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Catch Me If You Can

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Catch Me If You Can
Catch Me If You Can 2002 movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteven Spielberg
Produced by
Screenplay byJeff Nathanson
Based onCatch Me If You Can
by Frank Abagnale Jr.
Stan Redding
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyJanusz Kamiński
Edited byMichael Kahn
Distributed byDreamWorks Pictures
Release date
‹See TfM›
  • December 18, 2002 (2002-12-18) (Westwood)
  • December 25, 2002 (2002-12-25) (United States)
Running time
141 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$52 million
Box office$352.1 million

Catch Me If You Can is a 2002 American biographical crime film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, with Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, and Nathalie Baye in supporting roles. The film is based on the life of Frank Abagnale, who, before his 19th birthday, successfully performed cons worth millions of dollars by posing as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor and a Louisiana parish prosecutor. His foremost crime was check fraud; he became so highly skilled that the FBI later turned to him for help catching other check forgers.

Development for the film began in 1980 but dragged on until 1997, when Spielberg's DreamWorks bought the film rights to Abagnale's 1980 book of the same name. David Fincher, Gore Verbinski, Lasse Hallström, Miloš Forman, and Cameron Crowe were all considered to direct the film before Spielberg decided to direct it himself. Filming took place from February to May 2002.

The film opened on December 25, 2002 to critical and commercial success. At the 75th Academy Awards, Christopher Walken and John Williams were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Score,[2] respectively.


In 1963, teenager Frank Abagnale lives in New Rochelle, New York with his father Frank Abagnale, Sr., and French mother, Paula. When Frank Sr. encounters tax problems with the IRS, his family is forced to move from their large home to a small apartment. Paula carries on an affair with Jack Barnes, her husband's friend. Meanwhile, Frank has to transfer to public school and gets into trouble when he begins posing as a substitute French teacher on his first day there. Frank runs away when his parents divorce. Needing money, he turns to confidence scams to survive and his cons grow bolder. He impersonates an airline pilot and forges Pan Am payroll checks. Soon, his forgeries are worth millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, FBI agent Carl Hanratty begins tracking Frank. Carl finds Frank at a hotel, but Frank cons Carl into believing he is a Secret Service agent who is also after the fraudster, and escapes before Carl realizes that he was fooled.

Frank's cons now include impersonating a doctor and a lawyer. As Dr. Frank Conners, he falls in love with Brenda, a naive young hospital worker. He asks Brenda's attorney father for permission to marry her, and also wants his help with arranging to take the Louisiana State Bar exam, which Frank passes. Carl tracks Frank to his and Brenda's engagement party, but Frank escapes through a bedroom window minutes before Carl reaches him. Before leaving, Frank asks Brenda to meet him at the Miami airport two days later. At the airport, Frank sees Brenda, but also spots plainclothes agents everywhere and realizes Brenda has betrayed him. Frank then re-assumes his identity as a Pan Am pilot and stages a false recruiting drive for stewardesses at a local college. He recruits eight women as stewardesses, conceals himself from Carl and the other agents walking through the Miami airport with the stewardesses and escapes on a flight to Madrid, Spain.

Carl tracks down Frank in Montrichard, France, his mother's hometown. Carl arrests Frank and two years later is able to extradite him to the U.S. Prior to landing, Carl informs Frank that Frank Sr. has died. Grief-stricken, Frank escapes from the plane and goes to where his mother and stepfather live. As the police arrive, Frank surrenders after seeing his mother moved on with her life and has a young daughter. He is sentenced to 12 years in a maximum security prison.

Carl occasionally visits him. During one visit, Carl shows Frank a check from a case he is working on, and Frank immediately identifies that the bank teller was involved. Carl then convinces the FBI to allow Frank to serve the remainder of his sentence working for the FBI bank fraud unit. But Frank finds the work tedious and restrictive and misses his former life.

