Hollywood Flashback: When 'Sully's' Tom Hanks Hit the Water With Daryl Hannah's Mermaid in 1984's 'Splash'

Buena Vista Pictures/Photofest
Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah in 'Splash,' which received an Oscar nom for original screenplay.

The actor found box-office success in this Ron Howard-directed film: "I wanted to avoid anything vulgar. I wanted it to be a beautiful love story," says screenwriter Bruce Jay Friedman.

Tom Hanks, who gets his feet wet again in Sully (Sept. 9), was baptized into a long line of watery roles — Cast Away and Captain Phillips among them — with 1984's Splash.

The boy-meets-mermaid tale was the first release from Disney's Touchstone Pictures label. It also was a second hit for director Ron Howard following 1982's Night Shift, which prompted The Hollywood Reporter to note that "beneath that Opie Taylor/Richie Cunningham persona, there’s a wild and crazy spirit." The $8 million film brought in $69.8 million domestically ($160 million today), making it the studio's biggest success since 1969's The Love Bug. Splash came at a time when Disney's film division was moribund and theme parks generated 70 percent of revenue. It hit the sweet spot for the label: a bit Disney, but more adult. "I didn't want any crassness," says screenwriter Bruce Jay Friedman. “I wanted to avoid anything vulgar. I wanted it to be a beautiful love story."

What now looks like a surefire hit was lucky to get made. Warner Bros. was developing a Warren Beatty vehicle called Mermaid, which scared other studios off. But a looming actors strike killed the WB project, Touchstone picked up Splash — and now a reboot with a tweak is brewing, with Channing Tatum as its lovesick merman.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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