It's The '80s. Swinging bachelors Peter (Tom Selleck), Jack (Ted Danson), and Michael (Steve Guttenberg) are close friends and roommates, sharing an apartment and a fondness for the ladies. One day, however, their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of baby Mary on their doorstep, the result of one of Jack's one-night stands. Jack himself is out of the country on a film shoot, so Peter and Michael have to deal with the situation on their own until he comes home. Hilarity Ensues as the men navigate the complicated waters of raising a baby who slowly steals their hearts, while dealing with a bewildering secondary plotline involving heroin dealers.
Directed by Leonard Nimoy and released by Touchstone Pictures, this comedy film is a remake of the 1985 French movie Three Men and a Cradle starring Roland Giraud, Michel Boujenah and André Dussollier. It premiered in 1987 and became the highest-grossing movie of that year in the US. It got a 1990 sequel, Three Men and a Little Lady, set a few years later. Mary's mother Sylvia (Nancy Travis), who joined the men's household at the conclusion of the first film, gets engaged to fellow British thespian Edward, and announces that she and Mary will be moving to England. This is unwelcome news to the men, not only because of their love for Mary but also because Peter is in love with Sylvia.
Three Men and a Baby provides examples of the following tropes:
- All Girls Like Ponies: In the sequel, Edward attempts to show Sylvia that he'll be a good stepfather to Mary by promising the little girl a horse.
- Ascended Extra: Nancy Travis (Sylvia) has a far more substantial role in the sequel.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: A twist on the trope. Dialogue indicates that when the three men go to parties together, one is only allowed to hit on blondes, one on brunettes, and the third on redheads, so they don't find themselves competing for the same woman.
- The Cavalry: Invoked by Peter in the sequel, when he flags down the boarding school director (whom he knows to be besotted with him) for a ride to the ceremony; on the phone with Michael, he remarks that "the cavalry just showed up."
- Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: In the sequel, headmistress Miss Elspeth Lomax is led to believe by Edward that Peter is in love with her, so she (portrayed as a man-hungry imbecile) aggressively tries to have sex with him, at one point pulling Peter on top of her while shouting "Take me!" before he talks her down while trying to maintain the lie. As if that's not bad enough, at the time this was in theaters Disney was airing combination TV spots for two films in a single ad and one with The Rescuers Down Under had the "Take me!" line at the end, followed by Wilbur (John Candy) saying "That's a fabulous idea!". This from the company that brought us a popular film about a prostitute turned "princess" and a beloved animated classic about a nearly topless teen.
- The Diaper Change: Clueless men watching a baby? Natch.
- Doorstop Baby: The whole plot is triggered by this.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: After Jack leaves an answering machine message that he is expecting a package on Sunday and that two men will stop by to pick it up later in the week, Michael assumes Jack means Mary and thinks nothing of the package that his and his roommates' landlady, Mrs. Hathaway, drops off while he is looking after Mary and Peter is out shopping for food and diapers. When the two drug dealers stop by to collect the package, Peter and Michael assume they are there to pick up Mary, and after they leave, Peter sits down on the sofa and absorbs the silence... until he finds a package under the cushions:Peter: Michael! What is this?
Peter: [tensely] When did it get here?
Michael: Sunday. Mrs... Hathaway... [realises he and Peter have just made a horrible mistake]
- Filler: Nearly every review, positive and negative, bemoaned the heroin subplot that seemed like it came from a different movie than the comedic, gentle stuff with Mary, and wished it were excised altogether. Indeed, the film dispenses of it with almost half an hour left in the movie.
- From the Mouths of Babes: The opening scenes of A Little Lady, where Mary is quite absorbent of the things said around her:"What a crock!"
(to a waiter) "What's a penis?"
- Getting the Baby to Sleep: The three-part 50s era song used as a lullaby.
- Heart Is Where the Home Is: In the sequel, American Peter vs. British Edward for British Sylvia.
- Heartwarming Orphan: Mary's not an orphan — both of her parents are alive and well — but since she's raised by her dad's two best friends for the first half of the original film, the trope is somewhat invoked nonetheless.
- Ironic Echo Cut: In the beginning of A Little Lady:Mary: What a crock!
Sylvia: Mary! Where did you hear that?
Peter: [on the phone] What a crock! [hangs up and notices everyone staring at him] What?
- Non-Indicative Name: Two men show up at the apartment and want "the package". Peter and Michael think they've come to pick up the baby — they actually want a delivery of heroin.
- Off to Boarding School: In the sequel, the men discover that this is Edward's plan for Mary.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Nancy Travis' English accent was often quite patchy and unconvincing.
- Personal Arcade: There is a "Harlem Globetrotters" pinball table in the guys' apartment.
- Platonic Co-Parenting: In the sequel Jack and Sylvia are raising Mary together (along with Peter and Michael), and while they jokingly flirt a few times, they both agree there's nothing between them anymore. Jack ends up being the one to encourage Peter to act on his feelings for Sylvia.
- Playboy Has a Daughter: The titular baby is the daughter of Jack, the biggest womanizer of the three dads. But taking in the baby (who is a seven-year-old girl in the sequel) forces them to give up their Confirmed Bachelor ways.
- Rule of Three: Note the titles.
- Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: The priest at Sylvia's wedding to Edward asks the question several times and even mistakes one woman's hat for her raising her hand above her head. After several minutes of stalling Edward tells him to get on with it. After the ceremony is over and Edward's plans for Mary exposed we finally get The Reveal that the priest was actually Jack under heavy prosthetics.
- Undercrank: Most of the film's opening sequence is filmed this way.
- Urban Legend: The first film was the subject of one for several years, for a scene in which supposedly a ghostly little boy is seen standing in a window as two characters walk past. Supposedly a little boy had died in the house they were filming in, and his ghost was haunting the film crew. It is, in fact, not a ghost at all, but a cut-out standee of Ted Danson's actor character, Jack. The standee is shown close-up in many other scenes. Not only that, but the scene wasn't shot in a house (let alone one in which a little boy died), but on a movie set! It's not even a house in-universe, it's a New York City apartment.
- Wedding Deadline: In the sequel.
- With This Ring: In the sequel, Mary hides the wedding ring as part of the efforts to delay the "I do" sequence until Peter arrives.