The First Wives Club is a 1996 American comedy film, based on the best-selling 1992 novel of the same name by Olivia Goldsmith. Narrated by Diane Keaton, it stars Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler as three divorced women who seek revenge on their ex-husbands who left them for younger women. Stephen Collins, Victor Garber and Dan Hedaya co-star as the husbands, and Sarah Jessica Parker, Marcia Gay Harden and Elizabeth Berkley as their lovers, with Maggie Smith, Bronson Pinchot and Stockard Channing also starring. Scott Rudin produced and Hugh Wilson directed; the film was distributed by Paramount Pictures.
The film became a surprise box-office hit following its North American release, eventually grossing $181,490,000 worldwide, mostly from its domestic run, despite receiving mixed reviews. It developed a cult following particularly among middle-aged women, and the actresses' highest-grossing project of the decade helped revitalize their careers in film and television. Composer Marc Shaiman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score, while Hawn was awarded a Blockbuster Entertainment Award and both Midler and Parker received Satellite Award nominations for their portrayals.
At Middlebury College in 1969, four young friends, Annie MacDuggan, Elise Elliot, Brenda Morelli, and Cynthia Swann, are graduating. As graduation gifts, valedictorian Cynthia presents the girls with matching Bulgari pearl necklaces. As the graduates take a commemorative picture of the four of them (presumably for the last time), Cynthia makes Annie, Brenda and Elise promise that they will always be there for each other throughout the remainder of their lives.
In the present time, the four friends eventually lose touch with one another, as evident when Cynthia (Stockard Channing) is tearfully gazing at the picture of the four of them on that graduation day. Now wealthy and living in a luxurious penthouse, she gives her maid her own Bulgari pearl necklace (matching the three she gave to her friends on graduation day), and has the maid mail letters to them. She later walks outside of the balcony of her penthouse in a floor length fur coat, a cigarette and a drink, and then commits suicide by jumping to her death after learning through the tabloids that her ex-husband Gil (whom Cynthia made wealthy through her connections, according to narrator Annie) married his much younger mistress the day before.
Her former friends aren't doing much better: Annie (Diane Keaton), meanwhile, is separated, suffering extreme self-esteem issues, and going through therapy with her husband. Brenda (Bette Midler) is divorced, left for a younger woman, depressed, and struggling financially. Elise (Goldie Hawn), whose husband also left her for a younger woman, is now an aging alcoholic movie actress who has become a plastic-surgery addict to keep her career afloat. Shortly after Cynthia's funeral, at which the three remaining friends are reunited for the first time since college, Annie's husband, Aaron (Stephen Collins), leaves her for her younger therapist (Marcia Gay Harden) and asks her for a divorce after spending a night together (and leading Annie to believe it would reconcile them); Brenda has a rather unpleasant encounter at a clothing store with her ex, Morty (Dan Hedaya) and his younger and rather hateful mistress Shelly (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Elise finds out that her soon-to be ex-husband, Bill (Victor Garber), is requesting alimony and half of their marital assets claiming that Elise owes her fame to him. Also, during a meeting with a director for a possible leading lady movie role, she discovers that she is only to play the lead female's mother; she later learns the lead female is Bill's current girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, the three friends receive the letters that Cynthia mailed to them before her suicide. After each one reads her letter from Cynthia, and feeling that they have been taken for granted by their husbands, the women decide to create the First Wives Club, aiming to get revenge on their exes. Annie's lesbian daughter Chris (Jennifer Dundas) also gets in on the plan by asking for a job at her father's advertising agency so she can supply her mother with inside information, as payback for Aaron's unfairness toward Annie.
Brenda finds out through her uncle Carmine (Philip Bosco) who has Mafia connections that Morty is guilty of income tax fraud, while Annie makes a plan to revive her advertising career and buy out Aaron's partners. However, as their plan moves through, things start to fall apart when they find out that Bill has no checkered past and nothing for them to use against him. Elise, feeling sorry for herself, gets drunk which only results in her and Brenda hurling vicious insults at each other, and the women drift apart. When Annie starts thinking about closing down the First Wives Club, her friends come back, saying that they want to see this to the end and Bill hasn't done anything blatantly wrong, but only as far as he knows. As a result, the wives manage to uncover information revealing that Bill's mistress (Elizabeth Berkley) is actually a minor.
Deciding that revenge would make them no better than their husbands, they instead use these situations to push their men into funding the establishment of a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding abused women, in memory of their college friend Cynthia. The film ends with a celebration at the new Cynthia Swann Griffin Crisis Center for Women. Annie narrates that Elise started a relationship with a cast member in her new, successful play, that Brenda and Morty reconciled their differences and got back together, and that when Aaron tried to get back together with her, Annie told him to "drop dead". While outside the center Bill meets Shelly and the two start to flirt. The film concludes with the three women joyfully singing Lesley Gore's hit "You Don't Own Me". This sequence was choreographed by Patricia Birch and her assistant choreographer was Jonathan Cerullo.
