Working Girl

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Working Girl
Working Girl film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMike Nichols
Written byKevin Wade
Produced byDouglas Wick
CinematographyMichael Ballhaus
Edited bySam O'Steen
Music by
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 21, 1988 (1988-12-21)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$28 million
Box office$103 million

Working Girl is a 1988 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Mike Nichols, written by Kevin Wade, and starring Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, and Melanie Griffith. Its plot follows an ambitious secretary from Staten Island who takes over her new boss's role while the boss is laid up with a broken leg. The secretary, who has been going to business night school, pitches a profitable idea, only to have the boss attempt to take credit.

The film's opening sequence follows Manhattan-bound commuters on the Staten Island Ferry accompanied by Carly Simon's song "Let the River Run", for which she received the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The film was a box office success, grossing a worldwide total of $103 million.[1]

At the 61st Academy Awards, Griffith received a nomination for Best Actress, while both Weaver and Joan Cusack were nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Mike Nichols received a nomination for Best Director, and the film was nominated for Best Picture.


Tess McGill is an ambitious working-class 30-year-old from Staten Island with a bachelor's degree in business, by taking evening classes. She works as a stockbroker's secretary in lower Manhattan, aspiring to reach an executive position. Though intelligent, Tess is treated like a bimbo by her boss and male coworkers. After receiving shabby treatment at several placements, Tess has gotten angry at her chauvinistic bosses and quit.

The staffing services representative chastises Tess for causing trouble, but gives her one last chance, assigning her as an administrative assistant to Katharine Parker, a young associate in the Mergers and Acquisitions department at a different company. Seemingly supportive, Katharine encourages Tess to share ideas. Tess suggests a merger she has been researching, but Katharine later tells Tess her idea is not feasible.

When Katharine injures her leg skiing in Europe, she asks Tess to house-sit at her luxurious apartment. While staying there, Tess discovers some meeting notes and realizes Katharine plans to pass off the merger idea as her own. Distraught, Tess returns home to find her boyfriend, Mick, in bed with another woman. She returns to Katharine's apartment.

Tess decides to use her boss' absence, connections, and clothes to move ahead with her merger plans. She schedules a meeting with Jack Trainer, the man Katharine planned to give Tess's idea to. She plans on attending a party to casually "bump into" Jack before their meeting the next day. She cuts her hair and puts on one of Katharine's stylish dresses, but has a panic attack when she realizes how expensive it is. Her friend Cyn gives her one of Katherine's Valiums to calm her down.

At the party, Tess unknowingly meets Jack, who is fascinated by her. They have a couple of drinks, and the combined effect of Valium and alcohol causes Tess to black out in the cab. Trainer gently carries her upstairs to his apartment.

Tess wakes up the next morning in Jack's bed, and quickly leaves before he wakes. Later when she arrives at the meeting, she realizes the man she spent the night with is Jack Trainer. She pretends they are meeting for the first time, and makes her pitch for the merger. She leaves the meeting feeling the whole situation, including her pitch, was a disaster. Jack, however, arrives at her (Katherine's) office, tells her nothing sexual happened the night before; he simply took care of her after she passed out. He also tells her that her merger idea has potential, and gives her a gift of a new briefcase.

Days later, Jack meets again with Tess, having secured a great radio network acquisition for Trask Industries. Tess tells Jack she has a meeting with Trask himself, but without Jack. Jack thinks Tess is trying to run the project solo (reminiscent of Katharine), and tells her she needs him at that meeting. Tess acquiesces, but when the day of the meeting arrives, Jack realizes Tess’ plan is to crash Trask's daughter's wedding to pitch the plan. Despite the crazy antics, the bold plan works: Trask is interested and a meeting is scheduled.

The duo spend the next few days closely together, preparing the financials to present the merger proposal to Trask Industries. The proposal is a success and, in the relief and excitement of it all, Tess and Jack give in to their attraction, and end up in bed. Tess wants to tell Jack the truth about her, Katharine, and the stolen idea, but keeps quiet after learning Jack was romantically involved with Katharine. Though he swears the relationship is over, Tess realizes just how complicated the situation is.

