Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is a successful reality television executive producer. She is fired after her latest project, a show called I Can Do Better, where spouses choose between each other or prostitutes, results in one of the jilted men going on a shooting spree. Joanna has a nervous breakdown. With her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) and their two children, they move from Manhattan to Stepford, a quiet Connecticut suburb.
Joanna becomes friends with Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler), a writer and recovering alcoholic, and Roger Bannister (Roger Bart), a flamboyant gay man who has moved to town with his long-time partner, Jerry (David Marshall Grant). Joanna, Bobbie and Roger witness an incident in which Sarah Sunderson (Faith Hill), violently dances and then collapses. A man named Mike (Christopher Walken) arrives and directs all men to crowd around Sarah so that no one can see what's going on, although Joanna sees Mike touch Sarah and she puts off sparks. After Sarah is carried away, Claire (Glenn Close), the town's leading lady, announces to Joanna that Mike essentially runs Stepford and says that she's his wife.
Joanna argues with Walter about the incident with Sarah until he loses his temper and yells at her. He tells her that her children barely know her, that their marriage is falling apart, and that she's so domineering people literally want to kill her. Realizing how unhappy she is, Joanna apologizes and agrees to try and fit in with the other wives. The next day, as she cleans the house and tries wearing more make-up, she talks with Bobbie and Roger, and they decide to visit Sarah. Entering the house, they hear Sarah having loud, passionate sex with her husband. Roger starts tiptoeing up the stairs to have a peek, and the women follow until they hear someone suddenly walking out of the room.
They quickly return downstairs to hide, and they find a remote control labeled SARAH. While playing with it, they inadvertently cause Sarah's breasts to enlarge before she falls on the staircase behind them. Frightened, they retreat to Bobbie's house, where Joanna suggests that they seriously try to live in Stepford. During this time, the Stepford women appear extremely vapid and shallow; in the Stepford book club, their story is a catalogue of Christmas and Chanukah collectibles and decoration tips. Meanwhile, Walter has been bonding with the Stepford Men's Association. When he wins $20 in a game from Ted, one of the Stepford Husbands, Ted summons his wife and puts a credit card in her mouth. She spits out $20 in one-dollar bills, revealing that she is a robot like the other women.
One evening, Walter and Dave Markowitz (Jon Lovitz) go to the Men's Association with Roger and Jerry, but Joanna and Bobbie hire a babysitter and follow them. Sneaking around the Men's Association, they find a long line of family portraits. They make a noise and Roger is sent out to see what's going on. Although he does not reveal their presence to the other men, he tells Joanna and Bobbie that nothing illegal is going on there, and Joanna and Bobbie leave. Roger is directed through a door and he finds himself on a balcony overlooking the main hall. Looking down, he sees something puzzling, turns to the camera and softly utters "Jerry?" The next day, he is completely transformed, running for State Senate as a conservative gay Republican.
Terrified, Joanna tells Walter that she wants to move. Walter apologizes, saying that if she's so miserable, they can leave tomorrow. She thanks him. That night, she is awakened by their robotic dog bringing her a bone. She is horrified to find that it's actually a remote control, like Sarah's but labeled JOANNA. She goes online to research the women of Stepford and learns that the women used to be scientists, CEOs, engineers and judges. The next morning she runs to see Bobbie, only to find that she, too, has become fawning and stupid. Joanna realizes that Bobbie isn't human any more when Bobbie fails to react to her hand burning on the open flame of a lit stove. Joanna tries to flee but finds that her children have been taken hostage by the men.
She storms into the Men's Club demanding that the men return her children, but the men, who have been lying in wait for her, capture her. The men explain that when their wives were scientists and engineers, their wives reduced them to low-level support roles. Enraged, the men implanted microchips into their wives' brains and then transplanted their minds into cloned bodies, which became the men's patient, subservient and impossibly beautiful robot mistresses. As Mike reveals Joanna's new body, Walter voices his frustration at being second best to her. The men corner Joanna and Walter and force them toward the transformation room, but before Joanna enters, she makes a final appeal by asking whether the new wives really mean it when they tell their husbands that they love them. Later, Joanna appears at the grocery store, calmly purchasing groceries alongside the other wives.
With Joanna and Walter as the guests of honor, Stepford hosts a formal ball. During the festivities, Joanna distracts Mike and entices him into the garden while Walter slips away. Walter returns to the transformation room where he destroys the software that makes the women obedient. This in turn burns out all the implanted microchips, causing all the Stepford Wives to revert to their original personalities. Walter returns to the ball, where the baffled husbands are cornered by their vengeful wives. Walter reveals that Joanna never received the microchip implant; her argument during the struggle had won him over, and out of his love for and loyalty to the human being he married, he joined her plan to infiltrate Stepford by pretending to be a robot. Mike threatens Walter, but before Mike can attack, Joanna hits Mike with a candlestick, decapitating him and revealing that he himself is a robot. It is revealed that his wife Claire is a real woman and not a Stepford Wife as implied earlier.
