The film was released on December 22, 2000. It was a critical and commercial success, grossing $429 million worldwide, with Hanks being nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 73rd Academy Awards.
In December 1995, Chuck Noland is a time-obsessed systems engineer, who travels worldwide resolving productivity problems at FedEx depots. He is in a long-term relationship with Kelly Frears, with whom he lives in Memphis, Tennessee. Although the couple wants to get married, Chuck's busy schedule interferes with their relationship. A Christmas with relatives is interrupted when Chuck is summoned to resolve a problem in Malaysia. While flying through a violent storm, his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean. Chuck escapes the sinking plane and is saved by an inflatable life raft, but loses the emergency locator transmitter. He clings to the life raft, loses consciousness, and floats all night before being washed up on an island. After he awakens, he explores the island and soon discovers that it is uninhabited.
Several FedEx packages from the crashed plane wash up on the shore, as well as the corpse of one of the pilots, which he buries. He initially tries to signal for rescue and makes an escape attempt with the remnants of his life raft, but cannot pass the powerful surf and the coral reefs surrounding the island. He searches for food, water, and shelter, and opens the packages, finding a number of potentially useful items. He leaves one package, which has a pair of angel wings stenciled on it, unopened. During a first attempt to make fire, Chuck receives a deep wound to his hand. In anger and pain, he throws several objects, including a Wilson volleyball from one of the packages. A short time later he draws a face in the bloody hand print on the ball, names it Wilson, and begins talking to it. One night, Chuck calculates that in order for the rescue workers to find the site of the plane crash, they will have to search an area twice the size of Texas, making him doubtful he will ever be found.
Four years later, Chuck has adapted to the meager living conditions on the island, having become adept at spearing fish and making fires. He also has regular conversations and arguments with Wilson, which has become his only means of socialization. A large section from a portable toilet washes up on the island; Chuck uses it as a sail in the construction of a raft. After spending some time building and stocking the raft and deciding when the weather conditions will be optimal (using an analemma he has created in his cave to monitor the time of year), he launches, using the sail to overcome the powerful surf. After some time on the ocean, a storm nearly tears his raft apart. The following day, as Chuck sleeps, Wilson becomes untethered and floats away from the raft. Chuck is wakened by the spray of a sounding whale, sees Wilson, and swims after him, but Wilson has gone too far to safely retrieve. Chuck returns to the raft and collapses in tears. Later, a passing cargo ship finds him, drifting.
Upon returning to civilization, Chuck learns that he has long been given up for dead; his family and acquaintances have held a funeral, and Kelly has since married Chuck's one-time dentist and has a daughter. After reuniting with Kelly, the pair profess their love for each other but, realizing they cannot be together because of her commitment to her new family, they sadly part. Kelly gives Chuck the keys to the car they once shared.
Sometime later, after buying a new volleyball, Chuck travels to Canadian, Texas, to return the unopened FedEx package with the angel wings to its sender, a woman named Bettina Peterson. The house at the address is empty, so he leaves the package at the door with a note saying that the package saved his life. He departs and stops at a remote crossroads. A friendly woman passing by in a pickup truck stops to explain where each road leads. As she drives away, Chuck notices the angel wings on the back of her truck are identical to those on the parcel. As Chuck is left standing at the crossroads he looks down each road, then smiles faintly as he looks in the direction of the woman's truck.Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland
Helen Hunt as Kelly Frears
Nick Searcy as Stan
Jenifer Lewis as Becca Twig
Chris Noth as Jerry Lovett
Lari White as Bettina Peterson
Vince Martin as Albert "Al" Miller
Geoffrey Blake as Maynard Graham
Michael Forest as Jack
Jay Acovone as Petrov
The film's shooting occurred between 1998 and 2000, but was not shot consecutively. Hanks gained 50 pounds (23 kg) during pre-production to make him look like a pudgy, middle-aged man. After a majority of the film was shot, production was halted for a year so that he could lose the weight and grow his hair and beard to look like he had been living on the island for years. During the year-long hiatus, Zemeckis used the same film crew to make another film, What Lies Beneath.
