The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (film)

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The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCurtis Hanson
Produced byDavid Madden
Written byAmanda Silver
Music byGraeme Revell
CinematographyRobert Elswit
Edited byJohn F. Link
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • January 10, 1992 (1992-01-10)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$140 million

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a 1992 American psychological thriller film directed by Curtis Hanson, and starring Annabella Sciorra, Rebecca De Mornay, Matt McCoy, Ernie Hudson, and Julianne Moore. Its plot follows the pregnant wife of a Seattle obstetrician who kills himself after he is accused of sexual misconduct by his patients. The shock leads the wife to miscarry, after which she poses as a nanny for one of her husband's accusers, and slowly begins to infiltrate the family. The title is taken from an 1865 poem by William Ross Wallace and there are several nods to the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle grossed approximately $140 million worldwide.


In Seattle, housewife Claire Bartel is happily married and pregnant with her second child. At a routine check-up, she is sexually molested by her new obstetrician, Dr. Victor Mott. Traumatized, she tells her husband Michael, who encourages her to report Dr. Mott to the state medical board. Her initial accusation prompts four more women to come forward about Dr. Mott assaulting them, and multiple charges are prepared against him by the district attorney's office. Dr. Mott commits suicide to avoid being arrested. Lawyers tell Mott's pregnant widow that her husband's assets have been frozen because of the lawsuits, he voided his life insurance contract by committing suicide, and she will lose her luxurious home. Stressed, Mrs. Mott goes into pre-term labor, loses her baby, and undergoes an emergency hysterectomy. While recovering in the hospital, she sees a news story identifying Claire as the one who reported her husband.

Six months later, Claire has given birth to a boy, Joey. Looking for a nanny, she unknowingly hires Mrs. Mott, who is going under the alias "Peyton Flanders." Mrs. Mott wages a campaign to undermine Claire in her household. She frequently breastfeeds Joey in secret; this causes him to reject Claire, as he stops taking Claire's milk. Mrs. Mott encourages Claire's daughter Emma to keep secrets from her mother, tries to turn Emma against Claire, and secretly destroys Michael's office proposal. Knowing that Claire's close friend Marlene had been Michael's ex-girlfriend before he married Claire, Mrs. Mott also suggests to Michael that he arrange a surprise party for Claire, leading Marlene and Michael to meet in secret. Claire accuses Michael of having an affair with Marlene, only to find the party-goers waiting in the next room.

Solomon, an intellectually disabled handyman who has been assisting the Bartels and is friendly with Emma, discovers Mrs. Mott breastfeeding Joey. To prevent him from exposing her, Mrs. Mott implies to Claire that she believes Solomon may be molesting Emma. Mrs. Mott then plants a pair of Emma's panties in Solomon's toolbox, leading Claire to fire him. Emma tells Claire that Solomon never did anything bad to her. Claire doesn't believe Emma, causing her to turn against her mother, as Mrs. Mott had planned. Unknown to the family, except for Emma, Solomon keeps a watchful eye over them.

A now wary Claire begins to suspect "Peyton's" hand in all of the recent incidents and suggests to Michael that they should take a family vacation without "Peyton." Mrs. Mott overhears their conversation from the other room over the baby monitor, and the next morning she boobytraps the greenhouse for Claire. Marlene discovers Mrs. Mott's identity, but before she can get in touch with Claire, Mrs. Mott tricks her into going into the greenhouse, where she is killed by the falling glass ceiling. Knowing that Claire suffers from asthma, Mrs. Mott empties all of Claire's inhalers and takes Joey out for a walk. When Claire arrives back home and finds Marlene's bloodied, glass-covered body, she has an asthma attack and is briefly hospitalized. Michael is left distraught over both Marlene's death and his wife's condition; Mrs. Mott attempts to seduce him, but he rejects her advances.

Claire eventually uncovers the truth about Mrs. Mott, confronts her, and reveals the truth to Michael just as Mrs. Mott claims that she and Michael are having an affair. Michael denies this claim and kicks Mrs. Mott out. Claire tells Michael to call the police when she realizes that Mrs. Mott was behind Marlene's death and that she was the intended target. Michael tells Claire to get Emma and Joey so that they can head to a hotel for safety.

Mrs. Mott breaks into the house and lures Michael down to the basement where she hits him with a shovel, knocking him down the stairs and breaking his legs. Mrs. Mott attempts to take Emma and Joey, but after seeing Mrs. Mott assault her mother, Emma locks Mrs. Mott in the nursery. Mrs. Mott escapes and hears Joey in the attic. She enters and sees Solomon aiding the kids' escape. When Claire enters, Mrs. Mott attempts to kill her but stops after Claire appears to be having another asthma attack, prompting Mrs. Mott to mock her. As Mrs. Mott tries to take Joey, Claire gets back up, having faked her asthma attack, and eventually pushes Mrs. Mott out of the window, impaling her on the picket fence and killing her. Touched at how Solomon risked his life to protect her family, Claire welcomes him back into their lives. As they leave the attic, the police and paramedics arrive.