Katharine comes home on the day of the merger meeting between Trask and the owner of the radio station. Tess is forced to run errands for Katherine, who is laid up because of a broken leg. Jack arrives while Tess is out, but when she returns, she overhears Katharine asking Jack to confirm his love for her, but he avoids her advances. Tess rushes off, accidentally leaving her appointment book in Katherine's apartment.

Katharine snoops through the appointments in the book, and discovers Tess’ meeting with Trask. She rushes to the meeting, storms in, outs Tess as her secretary, and accuses her of having stolen the idea. Tess begins to protest but feels nobody would believe her. She leaves, apologizing profusely.

Days later, Tess clears out her desk and then bumps into Jack, Katherine, and Trask at the lobby elevators. Katharine attempts to appear like the bigger person, telling Tess they should bury the hatchet, but in one of the more memorable lines of the movie, Tess replies, “You know where you can bury your hatchet? Now get your bony ass out of my sight.” Katharine tries to lead the group away, but Jack stays and says he believes Tess. Though Trask initially thinks Jack is blinded by love, his attention is piqued when Tess mentions a possible hole in the merger. He hops off the closing elevator, leaving Katherine still in the elevator. He gets on another elevator with Jack and Tess, where Tess then gives her elevator pitch, explaining where she got the inspiration for the merger idea.

When they get to their floor, Trask confronts Katharine, asking if she can explain how she came up with the idea. She stumbles and balks and is unable to explain the idea's origin. She looks at Jack for help, but he refuses. Trask assures Katherine he will have her fired for her fraud. He then offers Tess an entry-level job with Trask Industries, which she happily accepts.

When Tess arrives for her first day at her new job at Trask, and is directed to her new office, she sees a woman in it, on the phone with her feet up. Tess assumes this is her new boss, and starts to settle in at the secretary's desk outside. The woman comes out of the office and identifies herself as Alice. There is confusion between the two until it finally dawns on Tess that Alice is, in fact, her secretary and that she is the new junior executive. Tess insists they work together as colleagues, showing she will be very different from Katharine. She then calls her best friend from her own office to tell her she has finally made it.




Screenwriter Kevin Wade was inspired to write the screenplay after visiting New York City in 1984 and witnessing throngs of career women walking through the streets in tennis shoes while carrying their high-heels.[2]


Melanie Griffith read the screenplay for Working Girl over a year before the production began, and expressed interest in playing the role of Tess McGill.[2] Approximately a year later, Mike Nichols agreed to direct the film after reading the screenplay while shooting his film Biloxi Blues in Alaska.[2] Following Nichols' attachment, Griffith had a formal audition for the role.[2] Nichols was so determined for Griffith to have the part that he threatened to drop out of the production if the studio, 20th Century Fox, would not hire her.[2]

Following the casting of Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford—both major stars at that point—the studio agreed to cast Griffith, as they felt Weaver and Ford's involvement gave them a higher chance of box-office success.[2]


Principal photography of Working Girl began on February 16, 1988 in New York City.[2] Many scenes were shot in the New Brighton section of Staten Island in New York City. One half-day of shooting to complete the skiing accident scene took place in New Jersey.[2] Four different buildings portrayed the offices of Petty Marsh—1 State Street Plaza; the Midday Club, which served as the company's club room; the lobby of 7 World Trade Center (one of the buildings destroyed in the September 11 attacks); and the reading floor of the L. F. Rothschild Building.[2] One Chase Manhattan Plaza was featured at the end of the film as the Trask Industries building.[2] Filming completed on April 27, 1988, with the final sequence being shot on the Staten Island Ferry.[2]

