The film was produced and distributed by 20th Century Fox and was released on Christmas Day, 1991. Grand Canyon was advertised as "The Big Chill for the '90s", in reference to an earlier Kasdan film.
After attending a Lakers basketball game, an immigration lawyer named Mack (Kevin Kline) finds himself at the mercy of potential muggers when his car breaks down in a bad part of Los Angeles late at night. The muggers are talked out of their plans by Simon (Danny Glover), a tow truck driver who arrives just in time. Mack sets out to befriend Simon, despite their having nothing in common.
In the meantime, Mack's wife Claire (Mary McDonnell) and his best friend Davis (Steve Martin), a producer of violent action films, are experiencing life-changing events. Claire encounters an abandoned baby while jogging and becomes determined to adopt her. Davis suddenly becomes interested in philosophy rather than box-office profits after being shot in the leg by a man trying to steal his watch, vowing to devote the remainder of his career to eliminating violence from the cinema.
The film chronicles how these characters—as well as various acquaintances, co-workers and relatives—are affected by their interactions in the light of life-changing events. In the end, they visit the Grand Canyon on a shared vacation trip, united in a place that is philosophically and actually "bigger" than all their little separate lives.The footage of the Los Angeles Lakers game in the film was shot before anybody knew Lakers guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson was HIV+. Critic Rita Kempley, in discussing the film, pointed to this scene as proof that "... the filmmaker and his team ha[d] truly caught society on the verge."
The character Davis is based on aggressive action film producer Joel Silver.
Grand Canyon: Music From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released in 1992 on Milan Records.James Newton Howard: Piano, Keyboards, Synthesized Bass, Synthesizer Programming, Programming, Orchestration
Dean Parks, Michael Landau, Jude Cole, Davey Johnstone: Guitars
Michael Boddicker: Programming, Synthesizer, Synthesizer Programming
Simon Franglen: Synclavier [Additional]
John "J.R." Robinson: Drums
Michael G. Fisher: Drums, Percussion
Neil Stubenhaus: Bass Guitar
Chuck Domanico: Acoustic Bass
Michael Lang: Piano
Jeff Porcaro, Joe Porcaro, Emil Richards, Donald Williams: Percussions
Kirk Whalum, Larry Williams: Saxophones
Paul Salamunovich: Choir Director, Choir Master
Warren Zevon: Performer (track 9)
Grand Canton Fanfare Orchestra: Performer (track 16)
Chris Boardman, Brad Dechter: Orchestrations
Marty Paich: Conductor
Tommy Johnson, Jim Self: Tubas
Rick Baptist, Charlie Davis, Gary Grant, Mario Guarneri, Jerry Hey, John Richard Lewis, Jon Lewis, Warren Luening, Malcolm McNabb: Trumpets
Gayle Levant: Harp
Charles Loper, Bill Reichenbach Jr., George Thatcher: Trombones
David Duke, Joe Meyer, Brian O'Connor, John A. Reynolds, James Thatcher, Richard Todd: French Horns
Grand Canyon received generally positive reviews from critics; it has a 7/10 "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a critical rating of 81% based on 32 reviews. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote,
Set in Los Angeles, and gliding gracefully among a representative set of characters, the film means to move through different economic strata, age groups and racial backgrounds in its search for common experience. If the ambition to do this is ultimately more impressive than the hazy, unfocused outcome, Mr. Kasdan still deserves a lot of credit for what he has tried."
In a similar vein, Washington Post critic Rita Kempley wrote,
Grand Canyon considers the ever-widening chasms that divide us, the shifting demographic fault lines that have set society quaking like the needle on Richter's scale. ... This City of the Angels captured by Kasdan, its skies buzzing with helicopters, reminds us most of all of Vietnam. But this is not war, it's suicide, America in the latent stages of self-inflicted apocalypse. Kasdan validates our fears, but he doesn't strip us of all hope, for the central image also promises something greater than ourselves. The view from the edge can be awesome.
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly chided the film for its "... solemn zeitgeist chic," and called it "... way too self-conscious," but ultimately decided that "Grand Canyon is finally a very classy soap opera, one that holds a generous mirror up to its audience's anxieties. It's the sort of movie that says: Life is worth living. After a couple of hours spent with characters this enjoyable, the message — in all its forthright sentimentality — feels earned."
Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars, and wrote, "In a time when our cities are wounded, movies like Grand Canyon can help to heal." Ebert's television reviewing partner Gene Siskel also loved the film, with Ebert placing it at the #4 and Siskel at #6 on their 1991 top ten lists.
The film won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival. The screenplay was nominated for the Oscar (as Best Original Screenplay), the Golden Globe and the Writers Guild of America.
Grand Canyon was considered a minor failure at the box office, taking in $40.9 million, and did not reap notable profits until it was released on video.
Phil Collins' 1993 song "Both Sides of the Story" references the scene from Grand Canyon where the young mugger tells Simon (played by Danny Glover) that he carries a gun to make sure people respect (and fear) him.