The Hand That Rocks the Cradle originated as Silver's film school thesis.[1]

In August 1990, it was reported that Interscope Communications was preparing the film for Hollywood Pictures. By October 1990 Curtis Hanson was on board to direct.[2] Filming began on April 15, 1991 after being rescheduled from February 22. The film shoot was delayed due to the casting of the female leads. The setting and location was originally meant to be in Atlanta, Georgia, but was filmed in Tacoma and Seattle in Washington.[2]

Filming locations[edit]

House of Dr. Mott which Claire Bartel visits.

Filming locations were Issaquah, Washington; Seattle, Washington (Mott's residence at 2502 37th Ave W in Seattle); and the Bartels' residence at 808 N. Yakima Ave. Tacoma, Washington.[3]


Box office[edit]

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle opened on January 10, 1992, and grossed $7.7 million in its opening weekend,[4] bringing Hook down to #2 at the US box office from its four-week stay at #1. The film lasted at #1 for four consecutive weeks, then was upended by Medicine Man, which was also released by Hollywood Pictures. By the end of its run, the film earned a total of $88 million in the United States and Canada[5][6] and $52 million internationally,[7] for a worldwide total of $140 million.

It was placed at #24 in Bravo's special 30 Even Scarier Movie Moments.

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 63% based on 48 reviews.[8] On Metacritic the film has a score of 64% based on reviews from 26 critics.[9] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[10]

Gene Siskel stated that he "had trouble accepting the premise of this picture because of the casual way in which the nanny is hired in an early scene by the mother," citing that the premise is unrealistic. However, he gave praise to Julianne Moore's character, saying, "much more believable, is the supporting character of the mother's best friend" and that "the friend is a terrific character, it's too bad she doesn't have more scenes in the picture." He mentioned that his "biggest objection to Hand That Rocks the Cradle is to its scenes with the children in jeopardy or psychic pain." Siskel finally remarked that "there are some fun thrills in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle to be sure, but I found a lot of it distasteful, too." Roger Ebert had a higher opinion of the film, stating that he "found this film worked" and that "It touches on a fear and that's why it appeals to us." Ebert praised De Mornay's performance in the film, saying, "she does, I think, a very good job, a very, very sound job of being the villainess in this film and I think it's an effective performance" and that he found the scenes of the children "very interesting because I saw them as a portrait of the evil of that woman."[11]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times said of the film that "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is meant to scare audiences more or less in the way that the patrons of the early nickelodeons were frightened when they saw the image of a train rushing at them. Audiences aren't asked to think, only to react" and that "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle proves again that not thinking isn't especially easy even today. Though Mr. Hanson is a slick movie maker, he is not an especially persuasive one here. Don't be gulled by those who would compare The Hand That Rocks the Cradle to Fatal Attraction, which features three strong characters who, in one way or another, are ready to answer for their actions." He added that "Mr. Hanson creates the occasionally effective shock effect to satisfy those who want to squeal in mock fright. More often the devices he uses are such tired tricks as the crosscutting between two sets of simultaneous, often innocent, actions to create the illusion of suspense that can't be sustained."[12] Rebecca Hawkes of The Daily Telegraph gave the film a rating a 3 stars out of 5 and said that "It’s a tense, viscerally unsettling moment, that helps make the film into something more than just a fun, formulaic thriller",[13] while Sue Heal of The Radio Times rated the film 4 stars out of 5, stated that "This is pure unbridled hokum, of course, but extremely effective until the last 30 minutes, when the plot rapidly self-destructs."[14]

Washington Post reviewer Rita Kempley criticized the movie, arguing that it is anti-feminist.[1]

Home media[edit]

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was released on VHS on July 8, 1992, on DVD on December 8, 1998 with the original theatrical trailer as the sole special feature. On September 4, 2012 Disney/Buena Vista released the film on Blu-ray Disc with the same theatrical trailer as the previous releases. The film was presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, approximately 1.85:1.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kempley, Rita (January 10, 1992). "'The Hand That Rocks the Cradle' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 19, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on September 14, 2020.
  3. ^ Filming locations (IMDb). Retrieved 2013-05-30.
  4. ^ "Nanny-from-hell Thriller 'Cradle' Surpasses 'hook'". Chicago Tribune. January 17, 1992. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  5. ^ The Hand That smashed the Cradle. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 10 October 2013
  6. ^ Mathews, Jack (February 3, 1992). "COMMENTARY : Why Disney's 'Cradle' Rocked the Nation : Movies: Savvy marketing turns films from the big screen into hot topics for the small screen". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  7. ^ Groves, Don (February 22, 1993). "Hollywood Wows World Wickets". Variety. p. 85.
  8. ^ "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  9. ^ "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle". Metacritic. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  10. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  11. ^ Siskel & Ebert Juice The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Freejack 1992. August 6, 2015. Retrieved April 7, 2016 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ "Review/Film; Help Wanted: A Nanny, Duplicity & Malice Req'd". The New York Times. January 10, 1992. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  13. ^ Hawkes, Rebecca (December 30, 2014). "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, review: 'tense and fun'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  14. ^ "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle". The Radio Times. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  15. ^ "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Blu-ray". September 4, 2012. Retrieved June 4, 2020.

External links[edit]