Throughout the shoot, Griffith was in the midst of struggling with a years-long alcohol and cocaine addiction, which at times interfered with the shoot.[3] "There were a lot of things that happened on Working Girl that I did that were not right,” Griffith recalled in 2019. "It was the late ‘80s. There was a lot going on party-wise in New York. There was a lot of cocaine. There was a lot of temptation."[4] After Nichols realized that Griffith had arrived on set high on cocaine, the shoot was temporarily shut down for 24 hours.[5] Griffith elaborated on the experience:

Mike got so mad at me, he wouldn't talk to me. Mike Haley, the first [assistant director], just came up and said, "We're shutting down. Go home", and I knew I was in so much trouble. … The next morning he (Nichols) took me to breakfast and said, "Here's what's going to happen. You're going to pay for last night out of your pocket. We're not going to report you to the studio, but you have to pay for what it cost", and it was $80,000. They wanted to get my attention and they really did. It was a very humbling, embarrassing experience, but I learned a lot from it.[5]

Three weeks after filming was completed, Griffith entered a rehabilitation facility to receive treatment for her addiction.[6] Ironically, according to the biography Mike Nichols: A Life, written by Mark Harris, Nichols had been battling a cocaine addiction of his own around the same time.[7]


Working Girl (Original Soundtrack Album)
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedAugust 29, 1989

The film's main theme "Let the River Run" was written and performed by American singer-songwriter Carly Simon, and won her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Grammy Award for Best Song.[8] The song reached number 49 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 11 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in early 1989.[9]

The credits for the film read "music by Carly Simon, scored by Rob Mounsey". A soundtrack album was released on August 29, 1989, by Arista Records, and it peaked at number 45 on the Billboard 200.[10]

Track listing

  1. "Let the River Run" – Carly Simon
  2. "In Love" (Instrumental) – Carly Simon
  3. "The Man That Got Away" (Instrumental) – Rob Mounsey, George Young, Chip Jackson, Grady Tate
  4. "The Scar" (Instrumental) – Carly Simon
  5. "Let the River Run" – The St. Thomas Choir Of Men And Boys
  6. "Lady In Red" – Chris De Burgh
  7. "Carlotta's Heart" – Carly Simon
  8. "Looking Through Katherine's House" – Carly Simon
  9. "Poor Butterfly" (Instrumental) – Sonny Rollins
  10. "I'm So Excited" – Pointer Sisters


Box office[edit]

The film was released in the United States on December 21, 1988,[2] in 1,051 theaters and grossed $4.7 million on its opening weekend.[1] It went on to make $63.8 million in North America and $39.2 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $103 million.[1]

Critical response[edit]

The film received generally positive reviews from critics with an 84% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes[11] based on 43 reviews. The site's consensus is; "A buoyant corporate Cinderella story, Working Girl has the right cast, right story, and right director to make it all come together." and a 73 score at Metacritic.[12] Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and wrote, "The plot of Working Girl is put together like clockwork. It carries you along while you're watching it, but reconstruct it later and you'll see the craftsmanship".[13] In her review for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley described Melanie Griffith as "luminous as Marilyn Monroe, as adorable as one of Disney's singing mice. She clearly has the stuff of a megastar, and the movie glows from her".[14] Janet Maslin, in her review for The New York Times, wrote, "Mike Nichols, who directed Working Girl, also displays an uncharacteristically blunt touch, and in its later stages the story remains lively but seldom has the perceptiveness or acuity of Mr. Nichols's best work".[15] In his review for Time, Richard Corliss wrote, "Kevin Wade shows this in his smart screenplay, which is full of the atmospheric pressures that allow stars to collide. Director Mike Nichols knows this in his bones. He encourages Weaver to play (brilliantly) an airy shrew. He gives Ford a boyish buoyancy and Griffith the chance to be a grownup mesmerizer".[16]