One weekend, he attempts to fly as an airline pilot again. He is intercepted by Carl, who wants Frank to return to the FBI on Monday and assures Frank that no one is chasing him. On the following Monday, Carl grows nervous when Frank has not yet arrived at the office. However, Frank eventually shows up, and they discuss their next case.

The ending credits reveal that Frank is real and has been married for 26 years, has three sons, lives in the Midwest and has maintained a friendship with Carl. He now earns millions of dollars as a bank security expert, has designed secure bank checks and has helped apprehend numerous counterfeiters.


Leonardo DiCaprio and the real Frank Abagnale.

Brian Howe, Frank John Hughes and Chris Ellis portray FBI agents Earl Amdursky, Tom Fox, and Special Agent Witkins respectively. John Finn also portray FBI Assistant Director Marsh. Jennifer Garner cameos as a call girl named Cheryl Ann. Ellen Pompeo, Elizabeth Banks, and Kaitlin Doubleday have supporting roles as Marci, Lucy, and Joanna. The real Frank Abagnale appears in a cameo as a French police officer arresting his character.[3]



Frank Abagnale sold the film rights to his autobiography in 1980.[4] According to Abagnale, producers Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin purchased the film rights after seeing him on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Two years later, they sold the rights to Columbia Pictures, who in turn sold the rights to producer Hall Bartlett. Bartlett and business partner Michael J. Lasky hired Steven Kunes to write the screenplay, but Bartlett died before the project found a distributor.[5] The rights were then sold to Hollywood Pictures, a division of Disney, and when the project went into turnaround, the rights were again sold to Bungalow 78 Productions, a division of TriStar Pictures. From there, the project was presented to Steven Spielberg at DreamWorks Pictures.[6] According to Daily Variety, executive producer Michel Shane purchased the film rights in 1990[7] for Paramount Pictures.[8] By December 1997, Barry Kemp purchased the film rights from Shane, bringing the project to DreamWorks, with Jeff Nathanson writing the script.[9] By April 2000, David Fincher was attached to direct over the course of a few months, but dropped out in favor of Panic Room. In July 2000, Leonardo DiCaprio had entered discussions to star, with Gore Verbinski to direct.[10][11] Spielberg signed on as producer, and filming was set to begin in March 2001.[12][13]


Verbinski cast James Gandolfini as Carl Hanratty, Ed Harris as Frank Abagnale, Sr., and Chloë Sevigny as Brenda Strong.[14][15] Verbinski dropped out because of DiCaprio's commitment on Gangs of New York.[16] Lasse Hallström was in negotiations to direct by May 2001, but dropped out in July 2001. At this stage, Harris and Sevigny left the film, but Gandolfini was still attached.[15][17] Spielberg, co-founder of DreamWorks, offered the job of director to Miloš Forman, and considered hiring Cameron Crowe. During this negotiation period, Spielberg began to consider directing the film himself, eventually dropping projects such as Big Fish and Memoirs of a Geisha.[13][18] Spielberg officially committed to directing in August 2001.[7]

The search for Sevigny's replacement as Brenda Strong lasted months, but Amy Adams was eventually cast. Spielberg "loved" her tape, and producer Walter F. Parkes commented that she was "as fresh and honest as anyone we'd seen," which was an important element in the role. Christopher Walken was cast as Frank Abagnale, Sr. following Parkes' suggestion. Martin Sheen played Roger Strong, as he had "intimidating presence". Spielberg wanted a French actress to portray Paula Abagnale to stay true to the facts. He asked for the help of Brian De Palma, who was living in Paris, and he did tests with several actresses such as Nathalie Baye. Spielberg had seen Jennifer Garner on Alias and offered her a small role in the film.[19]


Filming was scheduled to begin in January 2002,[7] but was pushed to February 7 in Los Angeles, California.[20] Locations included Burbank, Downey, New York City, LA/Ontario International Airport (which doubled for Miami International Airport), Quebec City and Montreal.[21] The film was shot in 147 locations in only 52 days. DiCaprio reflected, "Scenes that we thought would take three days took an afternoon."[22] Filming ran from April 25–30 on Park Avenue, just outside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Production moved to Orange, New Jersey and returned to Brooklyn for bank and courthouse scenes. Shooting also took place at the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport.[23] Quebec City was chosen for its European character and French feel. Place Royale, within Old Quebec, stands in for Montrichard, and the church in the background of the arrest scene is Notre-Dame-des-Victoires.[24] Filming ended on May 12 in Montreal.[25]


The film's soundtrack was released on December 10, 2002 by DreamWorks Records. The original score was composed and conducted by John Williams.

