13 Surprising Facts About Cast Away

YouTube
YouTube

When FedEx employee Chuck Noland’s plane crashes, he ends up stranded on a deserted tropical island for four years, with an inanimate volleyball named Wilson as his only friend. Deemed an “existential blockbuster” for the 21st century, not a whole lot of action occurs during Cast Away’s 143-minute running time. But Hanks’ long beard and survival scenarios generated an iconic character and film.

It took Apollo 13 screenwriter William Broyles Jr. six years to shape the story with Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis, to a method degree: filming halted for a year so that Hanks could shed 50 pounds as real time passed in the movie. The movie was released on December 22, 2000, and became a huge hit, grossing $429,632,142 worldwide on a $90 million budget. Here are some washed-ashore facts about the film.

1. TOM HANKS DIDN’T WANT TO TELL A STANDARD STORY.

In an interview with The Guardian, Tom Hanks explained, “Because there is a standard way of telling this story, and that’s to have a rich, snotty guy who’s obviously not in touch with what’s important and blah, blah, blah, and then he learns a lesson and he’s not like that anymore. But Chuck learns no great lessons.” The basic themes of the film are of physical and spiritual survival, and as Hanks told the Los Angeles Times, “I didn’t want to show a man conquering his environment, but rather the effect the environment has on him. I wanted to deal with subject matter that was largely verboten in mainstream movies, taking the concept of a guy trapped against the elements, with no external forces, no pirates, no bad guys, and tell it in a way that challenged the normal cinematic narrative structure.”

2. THE SCREENWRITER STRANDED HIMSELF ON AN ISLAND, FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES.

William Broyles Jr. spent several days alone in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez trying to fend for himself. He speared and ate stingrays, learned how to open a coconut, befriended a washed-up Wilson-brand volleyball, and tried to make fire, which ended up in the movie. His experiences led to an epiphany regarding the Chuck character: “That's when I realized it wasn’t just a physical challenge,” Broyles told The Austin Chronicle. “It was going to be an emotional, spiritual one as well.”

3. THE ENTIRE THEME OF THE MOVIE COMES FROM TWO WORDS.

Broyles told the Los Angeles Times the last two words Noland utters—“thank you,” to a woman in a truck—sum up the movie. “The idea of acceptance [of his fate], that there is no rationale for some of the things that happen to us. But finally there is gratitude.” The film ends on an ambiguous note, with Noland at the literal crossroads in Canadian, Texas, attempting to make a decision to either follow the woman or go down a different path toward a new city.

4. FEDEX WAS COOL WITH THE FREE PRODUCT PLACEMENT AND THE PLANE CRASH.

At the time of filming, a FedEx plane hadn’t actually crashed like that in real life—though in 2009 two crew members died in a crash and in August 2015 a plane crashed into the Caribbean Sea—but the company didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that it could happen. FedEx provided filming locations at their hubs in Memphis, Los Angeles, and Moscow, and helped with logistical support.

“As we stepped back and looked at it, we thought, ‘It’s not product placement, we’re a character in this movie,’” Gail Christensen, managing director for global brand management at FedEx in 2000, told the Chicago Tribune. “It transcends product placement.” FedEx had a sense of humor when they made a Cast Away-themed commercial for the 2003 Super Bowl. Basically, a Tom Hanks-esque character finally drops off a package to a customer and asks what’s in it. “Nothing really. Just a satellite phone, GPS locator, fishing rod, water purifier, and some seeds. Just silly stuff.”

5. HANKS ALMOST DIED WHILE FILMING THE MOVIE.

Hanks recalled how before he left the production in Fiji, he received a cut and it got infected. Turns out he had a staph infection in his leg and it almost gave him blood poisoning. “The doctor said to me, ‘What’s the matter with you, you idiot? You could have died from this thing!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ But they literally had to take out a big chunk of the stuff in my leg.” The infection was so severe that Hanks stayed in a hospital for three days. “Then we had to shut down production for three weeks because the doctors said, ‘No way is this kid getting in the water.’”

6. HANKS WENT THROUGH SEVERAL DIFFERENT ENDING SCENARIOS FOR CHUCK.

In an audio interview, Hanks talked about how he “went down so many bad tributaries” in figuring out what should happen to Noland. “It was really called Chuck of the Jungle, and we did all of those scenarios of what happens to him when he comes back to the world: He was loaded with self pity; he was loaded with Rip Van Winkle, kind of like jeepers creepers, look how small the computers are, all of that kind of stuff. We thought, look, he’d probably be turned into some media celebrity and what’s he going to do? Be sitting in the secret square [Hollywood Squares] with Susan Anton right next to him?”

