Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can is a 2002 American biographical crime film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, with Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, and Nathalie Baye in supporting roles. The film is based on the life of Frank Abagnale, who, before his 19th birthday, successfully performed cons worth millions of dollars by posing as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor, and a Louisiana parish prosecutor. His primary crime was check fraud; he became so experienced that the FBI eventually turned to him for help in catching other check forgers.

Catch Me If You Can
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteven Spielberg
Produced by
Screenplay byJeff Nathanson
Based onCatch Me If You Can
by Frank Abagnale Jr.
Stan Redding
Music byJohn Williams
CinematographyJanusz Kamiński
Edited byMichael Kahn
Distributed byDreamWorks Pictures
Release date
  • December 18, 2002 (2002-12-18) (Westwood)
  • December 25, 2002 (2002-12-25) (United States)
Running time
141 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$52 million
Box office$352.1 million

Development for the film started in 1980, but did not progress until 1997, when Spielberg's DreamWorks bought the film rights to Abagnale's book. David Fincher, Gore Verbinski, Lasse Hallström, Miloš Forman, and Cameron Crowe had all been possible candidates for director before Spielberg decided to direct it himself. Filming took place from February to May 2002.

The film opened on December 25, 2002, to critical and commercial success. At the 75th Academy Awards, Christopher Walken and John Williams were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Score.[2]


In 1963, teenager Frank Abagnale lives in New Rochelle, New York with his father Frank Abagnale, Sr., and French mother, Paula. When Frank Sr. has income tax difficulties with the IRS, the family is forced to move from their large home to a small apartment. Paula carries on an affair with Jack Barnes, a friend of her husband. Meanwhile, Frank, having to transfer to public school, gets into trouble his first day when he poses as a substitute French teacher. When Frank's parents divorce, he runs away. Needing money, he uses confidence scams to survive. Soon, Frank's cons grow bolder and he even impersonates an airline pilot. He forges Pan Am payroll checks and succeeds in stealing over $2.8 million.

Meanwhile, FBI agent Carl Hanratty begins tracking Frank. Carl intercepts Frank at a hotel, but Frank cons Carl into believing he is a Secret Service agent named Barry Allen, who is also after the fraudster. Frank escapes a minute before Carl angrily realizes he was fooled. Later, on Christmas Eve, Frank calls Carl at his office, attempting to apologize for deceiving him. Carl rejects the apology and warns Frank he will be caught. Carl learns that the name "Barry Allen" is from the Flash comic books, and he deduces that Frank is actually a teenager.

Meanwhile, Frank's cons now includes impersonating a doctor and a lawyer. As Dr. Frank Conners, he falls in love with Brenda, a naive young hospital worker. He asks Brenda's attorney father for permission to marry her, and also wants his help with taking the Louisiana State Bar exam, which Frank passes. Carl tracks Frank to his and Brenda's engagement party, but Frank escapes through a bedroom window minutes before Carl bursts in. Before exiting, Frank made Brenda promise to meet him at the Miami airport in two days. At the airport, Frank sees Brenda, but also spots plainclothes agents everywhere; realizing Brenda betrayed him, he escapes on a flight to Europe.

Seven months later, Frank has been forging checks all over western Europe. Carl wants to go to Europe to pursue him, but his superior refuses, believing Carl will likely fail to capture him. Carl shows Frank's checks to printing professionals who determine they were probably printed in Western Europe. Carl remembers that Frank's mother was from Montrichard, France. He locates and arrests Frank there.

The scene flashes forward to a plane with Carl escorting Frank back to the United States. Prior to landing, Carl informs Frank that his father has died. Grief-stricken, Frank escapes the plane and goes to where his mother and stepfather Jack live. Frank sees a young girl inside the house and realizes she is his half-sister. The police arrive, and Frank surrenders. He is sentenced to 12 years in a maximum prison. Carl occasionally visits him. During one visit, Carl shows Frank a check from a case he is working on. Frank can immediately identify that the bank teller was involved. Carl then convinces the FBI to allow Frank to serve the remainder of his sentence working for the FBI bank fraud department. Frank finds the work tedious and restrictive and misses his former life. One weekend, he attempts to fly as an airline pilot again. He is intercepted by Carl, who wants Frank to return to the FBI and says no one is chasing him. On the following Monday, Carl grows nervous when Frank has not yet arrived at the office. However, Frank eventually shows up, and they discuss their next case.

The ending credits reveal that Frank is real and has been married for 26 years, has three sons, lives in the Midwest, and is friends with Carl. He now earns millions of dollars as a bank security expert, has designed more-secure bank checks, and has helped apprehend numerous counterfeiters.


