Gone with the Wind is a 1939 American epic historical romance film adapted from Margaret Mitchell‘s Pulitzer-winning 1936 novel. It was produced by David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures and directed by Victor Fleming.
Set in the 19th-century American South, the film tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, from her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who is married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, to her marriage to Rhett Butler. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era, the story is told from the perspective of white Southerners. The leading roles are portrayed by Vivien Leigh (Scarlett),Clark Gable (Rhett), Leslie Howard (Ashley), and Olivia de Havilland (Melanie).
The film received positive reviews upon its release in December 1939, although some reviewers found it dramatically lacking and bloated. The casting was widely praised and many reviewers found Vivien Leigh especially suited to her role as Scarlett. At the 12th Academy Awards held in 1940, it received ten Academy Awards (eight competitive, two honorary) from thirteen nominations, including wins for Best Picture, Best Director (Victor Fleming), Best Adapted Screenplay (posthumously awarded to Sidney Howard), Best Actress (Vivien Leigh) and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel, becoming the first African-American to win an Academy Award). It set records for the total number of wins and nominations at the time. The film was immensely popular, becoming the highest-earning film made up to that point, and retained the record for over a quarter of a century. When adjusted for monetary inflation, it is still the most successful film in box-office history.
The film has been criticized as historical revisionism glorifying slavery, but nevertheless it has been credited for triggering changes to the way African-Americans are depicted on film. It was re-released periodically throughout the 20th century and became ingrained in popular culture. The film is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time; it has placed in the top ten of the American Film Institute‘s list of top 100 American films since the list’s inception in 1998, and in 1989, Gone with the Wind was selected to be preserved by the National Film Registry.
On the eve of the American Civil War in 1861, Scarlett O’Hara lives at Tara, her family’s cotton plantation in Georgia, with her parents and two sisters. Scarlett learns that Ashley Wilkes—whom she secretly loves—is to be married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, and the engagement is to be announced the next day at a barbecue at Ashley’s home, the nearby plantation Twelve Oaks.
At the Twelve Oaks party, Scarlett secretly declares her feelings to Ashley, but he rebuffs her by responding that he and Melanie are more compatible. Scarlett is incensed when she discovers another guest, Rhett Butler, has overheard their conversation; nevertheless, a smitten Rhett promises Scarlett he will keep her secret. The barbecue is disrupted by the declaration of war and the men rush to enlist. As Scarlett watches Ashley kiss Melanie goodbye, Melanie’s younger brother Charles proposes to her. Although she does not love him Scarlett consents and they are married before he leaves to fight.
Scarlett is widowed when Charles dies from a bout of pneumonia and measles while serving in the Confederate Army. Scarlett’s mother sends her to the Hamilton home in Atlanta to cheer her up, although the O’Haras’ outspoken housemaid Mammy tells Scarlett she knows she is going there only to wait for Ashley’s return. Scarlett, who should not attend a party while in mourning, attends a charity bazaar in Atlanta with Melanie where she runs into Rhett again, now a blockade runner for the Confederacy. To raise money for the Confederate war effort, gentlemen are invited to bid for ladies to dance with them. Rhett makes an inordinately large bid for Scarlett and, to the disapproval of the guests, she agrees to dance with him.
The tide of war turns against the Confederacy after the Battle of Gettysburg in which many of the men of Scarlett’s town are killed. Scarlett makes another unsuccessful appeal to Ashley while he is visiting on Christmas furlough, although they do share a private and passionate kiss in the parlor on Christmas Day, just before he returns to war.
Eight months later, as the city is besieged by the Union Army in the Atlanta Campaign, Scarlett and her young house servant Prissy must deliver Melanie’s baby without medical assistance after she goes into premature labor. Afterwards, Scarlett calls upon Rhett to take her home to Tara with Melanie, her baby, and Prissy; he collects them in a horse and wagon, but once out of the city chooses to go off to fight, leaving Scarlett and the group to make their own way back to Tara. Upon her return home, Scarlett finds Tara deserted, except for her parents, her sisters, and two servants: Mammy and Pork. Scarlett learns that her mother has just died of typhoid fever and her father’s mind has begun to fail under the strain. With Tara pillaged by Union troops and the fields untended, Scarlett vows she will do anything for the survival of her family and herself.
Scarlett sets her family and servants to work in the cotton fields, facing many hardships along the way, including the death of her father after he is thrown from his horse in an attempt to chase away a scalawag from his land. With the defeat of the Confederacy Ashley has also returned, but finds he is of little help at Tara. When Scarlett begs him to run away with her, he confesses his desire for her and kisses her passionately, but says he cannot leave Melanie. Unable to pay the taxes on Tara implemented by Reconstructionists, Scarlett dupes her sister’s fiancé, the middle-aged and wealthy Frank Kennedy, into marrying her, by saying Suellen got tired of waiting and married another beau.
Frank, Ashley, Rhett and several other accomplices make a night raid on a shanty town after Scarlett is attacked while driving through it alone, resulting in Frank’s death. With Frank’s funeral barely over, Rhett proposes to Scarlett and she accepts. They have a daughter whom Rhett names Bonnie Blue, but Scarlett, still pining for Ashley and chagrined at the perceived ruin of her figure, lets Rhett know that she wants no more children and that they will no longer share a bed.