Historical accuracy[edit]

Abagnale had little involvement with the film, but believed Spielberg was the only filmmaker who "could do this film justice," despite the various changes from real-life events.[26] In November 2001, Abagnale said, "I am not a consultant on the film. I've never met nor spoken to Steven Spielberg and I have not read the script. I prefer not to. I understand that they now portray my father in a better light, as he really was. Steven Spielberg has told the screenplay writer (Jeff Nathanson) that he wants complete accuracy in the relationships and actual scams that I perpetrated. I hope in the end the movie will be entertaining, exciting, funny and bring home an important message about family, childhood and divorce".[26] The real Abagnale never saw his father again after he ran away from home, but Spielberg "wanted to continue to have that connection where Frank kept trying to please his father; by making him proud of him; by seeing him in the uniform, the Pan-American uniform."[27]

In a presentation for "Talks at Google" in November 2017, Abagnale commented extensively about the accuracy of Spielberg's film. "I've only seen the movie twice. So when the media asked me what I thought about the movie, and what was right and what was wrong, I said: First of all I have two brothers and a sister; he portrayed me as an only child. In real life, my mother never remarried; there's a scene in the movie where she's remarried, and has a little girl. That didn't really happen. In real life I never saw my father after I ran away; in the movie they keep having him come back to Christopher Walken in the film. That didn't really happen. ... I escaped off the aircraft through the kitchen gallery where they bring the food and stuff onto the plane; and there they had me escape through the toilet. ... I thought he stayed very close to the story, but pretty much all of that. He was very concerned about being accurate, first of all because it was the first time he made a movie about a real person living. Second the Bureau had an information officer on the set for all the shooting of the entire film to make sure that what he said about the FBI ... was accurate. ... And then of course, as he later said, `I really got most of my information from those three retired agents.' ... So I thought he did a good job of staying very, very accurate at the movie."[28]

In addition, the real name of the actual FBI agent who tracked and later worked with Abagnale was Joseph Shea; Abagnale has stated that because Shea did not want his name to be used in the film, his name was replaced with that of Carl Hanratty, a football player.[29][30]


Catch Me if You Can deals with themes of broken homes and troubled childhoods. Spielberg's parents divorced when he was a teenager, similar to Frank Abagnale's situation. In the film, Carl Hanratty is also divorced from his wife, who lives with their daughter in Chicago. "Some of my films have had to do with broken homes and people on the run from their sad pasts," Spielberg stated. "But there are those strands that got me to say: you know, there's something also about me that I can say through the telling of this kind of lighthearted story."[27]

Spielberg also wanted to create a film that sympathized with a crook. He explained, "Frank was a 21st century genius working within the innocence of the mid '60s, when people were more trusting than they are now. I don't think this is the kind of movie where somebody could say, 'I have a career plan.'"[27]


I know that Hollywood has made a number of changes to the story, but I am honored that Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks participated in the making of the movie inspired by my life. It is important to understand that it is just a movie, not a biographical documentary.

