Tom Hanks Gets Candid About One Of His Worst Movies, Explains Why It Flopped

No one would ever call into question the fact that Tom Hanks is an amazing actor, undoubtedly one of our finest. The two-time Academy Award winner continues to entertain by playing Mr. Rogers (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), appearing in Westerns (the Yellowstone spinoff 1883), and making a cameo in a Borat sequel. He even made Finch. But Hanks will be the first person to tell you that not every movie he’s made has been perfect, or even watchable. And when it comes to the 1990 adaptation of The Bonfire of the Vanities, Hanks knows it sucks, and even understands why. 

Though Tom Hanks had enjoyed a handful of massive hits prior to playing a Wall Street bond trader in the black comedy The Bonfire of the Vanities, he wasn’t yet the Hollywood “royalty” that many likely consider him to be these days. Yes, he’d made Big (1988) and Splash (1984) by this point, but he was still figuring out his place with misses such as Volunteers (1985), Turner & Hooch (1989) and Joe vs. The Volcano (1990). Bonfire probably seemed like a pedigree play, a possible awards contender, but Hanks revealed to The Blast a few of the reasons why the movie didn’t work on any level when he recently said:

When we were making it, that movie was huge. We couldn’t make a move anywhere in New York City. Everybody was talking about it. Everybody was miscast, me particularly. … Brian De Palma deals with iconography more than filmmaking. He is the most uncompromising filmmaker — both in a good way and a bad way — that you’ll ever come across. This is the guy who made Scarface. So his take on it was just one of those things.

One of the issues facing The Bonfire of the Vanities is that the source novel by celebrated author Tom Wolfe was an overnight success that had tremendous influence on the cultural scene. Adapting it was always going to present issues, and Hanks readily admits that he was the wrong person to play Sherman McCoy, a self-proclaimed “Master of the Universe” on Wall Street whose life falls apart after he’s involved in a hit-and-run. McCoy’s a superficially evil character, and while Hanks is a talented actor, audiences wanted to see him as the likable funnyman they’d embraced in his previous comedies.

Opening up more about the movie’s issues, Hanks admits:

You can’t take a book like Tom Wolfe’s that has changed the way people talk and think and change it into a palatable movie, or alter the thrust of what the source material is talking about. It may not translate in a way that is going to work.

For a while, The Bonfire of the Vanities became an easy punchline in Hollywood to quickly reference a movie that had flopped. Tom Hanks wasn’t the only reason for the movie’s stumble… not by a longshot. To get the best sense of how and why that movie doomed its chances at success, pick up the 1991 book The Devil’s Candy, one of the most influential behind-the-scenes tellings in Hollywood history. 

The good thing about Tom Hanks is that he survived the stench of Bonfire. And the movie forever will exist as an example that no Hollywood performer is completely teflon, and immune from mistakes. 

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.