The movie Philadelphia was something of a surprise hit when it opened in December 1993, since it broke many of the "rules" for commercial success. The subject matter was considered a "downer," being about a man dying of AIDS, a subject that had failed at the box-office before. The film took an appealing and well-liked leading man--Tom Hanks--and showed him deteriorating form the ravages of the disease. The film was also serious in a season usually geared more to Christmas comedies, thrillers, and science fiction. Yet, there were also elements in the mix of the film that are often appealing to the audience, such as the portrayal of an underdog fighting back at the system and winning. The film gives a clear indication of whom the audience is to root for, though this is tempered always with the reality that the main character will die. The case presented is based on discriminatory actions toward homosexuals, fear of AIDs and of people with HIV or AIDs, and the law of wrongful termination.
Critic John Simon, who did not like Philadelphia very much, comments on the way the film sanitizes homosexuality and hints at that way of life more than showing it:
The film avoids any closer examination of homosexuality, or even AIDS, and hurries to become a courtroom drama, which everyone can have good, wholesome fun with (Simon 68).
The film was criticized by many in the homosexual community because it was seen as too distant and too removed from real homosexual life:
We winced at the sanitization of the main character's relationship; at the way the movie glibly divided humanity into those who were good, those who were bad, and those who were on their way from being bad to being good; at the excruciating moralizing of the courtroom and family scenes. It didn't capture our experience of the plague, its evocation of a common mortality, its descents into comedy, its nagging constancy, its grayshaded dignity and indignity. It was...