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Is Cast Away Based On A True Story? Inspirations Explained

Cast Away is a survival drama from 2000 starring Tom Hanks as a stranded FedEx executive. Here’s how real-life inspired the acclaimed drama.

It might be a work of fiction, but real life and true stories inspired the Tom Hanks survival drama that is Cast Away. The movie was written by William Boyles Jr., and directed by Back To The Future‘s Robert Zemeckis, and follows a FedEx executive, Chuck Noland, played by Hanks, after he’s stranded on a deserted island in the middle of the South Pacific by a plane crash. Isolated for four years, Noland struggles to survive and to keep sane with his only company being Wilson, a volleyball that was part of the plane’s cargo, with a face painted with Noland’s own bloody handprint.

Noland braves the elements and managed to survive for years, and eventually is able to return home. In the process of researching and writing the script for Cast Away Broyles consulted real professional survival experts before taking the significant step of deliberately isolating himself on an island in the Gulf of California, intending to put himself in the shoes of his main character. Broyles’ own experiences during his time on the island informed many of the key moments portrayed in Cast Away.


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Broyles discussed his time in isolation and how it later inspired the screenplay in an interview with The Austin Chronicle. On the island, Broyles speared and ate stingrays, drank coconut juice, built a tent out of bamboo and palm leaves, and struggled to make his own fire. Recalling the loneliness he felt during his days on the island, Broyles explained how the experience gave him an understanding of “what it means to be truly alone.” When Broyles found a deserted volleyball on the beach one day he named it Wilson, which of course served as inspiration for Noland’s only friend during his four years on the island in Cast Away.

Tom Hanks in Cast Away

Cast Away was initially inspired by Robinson Crusoe, and it was Tom Hanks who had an idea to do a modern-day version of Daniel Defoe’s classic adventure story. Hanks told The Hollywood Reporter that he was inspired by a news article about FedEx. “I realized that 747s filled with packages fly across the Pacific three times a day,” said Hanks. He wondered, “what happens if (the plane) goes down?” It was this question that sparked the idea that would evolve into Cast Away. Like Defoe’s historical fiction, Cast Away was inspired by the life of real-world explorers. Alexander Selkirk is thought to have been the biggest inspiration behind Defoe’s novel, and he was a Scottish castaway who spent four years on a Pacific island in the early 1700s. After being rescued by an English expedition in 1709, Edward Cooke, who was part of the rescue team, wrote about Selkirk in his book A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World.

A range of other real-life castaways inspired some of literature’s most famous stories, including Spanish sailor Pedro Serrano, who was reportedly shipwrecked on an island off the coast of Nicaragua in the first half of the 16th century. Ada Blackjack was another, sometimes referred to as a “female Crusoe” – she was a seamstress who became stranded on an island near Siberia in 1921, but was only rescued two years later. These explorers and others like them helped to inspire Tom Hanks’ Chuck Noland and his experiences in his island location in Cast Away.

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