Filmhounds Magazine

All things film – In print and online

SPLASH: 40 years on from the mermaid movie that launched Tom Hanks’ film career

4 min read

Touchstone Pictures

falling in love with a mermaid, indecent exposure at the Statue of Liberty, Eugene Levy stealing scenes as an eccentric scientist, 1984's really did have it all. After starring in 37 episodes of a hit sitcom, Hanks swapped ‘Bosom Buddies' for Mermaid Mates as he made his debut as a leading man on the big screen. Looking back, 40 years on from making his first Hollywood splash, it is no wonder the ripples are still expanding for one of the finest actors of our generation.

Touchstone Pictures

For those who haven't had the pleasure of a Splash viewing experience, let us cast a line out into the waters of Cape Cod. In 1964, while on a boat trip with his family, an eight-year-old Allen Bauer (Hanks) takes a leap into the ocean when something catches his eye beneath the water. What he finds below the surface is a young mermaid with striking blonde hair, but Allen is hauled back onto the boat before he has a chance to exchange pleasantries. Putting the incident down to a mere hallucination, Allen gets on with his life, but the allure of Cape Cod never quite escapes him.

Fast forward 20 years and an adult Allen ends up back in that same water following a boating accident. Unable to swim and bleeding from the head, our main character is saved by a mysterious figure – the mermaid, all grown up (Daryl Hannah). After learning English at a faster rate than even a Duolingo pro could manage, the mermaid adopts the name Madison and informs Allen she only has six days in New York City before she must depart once more. What proceeds is a heart-warming tale of love and its ability to overcome even the tallest of hurdles.

As with any romantic comedy, Splash hinges on the on-screen chemistry between Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah – a task made even harder by the fact Madison is unable to speak for the first 42 minutes of the movie. Yet, somehow, this duo manages to carry that burden with lovable ease. What is perhaps most striking about this film is Hanks' instantaneous screen presence in his big-screen breakout. He emits a Siren-like aura that draws you to him, forcing you to care about Allen's lonely plight from the first minute until the last. Hannah lights up the screen in every scene, perfectly encapsulating that unexplainable, unescapable wonder we associate with mermaids. Match those performances with the comic relief of Allen's bumbling, inappropriate brother, Freddie (John Candy) and the eccentric scientific screamer (Eugene Levy) and what you have is a timeless rom-com classic.

Splash is a beautiful metaphor for how transporting true love can be, bridging the gap between euphoric fantasy and earnest reality. At the beginning of the film, Allen is treading water in a loveless relationship, unable to understand why he can't find the one thing he truly craves. Yet, when he lays eyes on Madison for the very first time, albeit in her birthday suit, we witness a ‘love at first sight' moment. When Allen is handed an ultimatum, to stay on land and never see her again, or leave his old life behind and follow her into the ocean, we see the true transformative effect of love on the world. Love can completely change your outlook on everything around you. Love can make you feel like you can breathe underwater. And love can teleport you to an entirely different world.

Touchstone Pictures

When you delve into the back catalogue of big Hollywood names, you often find more obscure and quirky titles before they land their ‘big break'. In contrast, Tom Hanks' first lead role is the most Tom Hanks lead role ever – and by that, I mean high quality, with a lot of heart, and relatable characters at its core. Splash was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. It really set Hanks on his way toward the iconic 1990s, a decade which propelled him from a well-known actor to a Hollywood superstar. A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Toy Story, Saving Private Ryan, You've Got Mail, Toy Story 2, The Green Mile, and Cast Away. Believe it or not, every single one of those Tom Hanks films came out within a 10-year period. But, without Hanks acing his leading man audition in Splash, we may have missed out on a truly game-changing era of cinema.

So, is Splash worth a rewatch 40 years later? Tom Hanks' first leading film role. An early Daryl Hannah masterclass. A John Candy classic. Eugene Levy finding himself up Schitt's Creek long before David and Alexis were born. And even one of the first major films to be directed by Ron Howard. Four decades on from its 1984 release, Splash is still enriching the world of cinema to this day.