The Ice Storm (film)

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The Ice Storm
Film poster
Directed byAng Lee
Screenplay byJames Schamus
Based onThe Ice Storm
by Rick Moody
Produced byTed Hope
James Schamus
Ang Lee
CinematographyFrederick Elmes
Edited byTim Squyres
Music byMychael Danna
Distributed by20th Century Fox (United States and Canada)
Buena Vista International (International)[1][2]
Release dates
  • May 12, 1997 (1997-05-12) (Cannes)
  • September 27, 1997 (1997-09-27) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$18 million
Box office$8 million

The Ice Storm is a 1997 American drama film directed by Ang Lee, based on Rick Moody's 1994 novel of the same name. The film features an ensemble cast of Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes, Glenn Fitzgerald, Jamey Sheridan and Sigourney Weaver. Set during Thanksgiving 1973, The Ice Storm is about two dysfunctional New Canaan, Connecticut, upper-class families who are trying to deal with tumultuous social changes of the early 1970s, and their escapism through alcohol, adultery and sexual experimentation.

The film opened in the United States on September 27, 1997. Its limited release ultimately grossed US$8 million on a budget of US$18 million. Critical response to the film was positive, and it was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. Schamus received the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay, and Weaver won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.


In 1973, two families in an affluent Connecticut suburb experiment with adultery and substance abuse over one Thanksgiving weekend. One family, the Hoods, consists of parents Ben and Elena and their children, Paul and Wendy. Ben is dissatisfied with his marriage and his career.

The other family, Jim and Janey Carver and their sons Mikey and Sandy, are the Hoods’ neighbors and friends. Ben is having an affair with Janey to deal with his midlife dissatisfaction. His wife, Elena, is also bored with her life and looking to bring some excitement back, but is unsure how to do so. Young Wendy Hood enjoys sexual games with the Carver boys and with her school peers. Paul Hood has fallen for Libbets Casey, a classmate at the boarding school he attends, though his roommate Francis is also interested in her. Mikey Carver is thought of as odd and withdrawn by Ben, while the younger Sandy experiments with dangerous objects like toy explosives.

When Janey does not show for a tryst one day, Ben accuses her of losing interest in the affair. Janey reasons she can’t put the tasks and errands of her own family on hold for him. On the Friday night after Thanksgiving, the Hoods have an argument when Elena realizes her husband is having an affair with Janey. Despite the tension between them, the couple go ahead with plans to attend a neighborhood party. Jim and Janey Carver also attend. It turns out to be a "key party", in which married couples "swap" sexual partners by means of each woman selecting a set of keys from a bowl contributed by each man.

Ben drinks increasingly as the party progresses. When Janey chooses the keys of a younger man, a drunken Ben becomes agitated and trips on the floor. After being helped up, he retreats to the bathroom to sober up, remaining there for the rest of the evening. Meanwhile, a winter storm begins to descend upon the neighborhood.

The other key party participants pair off and leave, until only Jim and Elena remain. She retrieves Jim's keys from the bowl and returns them to him. After debating the issue, Jim and Elena leave together, engaging in a quick, clumsy sexual encounter in the front seat of Jim's car. Jim, regretting the line they just crossed, offers to drive Elena home.

Wendy makes her way to the Carvers' to see Mikey, but he has ventured out into the ice storm. She finds Sandy, who has a crush on her, alone at home. She asks Sandy to climb into bed with her and they remove their clothing. They drink from a bottle of vodka, and after Sandy proclaims his love for Wendy, they fall asleep together.

Paul is invited to Libbets' Manhattan apartment, but upon arriving, is disappointed to learn that Francis was also invited. Through the night the trio drink beer and listen to music. Francis and Libbets also take prescription pills found in Libbets' mother's medicine cabinet. Paul confesses his feelings for Libbets, and in her stupor she tells Paul she thinks of him as a brother. Paul leaves Libbets and Francis passed out in the apartment and just narrowly makes the train back to New Canaan.

Meanwhile, Mikey, out walking in the storm, is enchanted by the beauty of the trees and fields covered in ice. He slides down an icy hill and sits on a guardrail. A moment later, a falling tree takes down a power line, which connects with the guardrail, fatally electrocuting him.

Jim and Elena also get stuck due to fallen trees and return to the Carvers' house as dawn breaks. Elena walks in on her daughter in bed with Sandy, and tells Wendy to get dressed. Janey has also returned home, but is curled up in bed in the fetal position, still wearing her party dress.

A sober Ben is driving back to his house when he discovers Mikey's body on the side of the road. He carries the body to the Carvers' house, and the two families are drawn together in grief. Wendy hugs the shocked and numbed Sandy in an attempt to comfort him. Jim is devastated, while Janey stays asleep, oblivious to the news. Ben, Elena and Wendy later drive to New Canaan station to pick up Paul, whose train was delayed by the power outage. Once all four are together in the car, Ben breaks down and sobs uncontrollably at the wheel as Elena comforts him. Paul watches, assessing the real cause of his father's grief.




