Little Women (1994 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Little Women
Little women poster.jpg
Original film poster
Directed byGillian Armstrong
Screenplay byRobin Swicord
Based on
Produced byDenise Di Novi
CinematographyGeoffrey Simpson
Edited byNicholas Beauman
Music byThomas Newman
DiNovi Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 25, 1994 (1994-12-25) (United States)
Running time
119 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million[1]
Box office$50.1 million[2]

Little Women is a 1994 American coming-of-age historical drama film directed by Gillian Armstrong. The screenplay by Robin Swicord is based on Louisa May Alcott's 1868-69 two-volume novel of the same title, the fifth feature film adaptation of the classic story. After a limited release on December 25, 1994, the film was released nationwide four days later by Columbia Pictures. The film is dedicated to murder victim Polly Klaas and literary agent Judy Scott-Fox.[3]

The film received three Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Ryder), Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score.


The film focuses on the March sisters: responsible Meg, tempestuous Jo, tender Beth, and romantic Amy, who are growing up in Concord, Massachusetts during and after the American Civil War. With their father away fighting in the war, the girls struggle with major and minor problems under the guidance of their strong-willed mother, affectionately called Marmee (pronounced "Mahmee" in 19th century New England). As a means of escaping some of their problems, the sisters revel in performing in romantic plays written by Jo in their attic theater.

Living next door to the family is wealthy Mr. Laurence, whose grandson Theodore, nicknamed "Laurie", moves in with him and becomes a close friend of the March family, particularly Jo. Mr. Laurence becomes a mentor for Beth, whose exquisite piano-playing reminds him of his deceased young daughter, and Meg falls in love with Laurie's tutor John Brooke.

When Mr. March is wounded in the war, Jo sells her hair so that Marmee can purchase a train ticket to travel to Mr. March and nurse him back to health. While Marmee is away, Beth continues Marmee's visits to a struggling immigrant family in order to provide them food and firewood. During this time she contracts scarlet fever from the family's infant. Awaiting Marmee's return, Meg and Jo, who both previously survived scarlet fever, send Amy away to live in safety with their Aunt March. Fearing that she too may contract the illness, Amy laments to Laurie that she may die without ever being kissed. Laurie promises Amy to kiss her before she dies should she become ill. Prior to Beth's illness, Jo had been Aunt March's companion for several years, and while she was unhappy with her position she tolerated it in the hope her aunt one day would take her to Europe. When Beth's condition worsens, Marmee is summoned home and nurses her to recovery just in time for Christmas, but the illness has severely weakened her. Mr. Laurence gives his daughter's piano to Beth, Meg accepts John Brooke's proposal and Mr. March surprises his family by returning home from the war.

Four years pass; Meg (now 20) and John marry, and Beth's health is deteriorating steadily. Laurie graduates from college, proposes to Jo (now 19) and asks her to go to London with him, but realizing she thinks of him more as an older brother than a lover, she refuses his offer. Jo later deals with the added disappointment that Aunt March has decided to take the now 17-year-old Amy with her to Europe instead of Jo, as Amy now works as aunt's companion and Aunt March wishes for Amy to further her training as an artist in Europe. Crushed, Jo departs for New York City to pursue her dream of writing and experiencing life. There she meets Friedrich Bhaer, a German professor who challenges and stimulates her intellectually, introduces her to opera and philosophy, and encourages her to write better stories than the lurid Victorian melodramas she has penned so far.

In Europe, Amy is reunited with Laurie. She is disappointed to find he has become dissolute and irresponsible, and scolds him for pursuing her merely to become part of the March family. In return, he bitterly rebukes her for courting one of his wealthy college friends in order to marry into money. He leaves Amy a letter asking her to wait for him while he works in London for his grandfather and makes himself worthy of her.

Jo is summoned home to see eighteen-year-old Beth, who finally dies of the lingering effects of scarlet fever (presumably rheumatic heart disease) that have plagued her for the past four years. A saddened Jo retreats to the comfort of the attic and begins to write her life story. Upon its completion, she sends it to Professor Bhaer. Meanwhile, Meg gives birth to fraternal twins Demi and Daisy.

A letter from Amy informs the family that Aunt March is too ill to travel, so Amy must remain in Europe with her. In London, Laurie receives a letter from Jo in which she informs him of Beth's death and mentions Amy is in Vevey, unable to come home. Laurie immediately travels to be at Amy's side. They finally return to the March home as husband and wife, much to Jo's surprise and eventual delight.