Frank Abagnale's reaction to the film[4]

DreamWorks was careful to market the film as "inspired by a true story" to avoid controversy similar to that surrounding A Beautiful Mind (2001) and The Hurricane (1999), both of which deviated from history.[27] The premiere took place at Westwood, Los Angeles, California, on December 18, 2002.[31]

Game Show Network has aired the 1977 episode of the television game show To Tell the Truth that featured Frank Abagnale. Segments were shown on December 29, 2002, and January 1, 2003, as promotion.[32]

Home media[edit]

Catch Me If You Can was released on DVD and VHS on May 6, 2003.[33] It included special features including never-before-seen footage by director Steven Spielberg as well as interviews.[34][33] A Blu-ray version was released on December 4, 2012.[35]


Box office[edit]

Catch Me If You Can was released on December 25, 2002, earning slightly above $30 million in 3,225 theaters during its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $164.6 million in North America and $187.5 million in foreign countries, with a worldwide total of $352.1 million. The film was a financial success, recouping the $52 million budget six times over.[36] Catch Me If You Can was the eleventh highest-grossing film of 2002. Minority Report (also directed by Spielberg) was tenth highest.[37]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a certified fresh rating of 96%, based on 200 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "With help from a strong performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life wunderkind con artist Frank Abagnale, Steven Spielberg crafts a film that's stylish, breezily entertaining, and surprisingly sweet."[38] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 75 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Roger Ebert heavily praised DiCaprio's performance, and concluded "This is not a major Spielberg film, although it is an effortlessly watchable one."[39] Mick LaSalle said it was "not Spielberg's best movie, but one of his smoothest and maybe his friendliest. The colorful cinematography, smart performances and brisk tempo suggest a filmmaker subordinating every other impulse to the task of manufacturing pleasure."[40] Stephen Hunter believed DiCaprio shows "the range and ease and cleverness that Martin Scorsese so underutilized in Gangs of New York."[41]

James Berardinelli observed, "Catch Me if You Can never takes itself or its subjects too seriously, and contains more genuinely funny material than about 90% of the so-called 'comedies' found in multiplexes these days." Berardinelli praised John Williams' film score, which he felt was "more intimate and jazzy than his usual material, evoking (intentionally) Henry Mancini."[42] Peter Travers was one of few who gave the film a negative review; he considered the film to be "bogged down over 140 minutes. A film that took off like a hare on speed ends like a winded tortoise."[43]

At the 75th Academy Awards, Christopher Walken and John Williams were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Score.[2] Walken won the same category at the 56th British Academy Film Awards, while Williams, costume designer Mary Zophres and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson received nominations.[44] DiCaprio was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.[45] Williams also earned a Grammy Award nomination.[46] Elements of the film were later parodied in The Simpsons episode "Catch 'Em If You Can".[47]

Musical adaptation[edit]

