Director Jonathan Demme wanted people not familiar with AIDS to see his film. He felt Bruce Springsteen would bring an audience that would not ordinarily see a movie about a gay man dying of AIDS. The movie and the song, "The Streets of Philadelphia", did a great deal to increase AIDS awareness and take some of the stigma off the disease.
Tom Hanks had to lose almost thirty pounds to appear appropriately gaunt for his courtroom scenes. Denzel Washington, on the other hand, was asked to gain a few pounds for his role. Washington, to the chagrin of Hanks, who practically starved himself for the role, would often eat chocolate bars in front of him.
According to a 1994 Entertainment Weekly profile of Ron Vawter by Stephen Schaefer, Jonathan Demme had to convince TriStar Pictures to hire Vawter to play Bob Seidman. TriStar wanted Demme to hire someone else because Vawter was HIV-positive and the insurance company covering the film refused to extend coverage to him. Demme managed to convince TriStar to allow the hiring of Vawter anyway, both because Vawter was the actor that Demme wanted, and because refusing to hire an actor because of his HIV-positive status would have been particularly ironic in the context of a movie that is premised on the injustice of a lawyer being fired because he is HIV-positive.
There was a statistic that there were 53 gay men who appeared in various scenes in this movie and within the next year, 43 of them had died. On his "Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed" website, Brian Cronin more or less confirmed but also corrected this statistic, based, in part, on a New York Times article and other research. According to Cronin, the movie's producers approached the "Action AIDS" non-profit organization in Philadelphia, and asked it to help recruit, as extras, 50 or so gay men whose appearance was indicative of their having AIDS. Contrary to the statistic, the 40 or so who subsequently died -- including Ron Vawter, who played main character "Bob Seidman" in the film -- did not die in the first year after the film was either produced or released; rather, they died over the next few years thereafter. Freelance writer Clifford Rothman also wrote about this subject in a 1995 New York Times piece that further confirmed at least some of this information.
At the costume party, Andrew and Miguel are both dressed in U.S. military uniforms. This is a reference to the fact that when the movie was filmed, there was a total ban on gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, but Bill Clinton had made a campaign promise to dispense with that ban. Instead, in December 1993, Clinton passed a compromise legislation (popularly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell") which allowed for gay and lesbian people to serve as long as they did not tell anyone their sexual orientation. This policy remained in place until September 2011.
Originally, Jonathan Demme was going to cast a comedic actor in role of Joe Miller as he felt it would be a good counter balance for Tom Hanks who had already been cast and to give an audience the "it's okay" to watch a film about a gay man dying of AIDS. Demme had considered casting either Bill Murray, or Robin Williams. But when Denzel Washington showed interest in the part, he gave the role to him instead, because Demme had wanted to work with Washington for the past few years.
Jonathan Demme decided to record the opera scene live so Hanks could get a better performance with the music playing. This proved extremely tricky in the editing suite (music is usually added in post-production).
When Andy Beckett leaves Joe Miller's office for the first time, he stands on the street in front of a window with the partially visible words "Macready & Shilts" written on it. This is a reference to journalist Randy Shilts, who wrote the acclaimed AIDS history "And the Band Played On" and who himself died of AIDS the year after the film came out.
While filming on Market Street, the Mellon Bank Building had been changed to the Wheeler Building and the art department had made temporary signs that were placed over the ones for Mellon. As a result of this, many law students that were scheduled to go on interviews for impending jobs missed their appointment. The reason given was that all they could find was the Wheeler & Wheeler building and had difficulty finding the Mellon Building.
Many gay rights activists and historians have credited this film with being the first major motion picture to tackle the AIDS epidemic, bringing awareness to the issue, and working toward lessening the stigma of having AIDS. Despite the praise, others have been critical that it took Hollywood over a decade to address the issue.
Tom Hanks said that his casting was a deliberate step to get people to see "the movie about a lawyer with AIDS over the big puppet show" or some other less intense option. A number of the previews made it clear it was a legal drama but gave no hint whatsoever of the actual subject matter of the movie.
The protestors outside the courthouse holding signs are based on the members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, led by "Reverend" Fred Phelps. Phelps calls this movie "one of my favorite comedies".
The film was very nearly lost to oblivion when Orion Studios filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 1991. Producer Edward Saxon had to appear before a bankruptcy court to convince them that the film's rights should not be lost as an asset in the studio's bankruptcy fallout.
Denzel Washington's character's office is above the now defunct Snow White diner in Philadelphia. The office itself became a bar called "No Che". The entrance to the office (Where Tom Hanks' character famously exits onto the street and looks both ways as if with no hope left) is located at 1901 Chestnut Street, and is still there.
This film stars the last two actors to win Academy Awards in two consecutive years. Jason Robards was named Best Supporting Actor in 1976 and 1977 for All the President's Men (1976) and Julia (1977), while Tom Hanks won Best Actor for Forrest Gump (1994), one year after winning for his performance in this film.