Aunt March dies and she leaves Jo her house, which she decides to convert into a school. Professor Bhaer arrives with the printed galley proofs of her manuscript, but when he mistakenly believes Jo has married Laurie, he departs to catch a train to the West, where he is to become a teacher. Jo runs after him and explains the misunderstanding. When she begs him not to leave, he proposes marriage and she happily accepts.


  • Winona Ryder as Josephine "Jo" March, an ambitious young woman, who longs to become a successful author.
  • Gabriel Byrne as Friedrich Bhaer, an older professor who falls in love with Jo while he works as a tutor in New York and eventually marries her.
  • Trini Alvarado as Margaret "Meg" March, the oldest March sister. She marries Laurie's tutor, John Brooke, and gives birth to fraternal twins: a boy, John (nicknamed "Demijohn" by Jo, which is shortened to "Demi"); and a girl, Margaret, called "Daisy" at home "so as to not have two Megs".
  • Kirsten Dunst and Samantha Mathis as Amy March, the youngest March child and quick-witted daughter. Instead of the brown hair and brown or green eyes of her three older sisters, she has golden curls and blue eyes. She later marries Laurie and becomes a successful painter. Amy was the only character played by two different actresses - Dunst portrayed her at twelve years old in the first half of the movie, Mathis as a young woman in the second half of the movie.
  • Claire Danes as Elizabeth "Beth" March, the third March daughter and the pianist of the family. She is shy, good, sweet, kindly, and loyal. At the young age of fourteen, she contracted scarlet fever, which weakened her heart and resulted in her death four years later at the age of eighteen.
  • Christian Bale as Theodore "Laurie" Laurence, the young neighbor who becomes Jo's best friend in their youth. Later, he tries, but fails, to convince her to marry him. He eventually falls in love with and marries Amy.
  • Eric Stoltz as John Brooke, Laurie's tutor and Meg's eventual husband.
  • John Neville as Mr. James Laurence, Laurie's grandfather and a kind neighbor of the Marches.
  • Mary Wickes as Aunt Josephine March, the only March family member who still has a lot of money. Upon her death, her estate is left to adult Jo, who transforms it into a school for boys.
  • Susan Sarandon as Abigail "Marmee" March, the mother of the March daughters and the loving wife of Mr. March.
  • Matthew Walker as Robert March, the father of the four March daughters, Marmee's loving husband, and long-time devoted spouse.
  • Florence Paterson as Hannah Mullet, the loyal housekeeper of the March family since Meg was born. The girls think of her more as a good friend than a servant.
  • Janne Mortil as Sally Moffat, Meg's one and only good friend, who is quite rich and prosperous.
  • Donal Logue as Jacob Mayer


It took Little Women 12 years to find a studio. According to writer Robin Swicord and producer Denise Di Novi "people just weren't interested in a movie with a lot of women...". One executive suggested a modern version. "...the Marches are in the 90s and not happy about not having a car for Christmas". In the industry films like Little Women were referred to as "needle in the eye" pictures. They were assumed to have no appeal to male audiences, and deemed not worth the risk of production. Eventually, Columbia agreed to consider the project under the condition that Winona Ryder was to play Jo.[4]

Originally, Gillian Armstrong wasn't on board with directing Little Women. She rejected the offer several times due to the similarities between Little Women and her previous film, My Brilliant Career. However, with persuasion from the Denise DiNovi and Amy Pascal (producers), Armstrong came to realize that the two films were different after all.[5] With the help of screenwriter, Robin Swicord, they aimed to portray more mature themes than the previous adaptations— such as, family, growing up, and progressive feminism.[6] When co-writing, Armstrong chose not to look back at the previous films for inspiration but instead decided to stay true to the novel.


Along with Winona Ryder, already signed on to play Jo, offers for the roles of Marmee and Laurie were sent out to Susan Sarandon and Christian Bale. Sarandon almost turned down the role on the basis that "... it was towards the end of the school year, and I had a pretty strict policy about not leaving my young kids". The part of Amy was the first most difficult casting decision to be made. This adaptation was the first and only to have two different actresses play Amy over the course of the film. According to producer Denise Di Novi, there was something "weird" about having one actress playing first a child and then an adult: "It just didn't work."

