Joe Versus the Volcano

Joe Versus the Volcano Information

Joe Versus the Volcano is a 1990 romantic comedy film written and directed by John Patrick Shanley and starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The film was writer Shanley's directorial debut and the first of three films pairing Hanks and Ryan.

Despite positive reviews from some critics, including Roger Ebert, the film was a box office flop. It has since become a cult film.


Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) is a downtrodden everyman from Staten Island, working in a factory for an unpleasant, demanding boss, Frank Waturi (Dan Hedaya). Joyless, listless, and chronically sick, Banks regularly visits doctors who can find nothing wrong with him. Finally, Dr. Ellison (Robert Stack) diagnoses an incurable disease called a "brain cloud" which has no symptoms and will kill Joe within six months. Ellison says that Joe's ailments were psychosomatic, caused by his horrific experiences in his previous job as a fireman. Ellison advises him, "You have some life left... live it well." Joe tells his boss off, quits his job, and asks former co-worker DeDe (Meg Ryan) out on a date. It goes quite well until he tells her that he is dying. She becomes very upset and leaves.

The next day, a wealthy industrialist named Samuel Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges) unexpectedly makes Joe a proposition. Graynamore needs "bubaru", a mineral essential for the manufacturing of superconductors. There are deposits of it on the tiny Pacific island of Waponi Woo. The resident Waponis will let him mine it if he can solve a problem for them. They believe that the volcano on their island must be appeased by a voluntary human sacrifice once every century, but none of the Waponis are willing to volunteer this time around. Graynamore offers Joe credit cards to pay for whatever he wants to enjoy his final days, as long as he is willing to jump into the volcano at the end, recommending he "live like a king, die like a man." With nothing to lose, Joe accepts.

Joe spends a day and a night out on the town in New York, where he solicits advice on everything from style to living life to the fullest from his wise chauffeur Marshall (Ossie Davis). Joe purchases four top-of-the-line, handcrafted, waterproof steamer trunks from a fanatically dedicated luggage salesman (Barry McGovern).

Joe then flies to Los Angeles, where he is met by one of Graynamore's daughters, Angelica (also played by Ryan), a flighty socialite who labels herself a "flibbertigibbet". The next morning, Angelica takes Joe to a yacht, the Tweedledee, owned by her father. The captain is her half-sister Patricia (Ryan again). She had reluctantly agreed to take Joe to Waponi Woo after Graynamore promised to give her the yacht in return.

After an awkward beginning, Joe and Patricia begin to bond. Then they run into a typhoon. Patricia is knocked unconscious and flung overboard. While Joe jumps in after her, sinister lightning strikes and sinks the yacht. Fortunately, Joe is able to construct a raft by lashing together his steamer trunks. Patricia does not regain consciousness for several days. Joe doles out the small supply of water to her, while he gradually becomes delirious from thirst. Joe experiences a revelation during his delirium and thanks God for his life. When Patricia finally awakens, she is deeply touched by Joe's self-sacrifice. They then find that they have fortuitously drifted to their destination.

The Waponis treat them to a grand feast. Their chief (Abe Vigoda) asks one last time if anyone else will volunteer, but there are no takers and Joe heads for the volcano. Patricia tries to stop him, declaring her love for him. He admits he loves her as well, "but the timing stinks." Patricia gets the chief to marry them.

Afterwards, Patricia refuses to be separated from Joe. When he is unable to dissuade her, they jump in together, but the volcano erupts at that moment, blowing them out into the ocean. The island sinks, but Joe and Patricia land near their trusty steamer trunks. At first ecstatic about their miraculous salvation, Joe puts a damper on things by telling Patricia about his fatal brain cloud. She recognizes the name of Joe's doctor as that of her father's crony and realizes that Joe has been lied to. He is not dying and they can live happily ever after (if they can survive being on a raft in the middle of the ocean). During the credits, Joe and Patricia are shown being rescued by a boat in a background picture format.


  • Tom Hanks as Joe Banks
  • Meg Ryan as DeDe / Angelica Graynamore / Patricia Graynamore
  • Lloyd Bridges as Samuel Harvey Graynamore
  • Robert Stack as Doctor Ellison
  • Abe Vigoda as Chief Tobi
  • Dan Hedaya as Frank Waturi
  • Barry McGovern as the luggage salesman
  • Ossie Davis as Marshall
  • Amanda Plummer as Dagmar, a member of the yacht's crew
  • Nathan Lane as Baw, the Waponi advance man
Carol Kane (using the pseudonym "Lisa LeBlanc") made a cameo appearance.


The film earned mixed reviews from critics. Vincent Canby wrote "Not since Howard the Duck has there been a big-budget comedy with feet as flat as those of Joe Versus the Volcano. Many gifted people contributed to it, but there's no disbelieving the grim evidence on the screen." Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 out of four stars and called it "new and fresh and not shy of taking chances"; the film "achieves a kind of magnificent goofiness. Hanks and Ryan are the right actors to inhabit it, because you can never catch them going for a gag that isn't there: They inhabit the logic of this bizarre world and play by its rules."He later brought the film to Ebertfest 2012 and wondered "why he gave 3.5 stars instead of 4."

Upon its release, Time magazine called it a "wan bit of whimsy ...[that] makes no more sense than its synopsis, though Meg Ryan beguiles in three different roles." Fifteen years later, Time critic Richard Schickel listed it as one of his "Guilty Pleasures"; while acknowledging "there are people who think this film...may be the worst big budget film of modern times", Schickel disagreed, saying "if you set aside the routine comic expectations its marketing encouraged, you may find yourself entranced by a movie that is utterly sui generis." Joe Versus the Volcano holds a score of 58% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 26 reviews.


The soundtrack for Joe Versus the Volcano, composed by Georges Delerue, was released in very limited numbers as a promotional item. Only 3000 copies were manufactured in 1990, the year of the movie's release. Because of Delerue's strong following, Varèse Sarabande re-released the CD in 2002.

Shanley wrote two songs for the movie, "Marooned Without You" and "The Cowboy Song", the former used thematically throughout and the latter performed by Tom Hanks on the ukulele.

Eric Burdon's version of Merle Travis's "Sixteen Tons" was used at the beginning of the film. After Joe leaves the doctor's office, an edited version of Ray Charles's version of "Ol' Man River" plays. "Mas Que Nada" by Sergio Mendes & Brazil '66 accompanies Joe while he is driven around New York City. A Spanish version of "On The Street Where You Live" is sung while Joe is on a date. Elvis Presley's version of "Blue Moon" plays as Joe spend his final night before departing on his journey. On the boat trip, the Young Rascals' "Good Lovin'", the Del Vikings "Come Go with Me", and The Ink Spots' version of "I Cover the Waterfront" are heard. Waponi tribal music includes the melodies "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and "Hava Nagila."

Home video

The film was first released on home video in the fall of 1990 and was released on DVD in the spring of 2002.

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Joe_Versus_the_Volcano" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



Page generated in 0.28365683555603 seconds