9 to 5 (listed in the opening credits as Nine to Five) is a 1980 American comedy film produced by Bruce Gilbert and co-written (with Patricia Resnick) and directed by Colin Higgins. It stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton as three working women who live out their fantasies of getting even with, and their overthrow of, the company’s autocratic, “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss, played by Dabney Coleman.
The film grossed over $103.9 million and is the 20th highest-grossing comedy film. As a star vehicle for Parton—already established as a successful singer, musician and songwriter—it launched her permanently into mainstream popular culture. A television series of the same name based on the film ran for five seasons, and a musical version of the film (also titled 9 to 5), with new songs written by Parton, opened on Broadway on April 30, 2009.
Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) is forced to find work after her husband, Dick (Lawrence Pressman), runs off with his secretary. Judy finds employment as a secretary at Consolidated Companies. The senior office supervisor, Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin), introduces Judy to the company and staff, including mail room clerk Eddie, alcoholic Margaret Foster, the opportunistic boss Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman), and Roz Keith (Elizabeth Wilson), Hart’s executive assistant. Violet reveals to Judy that Hart is supposedly involved with his buxom secretary, Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton). Hart exploits and mistreats his female subordinates, with backstabbing and sexist remarks. He takes credit for Violet’s ideas, cruelly yells at and threatens to fire Judy on her first day after an equipment malfunction and sexually harasses Doralee, spreading rumors about an affair that never happened.
When Violet discovers that a promotion she was hoping to receive was instead given to a man because of sexist hiring practices, she confronts Hart about it, as well as the rumors about Doralee (who enters Hart’s office just in time to hear, and now realizes why she has become unpopular with the other secretaries). Violet storms off, stating that she needs a drink. Doralee takes Hart to task over his transgressions, informing him that she keeps a gun in her purse and will “turn him from a rooster to a hen with one shot” if his sexist behavior continues. She then also leaves, stating that she needs a drink.
Judy, upset over the firing of Maria, a dedicated employee (due to speculating about upper management’s salaries, overheard by Roz, who had been eavesdropping in the ladies’ room), joins Violet and Doralee in storming out of the office, and the three women drown their sorrows at the local bar before retiring to Doralee’s house to smoke a joint given to Violet by her teenage son. While there, the beginning of their friendship forms, and they share fantasies of getting revenge on Mr. Hart: Judy wants to hunt him down like an animal in a classic mobster scenario, Doralee wants to rope him like a steer in a Western scenario, and Violet wants to poison him in a twisted Snow White-style scenario.
The following day, a mix-up leads Violet to accidentally spike Hart’s coffee with rat poison. However, before he can drink the tainted coffee, Hart falls out of his desk chair and hits his head on the credenza desk, which knocks him out cold. On hearing he has been rushed to the hospital, Violet, thinking he is sick from the accidental poisoning, rushes to the hospital with Judy and Doralee in tow. At the hospital, Hart, who has regained consciousness, leaves on his own without being seen, and the three mistake a dead police witness for their boss, steal the dead body (to prevent an autopsy), stash it in the trunk, and drive off. Soon they discover they’ve stolen the wrong body, so they smuggle it back into the hospital.
Hart turns up alive the next morning, much to the shock of Violet, Doralee, and Judy. During a break in the ladies’ room, the three speculate on what could have happened, but ultimately decide to consider themselves lucky and simply forget the whole matter. However, Roz, hiding in one of the stalls, overhears them and relates the conversation to Hart. He confronts Doralee about the hospital incident and demands that she spend the night at his house, or he’ll have all three of them prosecuted for attempted murder.
The three kidnap him and bring him to his Tudor-style mansion, keeping him prisoner in his bedroom while they find a way to blackmail him. The three women discover an embezzlement scheme and must keep Hart tied up at home while they collect evidence on it.
The women use Hart’s absence to effect numerous changes around the office, in his name, including flexible work hours, equal pay for male and female employees, a job-sharing program, and even an onsite daycare center for employees with children. Hart is so disliked around the office by male and female employees alike that the only person to question his absence is Roz, whom Violet sends away to France for a multi-week language training seminar.
Meanwhile, as Judy is guarding Hart, her ex-husband, Dick, comes to ask her to take him back. She refuses, forcefully throwing him out. Hart’s adoring wife Missy (Marian Mercer) returns from vacation early, putting the women’s plan in jeopardy. Hart manages to break free and return the stolen items back to the warehouse. Then he escorts the women to the office at gunpoint. Hart is appalled by the changes which have been made in his absence, but receives an unexpected visit from Russell Tinsworthy (Sterling Hayden), the company chairman, who has come to congratulate Hart for increases in productivity and numerous other initiatives (however, he wants the equal pay eliminated). Margaret Foster is no longer an alcoholic thanks to the company’s alcohol rehab program, and Maria is back with the company on a part-time basis and sharing her workload with another employee. Tinsworthy is so impressed that he recruits Hart to work at Consolidated’s Brazilian operation for the next few years. Roz returns from her training and is stunned to discover Violet, Judy, and Doralee celebrating in Hart’s office.
In the epilogue, it is revealed that Violet finally got promoted to Hart’s job; Judy falls in love with and marries a Xerox representative; Doralee quits Consolidated and becomes a country and western singer; and Hart is abducted by Amazons in the Brazilian jungle and is never heard from again.