Several scenes depicting a more intimate relationship between Andrew and Miguel were chopped out by the studio. They also attempted to block the casting of the HIV-positive Ron Vawter, until Jonathan Demme pointed out how hypocritical this would be in the face of the film's message.
At Beckett's Costume/Memorial Party, the elderly chap standing next to 'Mona Lisa' is none other than Quentin Crisp, the British gay celebrity portrayed in Thames Television film The Naked Civil Servant (1975) starring John Hurt.
In the scene shown on the television in the bar, then Mayor Edward Rendell was interviewed for the news. Jonathan Demme wanted him to follow lines in the script and Rendell had refused. He insisted on simply answering as he would for any other topic when interviewed for the news. As a result, he managed to get the take on the first try. Through the rest of his tenure as mayor, many referred to him as "One Take Eddie" due to this part in the film and his subsequent ability to do this shot in one try.
Michael Keaton was the second choice to play Andrew Beckett. He turned down the role and made My Life (1993) instead. Incidentally Keaton played a man who was terminally ill; like Tom Hanks who's character had AIDS, while Keaton's character had cancer. Also Keaton and Hanks co-starred with Bradley Whitford in My Life (1993) and Philadelphia (1993) respectively.
For the purpose of illustration, Joe Miller asks people to explain things to him in simple terms, several times throughout the movie. First, he requests an explanation fit for a two year old child. Later, for a four year old. And finally, for a six year old.
Screenwriter Paul Rudnick credited this film, and particularly Tom Hanks' Academy Award acceptance speech, as serving as the inspiration for his comedy In & Out (1997). In Hanks' speech, he credited his high school teacher for being the inspiration behind his performance. A major plot point in Rudnick's film, is when an Academy Award winning actor accidentally outs his former teacher in his acceptance speech.
The film's journey from script to screen was an extraordinarily rocky one. The script underwent over 25 major revisions, the film's rights were embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings, and the subject matter sparked some major protests.
Based in part on the AIDS discrimination lawsuit by Geoffrey Bowers, a young lawyer working for a prominent multinational law firm. On December 4th, 1986 he was fired by a vote of the directors and departed the firm the following day. The directors originally decided to fire him in July of that year, sidestepping company policy by not interviewing his supervisors, asking for a list of his clients, or ascertaining his billable hours. His supervisors protested, which delayed his firing, but the partners voted again that October, twelve votes to three. The initial vote in July to fire him took place two months after Bowers received good marks on a routine performance evaluation. The vote of dismissal took place one month after the positive evaluation and one month before firing Bowers. As with Hanks' Andrew Beckett character, Bowers also suffered from the visible lesions caused by Kaposi's sarcoma. The case took six years in all.
The moment when Mary Steenburgen's character says that she hates the case was improvised in the moment, when the actress expressed her hate towards her role after shooting the mirror scene and Jonathan Demme encouraged her to incorporate it into the role, so the woman would seem more human.
While the film had its merits, many gay publications had quite a few issues with the film. Out magazine referred to Philadelphia as "maddeningly closeted". There was a lack of dimensionality in the film's gay characters. Many gay viewers felt that Jonathan Demme missed an opportunity here to accurately portray someone's experience living with AIDS. Gay activist and playwright Larry Kramer described the film as "dishonest" and "simply not good enough".
As of 2017, Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia" is the second of just two songs (the first being Carly Simon's "Let the River Run" from Working Girl (1988)) to win the three major awards - Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy - while being composed, written, and performed by a single artist.
Is one of two films released in 1993 starring Tom Hanks that have an American city in the title of the film. The other film was Sleepless in Seattle (1993). Hanks's character was called Sam Baldwin and therefore - in Philadelphia his character was called Andrew Beckett - had a surname that started with the same letter as the other character and had the same number of letters in it.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The following message appears at the end credits: This motion picture was inspired in part by Geoffrey Bowers' AIDS discrimination lawsuit, the courage and love of the Angius family and the struggles of the many others who, along with their loved ones, have experienced discrimination because of AIDS.
Andrew Beckett is awarded a total of 5,025,000 dollars from the jury. The breakdown is as follows: Back pay and loss of benefits, 143,000 dollars, mental anguish and humiliation, 100,000 dollars, and punitive damages, 4,782,000 dollars.
In the lawsuit filed by Geoffrey Bowers, the lawyer whose case contributed to the story of the character Andrew Beckett, the jury awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages and the back pay he would have earned had he remained employed. The firm appealed and ended in a settlement. in Philiadelphia, Andrew Beckett was awarded.$143,000 for back pay and loss of benefits. $100,000 for mental anguish and humiliation. $4,782,000 for punitive damages.
All the scenes filmed in Andrew Becketts apartment were all filmed at night. The lights made it seem like daylight, for the scenes shot for daytime. The loft still stands today and has always had a baseball diamond/playground right across the street, on the same block.