Lee directed a Hollywood movie: The Ice Storm in 1997, a drama set in 1970s suburban America. In the late 1990s and 2000s, The Ice Storm has had high VHS and DVD sales and rentals and repeated screenings on cable television, which has increased the film's popularity among audiences.

The film begins at a dinner party at the Carvers' house as the adults discuss pop culture references that defined the 1970s: the Watergate scandal, swinging parties for married couples, and the pornographic film Deep Throat. The Hood family includes Ben, Elena, and their children, 16-year-old Paul and 14-year-old Wendy. Their neighbors, the Carvers, include Jim, Janey, and their children: Mikey and Sandy. Ben, dissatisfied in his marriage and with the futility of his career, is having an affair with Janey. Elena is bored with her life and is looking to expand her thinking but is unsure of how to do so. Wendy enjoys sexual games with her school peers. Paul, an occasional drug user, is trying to bed his schoolmate Libbets Casey. Jim's sons are lonely and confused: Mikey plays along with Wendy's sexual games, while Sandy is obsessed with violence.