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Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman & Bruce Willis Deeply Regret Making This Movie

Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman & Bruce Willis Deeply Regret Making This Movie


  • The Bonfire of the Vanities
    is universally disliked due to casting choices that didn’t resonate with audiences or critics.
  • Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, and Bruce Willis all openly expressed regret and criticism of the film, along with other actors.
  • Despite being a disappointment, the movie still holds some value and has one of the best tracking shots of all time. But the cast’s hatred toward it is astounding.

It’s rare that one single movie would be the most regretful installment in the filmographies of so many people, but The Bonfire of the Vanities is just that universally disliked. It’s odd, because it’s not an offensively terrible movie (it even opens with one of the greatest tracking shots in film history). Instead, it’s a movie that everyone thought would succeed, a film with a huge budget, helmed by the great Brian De Palma (Mission: Impossible, Scarface) and featuring major stars — Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith, Bruce Willis, Kim Cattrall, Morgan Freeman, Kirsten Dunst, F. Murray Abraham.

It’s also based on an acclaimed novel by Tom Wolfe, so what went wrong? Well, according to most people, it all came down to casting. Nobody was right for their part (except, perhaps, Melanie Griffith, who is sexy and funny and a great femme fatale). And instead of leaving it to the audience and critics, the cast and filmmaker have essentially agreed on all points over the years. For instance, listen to Tom Hanks’ simple criticism of the film:

It’s one of the crappiest movies ever made.

That’s Hanks speaking to Oprah Magazine in September, 2001. Hanks elaborated with maturity and hindsight:

“If I hadn’t gone through that experience, I would have lost out on something valuable. That movie was a fascinating enterprise from the word go. It was bigger than life, and for some reason it had a huge amount of attention on it. I can go to Germany, even now, and people will say, “How come you don’t make good, gritty movies like
The Bonfire of the Vanities
They have no concept of what it meant to be an American and have that movie enter the national consciousness
. Bonfire taught me that I couldn’t manufacture a core connection.”

Hanks continued in the same interview, saying, “When I was playing Sherman McCoy [in Bonfire], people stopped me on the street to say, ‘You’re not Sherman McCoy.’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah?’ I was going contrary to everything about the character and even the screenplay, but I kept telling myself, No, no, no — there’s a way I can get into this.”

Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis Tear Bonfire of the Vanities Apart

Bonfire of the Vanities poster with Tom Hanks and Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis

Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

Release Date
December 21, 1990

126 Minutes

Michael Cristofer

Warner Bros.

Hanks isn’t the only one with regrets. Morgan Freeman played Judge Leonard White in the film, and provides a serviceable performance, but with everyone piling on The Bonfires of the Vanities, he admitted to Entertainment Weekly, ”I knew that movie wasn’t going to work. I don’t think Brian De Palma had a clue.” He added:

Originally, they hired Alan Arkin to play my role. I thought that was perfect casting. But then they thought they had to be politically correct and make the judge Black. So they fired Alan Arkin and hired me. Not a great way to get a role.

“I never did get around to seeing the movie,” said Freeman.

And he was hardly the only one. The very funny Bruce Willis, who played what amounts to Tom Wolfe’s avatar, Peter Fallow, an acclaimed New York writer, had this to say about the film:

It was stillborn, dead before it ever got out of the box. It was another film that was reviewed before it hit the screen. The critical media didn’t want to see a movie that cast the literary world in a shady light.

This didn’t stop the characteristically outspoken and delightfully honest Willis from countering all the critiques and reviews of the film which dismantled its casting choices. “In the reviews, they were recasting the film,” explained Willis at the time. “They were saying, ‘If we were doing this film, we would cast William Hurt instead of Tom Hanks,’ or whatever. Well, if you were doing the film, then that might mean you had some f–king talent and knew how to tell a story instead of writing about what other people are trying to do.”

Ultimately, it is what it is — a weird moment where people thought that an intellectual literary satire could become a massive blockbuster. Nearly 25 years laters, Bonfire of the Vanities remains a bit cringe, but is honestly much better, bolder, and more entertaining than a lot of Hollywood films. You can rent or buy the film on digital platforms like YouTube, Google Play, Apple TV, Fandango at Home, and through our link below on Prime Video.

Watch Bonfire of the Vanities

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