Still of Meryl Streep in SilkwoodStill of Meryl Streep in SilkwoodStill of Kurt Russell and Meryl Streep in SilkwoodStill of Meryl Streep in Silkwood


The story of Karen Silkwood, a metallurgy worker at a plutonium processing plant who was purposefully contaminated, psychologically tortured and possibly murdered to prevent her from exposing blatant worker safety violations at the plant.

Release Year: 1983

Rating: 7.1/10 (8,054 voted)

Critic's Score: 64/100

Mike Nichols

Stars: Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell, Cher

Fairly accurate recounting of the story of Karen Silkwood, the Oklahoma nuclear-plant worker who blew the whistle on dangerous practices at the Kerr-McGee plant and who died under circumstances which are still under debate.

Writers: Nora Ephron, Alice Arlen


Meryl Streep

Karen Silkwood

Kurt Russell

Drew Stephens


Dolly Pelliker

Craig T. Nelson


Fred Ward


Diana Scarwid


Ron Silver

Paul Stone

Charles Hallahan

Earl Lapin

Josef Sommer

Max Richter

Sudie Bond

Thelma Rice

Henderson Forsythe

Quincy Bissell

E. Katherine Kerr

Gilda Schultz

Bruce McGill

Mace Hurley

David Strathairn


J.C. Quinn

Curtis Schultz

On November 13, 1974, Karen Silkwood, an employee of a nuclear facility, left to meet with a reporter from the New York Times. She never got there.

Release Date: 14 December 1983

Filming Locations: Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

Opening Weekend: $1,218,322
(18 December 1983)
(257 Screens)

Gross: $35,615,609

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


Lily Tomlin auditioned for the role of Dolly.


Incorrectly regarded as goofs:
After Karen's first contamination, she and Drew are at home and Drew is laid out on the bed playing his banjo and black (X) marks can clearly be seen on the quilt. These are not actor position marks, but (repeating) parts of the quilt pattern. Drew's body lining up on the marks is just chance.


[first lines]

Man on the intercom:

Karen Silkwood:
Karen Silkwood.

Drew Stephens:
Drew Stephens.

Dolly Pelliker:
Dolly Pelliker.

User Review

Fear on many levels

Rating: 9/10

Anytime someone asks me what I'd consider the scariest movie ever, I say
"Silkwood," and they say "But that's not a horror movie."


There is so much to fear here, and scariest of all, probably, is the fact
that the title character lived just a few decades ago, in modern-day

There is the fear that comes from living in poverty, or right on the edge
it. Silkwood, her cohorts, and most of her coworkers have little
they live humble lives of church revivals, rebuilt cars, and "mystery
sandwiches brought for lunch in brown paper bags. The nuclear plant where
they work is the only game in town (or the entire state), in terms of
and benefits. And so, every day, they live in fear of losing their jobs.
They have spent their lives being instructed to trust authority and submit
to it. They are intimidated by the managers and supervisors who frown on
camaraderie, and positively scowl on their labor union.

There is the fear of the unknown at the plant — trucks being dismantled
buried behind barbed wire, under guard and under cover of darkness.
Management gives the workers the minimum amount of information they need
perform their jobs, and often withhold or disguise facts that are
to their very survival.

Karen, a somewhat rebellious, less-than-conscientious worker, is shocked
into activism when her co-worker Thelma, becomes exposed to radioactive
contamination, or "cooked." For me, this sequence is one of the most
disturbing. Thelma is probably only in her 40s, but she looks like she's
ready for retirement, due to the hard life she has lived. Her daughter is
dying of cancer, and she herself wears wigs most days, because her hair is
falling out. It's hard to watch the weeping, pleading Thelma being
scrubbed head to toe with a stiff brush, water being shot into her eyes
nose, in a dubious attempt to "decontaminate" her. She is then patronized
by a doctor who straight-facedly assures her that she has only superficial
exposure and will be just fine.

There is fear when Karen sticks her neck out — talking to union reps,
traveling to Washington, and being sent back to work with a dangerous
assignment: to gather evidence. At one point in the film, absolutely no
is supporting her. Her roommate feels resentful and rejected; her
has moved out, jealous of her involvement with the sophisticated people
Washington, and her co-workers treat her like a pariah, afraid that being
seen talking to her will brand them as troublemakers, endangering their
jobs, or even their lives.

Their worries seem more and more valid as the movie progresses. She walks
into a roomful of supervisors, and they all fall silent. Suddenly, every
time she walks past a radiation monitor, the alarms sound and she, like
Thelma, is dragged to the dreaded decon room, where her skin is scrubbed
— torture chillingly disguised as medical necessity. Even her home is no
longer safe. Plutonium is found in a urine sample that she brings from
home, and every item in her house–right down to the wallpaper–is emptied
and taken away from her. Her stone-faced, smooth-talking boss is right
there, encouraging her to sign a statement that will undoubtedly absolve
company of any responsibility.

The headlights Karen sees in her rear-view mirror are not the last thing
see that frightens us. It's her wrecked car being slowly towed past the
restaurant where a union meeting is still in progress.

The movie hits so many of our fear buttons: Helplessness, loneliness,
rejection, vulnerability, and finally, the bottom-line thing we all fear
most. The most encouraging note is the awareness that anyone who sees
movie will come away with. It's a blueprint for empowerment.