Cast Away was filmed on Monuriki, one of the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji. It is in a subgroup of the Mamanuca archipelago, which is sited off the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's largest island. The island became a tourist attraction following the film's release. After Chuck's return, it is identified by Kelly as being "about 600 miles south of the Cook Islands," but there is actually no land between the southernmost Cook Islands of Mangaia and Antarctica.
The film essentially begins and ends in the same location, on the Arrington Ranch in the Texas Panhandle south of the city of Canadian, Texas.
The film's minimal score was composed by Alan Silvestri for which he won a Grammy Award in 2002. The film's soundtrack is most notable for its lack of score and creature sound effects (such as bird song or insect sounds) while Chuck is on the island, which is intended to reinforce the feeling of isolation. Cast Away contains no original musical score until Chuck escapes the island. However, there is a Russian choral piece heard near the start of the film that was not composed or even recorded by Silvestri, so it does not appear on the film's soundtrack list. It is a traditional Russian song written by Lev Knipper called "Oh, My Field" ("Polyushko, Polye") and it is available on various collections of Red Army hymns. The tracks in Silvestri's score are as follows:
- "Cast Away" – 3:44
- "Wilson, I'm Sorry" – 1:39
- "Drive to Kelly's" – 3:54
- "Love of My Life" – 1:47
- "What the Tide Could Bring" – 3:39
- "Crossroads" – 2:08
- "End Credits" – 7:29
The official soundtrack CD is an anthology of musical pieces from all films up to that point directed by Zemeckis and scored by Silvestri. The only track from Cast Away itself is the theme from the end credits.
FedEx provided access to their facilities (Memphis, Los Angeles, and Moscow) as well as airplanes, trucks, uniforms, and logistical support. A team of FedEx marketers oversaw production through more than two years of filming. FedEx CEO Fred Smith made an appearance as himself for the scene where Chuck is welcomed back, which was filmed on location at FedEx's home facilities in Memphis, Tennessee. The idea of a story based on a FedEx plane crashing gave the company "a heart attack at first," but the overall story was seen as positive. FedEx, which paid no money for product placement in the film, saw an increase in brand awareness in Asia and Europe following the film's release.
In the film, Wilson the volleyball serves as Chuck Noland's personified friend and only companion during the four years that Noland spends alone on a deserted island. Named after the volleyball's manufacturer, Wilson Sporting Goods, the character was created by screenwriter William Broyles, Jr.. While researching for the film, he consulted with professional survival experts, and then chose to deliberately strand himself for one week on an isolated beach in the Gulf of California, to force himself to search for water and food, and obtain his own shelter. During this time, a volleyball washed up on shore. This was the inspiration for the film's inanimate companion. From a screenwriting point of view, Wilson also serves to realistically allow dialogue in a one-person-only situation.
One of the original volleyball props was sold at auction for $18,500 to the ex-CEO of FedEx Office, Ken May. At the time of the film's release, Wilson launched its own joint promotion centered on the fact that one of its products was "co-starring" with Tom Hanks. Wilson manufactured a volleyball with a reproduction of the bloodied handprint face on one side. It was sold for a limited time during the film's initial release and continues to be offered on the company's website.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Cast Away has an approval rating of 90% based on 154 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Flawed but fascinating, Cast Away offers an intelligent script, some of Robert Zemeckis' most mature directing, and a showcase performance from Tom Hanks." On Metacritic the film has a score of 73 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Cast Away opened in 2,774 theaters in North America and grossed $28,883,406 with an average of $10,412 per theater on its opening weekend. For the four-day Christmas long holiday weekend, it took in a total of $39,852,075. The film kept performing well and ended up earning $233,632,142 domestically and $196,000,000 internationally for a total of $429,632,142, well above its production budget of $90 million.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated
A FedEx commercial during the 2003 Super Bowl parodied the final scene of the film, in which Chuck returns a package to its sender. In this version, the woman answers the door, and when Chuck asks what was in the box, the woman replies: "Just a satellite phone, GPS locator, fishing rod, water purifier, and some seeds. Just silly stuff."
Media executive Lloyd Braun of ABC Studios first suggested the idea of a Cast Away-type television series at a dinner party in 2003. Thom Sherman later pitched the idea for Cast Away – The Series, but never developed the idea. The concept was later developed and pitched with the title Nowhere, which later turned into the ABC show Lost.