The Ice Storm was first brought to the attention of producer James Schamus by his wife, literary scout Nancy Kricorian, who knew Rick Moody from Columbia University's MFA program. Schamus said: "It's an astonishingly cinematic book... But, because of its truly literary qualities, people may have missed its extraordinary cinematic possibilities."[3] Philosopher Slavoj Žižek has stated that Schamus was also inspired by one of Žižek's books at the time of writing the screenplay, commenting "When James Schamus was writing the scenario, he told me that he was reading a book of mine and that my theoretical book was inspiration."[4]

Schamus brought the book to filmmaker Ang Lee, who was the first and only contender to turn the book into a film, and with whom Schamus and partner Ted Hope had already made four films, including The Wedding Banquet in 1993. Despite the obvious appeal of Moody's comedy of familial errors, Lee stated that what attracted him to the book was its climax: the scene where Ben Hood makes a shocking discovery in the ice, followed by the emotional reunion of the Hood family on the morning after the storm. "The book moved me at those two points", says Lee. "I knew there was a movie there."[3]

To prepare for the film, Lee let the cast members study stacks of magazine cutouts from the early 1970s.[5]


Principal photography primarily took place in New Canaan and Westchester, New York,[6] and began in April 1996.[6] The ice storm scenes were filmed using a second-unit team prior to the main shoot.[6] Said Schamus: "Hoping it would be below freezing, we drove up through Connecticut at night with a bunch of hoses and a water truck that we used to wet down streets and trees to get ice. On one of those nights, we actually encountered the only real ice storm to hit that area in 30 years. We got some terrific footage of the real thing. However, it soon turned into a snowstorm, and we couldn't use most of what we filmed. We digitally removed the snow from the ground in a few shots, and about five of those are in the finished film."[6]


Critical reception[edit]

The film's release was limited, and it grossed US$8 million[7] against a production budget of US$18 million.[8]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 86% of 70 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The website's consensus reads: "Director Ang Lee revisits the ennui-laden decadence of 1970s suburban America with deft humor and gripping pathos" [9] On Metacritic it has a score of 72 out of 100 based on reviews from 23 critics, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".[10]

Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "Two Thumbs Up",[11] with Ebert calling it Lee's best work yet, and Siskel calling it his favorite film of 1997.[12]

Andrew Johnston, writing in Time Out New York, stated: "The 1970s have long been written off as a goofy embarrassment to our country, quite possibly because the actual details of the decade are too painful to us to remember, no matter how old or young we were at the time. Ang Lee's film of Rick Moody's novel cuts through the kitsch to explore the emotional black hole at the heart of the period, the result being an utterly devastating and truly adult drama of the first order."[13]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote: "Beautifully acted as it is, The Ice Storm still elects to keep its characters and their emotions at a distance. They remain as hidden from the viewer as they are from one another, which is an essential part of the film's disturbing power. Lee daringly chooses to keep his story's motivational mysteries unexplained, leaving this richly observed film open to the viewer's assessments."[14] She added Schamus "shows particular empathy for the women" and that the film "elicits mournfully fine performances from actresses coming to terms with the film's shaky era. Ms. Weaver shows both hard glamour and desperation in a brittle, striking role. Ms. Allen, especially poignant and graceful, conveys the sad dignity of a woman who can't help being well behind her changing times. And the talented Ms. Ricci makes Wendy a touchingly real malcontent and a ticking time bomb. This story's legacy rests with her."[14]

In a 2022 retrospective for Little White Lies, Kevin Bui wrote that, unlike many films that also dealt with suburban dysfunction, The Ice Storm is unique in that it is "primarily focused on the sadness of its ensemble; their despondency to the prospect of change and the fear of the unknown. But what truly separates it from other movies of its ilk is the way it ends with its family united, rather than being torn further apart."[15]


Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
1997 ACCA Awards Best Screenplay James Schamus Nominated
Best Cinematography Frederick Elmes Nominated
Honourable Mentions The Ice Storm Nominated
Palme d'Or Best Screenplay James Schamus Won [16]
Ang Lee Nominated [17]
1998 AFI Awards Best Foreign Film Ted Hope,
James Schamus,
Ang Lee
Nominated [18]
Artios Awards Feature Film Casting – Drama Avy Kaufman Nominated [19]
BAFTA Awards Best Adapted Screenplay James Schamus Nominated [20]
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Sigourney Weaver Won
CFCA Awards Best Supporting Actress Joan Allen Nominated [21]
Best Director Ang Lee Nominated
Best Cinematography Frederick Elmes Nominated
Chlotrudis Awards Best Cinematography Frederick Elmes Nominated [22]
Best Director Ang Lee Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Christina Ricci Nominated
FFCC Awards Best Film The Ice Storm Runner-up [23]
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Sigourney Weaver Nominated [24]
Guldbagge Awards Best Foreign Film The Ice Storm Won [25]
OFCS Awards Top 10 Films of the Year The Ice Storm 8th Place
OFTA Awards Best Supporting Actress Christina Ricci Nominated [26]
Best Adapted Screenplay James Schamus Nominated
SFFCC Awards Best Supporting Actress Sigourney Weaver Won
Satellite Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Joan Allen Nominated [27]
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Sigourney Weaver Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay James Schamus Nominated
SEFCA Awards Best Picture The Ice Storm 9th Place [28]
SIYAD Awards Best Foreign Film The Ice Storm Won
TFCA Awards Best Director Ang Lee Nominated [29]
WGA Awards Best Adapted Screenplay James Schamus Nominated
Young Artist Award Best Performance in a Feature Film:
Supporting Young Actress
Christina Ricci Nominated [30]
Best Performance in a Feature Film:
Supporting Young Actor
Elijah Wood Nominated
YoungStar Award Best Young Actress in a Drama Film Christina Ricci Nominated [31]
1999 Bodil Awards Best American Film Ang Lee Won [32]
Critics' Circle Film Awards Film of the Year The Ice Storm Nominated
Actor of the Year
(shared with In & Out)
Kevin Kline Nominated
Actress of the Year Joan Allen Nominated
Director of the Year Ang Lee Nominated
Screenwriter of the Year James Schamus Nominated
2018 20/20 Awards Best Supporting Actress Sigourney Weaver Nominated
Best Production Design Mark Friedburg Nominated


