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Philadelphia (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byJonathan Demme
Written byRon Nyswaner
Produced by
CinematographyTak Fujimoto
Edited byCraig McKay
Music byHoward Shore
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • December 14, 1993 (1993-12-14) (Los Angeles)
  • December 22, 1993 (1993-12-22) (United States)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$26 million
Box office$206.7 million[1]

Philadelphia is a 1993 American legal drama film written by Ron Nyswaner, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.[2] Filmed on location in its namesake city, it tells the story of attorney Andrew Beckett (Hanks) who comes to ask a personal injury attorney, Joe Miller (Washington), to help him sue his former employer, who fired him after discovering he was gay and that he had AIDS.

Philadelphia premiered in Los Angeles on December 14, 1993, and opened in limited release on December 22, before expanding into wide release on January 14, 1994. It grossed $206.7 million worldwide, becoming the 9th highest-grossing film of 1993.[3] It was positively received by critics for its screenplay and the performances of Hanks and Washington. For his performance as Andrew Beckett, Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor at the 66th Academy Awards, while the song "Streets of Philadelphia" by Bruce Springsteen won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Nyswaner was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but lost to Jane Campion for The Piano. Philadelphia is notable for being one of the first mainstream Hollywood films not only to explicitly address HIV/AIDS and homophobia, but also to portray gay people in a positive light.


Andrew Beckett is a senior associate at the largest corporate law firm in Philadelphia. He conceals his homosexuality and his status as an AIDS patient from others in the office. A partner in the firm notices a lesion on Beckett's forehead. Although Beckett attributes the lesion to a racquetball injury, it indicates Kaposi's sarcoma, an AIDS-defining condition.

Beckett stays home from work for several days to try to find a way to hide his lesions. He finishes the paperwork for a case he has been assigned and brings it to his office, leaving instructions for his assistants to file it the following day, which marks the end of the statute of limitations for the case. The next day, he receives a call asking for the paperwork, as it cannot be found and there are no copies on the computer's hard drive. The paperwork is finally located in an alternative location and is filed with the court at the last moment. Beckett is called to a meeting the morning afterwards where the firm's partners dismiss him.

Beckett believes someone deliberately hid the paperwork to give the firm an excuse to fire him and that the termination is a result of his AIDS status and his sexuality. He asks ten attorneys to take his case, the last of whom is African-American personal injury lawyer Joe Miller, whom Beckett previously opposed in a different case. Miller appears uncomfortable that a man with AIDS is in his office. After declining to take the case, Miller immediately visits his doctor to find out if he could have contracted the disease. The doctor explains that the routes of HIV infection do not include casual contact.

Unable to find a lawyer willing to represent him, Beckett is compelled to act as his own attorney. While conducting research at a law library, Miller sees Beckett at a nearby table. A librarian approaches Beckett and says that he has found a case of AIDS discrimination for him. As others in the library begin to stare uneasily, the librarian suggests Beckett go to a private room. Seeing parallels in racial discrimination he has experienced, Miller approaches Beckett, reviews the material he has gathered, and agrees to take the case.

As the case goes to trial, the partners of the firm take the stand, each claiming that Beckett was incompetent and that he had deliberately tried to hide his condition. The defense repeatedly point out Beckett brought AIDS upon himself via willing gay sex with strangers and is therefore not a victim. It is revealed that the partner who noticed Beckett's lesion, Walter Kenton, previously worked with a woman who contracted AIDS after a blood transfusion and thus he should have recognized the lesion as being a symptom of an AIDS-related illness. According to Kenton, the woman was an innocent victim, unlike Beckett, and he further testifies that he did not recognize Beckett's lesion. To prove that the lesions would have been visible, Miller asks Beckett to unbutton his shirt while on the witness stand, revealing that his lesions are indeed visible and recognizable as such. Throughout the trial, Miller's homophobia slowly disappears as he and Beckett bond from working together.

Beckett collapses and is hospitalized after Charles Wheeler, the partner he most admired, testifies against him. Another partner, Bob Seidman, confesses that he suspected Beckett had AIDS but never told anyone and refused to let him discuss it, which he deeply regrets. During Beckett's hospital stay, the jury votes in his favor, awarding him back pay, damages for pain and suffering, and punitive damages, totaling over $5 million. Miller visits the visibly failing Beckett in the hospital after the verdict and overcomes his fear enough to touch Beckett's face. After the family leaves the room, Beckett tells his lover Miguel Alvarez that he is "ready". At the Miller home later that night, Miller and his wife are awakened by a phone call from Miguel, who tells them that Beckett has died. A memorial is held at Beckett's home, where many mourners, including Miller and his family, view home movies of Beckett as a happy child.