Among those to read for the role of Amy were the then unknown Natalie Portman, and Thora Birch who had already filmed Hocus Pocus and Patriot Games. In the end, Kirsten Dunst was chosen - Armstrong mentioned in a 2019 interview that "Kirsten Dunst really blew [other young Amy candidates] out of the water". The decision for the role of the older Amy was close between Reese Witherspoon and Samantha Mathis. Armstrong's first pick if the production had decided on casting one actress to play Amy was Witherspoon, "... the very best person we auditioned was Witherspoon. She was also short...". However, casting director Carrie Frazier finally decided to settle on Mathis.

Lastly, was the role of Professor Bhaer. The initial candidate to play Bhaer, at least for Di Novi, was Hugh Grant. "We all had a huge crush on Hugh". However, Frazier was not on board the idea, claiming that the option was a bit "off the rails". Grant was too young and confident to play the Bhaer of the book that Frazier, Di Novi, and Armstrong wanted. John Turturro also lobbied persistently for the role, but Frazier wanted a deeper and more poetic Bhaer, and decided on Gabriel Byrne.[4]


The 1994 adaptation of Little Women was filmed primarily in parts of Canada, such as Vancouver Island and Vancouver, both in the province of British Columbia. However, certain scenes were shot in the United States, throughout Massachusetts.[7] Gillian Armstrong was adamant about creating a look that remained faithful to Little Women's time period.[8] The overall film aesthetic for the 1994 Little Women, was heavily influenced by photographs, paintings, and drawings from the era. Armstrong and cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson sought inspiration from artwork that was created during the Civil War Era, when Little Women was written. In collaboration with the rest of the crew including art director Jan Roelfs, they used these works of art as guidelines for the sets, costumes, colour coordination, and even camera lighting.


Critical reception[edit]

According to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 92% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 39 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "Thanks to a powerhouse lineup of talented actresses, Gillian Armstrong's take on Louisa May Alcott's Little Women proves that a timeless story can succeed no matter how many times it's told."[9] At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 87 out of 100 based on 23 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[10]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 312 stars, calling it "a surprisingly sharp and intelligent telling of Louisa May Alcott's famous story, and not the soft-edged children's movie it might appear." He added, "[It] grew on me. At first, I was grumpy, thinking it was going to be too sweet and devout. Gradually, I saw that Gillian Armstrong [...] was taking it seriously. And then I began to appreciate the ensemble acting, with the five actresses creating the warmth and familiarity of a real family."[11]

Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "meticulously crafted and warmly acted" and observed it "is one of the rare Hollywood studio films that invites your attention, slowly and elegantly, rather than propelling your interest with effects and easy manipulation."[12]

Box office[edit]

The film opened on 1,503 screens in the US and Canada on December 21, 1994. It grossed $5.3 million and ranked #6 at the box office on its opening weekend and eventually earned $50.1 million.[2] Against its budget of $18 million, the film was a success.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Costume Design Colleen Atwood Nominated
Academy Awards[13] Best Actress Winona Ryder Nominated
Best Costume Design Colleen Atwood Nominated
Best Original Score Thomas Newman Nominated
Artios Awards[14] Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film Casting – Drama Carrie Frazier and Shani Ginsberg Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Winona Ryder Nominated
BMI Film & TV Awards Film Music Award Thomas Newman Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[15] Best Supporting Actress Kirsten Dunst (also for Interview with the Vampire) Won
British Academy Film Awards[16] Best Costume Design Colleen Atwood Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[17] Best Actress Winona Ryder Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Claire Danes Nominated
Most Promising Actress Nominated
Kirsten Dunst Won
Chlotrudis Awards Best Movie Nominated
Best Actress Winona Ryder Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Kirsten Dunst Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture Nominated
Faro Island Film Festival Best Film Gillian Armstrong Nominated
Best Actress Winona Ryder Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards[18] Best Actress Won
Movieguide Awards Best Movie for Families Won
Satellite Awards[19] Best Classic DVD Nominated
USC Scripter Awards Robin Swicord (screenwriter); Louisa May Alcott (author) Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards[20] Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Robin Swicord Nominated
Young Artist Awards[21] Best Family Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Performance by a Youth Actress Co-Starring in a Motion Picture Claire Danes Nominated
Kirsten Dunst (also for Interview with the Vampire) Won