7. HANKS FELT THAT THE PLANE CRASH WAS THE “BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED” TO CHUCK.

In the same audio interview, Hanks discussed Noland post-ordeal and him standing at the fork of the road in Texas. “Somehow, at the end of the movie, you can stand on the crossroads and it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be alright, as long as you keep breathing and have a certain kind of perspective and proportion to your life. And that’s not a huge shift for Chuck to have gone through even if he hadn’t been lost. People do that all time. ‘I quit, I don’t want to do this job anymore, I’m gonna go figure out what I want to do and I’m going to be okay.’ That’s interesting. It’s almost as though Chuck can say the best thing that ever happened to him was, ‘I was in this plane crash in which five people got killed and I survived for four years and I came back and I lost the woman I love.’” 

8. SURVIVOR BEAT CAST AWAY TO THE PUNCH.

The reality show debuted on May 31, 2000, about seven months before Cast Away was released. In similar fashion, a group of people are stranded in an exotic location and must compete against each other, and the show became an immediate hit for CBS. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Hanks said he was “spooked by the show’s like-minded theme” but he knew “we didn’t have a trivial film. Good or bad, we always had something that was much more substantial than what is essentially a game show that is a television phenomenon.”

9. THE MOVIE LED TO THE CREATION OF LOST.

Lloyd Braun, who was the chairman of ABC Entertainment in the early aughts, wanted a writer to come up with a pitch based on his favorite film from 2000, Cast Away. According to Chicago magazine, in 2003 Chicagoan Jeffrey Lieber was picked to write the pilot for Cast Away-the Series, which centered around eight to 10 characters stranded on a Pacific island. Lieber named the pilot Nowhere, but Braun passed on Lieber’s script and gave the project to J. J. Abrams, who added the supernatural element to the plot. However, Lieber, the WGA, and the studio went to arbitration in order for Lieber to receive partial credit for creating the show, and he eventually won 60 percent of the “created by” credit. In 2005, his pilot received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, and for the entire run of the show Lieber was listed in the credits.

10. ONE OF THE ORIGINAL WILSON BALLS MADE A LOT OF MONEY AT AN AUCTION.

In January 2001, one of the three original Wilson volleyballs featured in the film was sold on an online auction. According to the Los Angeles Times, it sold for $18,400. But for a much cheaper $19.99, you can buy a replica ball on Wilson Sporting Goods’ website.

11. HANKS WAS REUNITED WITH WILSON.

While attending a hockey game in New York City in February 2015, Hanks was being featured on the big screen when someone suddenly tossed him a Wilson Cast Away ball. Hanks held onto the ball and smiled at his long lost pal.

12. SOME CRITICS THINK THE MARTIAN IS “CAST AWAY IN SPACE."

When the Matt Damon film The Martian came out, critics immediately compared it to Cast Away and wrote “The Martian is Cast Away in space,” especially because both films featured men marooned, alone, and trying to survive, and both movies were distributed by Fox. The difference is Matt Damon’s Mark Watney had the ability to communicate with people. In a USA Today profile, Damon disagreed with the comparisons. “It’s not Cast Away in the sense that it’s actually a guy who is behaving with the expectation that people are watching him. He’s on video all the time on these GoPros. Nobody’s seeing the video feed live, but he’s behaving as if someday someone might.”

13. CAST AWAY WAS DEPICTED IN AN UNAUTHORIZED PARODY FILM.

In 2004, a filmmaker parodied Miss Congeniality, Cast Away, and Jurassic Park in the film Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls, starring none other than Michael Jackson in his last scripted performance. The film centered around beauty pageant contestants whose plane crashed on an island. Fox wasn’t happy about the Cast Away usage and sent filmmaker Bryan Michael Stoller a cease and desist letter. “I can't afford a lawyer right now,” Stoller said in an interview with The New York Times. “I can’t get errors and omissions insurance. No distributor will pick it up. They’ve pretty much killed the movie unless I change the title.” A year later the film was released on DVD, and in 2011 it was released on TV.