A musical adaptation of the same name premiered at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Washington in July 2009, starring Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz.[48] It began previews on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on March 11, 2011 and officially opened April 10, 2011.[49][50] The musical was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Catch Me If You Can". British Board of Film Classification. December 13, 2002. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "74th Academy Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  3. ^ Van Luling, Todd (October 17, 2014). "11 Easter Eggs You Never Noticed In Your Favorite Movies". The Huffington Post., Inc. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  4. ^ a b Frank Abagnale (September 3, 2002). "Comments". Abagnale & Associates. Archived from the original on February 16, 2009. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Abagnale, Frank W (2000). Catch Me if You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Youngest and Most Daring Con Man [most Extraordinary Liar] in the History of Fun and Profit. ISBN 9780767905381.
  7. ^ a b c Claude Brodesser; Dana Harris (August 21, 2001). "D'Works to play 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Charles Lyons; Dade Hayes (January 8, 2002). "D'Works sets play date for pricey 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2008.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Dan Cox (December 15, 1997). "TV vet Kemp prepping pix at U, UA, D'Works". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  10. ^ Michael Fleming (April 4, 2000). "'Noon' strikes twice at Spyglass for 3 scribes". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  11. ^ Claude Brodesser; Charles Lyons (July 31, 2000). "DiCaprio plays 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Michael Fleming (August 22, 2000). "Fox rocks with Mamas & Papas pic". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  13. ^ a b Michael Fleming (July 30, 2001). "Dish: Billionaire Reveres films". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  14. ^ Claude Brodesser; Dana Harris (November 6, 2000). "Inside Move: DiCaprio misses 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ a b Stax (July 6, 2001). "Another 'Catch' for Leo's Next Flick". IGN. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  16. ^ Michael Fleming (March 15, 2001). "Beresford goes home again; 'Project' pulled". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  17. ^ Charles Lyons; Dana Harris (May 22, 2001). "Hallstrom plays 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Claude Brodesser; Cathy Dunkley (August 5, 2001). "IEG, DiCaprio 'Gang' up". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ "Catch Me If You Can : Production Notes". Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  20. ^ Army Archerd (February 11, 2002). "Kudos to Opening Ceremonies". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  21. ^ Army Archerd (April 2, 2002). "'Tonight Show' employees get anni bonus". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  22. ^ "Catch Me If You Can". Extra. December 12, 2002. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  23. ^ Army Archerd (April 30, 2002). "Who will fill Frank Sinatra's shoes?". Variety. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  24. ^ Brian Linder (May 2, 2002). "Spielly Update: 'Report', 'Catch Me'". IGN. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  25. ^ Army Archerd (May 14, 2002). "'Sierra Madre' inspires 'Spider-Man' helmer". Variety. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  26. ^ a b Stax (November 15, 2001). "The Man Behind 'Catch Me If You Can'". IGN. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  27. ^ a b c d Steve Head (December 17, 2002). "An Interview with Steven Spielberg". IGN. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  28. ^ "Frank Abagnale: "Catch Me If You Can" | Talks at Google - YouTube". YouTube. "Google" which owns "Talks at Google". November 27, 2017. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  29. ^ Claude Brodesser (August 28, 2001). "D'Works tracking top cop for Catch". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  30. ^ "Frank Abagnale: "Catch Me If You Can" | Talks at Google - YouTube". YouTube. "Google" which owns "Talks at Google". November 27, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  31. ^ "H'w'd plays 'Catch'". Variety. December 18, 2002. Archived from the original on September 2, 2009. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  32. ^ Josef Adalian (December 10, 2002). "Inside Move: Net game for movie link". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  33. ^ a b Villa, Joan (February 26, 2003). "Video Catches Up to Catch Me If You Can May 6". Archived from the original on March 22, 2003. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  34. ^ "Catch Me If You Can — Box Office Data, DVD Sales, Movie News, Cast Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  35. ^ Perkis, Ed (December 4, 2012). "Catch Me If You Can [Blu-ray] DVD Review". Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  36. ^ "Catch Me If You Can (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  37. ^ "2002 Yearly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  38. ^ "Catch Me If You Can". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  39. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Catch Me If You Can". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  40. ^ Mick LaSalle (December 25, 2002). "Holiday Movies". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  41. ^ Stephen Hunter (December 25, 2002). "A Merry Chase". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  42. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Catch Me If You Can". Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  43. ^ Travers, Peter (January 2, 2003). "Catch Me If You Can". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on April 19, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  44. ^ "56th BAFTA Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  45. ^ "Golden Globes: 2003". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  46. ^ "Grammy Awards: 2003". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  47. ^ Matthew Nastuk, Ian Maxtone-Graham (April 25, 2004). "Catch 'Em if You Can". The Simpsons. Season 15. Episode 331. Fox Broadcasting Company.
  48. ^ Hetrick, Adam. Broadway-Aimed "Catch Me If You Can Ends Seattle Premiere Run Aug. 16" Archived August 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Playbill. August 16, 2009. Retrieved 2011-11-17.
  49. ^ "CATCH ME IF YOU CAN to Open on Broadway April 10; Previews March 7, 2011". Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  50. ^ "Catch Me If You Can Books Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre" Archived September 26, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Playbill. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  51. ^ "2011 Tony Nominations Announced; Book of Mormon Earns 14 Nominations" Archived September 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Playbill. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  • Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding. Catch Me If You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Youngest and Most Daring Con Man in the History of Fun and Profit. (ISBN 0-06-052971-7).

External links[edit]