Year-end lists[edit]

Home media[edit]

The film had its initial North America video release on VHS on June 20, 1995, followed by its initial digital release on DVD on April 25, 2000. The Blu-ray format was released three times. While the manufacture-on-demand version from Sony was released twice on Dec 13, 2016 and March 24, 2020 where the former was part of the Sony Choice Collection, Mill Creek Entertainment released a double feature Blu-ray on October 29, 2019 that contained Little Women and Kirsten Dunst's fellow film Marie Antoinette.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Little Women (1994) - PowerGrid". Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ "Little Women". December 14, 1994.
  4. ^ a b Spencer, Ashley (September 12, 2019). "Little Women - Movie". The New York Times. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  5. ^ Murray, Scott. "Passionate Women". Issuu. Cinema Papers. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  6. ^ Francke, Lizzie. "WHAT ARE YOU GIRLS GOING TO DO?" Sight and Sound Apr 01 1995: 28. ProQuest. Web. 21 Nov. 2020 .
  7. ^ "Little Women (1994) Locations". LatLong. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  8. ^ Murray, Scott. "Passionate Women". Issuu. Cinema Papers. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  9. ^ "Little Women (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  10. ^ "Little Women (1994) Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 20, 2019.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 21, 1994). "Little Women Movie Review & Film Summary". Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  12. ^ Guthmann, Edward (June 23, 1995). "Film Review – 'Little Women' Draws You in With Slow Grace". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  13. ^ "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. AMPAS. Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
  14. ^ "Nominees/Winners". Casting Society of America. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  15. ^ "BSFC Winners: 1990s". Boston Society of Film Critics. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  16. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1995". BAFTA. 1995. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  17. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  18. ^ "KCFCC Award Winners – 1990-99". Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  19. ^ "2005 Satellite Awards". Satellite Awards. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  20. ^ "Awards Winners". Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  21. ^ "16th Annual Youth In Film Awards". Archived from the original on October 22, 2010. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  22. ^ Bates, Mack (January 19, 1995). "Originality of 'Hoop Dreams' makes it the movie of the year". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 3.
  23. ^ MacCambridge, Michael (December 22, 1994). "it's a LOVE-HATE thing". Austin American-Statesman (Final ed.). p. 38.
  24. ^ P. Means, Sean (January 1, 1995). "'Pulp and Circumstance' After the Rise of Quentin Tarantino, Hollywood Would Never Be the Same". The Salt Lake Tribune (Final ed.). p. E1.
  25. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.
  26. ^ Strauss, Bob (December 30, 1994). "At the Movies: Quantity Over Quality". Los Angeles Daily News (Valley ed.). p. L6.
  27. ^ Schuldt, Scott (January 1, 1995). "Oklahoman Movie Critics Rank Their Favorites for the Year Without a Doubt, Blue Ribbon Goes to "Pulp Fiction," Scott Says". The Oklahoman. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  28. ^ Turan, Kenneth (December 25, 1994). "1994: YEAR IN REVIEW : No Weddings, No Lions, No Gumps". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  29. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 25, 1994). "The Year's Best Movies". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  30. ^ Webster, Dan (January 1, 1995). "In Year of Disappointments, Some Movies Still Delivered". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane ed.). p. 2.
  31. ^ Clark, Mike (December 28, 1994). "Scoring with true life, 'True Lies' and 'Fiction.'". USA Today (Final ed.). p. 5D.
  32. ^ Zoller Seitz, Matt (January 12, 1995). "Personal best From a year full of startling and memorable movies, here are our favorites". Dallas Observer.
  33. ^ Ross, Bob (December 30, 1994). "1994 The Year in Entertainment". The Tampa Tribune (Final ed.). p. 18.
  34. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 27, 1994). "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; The Good, Bad and In-Between In a Year of Surprises on Film". The New York Times. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  35. ^ Arnold, William (December 30, 1994). "'94 Movies: Best and Worst". Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Final ed.). p. 20.
  36. ^ Elliott, David (December 25, 1994). "On the big screen, color it a satisfying time". The San Diego Union-Tribune (1, 2 ed.). p. E=8.
  37. ^ Mills, Michael (December 30, 1994). "It's a Fact: 'Pulp Fiction' Year's Best". The Palm Beach Post (Final ed.). p. 7.

External links[edit]