Brian Howe, Frank John Hughes and Chris Ellis portray FBI agents. Jennifer Garner cameos as a call girl. Ellen Pompeo, Elizabeth Banks, and Kaitlin Doubleday have supporting roles. The real Frank Abagnale appears in a cameo as a French police officer arresting his character.[3]



Frank Abagnale sold the film rights to his autobiography in 1980.[4] According to Abagnale, producers Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin purchased the film rights after seeing him on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Two years later they sold the rights to Columbia Pictures who in turn sold the rights to producer Hall Bartlett. Bartlett hired Steven Kunes to write the screenplay and then died before the project found a distributor. Bartlett's widow sold the rights to Hollywood Pictures, a division of Disney, and when the project went into turnaround, the rights were again sold to TriStar Pictures, more specifically Bungalow 78 Productions. From there the project was presented to Steven Spielberg at DreamWorks Pictures.[5] Yet according to Daily Variety, Executive Producer Michel Shane purchased the film rights in 1990,[6] for Paramount Pictures.[7] By December 1997, Barry Kemp purchased the film rights from Shane, bringing the project to DreamWorks, with Jeff Nathanson writing the script.[8] By April 2000, David Fincher was attached to direct over the course of a few months, but dropped out in favor of Panic Room. In July 2000, Leonardo DiCaprio had entered discussions to star, with Gore Verbinski to direct.[9][10] Steven Spielberg signed on as producer, and filming was set to begin in March 2001.[11][12]


Verbinski cast James Gandolfini as Carl Hanratty, Ed Harris as Frank Abagnale, Sr., and Chloë Sevigny as Brenda Strong.[13][14] Verbinski dropped out because of DiCaprio's commitment on Gangs of New York.[15] Lasse Hallström was in negotiations to direct by May 2001, but dropped out in July 2001. At this stage Harris and Sevigny left the film, but Gandolfini was still attached.[14][16] Spielberg, co-founder of DreamWorks, offered the job of director to Miloš Forman, and considered hiring Cameron Crowe. During this negotiation period, Spielberg began to consider directing the film himself, eventually dropping projects such as Big Fish and Memoirs of a Geisha.[12][17] Spielberg officially committed to directing in August 2001.[6]

The search for Strong's portrayer lasted months but Amy Adams was eventually cast. Spielberg "loved" her tape and producer Walter F. Parkes commented that she was "as fresh and honest as anyone we'd seen," which was an important element in the role. Christopher Walken was cast as Frank Abagnale, Sr. following Parkes' suggestion. Martin Sheen played Roger Strong as he had "intimidating presence". Spielberg wanted a French actress to portray Paula Abagnale to stay true to the facts. He asked for the help of Brian De Palma, who was living in Paris and he did tests with several actresses such as Nathalie Baye. Spielberg had seen Jennifer Garner on Alias and wanted her to play a small role in the film due to her busy schedule.[18]


The original start date was January 2002,[6] but was pushed to February 7 in Los Angeles, California.[19] Locations included Burbank, Downey, New York City, LA/Ontario International Airport (which doubled for Miami International Airport), Quebec City and Montreal.[20] The film was shot in 147 locations in only 52 days. DiCaprio reflected, "Scenes that we thought would take three days took an afternoon".[21] Filming ran from April 25–30 in Park Avenue, just outside the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Production moved to Orange, New Jersey and returned to Brooklyn for bank and courthouse scenes. Shooting also took place at the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport.[22] Quebec City was chosen for its European character and French feel. Place Royale, within Old Quebec, stands for Montrichard—the church in the background of the arrest scene is Notre-Dame-des-Victoires.[23] Filming ended on May 12 in Montreal.[24]


The film's soundtrack was released on December 10, 2002 by DreamWorks Records. The original score was composed and conducted by John Williams.

Historical accuracy

Despite the various changes from real-life events, Abagnale believed Spielberg was the only filmmaker who "could do this film justice".[25] However, Abagnale had little involvement with the film. In November 2001 Abagnale reported, "I've never met nor spoken to Steven Spielberg and I have not read the script. I prefer not to. I understand that they now portray my father in a better light, as he really was. Steven Spielberg has told the screenplay writer (Jeff Nathanson) that he wants complete accuracy in the relationships and actual scams that I perpetrated. I hope in the end the movie will be entertaining, exciting, funny and bring home an important message about family, childhood and divorce".[25]

The real Abagnale never saw his father again after he ran away from home. Spielberg "wanted to continue to have that connection where Frank kept trying to please his father; by making him proud of him; by seeing him in the uniform, the Pan-American uniform". Abagnale praised the idea, saying, "Even though I didn't see my dad again, every night after living a brilliant day and meeting many women, and making much money, I'd come back alone to a hotel room and I would just think of my mom and dad and fantasize about getting them back together again, and cry. It's the justification of a fantasy."[26]