Award Category Nominee Result
Academy Award Best Picture[17] Douglas Wick Nominated
Best Director[17] Mike Nichols Nominated
Best Actress[17] Melanie Griffith Nominated
Best Supporting Actress[17] Joan Cusack Nominated
Sigourney Weaver Nominated
Best Original Song[17] Carly Simon Won
Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Douglas Wick Won
Best Director Mike Nichols Nominated
Best Actress – Musical or Comedy Melanie Griffith Won
Best Supporting Actress Sigourney Weaver Won
Best Screenplay Kevin Wade Nominated
Best Original Song Carly Simon Won
British Academy Film Award Best Actress Melanie Griffith Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Sigourney Weaver Nominated
Best Film Music Carly Simon Nominated
Grammy Awards Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media Carly Simon Won
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directing – Feature Mike Nichols Nominated
Writers Guild of America Award Best Original Screenplay Kevin Wade Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Award Best Actress Melanie Griffith Won
Best Supporting Actress Joan Cusack Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Award Best Actress Melanie Griffith Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Sigourney Weaver Nominated
New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Actress Melanie Griffith Runner-up
National Society of Film Critics Award Best Actress Melanie Griffith 3rd-place


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home media[edit]

Working Girl was released on DVD on April 17, 2001, by 20th Century Fox.[24] Special features included two theatrical trailers and three TV spots. The film was released on Blu-ray on January 6, 2015.[24][25] The special features from the DVD release were carried over for the Blu-ray release.[26]

In other media[edit]


Working Girl was also made into a short-lived NBC television series in 1990, starring Sandra Bullock as Tess McGill.[27] It lasted 12 episodes.


A broadway musical version is in the works as of 2017, with a score to be written by Cyndi Lauper from Fox Stage Productions and Aged in Wood Productions. For Aged in Wood, the producers were Robyn Goodman and Josh Fiedler. Instead of a production company on Working Girl, the musical adaptation was switched to a license production by Aged in Wood Productions since Disney took over ownership of Fox Stage in 2019.[28]


  1. ^ a b c "Working Girl". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Working Girl". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  3. ^ Carter & Kashner 2019, pp. 206–210.
  4. ^ Carter & Kashner 2019, p. 211.
  5. ^ a b Carter & Kashner 2019, p. 212.
  6. ^ Bertram, Colin (February 4, 2020). "'Working Girl' Was Melanie Griffith's Big Break — and Helped Her Get Sober". Biography.
  7. ^ Tashjian, Rachel (February 9, 2021). "Mike Nichols: The Last Director Who Knew Everyone and Did Everything". GQ.
  8. ^ "Carly Simon Official Website – Awards". Archived from the original on October 19, 2007. Retrieved March 29, 2017.
  9. ^ "Carly Simon Chart History". Billboard.
  10. ^ "Awards". Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  11. ^ "Working Girl". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  12. ^ "Working Girl". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 21, 1988). "Working Girl". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  14. ^ Kempley, Rita (December 21, 1988). "Working Girl". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  15. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 21, 1988). "The Dress-for-Success Story Of a Secretary From Staten Island". The New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  16. ^ Corliss, Richard (December 19, 1988). "Two Out of Five Ain't Bad". Time.
  17. ^ a b c d e "The 61st Academy Awards (1989)". Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  18. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions". American Film Institute. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  19. ^ a b "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 17, 2016. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  20. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs". American Film Institute. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  21. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 28, 2016. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  22. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers". American Film Institute. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  23. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  24. ^ a b "Working Girl". Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  25. ^ " Working Girl [Blu-ray]: Movies & TV". United States. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  26. ^ Nutt, Shannon. "Working Girl Blu-ray Review". High Def Digest. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  27. ^ "Working Girl (TV Series 1990–)". IMDb. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  28. ^ Caitlin, Huston (July 2, 2019). "Fox Stage Productions to merge into Disney Theatrical". Broadway News. Broadway Brands LLC. Retrieved July 15, 2021.


  • Carter, Ash; Kashner, Sam (2019). Life Isn't Everything: Mike Nichols, As Remembered By 150 of His Closest Friends. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 978-1-250-11286-6.

External links[edit]