How Long Was Tom Hanks's Character on an Island in 'Cast Away'? Plus: Details on the Making of the Film

Tom Hanks took more than a year off from filming the movie so that he could lose weight and grow his hair out.


Feb. 16 2024, Published 11:18 a.m. ET

Tom Hanks with a long beard in 'Cast Away.'
Source: 20th Century Fox

Although it's more than 20 years old, Cast Away remains one of the more remarkable movies in recent memories. Starring Tom Hanks as a FedEx employee who crashes on a deserted island on Christmas Eve, and spends years trying to find rescue, the 2000 movie became an instant phenomenon, and earned widespread acclaim as well.

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While the big-picture story that the movie tells is pretty easy to comprehend, some people wanted to know exactly how long Tom Hanks's character Chuck spent trapped on that island. Here's what we know about how long Chuck was on the island, as well as some additional detail about how the movie was filmed.

Tom Hanks next to a tree in 'Cast Away.'
Source: 20th Century Fox
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How long was Tom Hanks on the island in 'Cast Away'?

Chuck spends four years trapped on the island in Cast Away after crashing there. The movie follows Chuck in the immediate aftermath of the crash as he begins to figure out how he can survive, and then jumps forward four years to find that he is much trimmer, has much more hair, and has built a raft that he's planning to launch in an attempt to escape.

Of course, that raft ultimately allows him to run across a ship, and he's taken safely back to the real world. The movie is a tale of survival, but one that would not work at all without Hanks's performance there to anchor it. When he does return to the real world, he finds that his fiancée has moved on with another man, and nothing in his life is the way that he left it.

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How did they film 'Cast Away'?

Most films have one shooting schedule where all the main photography for the film takes place. Cast Away was filmed in a totally different manner. Photography started in January of 1999, and then resumed more than a year later. The gap gave Tom time to grow out his beard and lose a bunch of weight, so that he could resemble the version of Chuck who had been on the island for four years.

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Tom also gained about 50 pounds during pre-production for the movie so that he could make the change between the two versions of his character more dramatic.

All of that only adds to the overwhelming feeling that four years have really passed between the two sections of the movie, even though in reality it was only a little over a single year. Such is the impact of Cast Away.

Although it's far from the only film about a person or group of people trapped at sea, the lengths that Tom and director Robert Zemeckis went to to ensure that the story seemed believable has helped Cast Away to endure for more than 20 years since it was first released.

The movie remains one of Hanks's most iconic parts in a career absolutely jam-packed with memorable roles. And, everytime you pick up a Wilson volleyball, you're overwhelmingly likely to think of Wilson, Chuck's volleyball friend on the island.

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