In the shooting script, Hanks' character was referred to as Joseph Shea, the real name of the actual FBI agent who tracked and later worked with Abagnale, but the name was changed to Carl Hanratty for unknown reasons.[27][3] Abagnale has since stated that the name was changed because Shea did not want his name to be used in the film, with Hanks choosing the name of a football player, Carl Hanratty.[28]


Catch Me if You Can deals with themes of broken homes and troubled childhoods. Spielberg's parents divorced when he was a teenager, similar to Frank Abagnale's situation. In the film, Carl Hanratty is also divorced from his wife, who lives with their daughter in Chicago. "Some of my films have had to do with broken homes and people on the run from their sad pasts", Spielberg stated. "But there are those strands that got me to say: you know, there's something also about me that I can say through the telling of this kind of lighthearted story".[26]

Spielberg also wanted to create a film that sympathized with a crook. He explained, "Frank was a 21st century genius working within the innocence of the mid '60s, when people were more trusting than they are now. I don't think this is the kind of movie where somebody could say, 'I have a career plan.'"[26]


I know that Hollywood has made a number of changes to the story, but I am honored that Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks participated in the making of the movie inspired by my life. It is important to understand that it is just a movie, not a biographical documentary.

Frank Abagnale's reaction to the film[4]

Game Show Network aired the 1977 episode of the television game show To Tell the Truth that featured Frank Abagnale. Segments were shown on December 29, 2002 and January 1, 2003 as promotion.[29] The marketing department was careful to market the film as "inspired by a true story" in order to avoid controversy similar to that surrounding A Beautiful Mind (2001) and The Hurricane (1999), both of which deviated from history.[26] The premiere took place at Westwood, Los Angeles, California on December 18, 2002.[30]


Box office

Catch Me If You Can was released on December 25, 2002, earning slightly above $30 million in 3,225 theaters during its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $164.6 million in North America and $187.5 million in foreign countries, coming at a worldwide total of $352.1 million. The film was a financial success, recouping the $52 million budget six times over.[31] Catch Me If You Can was the eleventh highest-grossing film of 2002. Minority Report (also directed by Spielberg) was tenth highest.[32]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a certified fresh rating of 96%, based on 199 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's critical consensus reading, "With help from a strong performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life wunderkind con artist Frank Abagnale, Steven Spielberg crafts a film that's stylish, breezily entertaining, and surprisingly sweet."[33] On Metacritic the film has a score of 75 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Roger Ebert heavily praised DiCaprio's performance, and concluded "This is not a major Spielberg film, although it is an effortlessly watchable one".[34] Mick LaSalle said it was "not Spielberg's best movie, but one of his smoothest and maybe his friendliest. The colorful cinematography, smart performances and brisk tempo suggest a filmmaker subordinating every other impulse to the task of manufacturing pleasure."[35] Stephen Hunter believed DiCaprio shows "the range and ease and cleverness that Martin Scorsese so underutilized in Gangs of New York".[36]

James Berardinelli observed, "Catch Me if You Can never takes itself or its subjects too seriously, and contains more genuinely funny material than about 90% of the so-called 'comedies' found in multiplexes these days". In addition Berardinelli praised John Williams' film score, which he felt was "more intimate and jazzy than his usual material, evoking (intentionally) Henry Mancini".[37] Peter Travers was one of few who gave the film a negative review. Travers considered Catch Me if You Can to be "bogged down over 140 minutes. A film that took off like a hare on speed ends like a winded tortoise."[38]

At the 75th Academy Awards, Christopher Walken and John Williams were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Score.[39] Walken won the same category at the 56th British Academy Film Awards, while Williams, costume designer Mary Zophres and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson received nominations.[40] DiCaprio was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.[41] Williams also earned a Grammy Award nomination.[42] Elements of the film were later parodied in The Simpsons episode "Catch 'Em If You Can".[43]

Home media

Catch Me If You Can was released on DVD and VHS on May 6, 2003.[44] It included special features including never-before-seen footage by director Steven Spielberg as well as interviews.[45][44] The Blu-ray version was released on December 4, 2012.[46]

Musical adaptation

A musical adaptation of the same name premiered at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Washington in July 2009, starring Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz.[47] It began previews on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on March 11, 2011 and officially opened April 10, 2011.[48][49] The musical was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.[50]

