In London Monica (Helen Chandler) and her boyfriend Harry attend a scavenger hunt party given by Monica's aunt, Carrie. When nearly everyone wins, Carrie announces a new challenge: women must find a man who has been married over 5 years who is still faithful and men must find a woman over 20 who has never had a love affair. Though Harry has been married over 5 years and Monica is 21 neither fits the other requirement.
Monica departs to find her father, Sir Christopher Strong (Colin Clive), a member of parliament, who she knows has always been faithful to her mother. Harry goes to follow her and has a motorbike crash where he is helped by Lady Cynthia Darrington (Katharine Hepburn), a pilot, who he discovers is over 20 and has never had a love affair. At the party Cynthia and Christopher are introduced and Cynthia and Monica become friends.
Despite Christopher's wife, Lady Elaine (Billie Burke), being suspicious of the friendship between Christopher and Cynthia, Christopher puts her off by insisting that Cynthia is a good influence on Monica.
After Monica comes home drunk with Harry one night, Elaine tells him if he is an honourable man he won't see her daughter again. Harry assents and breaks things off with Monica. Upset, Monica begs Christopher to take her to Paris to see Cynthia perform in an aerial show. From there, they invite Cynthia on to their vacation home in Cannnes.
At Cannes Christopher realizes that he is in love with Cynthia. At a party, when his wife has gone home alone, he lets Monica go home with a strange man, Carlos, so that he and Cynthia can be alone. They confess they are in love with one another, but Cynthia decides to break off the affair before anything can begin. She and Christopher vow not see one another.
Months later, Harry has divorced his wife to marry Monica, but refuses to marry her after discovering that she has been with Carlos. Monica decides to kill herself, but before she can, she goes to tell Cynthia, who tells her that Harry will forgive her. At Monica's behest she also calls Christopher to tell him not to read the suicide note Monica has sent him. He does read it, and in a fit of gratitude goes to see Cynthia.
To break things off Cynthia decides to join a competition to see who can pilot a plane around the world the fastest, ending in New York. Christopher, who has been sent to New York City for work, meets her there and the two begin an affair. Christopher has her promise not to fly anymore as he thinks it is too dangerous.
Months later Christopher and Cynthia meet in a small out of the way location, where Cynthia admits that she misses flying. They are seen confessing their love to one another by Monica and Harry, now married, who used to frequent the location during the course of their affair and stopped by for sentimental reasons.
Monica and Harry tell Elaine and Christopher that they are expecting a child, and both are delighted. At the same time Cynthia learns that she will be unable to return to flying because she is pregnant. Discussing the hypothetical with Christopher, Cynthia learns that if he knew he was pregnant he would leave his wife and marry her out of duty.
Cynthia decides not to tell Christopher about the pregnancy. She instead decides to break the world record for height achieved in air. Once the record has been broken, Cynthia takes off her oxygen mask causing her to lose consciousness and the plane to nosedive.
Originally under the working title of A Great Desire, the film was intended as a vehicle for Ann Harding and Leslie Howard. Director Dorothy Arzner and playwright Zoë Akins based the character of Cynthia on British aviator Amy Johnson. In the novel, Cynthia is a racing driver. Christopher Strong represented the first opportunity for Hepburn to begin developing her screen image as an independent modern woman. This was the only time in her film career that Hepburn played the "other woman".
One of the most notable scenes in the film had Hepburn's character dressed for a costume party in a stunning, form-fitting glittering silver moth costume designed by Walter Plunkett. As part of the impressive production values, the musical score was by noted composer Max Steiner.
Christopher Strong utilized newsreel footage of takeoffs for the around-the world Dole Air Race and the ticker tape parade celebrating Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight. Principal photography took place from December 21, 1932 to February 3, 1933.
Christopher Strong earned a slim profit and positive film reviews. In his review for The New York Times, film critic Mourdant Hall described Christopher Strong as a star vehicle for Katharine Hepburn, "... who attracted wide attention through her efficient performance in 'A Bill of Divorcement', is the leading light in a pictorial version of Gilbert Frankau's novel, 'Christopher Strong' ... In this her first stellar rôle, Miss Hepburn is far more fortunate than several other stage actresses have been in their initial Hollywood ventures, for aside from giving her excellent opportunities to display her talent, the story is engrossing, and, furthermore, she is supported by a highly capable cast ..."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated
An image of Hepburn in Christopher Strong wearing her aviator's flight suit was used for the poster advertising the Led Zeppelin North American Tour 1975.