Daniel Day-Lewis was offered the role of Andrew Beckett, but turned it down.[4][5] Bill Murray and Robin Williams were considered for the role of Joe Miller.[6][7] John Leguizamo was offered the role of Miguel Álvarez, but turned it down to play Luigi in the film Super Mario Bros.[8] In an interview with The New York Times in June 2022, Tom Hanks said that the film would not get made nowadays with a straight actor in a gay role, stating audiences wouldn't "accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy".[9] Hanks added that that was "rightly so", stating "One of the reasons people weren't afraid of that movie is that I was playing a gay man".


The events in the film are similar to the events in the lives of attorneys Geoffrey Bowers and Clarence Cain. Bowers was an attorney who, in 1987, sued the law firm Baker McKenzie for wrongful dismissal in one of the first AIDS discrimination cases. Cain was an attorney for Hyatt Legal Services who was fired after his employer found out he had AIDS. He sued Hyatt in 1990, and won just before his death.[10]

In 1994, shortly after the film's release, Scott Burr, a former attorney with the Philadelphia firm of Kohn, Nast and Graf, sued his previous employer for illegally terminating him upon finding out that he was HIV positive. Like the defendants in the film, the firm claimed that it fired him for incompetence without knowing about his health. The parties settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount after three weeks of trial.[11] Burr continued to practice law prior to his death in 2020.[12]


Bowers's family sued the writers and producers of the film. A year after Bowers's death in 1987, a producer, Scott Rudin, had interviewed the Bowers family and their lawyers, and, according to the family, promised compensation for the use of Bowers's story as a basis for a film. Family members asserted that 54 scenes in the movie were so similar to events in Bowers's life that some of them could only have come from their interviews. However, the defense said that Rudin had abandoned the project after hiring a writer and did not share any information the family had provided.[13] The lawsuit was settled after five days of testimony. Although terms of the agreement were not released, the defendants did admit that "the film 'was inspired in part'" by Bowers' story.[14]


Theatrical release[edit]

Philadelphia premiered in Los Angeles on December 14, 1993 and opened in limited release in four theaters on December 22, before expanding into wide release on January 14, 1994.[15][16] The Los Angeles premiere was a benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles, which netted $250,000 APLA Chair Steve Tisch told the Los Angeles Times.[17]

The film was the first Hollywood big-budget, big-star film to tackle the issue of AIDS in the United States (following the television film And the Band Played On) and signaled a shift in Hollywood films toward more realistic depictions of people in the LGBT community.[18][19] According to a Tom Hanks interview for the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, he was cast in the role due to his non-intimidating screen persona in order to allow for audiences to sympathize with a gay, HIV-positive character. However, scenes showing more affection between him and Banderas were cut, including one with him and Banderas in bed together. The DVD edition, produced by Automat Pictures, includes this scene.[20]

Home media[edit]

Philadelphia was released on VHS on June 29, 1994[21] and on DVD on September 10, 1997.[22] Philadelphia was later released as a limited edition Blu-ray through Twilight Time on May 14, 2013.[22] In conjunction with the film's 25th anniversary, the film was released on 4K Blu-Ray on November 27, 2018.[23]

The screenplay was also republished in a novelization by writer Christopher Davis in 1994.[24]


Box office[edit]

Philadelphia was originally released on December 22, 1993, in a limited opening of only four theaters, and had a weekend gross of $143,433 with an average of $35,858 per theater. The film expanded its release on January 14, 1994, to 1,245 theaters and went to number one at the US box office, grossing $13.8 million over the 4-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, averaging $11,098 per theater. The film stayed at number 1 the following weekend, earning another $8.8  million.

In its 14th weekend, the weekend after the Oscars, the film expanded to 888 theaters, and saw its gross increase by 70 percent, making $1.9  million and jumping from number 15 the previous weekend (when it made $1.1  million from 673 theaters), to return to the top ten ranking at number 8 that weekend.

Philadelphia eventually grossed $77.4 million in North America and $129.2 million overseas for a total of $206.7 million worldwide against a budget of $26 million, making it a significant box office success, and becoming the 12th highest-grossing film in the U.S. of 1993.[1]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 81% based on 62 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Philadelphia indulges in some unfortunate clichés in its quest to impart a meaningful message, but its stellar cast and sensitive direction are more than enough to compensate."[25] Metacritic gave the film a weighted average score of 66 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[26] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[27]

In a contemporary review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half out of four stars and said that it is "quite a good film, on its own terms. And for moviegoers with an antipathy to AIDS but an enthusiasm for stars like Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, it may help to broaden understanding of the disease. It's a ground-breaker like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), the first major film about an interracial romance; it uses the chemistry of popular stars in a reliable genre to sidestep what looks like controversy."[28]