One day, Scarlett and Ashley are spied in an embrace by Ashley’s sister, India, and harboring an intense dislike of Scarlett she eagerly spreads rumors. Later that evening, Rhett, having heard the rumors, forces Scarlett to attend a birthday party for Ashley; incapable of believing anything bad of her beloved sister-in-law, Melanie stands by Scarlett’s side so that all know that she believes the gossip to be false. After returning home from the party, Scarlett finds Rhett downstairs drunk, and they argue about Ashley. Seething with jealousy, Rhett grabs Scarlett’s head and threatens to smash in her skull. When she taunts him that he has no honor Rhett retaliates by forcing himself onto her, kissing Scarlett against her will, and states his intent to have sex with her that night. Frightened, she attempts to physically resist him, but Rhett overpowers her and carries the struggling Scarlett to the bedroom. The next day, Rhett apologizes for his behavior and offers Scarlett a divorce, which she rejects, saying that it would be a disgrace.
When Rhett returns from an extended trip to London, Scarlett’s attempts at reconciliation are rebuffed. She informs him that she is pregnant, but an argument ensues which results in Scarlett falling down a flight of stairs and suffering a miscarriage. As Scarlett is recovering, tragedy strikes when Bonnie dies while attempting to jump a fence with her pony. Melanie visits their home to comfort them, but collapses due to complications arising from her pregnancy.
After visiting Melanie on her deathbed, Scarlett consoles Ashley, resulting in Rhett returning home. Realizing that Ashley only ever truly loved Melanie, Scarlett dashes after Rhett to find him preparing to leave for good. She pleads with him, telling him she realizes now that she has loved him all along, and that she never really loved Ashley. However, he rebuffs her, saying that with Bonnie’s death went any chance of reconciliation. Scarlett begs him to stay but to no avail, and Rhett walks out the door and into the early morning fog, leaving her weeping on the staircase and vowing to one day win back his love.
At the 12th Academy Awards held in 1940, Gone with the Wind set a record for Academy Award wins and nominations, winning in eight of the competitive categories it was nominated in, from a total of thirteen nominations. It won for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Interior Decoration, and Best Editing, and received two further honorary awards for its use of equipment and color (it also became the first color film to win Best Picture). Its record of eight competitive wins stood until Gigi (1958) won nine, and its overall record of ten was broken by Ben-Hur (1959) which won eleven. Gone with the Wind also held the record for most nominations until All About Eve (1950) secured fourteen. It was the longest American sound film made up to that point, and may still hold the record of the longest Best Picture winner depending on how it is interpreted. The running time for Gone with the Wind is just under 221 minutes, while Lawrence of Arabia (1962) runs for just over 222 minutes; however, including the overture, intermission, entr’acte, and exit music, Gone with the Wind lasts for 234 minutes (although some sources put its full length at 238 minutes) while Lawrence of Arabia comes in slightly shorter at 232 minutes with its additional components.
Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Academy Award—beating out her co-star Olivia de Havilland who was also nominated in the same category—but was racially segregated from her co-stars at the awards ceremony at the Coconut Grove; she and her escort were made to sit at a separate table at the back of the room. Meanwhile, screenwriter Sidney Howard became the first posthumous Oscar winner, Selznick personally received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his career achievements, and Vivien Leigh won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Actress.
Upon its release, Gone with the Wind broke attendance records everywhere. At the Capitol Theatre in New York alone, it was averaging eleven thousand admissions per day in late December, and within four years of its release had sold an estimated sixty million tickets across the United States—sales equivalent to just under half the population at the time. It repeated its success overseas, and was a sensational hit during the Blitz in London, opening in April 1940 and playing for four years. Its worldwide distribution returned a gross rental (the studio’s share of the box office gross) of $32 million during its initial release, making it the most profitable film ever made up to that point.
Across all releases, it is estimated that Gone with the Wind has sold over 200 million tickets in the United States and Canada, and 35 million tickets in the United Kingdom, generating more theater admissions in those territories than any other film. In total, Gone with the Wind has grossed over $390 million globally at the box office; in 2007 Turner Entertainment estimated the gross to be equivalent to approximately $3.3 billion when adjusted for inflation to current prices, while Guinness World Records arrived at a figure of $3.44 billion in 2014, making it the most successful film in cinema history.
in popular culture
Gone with the Wind and its production have been explicitly referenced, satirized, dramatized and analyzed on numerous occasions across a range of media, from contemporaneous works such as Second Fiddle—a 1939 film spoofing the “search for Scarlett”—to current television shows, such as The Simpsons. The Scarlett O’Hara War (a 1980 television dramatization of the casting of Scarlett), Moonlight and Magnolias (a 2007 play by Ron Hutchinson that dramatizes Ben Hecht’s five-day re-write of the script), and “Went with the Wind!” (a sketch on The Carol Burnett Show that parodied the film in the aftermath of its television debut in 1976) are among the more noteworthy examples of its enduring presence in popular culture. It was also the subject of a 1988 documentary, The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind, detailing the film’s difficult production history. In 1990, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp depicting Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh embracing in a scene from the film
In a nationwide poll of Americans undertaken by Harris Interactive Gone with the Wind was voted the most popular film in 2008, and again in 2014. The market research firm surveyed over two thousand U.S. adults, with the results weighted by age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income so their proportions matched those of the population. The film has also featured in several high-profile industry polls: in 1977 it was voted the most popular film by the American Film Institute (AFI), in a poll of the organization’s membership; the AFI also ranked the film fourth on its “100 Greatest Movies” list in 1998, with it slipping down to sixth place in the tenth anniversary edition in 2007; in 2012, Sight & Sound ranked it 235th in their prestigious decennial critics poll, and 322nd in their directors poll; in 2014, it placed fifteenth in a poll undertaken by The Hollywood Reporter, which ballotted every studio, agency, publicity firm and production house in the Hollywood region. Gone with the Wind was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry in 1989
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