See also


  1. "Catch Me If You Can". British Board of Film Classification. December 13, 2002. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  2. "74th Academy Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  3. Van Luling, Todd (October 17, 2014). "11 Easter Eggs You Never Noticed In Your Favorite Movies". The Huffington Post., Inc. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  4. Frank Abagnale (September 3, 2002). "Comments". Abagnale & Associates. Archived from the original on February 16, 2009. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  5. Abagnale, Frank W (2000). Catch Me if You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Youngest and Most Daring Con Man [most Extraordinary Liar] in the History of Fun and Profit. ISBN 9780767905381.
  6. Claude Brodesser; Dana Harris (August 21, 2001). "D'Works to play 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  7. Charles Lyons; Dade Hayes (January 8, 2002). "D'Works sets play date for pricey 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  8. Dan Cox (December 15, 1997). "TV vet Kemp prepping pix at U, UA, D'Works". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  9. Michael Fleming (April 4, 2000). "'Noon' strikes twice at Spyglass for 3 scribes". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  10. Claude Brodesser; Charles Lyons (July 31, 2000). "DiCaprio plays 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  11. Michael Fleming (August 22, 2000). "Fox rocks with Mamas & Papas pic". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  12. Michael Fleming (July 30, 2001). "Dish: Billionaire Reveres films". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  13. Claude Brodesser; Dana Harris (November 6, 2000). "Inside Move: DiCaprio misses 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  14. Stax (July 6, 2001). "Another 'Catch' for Leo's Next Flick". IGN. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  15. Michael Fleming (March 15, 2001). "Beresford goes home again; 'Project' pulled". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  16. Charles Lyons; Dana Harris (May 22, 2001). "Hallstrom plays 'Catch'". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  17. Claude Brodesser; Cathy Dunkley (August 5, 2001). "IEG, DiCaprio 'Gang' up". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  18. "Catch Me If You Can : Production Notes". Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  19. Army Archerd (February 11, 2002). "Kudos to Opening Ceremonies". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  20. Army Archerd (April 2, 2002). "'Tonight Show' employees get anni bonus". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  21. "Catch Me If You Can". Extra. December 12, 2002. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  22. Army Archerd (April 30, 2002). "Who will fill Frank Sinatra's shoes?". Variety. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  23. Brian Linder (May 2, 2002). "Spielly Update: 'Report', 'Catch Me'". IGN. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  24. Army Archerd (May 14, 2002). "'Sierra Madre' inspires 'Spider-Man' helmer". Variety. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  25. Stax (November 15, 2001). "The Man Behind 'Catch Me If You Can'". IGN. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  26. Steve Head (December 17, 2002). "An Interview with Steven Spielberg". IGN. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  27. Claude Brodesser (August 28, 2001). "D'Works tracking top cop for Catch". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  28. "Frank Abagnale: "Catch Me If You Can" | Talks at Google - YouTube". YouTube. "Google" which owns "Talks at Google". November 27, 2017. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  29. Josef Adalian (December 10, 2002). "Inside Move: Net game for movie link". Variety. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  30. "H'w'd plays 'Catch'". Variety. December 18, 2002. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  31. "Catch Me If You Can (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  32. "2002 Yearly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  33. "Catch Me If You Can". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixter. Retrieved June 29, 2008.
  34. Ebert, Roger. "Catch Me If You Can". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  35. Mick LaSalle (December 25, 2002). "Holiday Movies". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  36. Stephen Hunter (December 25, 2002). "A Merry Chase". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  37. Berardinelli, James. "Catch Me If You Can". Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  38. Travers, Peter (January 2, 2003). "Catch Me If You Can". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on April 19, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  39. "74th Academy Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  40. "56th BAFTA Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  41. "Golden Globes: 2003". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  42. "Grammy Awards: 2003". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  43. Matthew Nastuk, Ian Maxtone-Graham (April 25, 2004). "Catch 'Em if You Can". The Simpsons. Season 15. Episode 331. Fox Broadcasting Company.
  44. Villa, Joan (February 26, 2003). "Video Catches Up to Catch Me If You Can May 6". Archived from the original on March 22, 2003. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  45. "Catch Me If You Can — Box Office Data, DVD Sales, Movie News, Cast Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  46. Perkis, Ed (December 4, 2012). "Catch Me If You Can [Blu-ray] DVD Review". Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  47. Hetrick, Adam. Broadway-Aimed "Catch Me If You Can Ends Seattle Premiere Run Aug. 16" Archived August 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Playbill. August 16, 2009. Retrieved 2011-11-17.
  48. "CATCH ME IF YOU CAN to Open on Broadway April 10; Previews March 7, 2011". Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  49. "Catch Me If You Can Books Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre" Archived September 26, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Playbill. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  50. "2011 Tony Nominations Announced; Book of Mormon Earns 14 Nominations" Archived September 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Playbill. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  • Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding. Catch Me If You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Youngest and Most Daring Con Man in the History of Fun and Profit. (ISBN 0-06-052971-7).

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