Distraught over the loss of her husband, Claire explains that she created Stepford because she, too, was a bitter, career-minded woman, a tired brain surgeon. When she discovered that Mike was having an affair with her research assistant Patricia, she murdered them in a jealous rage. Deciding to make the world "more beautiful", she created her robot husband as "the perfect man", partly because he was someone other men would listen to. When Joanna wonders aloud why Claire didn't simply make the men into robots, she replies that she planned to turn the whole community into robots, where men are men, and women are cherished and lovely. Claire then electrocutes herself by kissing Mike's severed robotic head.
Six months later Larry King is interviewing Joanna, Bobbie, and Roger with Walter also in attendance. After their experiences in Stepford, they have all met with success; Joanna made a documentary, Bobbie wrote a book of poetry, and Roger won his state senate seat as an Independent. Joanna also notes that while her relationship with Walter isn't perfect, it is still real, and that is what is important. Before ending the interview, King asks about the men's fate. Bobbie reveals that they are being retrained back in Connecticut. The closing scene of the film reveals that the irate wives have taken over Stepford and forced their husbands to atone for their crimes by placing them under house arrest, making them complete many of the same domestic tasks that the men had forced the women to do, such as grocery shopping.Nicole Kidman as Joanna EberhartMatthew Broderick as Walter KresbyBette Midler as Bobbie MarkowitzChristopher Walken as Mike WellingtonGlenn Close as Claire WellingtonRoger Bart as Roger BannisterFaith Hill as Sarah SundersonJon Lovitz as Dave MarkowitzMatt Malloy as Herb SundersonDavid Marshall Grant as Jerry HarmonKate Shindle as Beth PetersLorri Bagley as Charmaine Van SantRobert Stanton as Ted Van SantMike White as HankKaDee Strickland as TaraLarry King as HimselfMeredith Vieira as host of Balance of PowerBilly Bush as host of I Can Do Better
Reportedly, there were problems on-set between director Frank Oz and stars Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Glenn Close and Roger Bart. In a 2003 interview, Oz stated "Tension on the set? Absolutely! In every movie I do, there's tension. That's the whole point. And working people hard, that's exactly what they expect me to do... Bette has been under a lot of stress lately... She made the mistake of bringing her stress on the set."
In a 2007 interview with Ain't It Cool, Oz's take on the film was "I had too much money, and I was too responsible and concerned for Paramount. I was too concerned for the producers. And I didn't follow my instincts... I'm very proud of many aspects of the movie. The people were great. But when you sense that there's no governing thought, or that the governing thought is kind of 'Gee, I'm not sure where to go,' you can sense it... My instincts were saying, 'Don't do a big movie'. I had a very strong viewpoint to do the movie, but I didn't expect such huge stars. When the stars came, everything kind of ballooned up... I should have brought it all down and said, 'I'm sorry, I know we have all these huge stars but I don't care, I want to do something intimate.' But I didn't, I went with the bigness of it and I didn't feel right about it."
In a 2005 interview, Matthew Broderick stated, "Making that film wasn't enjoyable. It was nobody's fault, but my part was not terribly interesting... It was not a thrilling film. I would hate it if it were my last."
The majority of the film was shot in Darien, New Canaan, and Norwalk, Connecticut.
Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 26%, based on 168 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads "In exchanging the chilling satire of the original into mindless camp, this remake has itself become Stepford-ized."Rolling Stone said, "Buzz of troubles on the set... can't compare to the mess onscreen."Entertainment Weekly said, "The remake is, in fact, marooned in a swamp of camp inconsequentiality."The New York Times said, "the movie never lives up to its satiric potential, collapsing at the end into incoherence and wishy-washy, have-it-all sentimentality."
As stated by The Stepford Wives Organization, "In Oz's version, they [the wives] were confusingly neither robots nor human beings." At some points, the "Stepford Wives" are seen as full-fledged robots: shorting out, being used as atms, etc... In the end, however, a simple "switch off" of implanted microchips reverts the women back to their usual selves.
Some critics were more receptive to the film. Roger Ebert called Paul Rudnick's screenplay "rich with zingers" and gave the film three stars. However, in the "Worst Movies of 2004" episode of At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper, he admitted that, while he gave the film "thumbs up," it wouldn't be "the first movie that [he] would defend."
The film's teaser won several Golden Trailer Awards, in the categories of "Summer 2004 Blockbuster" and "Most Original," as well as "Best of Show."
The US opening weekend's gross was a respectable $21,406,781; however, sales fell off quickly and that one weekend would ultimately represent over a third of the film's domestic gross of $59,484,742. The film grossed $42,428,452 internationally; its production budget was an estimated $100 million plus a further $46 million for marketing and distribution costs.