Most of the professional music featured in the film was independently produced 1970s-type music, as budget values were tight. Lee and Schamus wanted to have an "actual score", not a "nostalgic film with radio music of an earlier time".[33] The soundtrack was released in the United States on October 21, 1997.

Home media[edit]

Following the theatrical exhibition of The Ice Storm, the film was made available on home video by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment on October 13, 1998. A re-issued VHS was released on September 5, 2000. The film made its DVD debut on March 13, 2001,[34] before American distribution company Criterion acquired the rights to release a special 2-disc DVD edition as part of the Criterion Collection on March 18, 2008.[35][36] Criterion released this version in a Blu-ray format on July 23, 2013.[37]


  1. ^ a b "The Ice Storm". Danish Film Institute. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "The Ice Storm, (15)". British Board of Film Classification. January 21, 1998. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "About the Story". The Ice Storm. Fox Searchlight. Archived from the original on September 5, 2009. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  4. ^ Slavoj Žižek - DVD Picks. Criterion Collection. September 26, 2014. Event occurs at 1:17. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved October 8, 2017 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ Bruni, Frank (September 21, 1997). "Arriving From Afar to Get Inside America". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  6. ^ a b c d Williams, David E. (October 1997). "Reflections on an Era". American Cinematographer. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  7. ^ The Ice Storm at Box Office Mojo
  8. ^ "The Ice Storm (1997) Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  9. ^ The Ice Storm at Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved on September 30, 2022.
  10. ^ "The Ice Storm". Metacritic. Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  11. ^ "Best of 1997 (episode aired January 3, 1998)". Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  12. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 21, 1997). "The Best Movies of 1997". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on December 30, 2022. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  13. ^ Johnston, Andrew (October 2, 1997). "The Ice Storm". Time Out New York: 70.
  14. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (September 26, 1997). "Suburbanites Pure as Driven Slush". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  15. ^ Bui, Kevin (October 1, 2022). "How Ang Lee's The Ice Storm stays warm 25 years later". Little White Lies. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  16. ^ "THE ICE STORM". Archived from the original on August 22, 2011. Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  17. ^ "50th International Film Festival - Cannes". Archived from the original on December 14, 2009. Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  18. ^ "AACTA AWARDS WINNERS & NOMINEES". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  19. ^ "1998 Artios Awards". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  20. ^ "Film in 1998". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  21. ^ "1997 10th Chicago Film Critics Awards". Archived from the original on October 31, 2006. Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  22. ^ "1998, 4th Annual Awards". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  23. ^ Persall, Steve (January 6, 1998). ""Titanic' tops with Florida critics". Retrieved September 16, 2023.(subscription required)
  24. ^ "Sigourney Weaver". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  25. ^ "The Ice Storm". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  26. ^ "2nd Annual Film Awards (1997)". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  27. ^ "1998". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  28. ^ "1997". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  29. ^ "TFCA Award Winners By Year". May 29, 2014. Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  30. ^ "Nineteenth Annual Youth in Film Awards". Archived from the original on December 22, 2016. Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  31. ^ "Nominations for the 3rd Annual Hollywood Reporter YoungStar Awards". September 17, 1998. Archived from the original on August 26, 2014. Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  32. ^ "Bodilprisen 1999". Retrieved September 16, 2023.
  33. ^ Moody, Rick (1994). The Ice Storm. Little Brown & Co. p. 279. ISBN 0-316-57921-1.
  34. ^ "The Ice Storm - Releases". AllMovie. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  35. ^ "The Ice Storm". The Criterion Collection. Archived from the original on November 16, 2008. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  36. ^ Sweeney, Kenneth (May 2008). "The Ice Storm (1997)". American Cinematographer. Archived from the original on March 15, 2010. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  37. ^ "The Ice Storm". Criterion. Retrieved July 8, 2013.


  • Pennington, Jody W. (2007). The history of sex in American film. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 152, 158–159, 168–172. ISBN 978-0-275-99226-2.

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