; 'Star Trek,' 'Jerk' Pacing Field". Variety. p. 9.
  24. ^ "Kramer vs Kramer (1979)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 2009-03-01. Retrieved 2008-11-17.
  25. ^ "Kramer vs. Kramer (advertisement)". Variety. June 11, 1980. pp. 10–11.
  26. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-10-26. Retrieved 2011-12-10.
  27. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-11-12. Retrieved 2011-12-10.

External links[edit]