Christopher Matthews from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote "Jonathan Demme's long-awaited Philadelphia is so expertly acted, well-meaning and gutsy that you find yourself constantly pulling for it to be the definitive AIDS movie."[29] James Berardinelli from ReelViews wrote "The story is timely and powerful, and the performances of Hanks and Washington assure that the characters will not immediately vanish into obscurity."[29] Rita Kempley from The Washington Post wrote "It's less like a film by Demme than the best of Frank Capra. It is not just canny, corny and blatantly patriotic, but compassionate, compelling and emotionally devastating."[29]

Year-end lists[edit]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Jonathan Demme Nominated
Best Actor Tom Hanks Won
Best Original Screenplay Ron Nyswaner Nominated
Best Original Song "Philadelphia"
Music and Lyrics by Neil Young
"Streets of Philadelphia"
Music and Lyrics by Bruce Springsteen
Academy Awards[34] Best Actor Tom Hanks Won
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Ron Nyswaner Nominated
Best Makeup Carl Fullerton and Alan D'Angerio Nominated
Best Original Song "Philadelphia"
Music and Lyrics by Neil Young
"Streets of Philadelphia"
Music and Lyrics by Bruce Springsteen
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Top Box Office Films Howard Shore Won
Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures "Streets of Philadelphia" – Bruce Springsteen Won
Artios Awards[35] Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film Casting – Drama Howard Feuer Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Motion Picture Jonathan Demme and Edward Saxon Won
Best Director Jonathan Demme Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Tom Hanks Won
Denzel Washington Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Ron Nyswaner Won
Best Makeup & Hairstyling Carl Fullerton and Alan D'Angerio Won
Best Cast Ensemble Won
British Academy Film Awards[36] Best Original Screenplay Ron Nyswaner Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[37] Best Director Jonathan Demme Nominated
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actor Tom Hanks Nominated
GLAAD Media Awards Outstanding Film Won
Golden Globe Awards[38] Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Tom Hanks Won
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Ron Nyswaner Nominated
Best Original Song – Motion Picture "Streets of Philadelphia"
Music and Lyrics by Bruce Springsteen
Golden Screen Awards Golden Screen Won
Grammy Awards[39] Record of the Year "Streets of Philadelphia" – Bruce Springsteen Nominated
Song of the Year Won
Best Male Rock Vocal Performance Won
Best Rock Song Won
Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television Won
MTV Movie Awards Best Movie Nominated
Best Male Performance Tom Hanks Won
Best On-Screen Team Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington Nominated
Best Song from a Movie Bruce Springsteen – "Streets of Philadelphia" Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards Best Video from a Film Won
National Board of Review Awards[40] Top Ten Films 7th Place
Political Film Society Awards Human Rights Nominated
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 16th Place
Writers Guild of America Awards[41] Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Ron Nyswaner Nominated

American Film Institute[edit]


Professional ratings
Review scores

A soundtrack album was released in January 1994, by Epic Soundtrax containing the main music featured in the film.[45]

Track listing[edit]

1."Streets of Philadelphia"Bruce Springsteen3:56
2."Lovetown"Peter Gabriel5:29
3."It's in Your Eyes"Pauletta Washington3:46
4."Ibo Lele (Dreams Come True)"RAM4:15
5."Please Send Me Someone to Love"Sade3:44
6."Have You Ever Seen the Rain?"Spin Doctors2:41
7."I Don't Wanna Talk About It"Indigo Girls3:41
8."La mamma morta" (From the Opera Andrea Chénier)Maria Callas4:53
9."Philadelphia"Neil Young4:06
10."Precedent"Howard Shore4:03

The album was re-released in 2008 in France only as a CD/DVD combo pack with the film itself, containing the same track listing (catalogue number 88697 322052 under both Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Sony Classical labels).[citation needed] The director originally contacted Neil Young to record a rock anthem to open the film, but after viewing a cut of it, Young was inspired to write a slow and quiet ballad instead. Demme decided Young's song would be more appropriate for the ending of the film, so he approached Bruce Springsteen to write an anthem. Springsteen viewed the opening montage, which at the time featured Neil Young's "Southern Man" as the temp track, but like Young he was inspired to create something quieter, in this case a beat-driven recording that became "Streets of Philadelphia." However, Springsteen's first contribution, "Tunnel of Love," was rejected by Demme [29] even though Springsteen knew it was not what Demme originally wanted, he sent it to him anyway. When Demme and his wife were moved by the recording, she advised him that it was likely the direction he should be going and he agreed.[46]

Certifications and sales[edit]

Certifications and sales for Philadelphia
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[66] Gold 35,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[67] Platinum 50,000*
Belgium (BEA)[68] Platinum 50,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[69] 3× Platinum 300,000^
France (SNEP)[70] 2× Gold 200,000*
Germany (BVMI)[72] Gold 400,000[71]
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[73] Platinum 100,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[74] Platinum 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[75] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[77] Platinum 1,160,000[76]
Europe (IFPI)[78] Platinum 1,000,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]