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

5 Popular Back to the Future Fan Theories, Examined

Marty and Doc Brown were best friends. Too bad Doc had to kill him.
Marty and Doc Brown were best friends. Too bad Doc had to kill him.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

July marks the 35th anniversary of Back to the Future, the enduring sci-fi and comedy classic starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, an amiable teen who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Thanks to Doc's DeLorean time machine, Marty winds up in 1955 to save Doc’s life and to make sure his parents (Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson) fall in love, thereby ensuring his existence.

Fans of the film have spent the past several decades wrapping their minds around the movie’s time travel paradoxes and missing pieces of the plot. Take a look at some of the most popular theories, then check out Back to the Future and its sequels on Netflix to see if they carry any weight.

1. Marty McFly’s parents knew he was a time traveler.

Perhaps the biggest mystery of Back to the Future is why George and Lorraine McFly fail to notice that their grown son Marty bears a striking resemblance to the man they knew as “Calvin Klein” who dropped into their lives in 1955 to make sure their romance was intact. One theory explained by Redditor djbred18 offers that George and Lorraine did recognize him. “I mean they had 30 years to figure it out!” the user said. Crucially, George heard “Calvin” using the names of Darth Vader and the Vulcan race from Star Trek years before they materialized, a fact any science-fiction author like George would have picked up on. A scene late in the film where Marty’s parents give him a brand-new truck and offer a knowing smile could be read as a thank you for his efforts.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in 2020, Back to the Future co-screenwriter Bob Gale explained that they didn't make the connection: It was a simple case of Marty’s parents not recognizing the man they had spent just a few days with 30 years prior. “I would ask anyone to think back to their own high school days and ask themselves how well they remember a kid who might have been at their school for even a semester,” he said. “Or someone you went out with just one time. If you had no photo reference, after 25 years, you’d probably just have a hazy recollection.”

2. Doc Brown was suicidal.

While testing his DeLorean in the Twin Pines Mall parking lot, Doc Brown steps directly in front of the car traveling at 88 mph. The only way he wouldn’t be crushed is if his experiment succeeded and the car vanishes. Yet Doc makes mention of his other experiments being disappointing. Given his lack of confidence in his own abilities, standing in front of the car appears to be a death wish.

When asked about this theory by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 2018, Christopher Lloyd wasn’t buying into it. “I don’t think so,” Lloyd said. “Because Doc had so much confidence in what he was doing, he didn’t worry about that ... maybe a little doubtful, but Doc didn’t have a grim nature.”

However, Lloyd did add that: “You’ve given me a lot to think about though.”

3. Marty McFly’s actions altered his girlfriend’s appearance.

Elisabeth Shue, Michael J. Fox, and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future Part II' (1989)
Elisabeth Shue, Michael J. Fox, and Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future Part II (1989).
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the first Back to the Future, actress Claudia Wells portrays Jennifer Parker, Marty’s girlfriend. In 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, Elizabeth Shue took over the role because Wells was dealing with an illness in her family. For a series about time travel, it might be easy to explain why Jennifer’s appearance changes. According to Reddit user j1ggy, Marty’s presence resulted in unseen but demonstrative effects in the lives of Jennifer’s parents, possibly even resulting in Jennifer having a different mother or father. Because Marty seems slightly confused by Jennifer at the beginning of Back to the Future Part II, it’s possible he realizes he changed the past to the point that his girlfriend is now physically different.

4. Marty may have actually turned Biff Tannen’s life around.

At the beginning of Back to the Future, we see town bully Biff Tannen pushing around George McFly and demanding he perform Biff's work duties at their office. At the end of the film, Biff is in a subservient role, waxing George’s car as part of his work owning an auto detailing company. But, as Reddit user SatNav points out, that may have been best for Biff. He went from being dependent on George to assist him with his job to owning his own small business.

5. Doc Brown kills Marty.

At the conclusion of Back to the Future, time-traveling Marty returns from 1955 to witness 1985 Marty disappearing in the DeLorean. While that’s presumably Marty heading back to 1955, one theory has posited that Doc Brown is sending 1985 Marty either to his death or exiling him in time to make room for the returning 1955 Marty. Had he allowed 1985 Marty to continue living, he could have gone back to 1955 to meet the Marty already there. That, or two versions of Marty would have been running around Hill Valley in 1985.

Christopher Lloyd has dismissed this theory. “Doc would never send Marty off to his death, in any kind of scenario,” he told the CBC in 2018. “Doc couldn’t live with that.”