After Chicago architect Sam Baldwin loses his wife Maggie to cancer, he and his eight-year-old son Jonah start a new life in Seattle, Washington, but Sam continues to grieve. A year and a half later, on Christmas Eve 1992, Jonah—who wants his father to find a new wife—calls in to a radio talk show. Jonah persuades a reluctant Sam to go on the air to talk about how much he misses Maggie. Hundreds of women from around the country who hear the program and are touched by the story write to Sam. One of the listeners is Annie Reed, a Baltimore Sun reporter who is engaged to amiable Walter but feels there is something missing from their cordial relationship. After watching the film An Affair to Remember, Annie impulsively writes a letter suggesting that Sam meet her on top of the Empire State Building on Valentine's Day. She does not intend to mail it, but her friend and editor Becky does it for her and agrees to send Annie to Seattle.
Sam begins dating a co-worker Victoria, whom Jonah dislikes. Jonah, a baseball fan, reads Annie's letter and likes that it mentions the Baltimore Orioles, but he fails to convince his father to go to New York to meet Annie. On the advice of his playmate Jessica, Jonah replies to Annie, agreeing to the New York meeting. While dropping Victoria off at the airport for a flight, Sam sees Annie exiting from her plane and is mesmerized by her, although he has no idea who she is. Annie later secretly watches Sam and Jonah playing on the beach together but mistakes Sam's sister for his girlfriend. He recognizes her from the airport and says "Hello," but Annie only responds with another "Hello" before fleeing. She decides she is being foolish and goes to New York to meet Walter for Valentine's Day.
With Jessica's help, Jonah flies to New York without his father's permission and goes to the Empire State Building searching for Annie. Distraught, Sam follows Jonah and finds him on the observation deck. Meanwhile, Annie sees the skyscraper from the Rainbow Room where she is dining with Walter and confesses her doubts to him, amicably ending their engagement. She rushes to the Empire State Building just moments after the doors to the down elevator close with Sam and Jonah inside.
In spite of the observation deck being deserted, Annie discovers a backpack that Jonah left behind. As she pulls out Jonah's teddy bear from the backpack, Sam and Jonah emerge from the elevator, and the three meet for the first time. On the advice of the elevator operator, Sam indicates they should go and offers his hand to Annie. The three then enter the elevator together before the door closes.
Hanks and Ryan had previously acted together in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) and would later star together in You've Got Mail (1998) and Ithaca (2015). Julia Roberts and Kim Basinger were reportedly offered the role of Annie Reed, but both turned it down.
The film was originally to have been scored by John Barry, but when given a list of twenty songs he had to put in the film, he quit.
- "As Time Goes By" by Jimmy Durante – 2:28
- "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" by Louis Armstrong – 3:01
- "Stardust" by Nat King Cole – 3:15
- "Makin' Whoopee" by Dr. John featuring Rickie Lee Jones – 4:09
- "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" by Carly Simon – 3:16
- "Back in the Saddle Again" by Gene Autry – 2:36
- "Bye Bye Blackbird" by Joe Cocker – 3:30
- "A Wink and a Smile" by Harry Connick, Jr. – 4:08
- "Stand by Your Man" by Tammy Wynette – 2:41
- "An Affair to Remember" by Marc Shaiman – 2:31
- "Make Someone Happy" by Jimmy Durante – 1:52
- "I'll Never Break Your Heart" by Backstreet Boys – 4:48
Sleepless in Seattle opened theatrically on June 25, 1993 in 1,579 venues, earning $17,253,733 in its opening weekend, ranking second in the North American box office behind the third weekend of Jurassic Park. At the end of its run, the film grossed $126,680,884 in the United States and Canada, as well as $101,119,000 internationally, for a worldwide total of $227,799,884.
The film received positive reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 72% out of 45 professional critics gave the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.5/10. On Metacritic, the film has a 72 out of 100 rating, based on 17 critics, indicating "generally positive reviews".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times lauded, "Sleepless in Seattle is as ephemeral as a talk show, as contrived as the late show, and yet so warm and gentle I smiled the whole way through." He added:
The actors are well-suited to this material. Tom Hanks keeps a certain detached edge to his character, which keeps him from being simply a fall guy. Meg Ryan, who is one of the most likable actresses around and has a certain ineffable Doris Day innocence, is able to convince us of the magical quality of her sudden love for a radio voice, without letting the device seem like the gimmick it assuredly is.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times similarly called it "a feather-light romantic comedy" and wrote, "It's a stunt, but it's a stunt that works far more effectively than anybody in his right mind has reason to expect. Not since Love Story has there been a movie that so shrewdly and predictably manipulated the emotions for such entertaining effect."
The film received two nominations for awards in the 66th Academy Awards (held in 1994), but did not win either of them. It lost out to The Piano for Best Original Screenplay while the song "A Wink and a Smile" lost out to "Streets of Philadelphia" (from Philadelphia, another Tom Hanks movie) for Best Original Song. The film was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards: one for Best Actor – Musical or Comedy (Tom Hanks) another for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Meg Ryan) and a third for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
The film won four awards at different ceremonies. Ryan won the award for Funniest Actress in a Leading Role at the American Comedy Awards. At the 1994 Young Artist Awards, Malinger won the award for Best Actor Under Ten in a Motion Picture and the film itself won Outstanding Family Motion Picture for Comedy.
In 2009, development began on a musical version of Sleepless in Seattle. David Shor was announced as the musical's producer, with a book being written by Jeff Arch, Shor's longtime partner and original story writer for the motion picture. Leslie Bricusse was initially attached to the project, but withdrew due to "creative differences with the show's producer and director". Michelle Citrin, Michael Garin and Josh Nelson were announced to be working on the music and lyrics, with Shor discovering Citrin via YouTube. The musical was initially set to release in 2010, with the premiere date later being moved to 2011 and June 2012. In February 2012 Shor announced that the musical would not premiere until the 2012-13 season and that the show would "undergo a top-to-bottom overhaul" and would have a new creative team. With a new score by composer Ben Toth and lyricist Sam Forman, the musical version premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse in May 2013. In 2015, producer David Shor teamed with British producer Michael Rose and announced that they plan to open the show together with a revamped creative team in London during the 2016-2017 season. In March 2016 the show was workshopped at the English Touring Theatre in London and both Shor and Rose declared the workshop a resounding success. Plans are underway for the casting and opening of the show.