The film was the biggest box office hit of that year, surpassing Fatal Attraction and eventually grossing US$167 million in the US alone. It won the 1988 ASCAP award and the 1988 People's Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Motion Picture. It was followed by a 1990 sequel, Three Men and a Little Lady. A new sequel (titled Three Men and a Bride) supposedly in development would reunite Selleck, Guttenberg and Danson.
Architect Peter Mitchell (Tom Selleck), cartoonist Michael Kellam (Steve Guttenberg) and actor Jack Holden (Ted Danson) are happy living their lives as bachelors in their lofty New York apartment. They all have different girlfriends, successful jobs and a carefree and somewhat hedonistic lifestyle. This is disrupted when a baby named Mary arrives on their doorstep one day. A note with her indicates that she is Jack's, the result of an affair with a recent co-star. She arrives in Jack's absence – he is in Turkey shooting a B movie, leaving Peter and Michael to fend for themselves in taking care of her, something in which their lack of experience befuddles them.
At one point, Peter and Michael are mistakenly led to believe that they are to deliver Mary to two men who arrive at their door asking for "the package". They discover moments before their departure that the men are drug dealers who were actually seeking a package of heroin. They retrieve Mary, leaving the men with a bottle of powdered milk.
What results is a major change to the men's lives as they try to adjust to surrogate fatherhood—balancing the demands of work, a social schedule and the rearing of a child. Soon their paternal instincts take hold, and they grow attached to Mary. Eventually, when Jack returns, Peter and Michael do not hesitate in taking their revenge and passing all responsibility of looking after Mary to Jack, but Jack quickly grows to love her.
The drug dealers, demanding payment, eventually ransack the men's apartment looking for their drugs. The men formulate a plan to trap the dealers when they negotiate a deal to deliver the illicit goods. With a recording of the conversation, the men prove their innocence to the police and the dealers are arrested.
At the end of the film, Mary's mother, an English woman named Sylvia (Nancy Travis), arrives, asking for her back. Moments before her departure to England, she realizes she can't give up her career to raise Mary alone, and the three men, having grown attached to her, can't bear to lose her, and rush to the airport to persuade Sylvia to stay in America, but they arrive just as her plane leaves. Defeated, the men return to their apartment, where they find both her and Mary. The men quickly invite her to move into their apartment with them, and she agrees.
- Tom Selleck as Peter Mitchell
- Steve Guttenberg as Michael Kellam
- Ted Danson as Jack Holden
- Nancy Travis as Sylvia Bennington
- Margaret Colin as Rebecca
- Alexandra Amini as Patty
- Celeste Holm as Mrs. Holden
- Francine Beers as Woman at Gift Shop
- Lisa and Michelle Blair as Mary Bennington
- Philip Bosco as Det. Sgt. Melkowitz
- Barbara Budd as Actress
- Michael Burgess as Handsome Man at Party
- Claire Cellucci as Angelyne
- Eugene Clark as Man #1 at Party
- Derek de Lint as Jan Clopatz
- Jacob Strackeljahn as Juan Pablo Jr.
- Jeff Kingsley as Dr. Octavius Agustus Steelex
- Dave Foley as Grocery Store Clerk
Mary was played by twins Lisa and Michelle Blair.
The soundtrack included the Peter Cetera song "Daddy's Girl", which was used for the movie's big music montage sequence, and the Miami Sound Machine song "Bad Boy", which opened it.
In the final cut of the movie, there is a scene, just over an hour into the film, in which Jack and his mother (Celeste Holm) walk through the house with the baby. As they do so, they pass a background window on the left-hand side of the screen, and a black outline that appears to resemble a rifle pointed downward can be seen behind the curtains. As the characters walk back past the window 40 seconds later, a human figure can be seen in that window. A persistent urban legend began circulating August 1990 (shortly before the sequel, Three Men and a Little Lady, premiered) that this was the ghost of a boy who had been killed in the house where the movie was filmed. The most common version of this rumor was that a nine-year-old boy committed suicide with a shotgun there, explaining why the house was vacant because the grieving family left. This notion was discussed on the first episode of TV Land: Myths and Legends in January 2007 and was referenced in "Hollywood Babylon", a second season episode of the TV series Supernatural.
The figure is actually a cardboard cutout "standee" of Jack, wearing a tuxedo and top hat, that was left on the set. This prop was created as part of the storyline, in which Jack, an actor, appears in a dog food commercial, but this portion of the story was cut from the final version of the film. The standee does show up later in the film, however, when Jack stands next to it as the baby's mother comes to reclaim her child. The website snopes.com contends that the figure in the first scene looks smaller from its appearance in the latter scene because of the distance and angle of the shot, and because the curtains obscure its outstretched arms. As for the contention that a boy died in the house, all the indoor scenes in the film were shot on a Toronto sound stage, and no residential dwellings were used for interior filming.
Critical reception of the film was generally positive. Film critic Roger Ebert, while noting several aspects he saw as flaws, said of it: "Because of Selleck and his co-stars... the movie becomes a heartwarming entertainment". He gave it 3 (out of four) stars. It holds a 74% "fresh" rating on the movie review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 34 reviews.
The film grossed USD$168 million. It was notable for the Walt Disney Studios since it was the first production from the studio to gross over $100 million domestically.
The 1990 Malayalam film Thoovalsparsham (Feather Touch) is based on the film and stars Jayaram, Mukesh and Saikumar in lead roles while Suresh Gopi plays the baby's father. It was remade as Heyy Babyy in Hindi, and also in Tamil as Asathal in 2001.
In popular culture
In the 2009 film The Hangover, where three of the main characters acquire a missing baby while searching for their lost friend, character Alan Garner references the film, saying, "It's got Ted Danson, Magnum, P.I., and that Jewish actor".
In the TV show Home Improvement, season 4 episode 21, Tim manages to change a tire in 38 seconds. The head racer says, "In that amount of time, we could change 23 tires and a baby", to which Al Borland replies, "I love that movie.", referencing the film.
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