World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Joe Versus the Volcano

Joe Versus the Volcano
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Produced by Teri Schwartz
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography Stephen Goldblatt
Edited by
Distributed by Warner Bros.
(Time Warner)
Release dates
  • March 9, 1990 (1990-03-09) (USA)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $39,404,261[1]

Joe Versus the Volcano is a 1990 American romantic comedy film written and directed by John Patrick Shanley and starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Hanks plays a man who, after being told he is dying of a rare disease, accepts a financial offer to travel to a South Pacific island and throw himself into a volcano on behalf of the superstitious natives. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with the woman taking him there.

Despite positive reviews from some critics, including Roger Ebert, who described the film as "new and fresh and not shy of taking chances", the film was a box office flop in the US. It has since become a cult film.[2][3][4]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Reception 3
  • Soundtrack 4
  • Home video 5
  • Stage musical 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) is a downtrodden everyman from Staten Island, working a clerical job in a dreary 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, but will kill Joe within five or six months. Ellison says that Joe's ailments were psychosomatic, caused by his horrific experiences in his previous job as a firefighter. Ellison advises him, "You have some life it well." Joe tells his boss off, quits his job, and asks former coworker DeDe (Meg Ryan) out on a date, but when 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",[5] 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 fire god of 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 within 20 days. 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). At Marshall's suggestion, he stays overnight at The Pierre hotel.

Joe then flies to Los Angeles, where he is met by one of Graynamore's daughters, Angelica (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 to rescue her, lightning strikes, sinking 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 fresh 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 tells 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 set up. He is not dying and they can live happily ever after, but they both affirm that they have to hang on to the multi-purpose steamer trunks.



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."[6] 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."[7] He later brought the film to Ebertfest 2012 and wondered "why he gave 3.5 stars instead of 4."[8]

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."[9] 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."[10] Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 26 reviews to give the film a score of 58%.[11]


The soundtrack for Joe Versus the Volcano, composed by Varèse Sarabande re-released the CD in 2002.[12][13]

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 his date with DeeDee. Elvis Presley's version of "Blue Moon" plays as Joe spends 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 by Warner Home Video in April 2002.

Stage musical

In 2012, San Diego's Lambs Players Theatre presented the world premiere of a musical based on the film. Directed by Robert Smyth, it featured a book, music, and lyrics by Scott Hafso and Darcy Phillips.[14]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Alternate spelling may be "boobaroo".
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Fair are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.