- Diane Keaton as Annie MacDuggan-Paradis, the vehicle for the film's sporadic voice-over; an anxious and slightly neurotic housewife, saddled with self-esteem problems, attempting to save her marriage with estranged husband Aaron – much to her daughter's dismay. After Aaron sleeps with her and then leaves her for her young therapist, she decides to band together with Brenda and Elise to form the First Wives Club. Annie learns the Aaron is having problems with his advertising firm partners through the help of her daughter, and buys them out at the end of the film; making her the larger owner of Aaron's firm.
- Adria Tennor as Young Annie
- Bette Midler as Brenda Morelli-Cushman, a wise-cracking Sicilian-Jewish single mother who helped set her husband Morty on his feet financially, before he left her for his younger employee Shelly, cheating her out of an equitable settlement.
- Michele Brilliant as Young Brenda
- Goldie Hawn as Elise Eliot-Atchison, a former one-time Oscar-winning actress, now an alcoholic and heavy smoker relegated to B movies due to her 'unprofitable' age. Her husband, Bill, who left her for another woman, is suing for alimony and insisting that all of their joint assets be sold and the profits divided between them. She liquidates their assets, and gives the money to Annie so she can buy out her husband's partners.
- Dina Spybey as Young Elise
- Stockard Channing as Cynthia Swann-Griffin, a college friend of the three main protagonists, who commits suicide after her husband, Gil, leaves her and marries his young mistress three days after their divorce is finalized.
- Juliehera Destefano as Young Cynthia
- Stephen Collins as Aaron Paradis, Annie's conflicted husband and CEO of an advertising agency, who leaves his wife for their therapist, Leslie Rosen.
- Victor Garber as Bill Atchison, a successful film producer, who rose to fame through Elise's connections and eventually left her in favor of a young starlet.
- Marcia Gay Harden as Dr. Leslie Rosen, Aaron's short-time affair, who is the therapist for both Annie and Aaron. Leslie has been "helping" Annie with her self-esteem problems.
- Eileen Heckart as Catherine MacDuggan, Annie's 'controlling' mother. By the end of the film, she tells Annie that she is proud of her and that she doesn't need anyone to make her happy.
- Dan Hedaya as Morton 'Morty' Cushman, Brenda's ex-husband, an electronics tycoon, who takes advantage of his former wife's having signed an out-of-court settlement - just to finance his girlfriend Shelly's extravagant taste. He's later blackmailed into giving Brenda a substantial amount of his money when she and her Uncle Carmine obtain proof of Morty's criminal activity. This later causes him to apologize to Brenda when he realizes Shelly only loved him because of his money.
- Sarah Jessica Parker as Shelly Stewart, Morty's dim-witted but manipulative fiancée. It's indicated throughout the film that Shelly believes a position in high society can be obtained through money. This is Parker's second film with Midler as her co-star, the first being the 1993 Disney film Hocus Pocus.
- Elizabeth Berkley as Phoebe LaVelle, an up-and-coming actress, living with Bill. She presumably tells him that she is twenty-one, but Elise investigates and reveals to Bill that she is sixteen years old and a high school dropout.
- Bronson Pinchot as Duarto Felice, Brenda's boss and (according to Annie) "one of the ten worst interior decorators in New York." He poses as a famous interior designer to help the First Wive's Club sneak into Morty and Shelly's apartment.
- Maggie Smith as Gunilla Garson Goldberg, a wealthy New York City society leader who helps the First Wives Club along with their schemes because she was once a first wife, as well as a "second, third and fourth wife", according to Annie.
- Jennifer Dundas as Christine "Chris" Paradis, Annie's lesbian and feminist daughter, who resents her father for what he is putting her mother through. She gets a job working at her father's advertising firm to spy on him for Annie. This is the second film in which Dundas plays Keaton's daughter, having previously done so in Mrs. Soffel.
- Ari Greenberg as Jason Cushman, Brenda's son, who is caught in an emotional battle between his parents.
- Philip Bosco as Uncle Carmine Morelli, Brenda's paternal uncle and part of her family's Sicilian Mafia connections. He is the one who informs Brenda that Morty committed had his stores stocked with stolen electronics.
- Timothy Olyphant as Brett Artounian, a movie director who is interested in casting Elise as the main character's aging mother in his new movie.
- Ivana Trump as herself (special guest appearance).
- Kathie Lee Gifford as herself (special guest appearance).
- Ed Koch and Gloria Steinem as party guests (special guest appearances).
- James Naughton as Gil Griffin, Cynthia's ex-husband (special guest appearance).
- Heather Locklear as Gil's new wife (special guest appearance).
- Edward Hibbert as Maurice, a barman serving Elise as she drowns her sorrows
- J. K. Simmons as Federal Marshal
- Rob Reiner as Dr. Morris Packman
- Gregg Edelman as Mark Loest
- Debra Monk as Jilted Lover
- Kate Burton as Woman in Bed
- Walter Bobbie as Man in Bed